School of Education, University of Birmingham, UK
That ‘English is becoming a global language’ does not mean that everyone has the same chance to learn. Adult learners in Soc Trang, a remote and poor city in Vietnam are struggling to meet the needs of the labour market. All Vietnamese employers require one of the following English certificates: TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC, LEVEL B (intermediate) and level C (advanced). However, there have been no centres offering those courses in this city. Therefore, I have a dream of an English language centre for adults with specific purposes based upon centres observed in Birmingham UK.
Keywords: English for specific purposes; Vietnam; Soc Trang; EFL; ESOL; IELTS; ESP; EAP
My hometown, Soc Trang is a provincial city in MeKong Delta, in the South of Vietnam. A decade ago, agriculture was the main economy in this quiet city, but now industry and tourism have taken over. The government promoted and invested funds in repairing pagodas because the majority of the population follow Buddhism. Soc Trang has some 60 pagodas, some of them are very famous far beyond the city. Due to the beauty of those pagodas, Soc Trang has become a new destination for tourism. Fluency in English is therefore demanded more than ever.
The two current English centres do not, however, meet the needs of the diversity of learners, especially adults with stable occupations. As a result, after observing some English language centres in Birmingham, UK, I have a dream that there will one day be a similar centre in my hometown of Soc Trang, Vietnam.
1. Some English language centres in Birmingham: Different programs for different needs and different age learners
1.1 Bournville College (BC)
Bournville College is located in Northfield, Birmingham. This college provides a wide variety of courses for adult learning such as Pre-Masters, A level subjects for entry into higher education, vocational and professional qualifications and English for speakers of other languages. In addition, besides more common English courses like ESOL and IETLS, it also presents English courses for other purposes.
The first of these is English with Numeracy. This is necessary for new immigrants who wish to seek jobs in the UK. The course focuses on Skills for Life as well as English. Learners are taught English used in basic ICT, they learn numeracy and literacy in English and the flexibility in using language for writing CV and preparing for job interviews. Second is English for Business. This provides the learners with a certain amount of vocabulary and knowledge of business and economics. Lastly is English for IT Skills which is helpful for international students as the terminology used in IT is difficult to look up in the dictionary due to its special meaning.
1.2 Brasshouse Language Centre (BLC)
Brasshouse Language Centre is based in the city centre and belongs to Birmingham City Council - it can therefore attract more learners every year due to its reputation. Like BC, BLC also offers English for IETLS and English for Business. In addition, it provides a variety of other courses from Cambridge University such as: KET (Key English Test), PET (Preliminary English Test), FCE (First Certificate of English), CAE (Certificate of Advanced English) and CPE (Certificate of Proficiency in English). However, CPE is the highest level which requires IELTS 7.0 plus to access the class. As we know, the IELTS standard for higher education around the world is 6.5, so the minimum requirement of CPE course rarely has enough learners to run, but a manager stated that the centre did arrange classes for learners who wish to achieve CPE in spite of the very limited numbers.
2. A comparison with English centres in Vietnam
2.1 A Mixture of learners
Like other countries, Vietnam does have a large amount of foreign language centres. In Soc Trang city, there are three: Soc Trang Informatics and English Centre (IEC), funded by the city government; Foreign Language Centre (FLC), which is a department of Soc Trang Teachers’ Training College; and the Vietnamese American Training College (VATC), a self- funded international centre.
The similarity of these three centres is that learners of all ages such as children, teenagers and adults can be in the same class: they do not divide learners into ages in the way that BC and BLC do. Another difference is that the first two centres allow learners to evaluate their own language competence and enrol on courses based on their own preferences. Therefore, learners of all ages can gather in very crowded classrooms. The typical classes of this type are English for Beginners and English for National Certificate Preparation, usually with around 80 learners per class. This is a big disadvantage for adult learners in Vietnam in general, as they usually feel ashamed at being in the same class as younger learners. The psychology derives from the educational policy of the government, that is, academic learners must be in the classes at the exact ages stated in the convention. Learners can only retake the classes twice due to the failure of the final exam. As a result, adult learners often feel shy with younger ones, and so urgently require a centre specifically for them. VATC does organize placement tests for learners and try to divide them into age groups, but ultimately they have to merge teenagers and adults together because the number of a specific age group is not sufficient for a class to proceed.
2.2 English for general purposes only
Soc Trang city has neither an English centre for adults nor a centre that provides English for specific needs. The three centres above teach general and communicative English only. There are a wide variety of reasons for not having an English centre for specific needs. The First Certificate of English, for those that want to find a job, is about English for communication. The majority of clients in these centres are there for that reason. Secondly, we lack materials for teaching. In Vietnam, the English course books for specific needs are very rare. We only have some self-learning books which tend to focus on greetings and communication with customers rather than the specific subjects. Finally, we lack teaching English staff that are qualified for those specific subjects. As a result, an English centre for adults that offers English for specific needs has been a wish until now.
3. Some previous research on English for specific purposes
The term ‘English for Specific Purposes’ first appeared in the 1960s, and was later considered the instrument for course design (West, 1994). In actual fact, the term derived from the phrase ‘need analysis’ which had been introduced in India in 1920s. At that time, need analysis had two focuses: what to learn and how to master it (White, 1988). Therefore, today need analysis is very popular in English-speaking countries (Richards, 2001).
According to West (1994), needs are defined as:
• Necessities or demands of the programmes (objective, product oriented or perceived needs);
• Learners’ wants (subjective, or felt needs)
• The methods of filling the gaps between these two (process oriented needs).
From those various definitions of needs, however, Duong (2007) and Richterich (1983) confirmed the ‘need’ to distinguish ‘need’ from ‘want’. Need is related to two aspects: first, it is ‘the learner’s preferred strategies for progressing from where they are to where they want to go’. Second, it is ‘the teacher’s strategies to help the learner meet their needs’. By contrast, the want is ‘what the learners want or feel the need of’. Although some differences may occur between these two terms, the need and the want are linked to help second language learners achieve the best results. Maybe this explains the appearance of ‘English for Academic Purposes’ (EAP) courses which are widely taught in many universities.
Duong (2007) conducted a study with the purpose of comparing two EAP programmes in New Zealand and Vietnam. Her aim was to determine whether the EAP courses in these countries met the needs of students. Finally, she found that the course in New Zealand did meet students’ need thanks to the course management, elective programme, placement tests, course questionnaires, ongoing communication among teachers and between teachers and students, flexibility in teaching, learning facilities, independent learning, and integrated teaching and changes. Those factors are updated by asking students to fill in the surveys at the end of the course. However, the EAP course in Vietnam fails to meet students’ needs because of one significant factor: the assumption. That is the assumption from the course designers which has resulted in the different interpretations about the needs between teachers and students.
Realizing the important of EAP, Olivera (2005) wrote a proposal for the research on EAP. He explains very clearly that because EAP has grown all over the world and EAP has been accepted as a discipline in Applied Linguistics and the Department of English, there has been a steady increase in journals from outside the USA and the UK. As a result, the more the proportion of the papers from foreign countries contributes to the traditional homes of English language, the more research should be done on EAP. In fact, EAP is a special and specific type of English for international students, especially for who are pursuing post graduation qualifications because EAP writing is quite different from students’ prior experience (Molle et al, 2008). This can explain why the University of Birmingham, along with others, requires students to be proficient in EAP writing before starting the academic year. Even when they begin the academic year, the university also organizes more EAP writing classes at lunch time and encourages students to attend.
In order to address and identify students’ needs for English, a major New Zealand university has implemented the Diagnostic English Language Needs Assessment (DELNA) programme (Read, 2008). This fact reflects the development in linguistic diversity among international and native students. To confirm the importance and need of English for Specific Purposes, Beck (2009) concludes that there is ‘a need to produce field-specific academic word lists, which, in our view, should incorporate all frequent academic lexical items necessary for the expression of the rhetoric of the specific research area.’
This research is the background which has inspired in me the plan of establishing an English language centre for specific purposes for adults.
4. The need and the dream
From the above context and reason, I think there is a need to establish a foreign language centre for adults of specific English needs in Soc Trang city, Vietnam.
4.1.1 English for monks
The idea of teaching English to monks comes from my teaching memory. Many years ago, when I taught at Soc Trang IEC, most of the students in my class were monks. It was a big effort to teach them because their first language is Khmer, not Vietnamese. Hence, they had two dictionaries with them: Khmer- Vietnamese and Vietnamese- English. Whenever they wanted to express in English, they thought in Khmer first, then translated into Vietnamese, and finally from Vietnamese into English. However, only a few of them could complete the course because their self-esteem was strongly hurt by classmates who were not religious. Their classmates laughed at them for two reasons: their strong Khmer accent and, second, the words from the Bible they used in class . As a result, at that time, I wished I could have had an English textbook to teach them.
As previously mentioned, Soc Trang city is a city of pagodas, so the best tourist guides are the monks who live in those pagodas. Each pagoda has its own beauty and specialty. Some of them are very popular, such as the Bat pagoda, Clay pagoda and China pagoda. The Bat pagoda is like its name, having in it thousands of bats. In the Clay pagoda, every object was made of clay. Moreover, it has a couple of huge candles which have lasted 60 years apiece. China pagoda was built by matching pieces of china bowls. Others are well-known because of huge sculptures of Buddhists and scenes which represent the laws of Buddhism. As a result, in order to introduce the places they are proud of, the monks feel there is a need to learn English.
This program would focus on skills for speaking in front of the public and basic vocabulary about Buddhism such as places, objects and beliefs. When finishing the course, every monk would be self confident enough to communicate and introduce the pagodas with tourists.
4.1.2 English for drivers
Taxi and motor taxi drivers have played in important role in promoting the tourism of Soc Trang city. Unlike monks, drivers have more chances to speak to foreigners. For example, they carry tourists from coach stations to accommodation and from there to tourist sites. Sometimes, backpackers employ them for day trips. These are great chances for them to improve their income, but they need to achieve a certain level of English. Therefore, the course can provide them basic daily communicative English with the bias on greetings, self introducing, giving directions, doing measurements, working with numbers and learning about transportation. At the end of the course, they can use English to improve their occupation as driver.
4.1.3 English for doctors
Today, more and more doctors come to English language centres to learn for many reasons. Firstly, due to the standardization of hospitals, all doctors are expected to possess a level B national certificate of English . If doctors whose degrees are from distance learning, they must have an English certificate to be paid as doctors otherwise their salary is only equal to that of nurses. That is the regulation I knew from a private conversation with a doctor, one of my students. Secondly, because of the convention from the government, they have to take TOEFL or IELTS exams before access is granted to higher education. In addition, more and more charity organizations visit and help hospitals in the city, and the doctors must know English to work with them. Finally, to be fluent in English is an advantage for them in terms of being selected to attend training courses abroad.
Among the courses I have suggested in this program, English for doctors is the most difficult because of its professional targets. This course offers topics such as medical care and treatment, sickness, symptoms, psychology, human anatomy and hospital equipment. This may be the most challenging course for teaching staff.
4.1.4 English for travel
Today, a large number of Vietnamese go abroad for family reunions. They are sponsored by husbands, children or parents. However, the majority of that population is for marriage. Soc Trang is a city which has one of the highest rates of women marrying overseas, both to Vietnamese and foreigners. Hence, they need to learn English in a short time. Because the courses at English language centres have the tendency to train learners with grammar and writing, people who need English to go abroad usually invite personal English tutor to teach them at home, which is very expensive.
As a result, the new course offers daily conversational English about familiar topics such as introducing oneself, asking for requests, asking for directions, talking about interests and weather and basic cultural lessons about the USA and the UK. This is preparation for them to be able to communicate with foreigners and be familiar with the new environment, thereby avoiding culture shock.
4.1.5 English for housewives
Housewives play an important role in maintaining family happiness. Although they stay at home, they are some reasons for them to learn English. First, it may help them to be self confident with others, especially their husbands as their knowledge is upgraded. Most housewives have the duty to help and supervise children’s learning in the evening, so their English will be very helpful with their children. Finally, sometimes their husbands are invited to the social events which require their wives’ attendance. Therefore, being well-equipped in English helps them to participate in public situations where they can meet foreigners. This course provides topics about house furniture, interests, family, shopping, travelling and beauty.
4.1.6 English for IELTS
IELTS is the most demanding and important programme with Vietnamese learners. As I said before, a good IELTS score is compulsory in order to access post-graduate education. If a learner wants to follow post-graduate studies within Vietnam, universities require the minimum score of 5.0 whereas foreign universities’ standard requirement is 6.5. Every year, Vietnamese universities have three entrance exams for post-graduate enrolment. From thousands of candidates, about 1500 students will be selected. Therefore, this programme is very important for students in Soc Trang city, as whenever they have the need for IELTS preparation they have to travel to another main city in Mekong Delta to learn which costs them in travel, accommodation and living expenses. To guarantee the quality of this course, the learners who wish to follow the class are required to take a placement test. They need to have an intermediate level of English before learning IELTS due to the complexity and difficulty of the IETLS test itself.
The textbooks for programmes for monks, doctors and IELTS will be obtained in the UK and will be used for references and as models to design new ones which are suitable for use with Vietnamese learners. The other courses can be designed by teachers in my hometown.
These are some books which might help for the programme:
•English for Medicine in Higher Education Studies: Course Book and Audio CDs (English for Specific Academic Purposes) - Marie McCullagh
•Dictionary of Biomedical Acronyms and Abbreviations - Jacques Dupayrat
•A Dictionary of Medicines (Oxford Paperback Reference) - Jan Hawthorn
•English for Business Studies Student's book: A Course for Business Studies and Economics Students - Ian MacKenzie
•English in Medicine: A Course in Communication Skills: Course Book (3rd Ed.) - Eric H. Glendinning
•A Dictionary of Buddhism (Oxford Paperback Reference) - Damien Keown
•Cambridge IELTS 7, Cambridge books for Cambridge Exams 2009, by Corporate Author Cambridge ESOL
In conclusion, the investment in education is a respectable effort because it serves the public good and the community at large. The plan to establish the English Centre for Adults with Specific Purposes is not a target that is out of reach. For a long time, the tendency to invest in education which targets children has prevailed. Somehow we seem to forget the need of adults who also wish to return to school. Personally, this wish should be respected to a greater extent as adult learners have had to overcome many obstacles and challenges such as the responsibility for a family and the duty for work in order to pursue higher education for their potential development. Therefore, I would be highly grateful for any suggestions, ideas or materials can be sent to me to make my dream come true.
Beck , S. C., Martı´nez, I. A., Panza, C. B. 2009. Academic vocabulary in agriculture research articles: A corpus-based study. English for Specific Purposes, 28: 183–198. Science direct.
Duong, T. H. O. 2007. Meeting Students’ Needs in Two EAP Programmes in Vietnam and New Zealand. Regional Language Centre Journal, 38 (3): 324-349
Molle, D., Prior, P. 2008. Multimodal Genre Systems in EAP Writing Pedagogy: Reflecting on a Needs Analysis. Tesol Quarterly, 42 (4): 541- 566
Olivera, P. A. F. 2005. Research Proposals on Specialized Lexicography and English for Specific Purposes. Specialized Communication and English Studies, 27 (2): 41–55
Read, J. 2008. Identifying academic language needs through diagnostic assessment. Journal of English for Academic Purposes 7: 180- 190
Richards, J.C. 2001. Curriculum Development in Language Teaching. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.
Richterich, R. (ed.). 1983. Case Studies in Identifying Language Needs. Oxford: Pergamon/Council of Europe.
West, R. 1994. Needs Analysis in Language Learning. Language Teaching 27(1): 1-19.