That learning English opens doors to better jobs and more opportunities is a fact few Vietnamese parents would dispute. Many families prioritize education, often making sacrifices to afford the best private language schools that promise fluency and high test scores. Yet many students struggle despite diligently doing their homework and getting to practice with native English speakers.
We ask Nam Nguyen, the General Director of YOLA, a provider of English Test Prep centers in Vietnam since 2009, about the reasons behind Vietnam’s poor foreign language proficiency and what can be done to move the needle in the field of ELT.
Can you tell us about YOLA’s mission and vision? What does YOLA do differently to meet the needs of Vietnamese students?
YOLA was born in 2009 when the three founders, all graduates of top US universities, got together with an ambition to transform Vietnamese students’ lives through education. Pham Anh Khoa (Bates College), Ngo Thuy Ngoc Tu (Stanford University) and Phan Duy (Dickinson College) wanted foreign language learners to have a “study buddy” who would support them on their journey. Their vision is reflected in the company’s name; YOLA stands for “Your Online Learning Assistant”.
Today, 11 years later, YOLA is a trusted learning partner offering a full range of services to help students of all ages to prepare for IELTS, TOEFL and SAT exam. In that time, we grew our network of Test Prep Centers to 17 locations nationwide.
Through YOLA, our 100,000-plus students get to experience education at an international level, and the results speak for themselves: IELTS 8.5/9.0, TOEFL 119/120, SAT 1590/1600, TOEFL JUNIOR 900/900, as well as over $12 million in scholarships awarded to YOLA students by the world’s top universities, such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford etc.
Our Mission is to be a leader and a pioneer in education. As for YOLA’s Vision, it’s twofold: YOLA creates a world where everyone is empowered to unlock their full potential, as well as aiming to enroll 500,000 students and reach 2 million people through education by 2025. We hope to achieve this by providing superior customer experience and employee satisfaction, and by living our core values.
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What are the challenges and opportunities in the domestic English language training (ELT) market?
The main challenge is that the market is unregulated so the quality of instruction can be low. There is a lack of clarity and no baseline standards meaning quality assurance for ELT providers is a concern. The socio-economic circumstances of an average Vietnamese household are such that quality ELT is only accessible to the affluent class. The majority of the population get what they can afford, which is usually an education of very poor quality.
Another challenge is the caliber of the teachers themselves, and I am speaking about both Vietnamese teachers and foreigners. There is a dire need for better training and development. Having an English language teaching certificate should be the very bare minimum in terms of qualifications. Especially with expats who, in Vietnam, tend to be transient and offer little in terms of stability or longevity.
As for the opportunities, wider adoption of online learning during covid-related lockdowns laid the ground for technology innovations. All the major offline ELT providers have been scrambling to create an online learning environment for the new normal. But is online learning really more effective in terms of student progress compared to offline learning? Time will tell.
What training trends will be prominent after the pandemic?
Digitization in ELT and education overall is not a new trend; covid simply accelerated the process that was already under way. It goes without saying that today’s ELT providers are expected to make online training options available to all students. However, both the adoption and engagement data gathered during the period of transition earlier this year are sending mixed signals. The emerging trend post-covid will most likely be hybrid learning, i.e. online and offline options merged together.
Why did YOLA choose ELSA app to be its strategic partner for this digitization process?
As mentioned, YOLA stands for “Your Online Learning Assistant”, meaning that the company was founded around the idea of digitization language learning. In other words, digital is in our DNA. We have invested significant resources into our online platform pre-covid and will continue doing so after the pandemic.
And ELSA adds incredible value to our product, hence our decision to partner with them. Their team worked with us closely to test the product with key stakeholders and the stellar results of the pilot gave us all the certainty we needed to partner with ELSA.
Why do so many Vietnamese students struggle with English? Why is fluency so hard to attain?
When learning a foreign language, pronunciation is one of the most important aspects, as well as one of the most complicated ones. Getting pronunciation right requires a lot of effort from both the teacher and the student. It’s YOLA’s mission to find the best methods, and products like ELSA help us make the teaching-learning process as smooth and easy as possible.
We often see Vietnamese students struggle with phonetics and phonology, especially when studying a language that has few similarities to their mother tongue, as is the case with English. Thanks to ELSA, students will be exposed to new sounds and the right intonation patterns, stresses and rhythms. The great thing about ELSA is you have a native speaker to listen to, speak to and practice with any time of the day.
How can we develop an integrated online and offline English training ecosystem to accommodate more students across the country?
That is the million-dollar question! I don’t think anyone has successfully developed the right model yet. But from YOLA’s perspective, for a hybrid learning model to be successful we need to provide meaningful face-to-face time outside of the digital space; develop essential learning content that is relevant and digestible, which requires a thorough understanding of the student’s journey; engage students better and support them in self-guided learning. Then there is the question of accessibility, meaning we need to ensure online materials are provided in commonly used formats, the internet connection is stable and the software is neither complicated nor expensive.
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