Although English is a compulsory subject from 3rd grade onward, Vietnamese still have a hard time achieving fluency. In fact, Vietnam is listed in the low-proficiency category for English literacy, with approximately 22 million students and tens of millions of working age people struggling with even conversational English.
Despite the incredible advances in digital learning, Vietnam’s education system still largely follows a traditional offline model. Admittedly, its benefits are many: face-to-face interaction, better concentration and a deeper interpersonal connection. But as the coronavirus crisis has launched a large, unplanned experiment in online learning, the advantages of a blended system have become apparent. For many educators who are trying to balance the needs of students with safety, digitization seems to be the answer.
Join us in our discussion with Ms. Nguyen Thi Hoa (Chairman and Co-founder of IMAP Vietnam Education and Training) as we look at the digital roadmap her English center has put in place, including a game-changing partnership with the world's leading pronunciation learning app, ELSA.
What kind of teaching methods does IMAP employ to tend to the needs of Vietnamese students?
IMAP applies the S-SMART training model built around five developmental pillars, including interactions inside the classroom, language practicality, ways to inspire, interpersonal communication and refinement of knowledge.
Unlike traditional classes, teachers at IMAP use questioning techniques that are challenging enough to excite students, yet are still easy to follow. With this approach, teachers and students collaborate on lesson plans, giving students the opportunity to express their views.
One of the biggest challenges language students face is sentence-forming. This happens when the knowledge of grammatical structures hasn’t yet been converted into a skill. To overcome this, IMAP follows the Skill - Knowledge - Skill rule where students start with listening and reading before applying skills naturally drawn from these core lessons to speaking and writing.
Crucially, from the very beginning our students are placed into an environment where they can practice conversational skills. The PACES approach is highly personalized and includes five steps: proposal, analyze, conclusion, enhance and small exercise. The last step in particular helps students practice instinctual application of the knowledge they have just acquired.
One of our strengths is that our teachers aim to inspire, not simply impart knowledge. They build strong relationships with the students, take care of them to make sure they are comfortable in class and provide additional after-school tutoring through social networking platforms.
And lastly, it’s about what we teach: instead of trying to include everything there is to know about the English language, we refine the curriculum for the purpose of arming our students with core knowledge that will help them achieve their respective goals.
What are the challenges and opportunities facing the English language training market in the country?
As Vietnam is stepping up international integration and local companies are focusing on market expansion, there will be more and more opportunities for the Vietnamese to find employment with multinationals, both overseas and domestically. To benefit from these opportunities, today’s students and those already in the labor market must become more aware of the innumerable prospects fluency in English will open for them.
While this provides a fertile ground for growth, the English training market also needs to hedge against inevitable challenges such as fierce competition. With the proliferation of training centers ranging from large- to small-sized, students have the opportunity to compare the quality and service of each training model making them more aware of what’s available but also more demanding.
Another challenge we see with students of working age specifically is that often work and family demands take precedence, which interrupts their learning process and directly affects their learning ability. Other students struggle with goal-setting and can’t articulate their reasons for studying English.
To set yourself up for success, it’s important to have clear objectives: whether you are preparing for the TOEIC or IELTS exam or want to brush up on your business English, the need for a clear goal is crucial. If it’s too vague, it will be hard to gauge the progress.
What are some post-pandemic English training trends?
Online lectures delivered in the form of pre-recorded video lessons is one of the biggest trends post-covid. That and teaching online through platforms like Ebomb to smaller-sized classes.
That being said, we don’t consider switching fully from classroom learning to digital as the best way forward. Rather, we want to combine the two models to make the most of the advantages each offers.
Online lectures will focus on teaching grammar, building vocabulary and practicing writing skills. As they allow for more flexibility, we will include some online learning into our pronunciation practice too, adding a digital component to our classroom learning to achieve the optimal effect.
What does the shift to digitization look like for IMAP? Why did you choose ELSA as a strategic partner in the digitization process?
At IMAP, digitization is driven by posting lectures on our online platform, as well as using educational applications on mobile phones which are more flexible and allow students to track their progress.
Behind our decision to partner with ELSA was our belief that the app’s advanced AI technology will add value to the learning experience of our students. ELSA's AI-powered voice recognition technology significantly improves pronunciation proficiency by correcting mistakes and slotting in daily individual practice time.
Teachers will benefit from our adoption of ESLA’s technology too by getting real-time access to data and indicators allowing them to assess their students’ strengths and weaknesses with speed.
Based on IMAP's observations, what skills do the vast majority of English learners often have difficulty in perfecting?
Most students struggle with speaking. Unlike reading or listening – skills you can practice by yourself – speaking requires interaction with others who will then provide feedback and correct mistakes. With ELSA, students studying remotely are not alone: they can hone their skills while practicing with other students and teachers, get instant feedback and track their progress.
With the introduction of ELSA in the curriculum, how has the teaching and learning experience at IMAP improved?
Since we’ve partnered with ELSA, the feedback has been very positive. Teachers have reported improved pronunciation and students are loving how easy it is to follow the instructions and to type.
Before enrolling the students, we had sent out detailed instructions on how to log into accounts, how to use the app efficiently, as well as sharing a tutorial on practicing assignments designed for their respective fluency levels.
After each in-person class, students can continue practicing the material at home. ELSA is both a friend and a teacher to guide you, inspire you and correct mistakes as needed. This gets you in the habit of practicing, which in turn accelerates learning by making students more comfortable as speaking English becomes second nature.
Synching ELSA up with the class curriculum through the app’s Teacher Dashboard feature helps educators manage workflow with ease, from assigning homework to monitoring the students’ progress. With this feature, teachers are able to accurately assess their students' abilities, set the correct learning pace and create effective personalized lesson plans.
How can we develop an English training ecosystem that combines both online and offline forms to help more students across the country?
In big cities where Internet and mobile device penetration rates are high, I think students find it easy to install and practice with apps like ELSA. But to build a better English training ecosystem across the entire country, we need to invest in online platforms, while continuing to focus on improving the quality of classroom teaching.
By introducing hybrid learning in Vietnam and embracing innovative technology such as ELSA’s AI-powered algorithm, we can help Vietnamese students enhance their learning experience, give them more agency over their education, provide tools to monitor their progress and save time and money.
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