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Vietnamese teacher holds project encouraging students to write English comics

Saturday, December 22, 2018, 21:13 GMT+7
Vietnamese teacher holds project encouraging students to write English comics
Books published by the Friends to Friends project are seen in this screenshot taken from the project's Facebook page.

A Vietnamese teacher is running a project to help students improve their fluency and control of the English language by creating unique and original comic strips.

Nguyen Ho Thuy Anh, MA, was in shock when her kindergarten-level ESL students showed her their illustrations of a storybook character’s hibernation habits. 

Though each work was stunning, one particular student, Tien, stood out. 

Though Tien isn’t yet old enough to write, Anh felt the young student’s ability to convey meanings and messages through drawings was an inspiration. 

As Anh pushed to help her student develop her talent, she quickly realized the powerful relationship between words and pictures and knew there had to be a way to link the two and inspire a love of English in her students.

Then-kindergartner Tien’s drawing that first inspired Thuy Anh to start the “Friends to Friends” project  in 2017
Then-kindergartner Tien’s drawing that first inspired Thuy Anh to start the “Friends to Friends” project in 2017

Anh set up a meeting with Duong Thanh Truyen, a former deputy editor-in-chief of Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, who offered her advice and guidance. 

The result?  “Friends to Friends” – a project aimed at boosting communicative language skills by offering students an opportunity to express their inner values and thoughts through comics written in English.

After two years spent looking for sponsorship, “Friends to Friends” finally made its long-awaited debut on December 16 on Nguyen Van Binh, the well-known Ho Chi Minh City Book Street in District 1.  

So far 30 comics have been submitted by students from across the country, ten of which were chosen to be showcased on the project’s opening day.

To unveiling hidden thoughts

The success of the project has hinged on how relatable the submissions have been to each teenage artist’s adolescent peers.

“I feel like all the characters in the comic books are so real, so close to me.  It’s as if they are just around the corner,” commented Hoang My, a tenth grader in Ho Chi Minh City.

But it is the underlying messages intended for adults that truly leaves an impression on readers.

Student author Truong Quoc Chien has a really interesting take on the matter.

His comic draws attention to the tendency of young students to copy the behavior of others, whether or not those behaviors are good or bad.

Chien’s comic, ‘Ditto Diddo’ uses the ‘Ditto’, a widely-known video game fantasy creature notorious for its power to change shape and mimic nearby creatures, as a tool to demonstrate the phenomenon.

“During our teenage years, we tend to behave similar to those we admire, or simply those who are nearby,” Chien said.

“[Copying] some musical idols may not be bad, but turning to crime or repeating swear words can happen if that is what you experience.  I wrote my story to remind my peers to be more careful in they select they choose their actions and to avoid developing vulgar habits.”


Chien’s comic wraps up with a touching reminder to parents who might be dealing with the negative consequences of their children copying those bad habits.

“After finding out about Diddo’s misbehavior, instead of hitting him, his mother consoles him and explains her disapproval. That is my message.  That hitting a child should only be treated as the last resort and as parents should be willing to listen to their children,” Chien explained.

Meanwhile, tenth-grade comic artist Ngo Thanh Nha took a different approach with her submission, “Big Brother’s Shadow”.

The story invokes the idea that children are forced to give up their personal identities and freedoms in favor of their parent’s demands.

“My main character aspires to be an artist, and an artist he will become, regardless of what others tell him to do,” Nha shared.

Ngo Thanh Nha (second right) shares thoughts about her comic, ‘Big Brother’s Shadow’, at the project’s debut fair.
Ngo Thanh Nha (second right) shares thoughts about her comic, ‘Big Brother’s Shadow’, at the project’s debut fair.

Nguyen Huyen Trang’s “Friends Always Help” also received recognition for shining light on the importance of unbiased friendship rather than exclusion based on appearance and other characteristics. 

Her main character, Stinkbug, is an outcast because of his smell and her comic focuses on his struggle.

Elementary student Xuan Khoa focuses on a simpler topic in his piece, “Wet the bed.”

In his comic, Khoa illustrates his own embarrassing experiences with wetting the bed and the actions he took to prevent his parents from finding out.

Thanks to strict yet sympathetic parenting shown in the comic, readers come to realize that mistakes are common among young children and that parents should give them the chance to correct their faults instead of taking more drastic approaches.


Red alert: academic achievements ‘not the source of self-esteem’

Many of the ten showcased authors come from families known for prestigious academic feats and expertise, but none of them used their platform to boast of their family’s success.

“It seems that their values don’t match up with those of their parents,” Thuy Anh remarked.

Quach Nguyen Minh Anh is prime example of Thuy Anh’s observation.

For Minh Anh, being able to cook, do household chores, and love her family by her own volition is worth more than dozens of highly-marked test papers.

For Truong Quoc Chien, his innate hardworking nature and a thirst for knowledge are the personal traits he is proud of.

Ngo Thanh Nha also takes pride in her willingness to step out of her comfort zone; that is, to deliver unwavering speech or defend personal views without fear of reproach.


Xuan Khoa, on the other hand, says he achieves personal growth by learning from his past mistakes.

“I learned how to wash clothes all by myself because I was afraid my parents would find out I wet the bed,” Khoa said.

“I feel like I’ve moved one step closer to being a responsible adult by learning how to clean up after myself.”

Nguyen Thanh Truc, mother of comic artist Ngo Thanh Nha, is proud that her daughter has shown her that sometimes there is too much pressure placed on children.

“It turned out expecting my daughter to rise to the ranks of her older siblings has been too demanding.  Now I’m realizing that needs to change,” Truc remarked.

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Duy Khoi / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

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