By Hien Dinh, Ed.D
Ho Chi Minh City Open University
Language Learning and Language Teaching Transformation in the Post-Method Era -- a familiar but attractive theme of the 6th OpenTESOL International Conference at HCM City Open University caught the eyes of those who are interested in language teaching and who are curious to know what may take place in foreign language education nowadays.
The main conference program took place on May 26, 2018 featuring three keynote presentations and 40 parallel sessions. On the whole, it can be said that the conference is an impressive and significant event that provides an excellent opportunity for language teachers and students, researchers, and professionals in the fields of foreign language education (FLE) in general and foreign language pedagogy in particular.
The workshop attracted attention of more than 120 participants coming from local and international language institutions. Participants in the workshops and conference included local and international EFL teachers, educators, English centers’ managers and administrators, professionals, and researchers in the fields of Foreign Language Teaching (FLT) and Applied Linguistics. The workshop welcomed the presence of several local and international Professors, Associate Professors, and Assistant Professors who took charge of keynote presentations in the main sessions. Additionally, the presence of some representatives from the Regional English Language Office (RELO), the US Embassy in Hanoi, the publishers from National Geographic Learning, Macmillan Vietnam, Pearson Education, and Oxford University Press (OUP) did warm up the conference atmosphere.
Within limit of two-day time-length, most of the presentations in the conference focused on new methods of teaching and learning various aspects of English language in the transformational period of time. It is worth mention that the keynote presentations in this conference (i) dealt with the Science of Happiness from which positive psychology might change language teachers’ teaching viewpoints and inspire language students’ positive learning attitude, (ii) reflected the EFL complex and landscape of language pedagogy and language education in the post-method era, and (iii) suggested an orientation from which technology should be brought into ELT and language curriculum development in terms of global foreign language education.
The first session was started by Prof. Marc Helgesen’ presentation with Positive Psychology (PP) -- a science investigating one’s mental health which can empower learners’ positive thinking. In this sense, PP offers a direction which might change language teachers’ teaching viewpoints and motivates language students’ learning attitude. Since PP investigates “happy mental health” that goes contrary to the traditional psychology focusing on mental illness, TIME magazine dubbed it “The Science of Happiness”. Seligman (2011) mentioned PP in FLT through the “PERMA model of wellbeing” in which the learning process consists of five steps: (i) Positive emotion, (ii) Engagement, (iii) Relationship, (i) Meaningfulness, and (v) Accomplishment. This really takes PP to a new level which integrates well with language teachers’ pedagogical goals in FLT. Moreover, since PP encourages “active constructive” answers to questions, it can be used as a discourse strategy in language teaching and language learning. In this sense, PP contributes a great deal to the outcome of Foreign Language Education (FLE).
To illustrate the effective impact of PP on language teaching, the presenter performed a classroom activity in which Extensive reading (ER) materials were brought into classroom and used to enhance student’s enjoyment and pleasure. He introduced reasons to be used ER and ways to implement it real setting. Some questions arisen then were (i) how much reading do students have to do? (ii) Should ER be integrated into the reading course or should it be treated as a separated coursework? Since ER used easy-to-understand stories, the students can experience pleasure while they are reading.
Besides PP, Brain Science (BS) is also worth mention in FLT. Leslie Hart – a pioneer in EFL education – stated that BS is the science studying what is going on in the minds of people. Whereas Leslie Hart said “Designing curriculum without knowing about the brain is like designing a glove without knowing about the hand”, Prof. Marc Helgesen emphasized that “the brain is where learning occurs”. This obviously reveals a close relationship between people’s brain and foreign language learning. Basing on the theory of BS, Helgesen suggested that EFL textbook writers should make EFL textbooks more appropriate for brain-compatible learning.
Additionally, in order to illustrate the connection between human being’ brain and their physical body, the presenter conducted some kinds of Do-It-Yourself activities or so-called “5-minute energy breaks”. He introduced 7 quick and easy ways to make textbooks more appropriate for brain-compatible learning, especially to modify textbook tasks to make them better which included (i) emotion, (ii) providing choice, (iii) novelty, (iv) multi-sensory learning, (v) challenge, (vi) creativity, and (vii) personalization. In short, Do-It-Yourself activities not only could get students move their bodies during learning time but also could help teachers break the ice to bring about a relaxing atmosphere to their class. (More on brain science in EFT is available on his website: tinyurl.com/DIYneuroELT).
Other presentations related to PP and BS also can be seen in this conference. Thao Vu -- the presenter of “Growth Mindset Feedback: Students’ Writing Development and Motivation” investigated the impact of mindset on language students. Through the students’ feedback, the researcher highly assessed the values of positive thinking that could empower students’ learning attitude and improve their language competence leading to their learning success.
Another researcher – Linh Ha – also addressed PP in her presentation. This author investigated the level of anxiety and its relationship with oral performance in real setting at Thu Duc College in HCM City. Having used a questionnaire, a speaking test, and interviews as the main instruments for her project, the findings of the research reveal a fact that her students are of a moderate level of anxiety which, in terms of Pearson correlation, can debilitate their oral performance in class. The researcher also suggested some classroom activities to solve this psychological problem in real context.
The point worth mention here is that PP especially has many things to do with EFL learners’ motivation. In her research entitled “Motivational strategies exploited in teaching speaking to first-year mainstream students” Oanh Nguyen stressed the importance of applying motivational strategies in EFL. The author employed classroom observation and a questionnaire as the main instrumentation to see if applying motivational strategies in real class could bring about successful learning. The findings in her study revealed that employing these kinds of strategies could improve ELF learners’ language competence as well as their learning attitude. As a conclusion, the researcher suggested some highly-evaluated motivational strategies which might lead to students’ learning success.
The second session– ELT Complex and Dynamic Landscape -- is also worth notice. The author – Assoc. Prof. Canh Le stirred up the conference atmosphere and led the participants to the general view of EFL landscape in the post-method era from which global EFL education confronted with complexity and dynamism. The term “Complexity” means “personal, individual, contextually situated, highly varied, and difficult to predict in its development”. This perspective has had questioned assumptions about aspects of language in terms of simplistic, unidirectional, linear patterns which engender language teachers’ awareness of being flexible, adaptive, and sensitive to the dynamics in the classroom. His talk maybe could help language teachers renew their understanding of language, learners, learning and pedagogy. All these things lead to complexity and dynamism in language education.
Additionally, the presenter shared a belief that language teaching is essentially very complex and locally-situated that language teachers should move away from descriptive approaches towards more principled and contextually situated methodology. In this sense, he stated that modern language teachers need to adopt alternative ways of thinking and to open eyes to different ways of viewing their classrooms. Finally he presenter gave some suggestions on how language teachers can develop their ways of thinking and seeing to make their pedagogic practices more contextually informed.
Looking for an orientation to ELT in the post-method era was the content of the final presentation delivered by Assist. Prof. David Campbell. The author emphasized the role technology has played so far in TESOL and how it might impact the young generation of language teachers and students in the future. His presentation covered some of the trends in technology such as learner management system, mobile devices, and artificial intelligence which might cause obstacles for EFL teachers and students; however, he stressed on the opportunities all these technologies definitely will create for them in the process of teaching and learning. As a conclusion, the speaker shared a belief that technology will play an essential role in FLT which certainly could bring about effective educational values in near future.
In this keynote presentation, Assist. Prof. David Campbell basically centered around the question of utilizing technology in EFL classroom. Some questions arisen then such as why technology should be used in ELT, what technological-used skills EFL teachers should have to teach language learners in class, and what ELT teachers should be trained and provided with so that they can fulfill their pedagogical responsibility in the new era. Through discussion, Assist. Prof. David Campbell stressed that (i) using technology in the classroom was the most important and necessary in the post-method era, and (ii) the young generation of EFL teachers should be trained as professionals in utilizing technology in their classrooms since this direction certainly might empower EFL students to be lifelong learners and proficient users of English. And in this sense, the presenter suggested that utilizing CALL (Computer-Assisted Language Learning) in the classroom since for years, CALL has been considered the most popular and effective scientific means in foreign language teaching.
In order to illustrate CALL’s impact on language learning, Assist. Prof. David Campbell conducted an Information gap activity currently so popular and familiar with language teachers. However, he wondered if they knew how to use them in a CALL setting? Being a member of CALL, the presenter skillfully conducted this activity by creating a private website on computer to teach the lesson in which its procedure included three main stages (i) Groups / Groupings, (ii) Restrict access, and (iii) Completion settings. This activity stirred up the conference atmosphere that could make people think that technology might contribute a great deal to the development of foreign language pedagogy since it really helped language teachers recognize the benefits technology could bring about for ELT in terms of learning success.
Having the same viewpoint on bringing technology into language classroom, Dr. Lan Nguyen from HCM City Open University provided a critical view of considering computer-mediated collaborative learning as a supportive device to teach ELT learners. In her opinion, Vietnamese learners might benefit a great deal from computer-mediated communication since it might improve their language skills as well as enhance their language competence. In respond to Decision No. 55/2008/CT-BGDDT on strengthening the information and Communication Technologies in the 21th century, another presenter – Cao Nguyen from Dong Thap University -- utilized Facebook as a language tool to develop English competence for an online group of Vietnamese professional laborers. The researcher shared her belief that by using CALL, these learners not only could create an online community in which they could share with one another their writings and materials in the learning process but also could integrate into the global economy as well.
Among the other technological language devices, Google is also dealt with as a device used for language learning. The presentation entitled “Using Google classroom to benefit EFL students: Challenges and opportunities” was most welcomed by the participants in the workshop. There were no rooms for the late comers then. The two presenters – Jasper Roe and Stewart Utley dealt with Google classroom in terms of educational technology which seemed to exist the potential benefits as well as limitations of the software in a range of pedagogical contexts. They provided a broad overview of the functionalities of Google Classroom and the software’s integration with third-party language learning application. Specifically they stressed that the integration of OpenEd multimedia content could promote EFL learners’ guided listening and writing activities, and Utilizing Google Classroom integration could enhance learner autonomy. Exchanging ideas with participants in the workshop helped them examine the potential benefits that this method of software integration brought to both EFL teachers and learners. And this contributed a great deal to the outcome of their research. However, these authors also addressed the limitations of Google Classroom and identified areas of importance for scholarly research in the future.
Other technological devices -- mobile and smartphone -- also can be treated as language-supported devices in ELT. Dr. Anh Vu et al conducted a case study at Binh Duong University using mobile to teach pronunciation for English majors; Duc Duong carried out a research using smartphone to teach Reading Comprehension for English majors at Van Lang University; Nhan Do conducted a project utilizing videos to teach Writing for EFL teenagers, and My Nguyen applied ICT to enhance ELF learners’ oral competence. In short, using technology to teach EFL seems to be a favorable and appropriate tendency for language teachers and language students in current real setting in Vietnam.
Other aspects related to ELT -- language strategies and Applied Linguistics -- were also addressed in this workshop. Many presenters from different language institutions throughout Vietnam employed strategies in their teaching. Basing on learning strategies, Ngo Le could help students extend their vocabulary store in the University of Economics in HCM City, Hong Nguyen could improve students’ language competence in high-school, Hong Hoang could teach medical terms effectively for learners in her institution, Anh Hoang could improve her skill in teaching Reading Comprehension in English Science classes, and Dr. Mai Le et al could promote students’ willingness to communicate in EFL classes. Regarding Applied Linguistics, Assoc. Prof. Oanh Ho reported the challenges she encountered during the process of teaching a Contrastive Analysis coursework at Danang University of Foreign language Studies; Yen Phuong et al discussed the impact of collocation knowledge on ELF students’ language skills; Dung Pham et al applied shadowing techniques to improve students’ “Ed” pronunciation; Linh Vo employed scaffolding in peer interaction with Vietnamese college students; and Tam Hoang reported factors causing obstacles for Vietnamese visually-impaired students in EFL.
Teaching the four language skills was dynamically dealt with in the workshop. This can be seen through the following presentations (i) Loan Nguyen carried out a research to see the impact of storytelling on Vietnamese high school students’ oral performance; (ii) Dung Nguyen employed top-down processing instruction in teaching TOEIC; (iii) Bui Nguyen et al reported their research applying reading materials to improve students’ writing skill; (iv) Thuy Pham et al carried out a project incorporating extensive reading into teaching Reading Comprehension subject to enhance students’ reading competence; and (v) Mai Nguyen focused on evaluating the currently-used material “International Express” to replace “Streamline English” text book.
The question of curriculum development was also brought into discussion in the workshop. This can be seen through (i) Ho Nguyen’s project aiming at developing an English curriculum in collaboration with employers; (ii) Anh Le’s report discussing the challenges EFL might face in curriculum design for autonomy learning; (iii) Mai Nguyen’s research aiming at enhancing learners’ autonomy at tertiary level through an online coursework in a distance learning English program; and (iv) Thao Le’s curriculum design of a general English coursework using blended learning model to teach EFL learners in a distance-learning program in her institution.
Many presentations on teacher education, ICC – EIL attracted much attention from the participants in the workshop. In these presentations, (i) Thanh Bui pointed out the changes, chances and challenges ELT teachers and students might face in the post-method era; (ii) Thuy Tran et al reported their design of self-created lessons for EFL students in a self-directed learning environment; (iii) Hoa Lai impressed participants with her project on the effect of monolingual and bilingual dictionaries on vocabulary recall and retention; (iv) Tung Vu conducted a case study investigating experiential learning to develop learners’ ICC; and (v) Hanh Dinh et al attracted the participants’ attention with their research on utilizing podcasts to enhance students’ intercultural communicative competence.
Additionally, there were also some research on project-based learning in EFT. In these presentations, Thuan Pham expressed his viewpoint on designing a project-based curriculum for elementary EFL learners; Anh Vu applied project-based learning theory to improve students’ critical thinking skill in her Speaking lessons; and Na Chi employed poster exhibition to teach EFL learners at her institution.
Besides all the above-mentioned sessions, the Conference committee also organized a symposium for Chinese FLT. Most of the presenters come from HCM City Open University where the Conference was held. In this symposium, whereas Dr. Phi Chau carried out a research focusing on classification of function words and comparison of grammatical terms in Chinese versus Vietnamese, Dr. Hien La reported his project comparing and contrasting the functional uses of the preposition “CHO” in Vietnamese. Other presenters – Dr. Vu Luu from Banking University HCM City -- talked about the training of meta-cognitive strategies for Chinese who speak Chinese as a second language; Dr. Huy Tran focused on the courtesy of Chinese’s modal particles; Dr. Anh Ho investigated translating Chinese borrowed words; and Dr. Quyen Truong suggested some kinds of effective translating and interpreting strategies used for students at the Foreign Languages Department in HCM City Open University.
To sum up, the Open TESOL 2018 International Conference really left a good impression on all the participants in terms of a transformation of foreign language pedagogy in the modern era. It facilitates an international network which is rather beneficial for HCM City Open University, for its Faculty of Foreign Languages, and especially for post-graduates throughout Vietnam who are engaging in related research. Especially the conference provides an informative and significant opportunity for those who have passion on EFL and who nourish an ambition to fulfill a noble educational responsibility. In short, it can be said that Open TESOL 2018 contributes a meaningful part to the integration of TESOL in Vietnam into global education in terms of foreign language development in the post-method era.
HCM City, May 30 2018
Hien Dinh, Ed.D
Reviewer—HCM City Open University