Foreign languages in schools under debate
  • | VNS | October 04, 2016 09:29 PM
Soon after the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) proposed that Chinese and Russian be taught as first foreign languages from next year, a controversial discussion followed.
A foreign language class at primary school.— Photo

The proposal is applicable for students from grades three to 12, the highest grade in Vietnamese high schools.

According to the proposal, the first foreign language, which must be compulsorily learned from grades six to 12, can be chosen from these five languages: English, Russian, French, Chinese and Japanese.

The second foreign language is optional and can be learned depending on students’ demands and schools’ conditions. It can be chosen from the above-mentioned five languages.

German and Korean will be taught on a trial basis as second foreign languages if provinces and schools have the demand and the conditions needed.

The foreign language teaching and learning proposal towards 2020, compiled by the MoET, also focuses on building the Russian and Chinese curriculum from grades three to 12, like English, French and Japanese.

Associate Professor Trịnh Thị Kim Ngọc gave her consent to the proposal, saying that learning the language and culture of China or Russia is an advantage on the international negotiation table.

“English is predominant in international negotiations, but we cannot ignore the giant culture of the Russia,” she said. 

Nguyễn Hiếu Trung, a research student in South Korea, told the Tin Tức (News) newspaper that learning Russian, Chinese and Japanese is never needless because these countries have influences on Việt Nam’s society and culture. Learning languages and cultures of neighbouring countries should be encouraged, he said.

Meanwhile, some experts argued that Vietnamese students should focus on learning only one language that was recognised by the world as an international language, instead of offering various choices. Students might learn the basics of 5-7 languages, but they would end up not excelling in any language.

“The Vietnamese must focus on English. Learning other languages depends on the demand and orientations of families and the ability of learners,” Professor Nguyễn Võ Kỳ Anh said.

Experts also say English has been universalised in Việt Nam for more than 20 years but the quality of teachers and teaching material was inadequate.

According to the MoET, nearly 90 per cent of students got English scores below five (out of ten) in the national high school exam this year. Many graduates could not apply English in real life and work.

Investment on improving the quality of teachers is more urgent than adding more languages to the curriculum, experts say.

Other experts suggest spending a specific amount of time to prepare the schedule on compiling material and training teachers.

Professor Nguyễn Quốc Hùng, former deputy rector of Hà Nội-based University of Languages and International Studies, suggested conducting surveys on what students wanted before making official decisions.

“The most important thing is not to make it mandatory for students to learn some languages but to let them choose. Each student should learn only one foreign language that they love and choose themselves following their parents’ investment,” he said.

In response to public controversies on the foreign language teaching and learning proposal between 2016 and 2020, Minister of Education and Training Phùng Xuân Nhạ advised parents and students to avoid worrying about the many foreign languages being taught at school.

Teaching Chinese and Russian is not new but has just been applied from grades six to 12 (seven years) in universal education. The ministry has only made changes in its design of the 10-year curriculum, according to the minister.

He emphasised the necessity to review teachers’ quality and the curriculum to provide uniform teaching material nationwide, while stepping up supervision on learning quality to meet standards.

“We must not only focus on English, but also pay attention to demands of localities and grades. Besides prioritising English, we need to develop other foreign languages,” he said. “Cities and provinces which have the necessary facilities to teach other languages should be encouraged.”

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