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A foreign language class at Nong Lam University in Ho Chi Minh City

Education officers admitted at a Friday conference that foreign language teaching in Vietnam has been a "failure," as many college students cannot use the languages.

Experts at the conference over a national foreign language project said that incorrect understanding of the subject has led to inappropriate teaching methods of foreign languages in Vietnam for a long time, Tuoi Tre reported.

Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Hung from Hanoi Foreign Language University and chief manager of the "National Foreign Language 2020" project, said foreign language is a subject of skills but has been incorrectly considered a subject of knowledge.

Thus the curricula have given little space to communication skills and instead focused mostly on grammar rules for exam purposes, even the college entrance exams, Hung said.

He said at the conference that "many college students have passed their exams with high grades but could not use the language in their life and work because their study is not aimed at using the language, but only at taking exams."

Experts conducting the project said that most students at colleges are inactive in foreign language study and have no clue about using the Internet to facilitate their study.

Dr. Duong Bach Nhat from Duy Tan University in Da Nang said many students have low competence in listening, speaking and writing essays. "They're not familiar with intonations or communication, and have poor vocabulary," Nhat said.

A survey under the project showed that foreign language teachers at colleges are lecturing too much, while they need to give more time for the students to use the language.

Nguyen Vinh Hien, vice minister of Education and Training, said many college teachers are "unable or unwilling" to use modern tools like the Internet, which can bring the students closer to native language users.

The bad language input from their teachers has made it difficult for many students to be competitive in the workplace, although they already meet professional requirements.

Ta Thi Kim Ngan, head of the human resource department at FPT Software Ho Chi Minh City, told Tuoi Tre that all candidates at the company receive an English language test with 50 questions, but few of them have 30 correct answers.

Ngan said the company used to set the passing point at 25 but then lowered that to 18, and many employees later had to be trained further to write English e-mails and to sit at English-speaking conferences.

A survey by HCMC Laws University this year showed that none of the school graduates are assessed by their employers as having "good" foreign language competence.

The matter is even worse among students majoring in foreign languages.

Hien said at the conference that many such students have become poorly qualified foreign language teachers at high schools. The project found that only 10 percent of high school foreign language teachers in the country meet European language standards. In some places, the number is 1 to 2 percent.

That creates a cycle in which high school teachers then provide colleges with incompetent students.

According to experts at the conference, the project's goal of improving foreign language competence at colleges in four years is almost a mission impossible, as the students' foundation is already poor while colleges, except language ones, do not have much time or many teachers for the job.

The project aims to make college students whose majors are not foreign languages to understand the main ideas of a basic discourse, understand clearly those familiar with their work, and to deal with normal conservation situations.

Students majoring in foreign languages are meanwhile required to understand complicated writings on specific topics, recognize implications, and communicate and express themselves fluently and naturally with native speakers.

Under the project, around 10 percent of college students are expected to receive intensive foreign language training in 2011-2012, 60 percent by 2016 and all college students by 2020.

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