For the past month, a group of volunteer teachers have been offering free English lessons atop floating rafts in Can Tho City, allowing locals of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to practice English with foreigners.
The tuition-free class runs twice a week on a fish farming raft atop Con Son (Son Islet), just off the coast of Binh Thuy District, Can Tho City, where more than 20 students each session are given the chance to hone their English skills with the aid of native speakers.
Each of the students who attend the class has their own reason for being there. Some are orchard owners hoping to turn their business into a tourist draw, while others are delivery workers and boat captains.
What they all have in common, however, is a desire to learn English so that they can keep up with Con Son’s rise in popularity as a popular ecotourism draw.
A class for everyone
Each class begins with students and teachers arriving at the floating classroom on sampans, followed by simple greetings between the learners and their hosts.
Le Thi My Luong, one of the students, shared that her English has come a long way since she first began studying on the raft. She is now able to introduce herself and describe her family and hometown with ease.
“Everyone can join as long as they have spare time. I think I had a much more difficult time picking up the language than some of my classmates, but I’m thrilled that I can put full sentences together now,” Lung, a grandmother in her late 50s, shared, adding that she spends her free time practicing the language with her children and grandchildren.
Tran Khanh Phuong, another student in the free class, was also eager to share how far she has come since she began studying on the raft.
“It’s great to be here. I never skip class, even on days when I don’t feel well. I may not be able to make a long conversation with tourists, but at least I can give them a warm greeting in English,” Phuong said.
Well aware of their students’ mixed abilities, the class instructors work hard to ensure that each individual is taught at a pace they can follow and that lessons are tailored to their specific needs.
That the teachers are all unpaid volunteers from nearby Huyen Le English Center does not seem to affect their dedication to delivering meaningful, well-planned lessons.
A floating classroom
On the 50-square-meter raft where classes are held, the students’ chairs are arranged in a ‘U’ shape. This arrangement ensures all the students are able to see their teacher and facilitates student-student interaction, said Duong Quoc Tong, one of the volunteer teachers.
And just as the students are happy to be there, so are the teachers.
“I find the job very meaningful. I’m glad I can help local residents speak English and communicate more effectively with foreign tourists,” said Barry White, one of the foreign teachers on the raft.
When difficulties arise, the teachers help the older students looking up words on their smartphones before showing them how to use the new vocabulary in real life.
Ta Minh Khoi, director of Can Tho-based Huyen Le English Center, shared how proud he is of his staff helping the local community improve local tourism services through more effective English communication.
“More than 70 percent of the students are able to quite introduce themselves in English and also talk about food. It’s really exciting,” he said, adding he plans to increase the difficulty of the classes as the students become more experienced.
The teaching staff have also set up an online group to boost the students’ exposure to English and improve their speaking skills.
“This English class may not run forever, so the online group will help the students review what they have learned and allow them to interact by raising questions and receiving answers from the instructors,” Tong explained.