Alphabets and “teaching” the teacher

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I don't understand the "V" symbol, but kids, and even adults, flash is all over Asia anytime a camera is pointed at them. But they are cute, aren't they?
I don’t understand the “V” symbol, but kids, and even adults, flash is all over Asia anytime a camera is pointed at them. But they are cute, aren’t they?

Oct 23, 2014

I try to start my classes off each day with a positive quote. It’s a simple warm up which helps get the students thinking and talking in English. But the quote I used yesterday simply didn’t work:

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”

― Abraham Lincoln

I asked three students what they thought it meant, and got blank stares. So I started asking questions. Did they know who Lincoln was? Yes, he was an American president (though they seemed to think he was a recent one). Did they know what a thorn was? A bush? No. So I Googled photos of thorn bushes. But they still didn’t understand. Turns out they didn’t know the word for rose. They had seen the flower, mostly on TV, but I had to explain that roses have thorns. They don’t grow here, so none of them knew that. It turned out to be more of a lesson for the teacher than the students.

My students, doing their work.
My students, doing their work.

The rain seems to fall the heaviest JUST as I need to leave for work. And on a scooter, that’s a problem. I decided to wait out the storm and was a bit later than usual. But everyone did the same. That’s how the combination of monsoon and scooters goes!

Oct 24, 2014

I’ve eaten some odd things, but Bob has the current record in our apartment for unusual dishes. He went to a “business” lunch and they served pig brain soup. He said he tried it and it needed soy sauce. Lots of soy sauce. But he ate it politely and didn’t comment. Probably won’t have it again. He mentioned this at school and Thom and I had to tell him about balut (developing duck embro, served in the shell, though it is called hột vịt lộn here in Vietnam). He was completely grossed out.

This is the pharmacy. You can't go inside, but have to walk up to the window where the pharmacist will help you. The Vitamin C I wanted was right near the window.
This is the pharmacy. You can’t go inside, but have to walk up to the window where the pharmacist will help you. The Vitamin C I wanted was right near the window, fortunately.

I try to do just one or two new things a day. That keeps me growing, but without getting overwhelmed. Today, I managed to find a pharmacy and buy Vitamin C. I tried to also buy something for diarrhea, but could not make the pharmacist understand what I wanted (just try pantomiming THAT!), nor did I recognize any of the brands. I’d forgotten my English to Viet dictionary, so I’ll have to try this again. I also managed to put fuel into the scooter’s tank. There’s no self-serve here and you have to show the money before they will pump for you. I held out 70,000vnd and that’s all he would pump for me, so it’s a good thing that almost filled the tank. The attendant looked like a bouncer and had a very suspicious expression! When I said, “Bay muoi” (70) he did a quick nod of his head and said “sesenty.” Which I assume means seventy. Of course who knows how poor my Vietnamese pronunciation was!

I drove to a favorite coffee shop with air conditioning, Café Lucid. I’m working my way through their menu, trying to figure out what each item is. I’ve had Com Bo Luc Lac before, but today I had it with xuc xich, not knowing what that was likely to be. It turned out to be a hot dog. Seriously. My students later called it a “sausage” of which there are numerous kinds in Vietnam. But it was fine and had lots of fresh vegetables, some lean beef and rice. Along with an iced coffee, it fueled me to make lesson plans for the next two days. Sausages are simply ground meat, pressed together into the familiar tube shape, but there are no spices added.

Bo Luc Lac with Xue Xich--basically a beef stirfry with lots of veggies and a hot dog, plus rice.
Bo Luc Lac with Xue Xich–basically a beef stirfry with lots of veggies and a hot dog, plus rice.

Oct 25, 2014

Accomplished a few “new” things today. First, a new coffee shop where I worked on my lesson plans for the weekend. They have some posters on the walls, obviously chosen because of the English words. But it’s filled with the words “Put Your Text Here” or a dummy script (Lorem ipsum). Hilarious!

Clearly any English-looking words impress them. This was one the walls of a new coffee shop.
Clearly any English-looking words impress them. This was one the walls of a new coffee shop.

Finally got to try the soup, Bun Rieu, but suspect there is better out there. This was a street vendor and though she was incredibly kind and attentive, her soup just wasn’t that great. The noodles were spaghetti, the soup base wasn’t actually tomato based and there was no taste of crab. Still, if I hadn’t known better I’d have said it was ok. For 15,000vnd, including iced tea, it was worth the money, filling and pretty healthy. After inspecting the situation closer, I think I may not go back to this particular vender. Her cleanliness standards just aren’t quite high enough for me. Yes, I do have standards! I grabbed some Banh Cuon (15,000vnd, meat and veggies wrapped up in a fresh rice paper wrapper, topped with “sausage,” peanuts and fried onions.) from a second vender and a banh mi (12,000vnd, a sandwich on a French baguette) for later from the third.

The soup was tasty, though it wasn't quite as advertised. Still, it was worth the price.
The soup was tasty, though it wasn’t quite as advertised. Still, it was worth the price.
Here is a typical "kitchen" on the street. The woman is dishing up Bun Rieu for me.
Here is a typical “kitchen” on the street. The woman is dishing up Bun Rieu for me.
And this is the proprietor. She was very attentive and kind and she tried very hard to make me feel welcome. Notice the jacket and hat. It was in the upper 80F and would soon be 90F, but she is protecting her skin from the sun.
And this is the proprietor. She was very attentive and kind and she tried hard to make me feel welcome. Notice the jacket and hat. It was in the upper 80F and would soon be 90F, but she is protecting her skin from the sun.
This is banh cuon, but you can't see the delicate rice paper rolls beneath all the herbs, "sausage," Tofu, crispy rice and French fried onions. Tasty! It came with dipping sauce in a bag and a toothpick.
This is banh cuon, but you can’t see the delicate rice paper rolls beneath all the herbs, “sausage,” Tofu, crispy rice and French fried onions. Tasty! It came with dipping sauce in a bag and a toothpick.

After some chores in the apartment, I got out the scooter. First I needed to visit the ATM, but accidentally drove past it. Rather than turn around, I decided to just go around the block. Mistake! There are no blocks here. The side streets are a rabbit warren of narrow passageways and it was harrowing on the scooter. I finally found my way out and back to the ATM. Then to the CoopMart. I needed to get my own helmet and rain poncho (I’ve been borrowing Thom’s) plus some groceries (it’s the only place I can find peanut butter) and other items. It’s frightening to see the bill come to 600,000! (Fortunately that’s only about $30) There are some things I’d love to buy, like plastic shelves, but don’t know how I’d get them home on the scooter.

This is the "demonstration man." It slices, it dices and it makes julienne fries! Behind him is the KFC, probably the most popular fast food in the area.
This is the “demonstration man.” It slices, it dices and it makes julienne fries! Behind him is the KFC, probably the most popular fast food in the area.
The CoopMart is three floors, but the grocery takes up most of the ground floor.
The CoopMart is three floors, but the grocery takes up most of the ground floor.

Oct 26, 2014

Saturdays are brutal teaching days. I have five classes! Two of them are short, just 15 minutes with the very youngest students, to review vocabulary. But those classes start at 7:45a. Then I have three 90 minute classes, spaced through the day. My last class is over at 7:30p, so it’s a very long day. The kids have so much energy and I have so little!

This is the teacher's room. You can see we are all busy at work. None of the Vietnamese teachers own laptops, so they use the school's two computers every day.
This is the teacher’s room. You can see we are all busy at work. None of the Vietnamese teachers own laptops, so they use the school’s two computers every day.
I'm saved! I found the Vietnamese "Liquid Plumber."
I’m saved! I found the Vietnamese “Liquid Plumber.” It isn’t as good, but better than nothing.

I find that I’m pretty much on my own when developing lesson plans or tools to use in class. None of the native Vietnamese teachers own a laptop and as far as I can tell Marcus, Khanh and I are the only ones who use one in class. I can deal with smaller classes pretty well, but large ones can be tough. I scour the web and the resource books in the library for “tools” to keep the kids interested. Last night I had the Dragons class which has been so loud and unruly in the past. I only had one page of the textbook to cover and I knew that wouldn’t take very long. The topic was different countries and people, so I put together a PowerPoint presentation. For each of the countries suggested in their book, I had a photo of the native dress and a famous site. We found the countries on a large world map (which I had to buy since the school does not own one). Most of the pictures came off the web, but some of the photos were my own. The kids have never traveled outside Vietnam, so they seemed impressed with my travels. Then I had them write “I would like to travel to _________.” And they had to put down at least 2 sentences about why they wanted to go there or what they would do. They hate writing exercises, but seemed to tolerate it when I put up a “timer” from the web with some soothing music underneath. I’d already told them that I’d pick at least four students to read aloud. I used the new Random Name Generator. They loved it so much that they voted to go through the entire class (rather than play a game!), reading their “essay” just so they could see their own name pop up on the screen. It got them talking and writing without complaint. And they paid attention better than they ever have. That is a WIN!

Speaking of things I had to buy, I saw a simple set of alphabet letters at a shop and quickly grabbed it without looking closely. Obviously, I should have expected this, but they were Vietnamese letters. The set includes all the tonal and diacritical marks plus a couple letters we don’t use in America. Since I’m teaching English, I put those aside. But there are also a few letters missing, like F, J and W which are not used in this language. Guess I will have to do without those!

This is a restaurant near the school. Often these small places are a single, small room for the "kitchen" and seating is on the sidewalk on tiny plastic tables and chairs.
This is a restaurant near the school. Often these small places are a single, small room for the “kitchen” and seating is on the sidewalk on tiny plastic tables and chairs.
This woman had just cooked up some fresh spring rolls for me, right on the street. Yum!
This woman had just cooked up some fresh spring rolls for me, right on the street. Yum!
The entrance to my apartment building. It is 16 floors, one of the tallest buildings in the area. Never thought I would live in a gated community.
The entrance to my apartment building. It is 16 floors, one of the tallest buildings in the area. Never thought I would live in a gated community.
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Beth

I'm a professional vagabond. I quit my cubical job in January 2014. Since then, I've hiked the Appalachian Trail, The Camino, and taught English in Vietnam, Turkey, Russia, Spain, Mexico and Peru. I'm exploring the world and you can come too!

2 thoughts on “Alphabets and “teaching” the teacher”

  1. So I’m figuring out that you can figure out a lot of the words by just sounding them out using a Vietnamese accent. Many translate to the English word as it would sound with a heavy accent. Xuc = saus Xich= sich. Sausich= sausage. You’ve written a number of words that when I do this, it words.

    Don’t know about the V thing. I have a Japanese friend, and all of her friends do it in their pix too. Maybe an imitation of American GI’s doing a peace symbol from back in the 60’s?

    1. True about sounding out words– it helps! My latest is OTO: auto. I’m not able to write the diacritical marks above the letters, but The Vietnamese alphabet has 29 letters. It shares 22 of ours and used diacritical marks (mostly on vowels) to produce additional sounds/letters. Then you add five tones on top of that. It’s not easy, but it’s possible to learn. Easier than Chinese or Japanese.

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