Mr. Gavan Iacono, General Director of Language Link Vietnam, tells VET about its investment in technology and plans for the future.
1. How would you comment on the major changes in English language training in Vietnam over the years?
National Foreign Language Projects have supported and improved English language training in Vietnam and have created lots of change within the country in recent years. These strong initiatives from the government and the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) have created a more dynamic and aware environment, where the importance of English has been elevated.
And the status of English will become compulsory in schools in the near future, I have on good advice from my contacts at MoET. The raising of the official status of English is crucial, as it will invigorate investment into learning English and English teacher training and attract serious and high-quality English language providers.
The second change in the English space is that parents and students are extremely demanding and well-informed about what they need. General English lessons driven by a teacher who centers the lesson around himself are no longer suitable. Parents and students need excellent teachers who can activate student learning by focusing on their strengths and weaknesses and promote individual improvement. Students need to be given autonomy and power in their own learning so that they can take responsibility for their progress, and teachers can facilitate this process. This creates life-long, proactive, confident learners able to think for themselves and solve their own problems. Another development is the dramatic change in the workplace and the study space, often referred to as Industry or Education 4.0.
Language Link is dealing with these changes in several ways, notably through our customized programs that respond to the exact needs of Vietnamese students today and in the future. We also run workshops, with one such case being training we are organizing with the Hanoi Department of Education and Training (DoET) in August, showing secondary school teachers the effective use of technology in the English Language Teaching (ELT) classroom.
Language Link has also for several years now had a Research and Development Division, which invests around VND5 billion ($215,000) a year on developing customized online, in-class, and blended learning solutions especially for Vietnamese learners. The division also develops software for running educational organizations. At Language Link Vietnam we believe customization beats generic and imported programs every day of the week.
2. What achievements has Language Link gained and how has it contributed to the positive changes in the country?
Vietnam’s participation in the WTO attracted a huge amount of FDI and enhanced development in science, technology, culture, and education. At the same time, Language Link Vietnam has been actively investing in and contributing to education in Vietnam.
We are also an authorized internationally-recognized Trinity College’s Teacher Training Center (TYLEC) and been a trusted partner of DoET in teacher training programs for decades. We annually provide teacher training courses and seminars for hundreds of teachers in Hanoi. In 2017, we received a Certificate of Merit from the Hanoi People’s Committee for our contribution to English language training in the city.
As an authorized Cambridge University Examination and Preparation Site, we have tested and provided certificates to more than 2,800 students. We also invested VND28 billion in education facilities. Thanks to our contribution, Language Link Vietnam is on the short list to be presented a Certificate of Merit by the Prime Minister.
3. What are your thoughts on the competition in the field, with new English language centers increasing in number? What differentiates Language Link from other centers?
At present, there are more than 500 English centers certified by Hanoi DoET and an uncountable number of unregistered or ad-hoc English centers in the capital. They provide classes with both foreign English teachers and Vietnamese English teachers. While most of the FDI English centers focus on communicative English, many Vietnamese centers focus more on test preparation and grammar.
No foreign ESL centers provide advanced grammar, instead focusing on communicative English and phonics. Vietnamese ESL centers usually provide grammar revision and test preparation. The problem in Vietnam currently is that parents and students need both types of courses and there are very few if any centers that provide both. Language Link Vietnam has developed a unique English program especially for Vietnamese young learners. Our unique course combines:
Firstly, international Communicative English taught by qualified and experienced foreign teachers.
Secondly, in-depth grammar study and test preparation to help learners achieve better results in school tests and Cambridge exams, supporting students to get into elite middle schools when they complete Grade 5, while for high school students our courses provide excellent preparation for university studies inside and outside of Vietnam.
Thirdly, a blended reading component that supports learners in gaining more exposure to English on a daily basis and helps them develop healthy reading skills. Reading is a rapidly diminishing skill in younger generations. We regard the revitalization of reading as essential to the cognitive empowerment of young people, which they need to be academically successful. The addiction to and superficiality of hand-held electronic devices is destroying people’s ability to think deeply and develop analytical skills. Reading is one of the antidotes to this modern illness.
4. Many startups are focusing on developing English e-learning. How will these affect English language centers like Language Link?
Learning a language requires interaction with people, as language is an expression of culture and is how people interact and integrate. A classroom provides a pretty good simulation of real-life interactions. E-learning will struggle to fully replace learning a language in a classroom or similar environment, as it can’t easily simulate human interaction. However, as a supplementary tool for learning English, it has a role to play.
Face-to-face learning also enables a professional teacher to guide the student more robustly, observe and correct student communications, and develop a relationship with the student that will provide confidence and, eventually, autonomy in learning. Face-to-face learning is very important at the foundational and early development levels and is also essential in preparation for studying at an international school or abroad.
We therefore encourage students who are serious about learning English properly to attend classes where the program is comprehensive and offers full preparation for further study and work.
5. Investing in technology for teaching and learning English is now a trend. How has the company invested in technology for its operations?
Language Link classrooms are equipped with sound and visual systems as well as projectors or Interactive Whiteboards (IWB) to enhance learning effectiveness. We developed different activities relating to visual slideshows (videos, images, etc.), with a particular emphasis on developing listening skills, speaking skills, and critical thinking skills.
In addition, the new English program for young learners at Language Link Academic has a blended component including both online and offline lessons that help students maximize learning duration. This component follows the Reading Wonders program, which is the first and only reading program designed specifically for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Reading/Language Arts. Combining research-based instruction with new tools to meet today’s challenges, every component and every lesson is designed for effective and efficient CCSS instruction.
We also apply a CRM system to improve customer service, developed by our Research and Development Division. All student in-class performances at Language Link are collected and integrated to analyze their progress and revise their personal study plan accordingly.
Next year, a new product from our Research and Development Division will be launched. It is a blended learning adult program that has in-class and online components. It is a learning platform that creates and distributes content flexibly to older students who have busy schedules but still need to learn English for university or for their careers.
6. What are your expectations and expansion plans for 2020?
Language Link Vietnam is comprised of six business segments: Language Link Academic Hanoi, Language Link Partnership schools throughout Vietnam, Schools Link, Corporate Link, Language Link Overseas Study Services, and Research and Development. Originally established in Hanoi, our business has developed to Thanh Hoa, Ha Long, Hung Yen, and Ho Chi Minh City, and we are happy to take expressions of interest from investors around the country looking to invest in English centers. We plan to launch new centers in Bac Ninh, Hai Duong, and Da Nang this year. Next year, we plan to open more around the country to improve the English proficiency of Vietnamese students.
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