My Recent Trip to Vietnam

I recently had the pleasure of traveling to Vietnam for a month, and though I did many of the usual touristy things I also met many keen IELTS students.  Whilst there are many differences between people and cultures in the country, especially from North to South, young people have a very keen interest in learning English everywhere you go.

Though English learning is quite new to the national curricula, many people see English competency as a key to economic and personal success.   With that kind of mindset, it’s no wonder that more Vietnamese students are coming to countries like Australia, Canada, the UK and US to study IELTS.

Hanoi, and the north

Hanoi is a city with beautiful French architecture, large wide roads and amazing street food – though the motorcycles on those roads are completely chaotic.  One of the highlights of the city was walking around the Lake of the Restored Sword (Hoan Kiem Lake) in the central district.  The lake is surrounded by coffee shops, both local and internationally-oriented, and at night the place is a focal point for families and festivities.

The most unusual thing about Vietnamese students is that you’ll find them near the lake, tracking down foreigners for interviews.  Many are high school students, and some are studying at university.  Often they will approach you and ask you questions about your time in Vietnam, and occasionally an odd question about dating or what you think of the city’s transport.

English in Hanoi.jpg
An unsuspecting tourist nabbed by local students, courtesy of Alkek’s excellent photoblog.

It’s a very unique part of the study culture here, and I think a very useful way to learn English.  Though my advice to the students I met was to always review the interviews later – either through a Dictaphone or the video recording on the phone.  Take note of anything you don’t understand, and ask another native speaker to clarify.

Saigon, and the south

The streets, architecture and food is no less impressive in the south – but it is much warmer in Saigon.  With an estimated 8 million bikes in the city, it’s also just as chaotic on the roads.

I stayed at one of the country’s many homestay places in a coastal town called Vũng Tàu.  Within no time I was asked to join a group of local students on their weekly IELTS group, conveniently at one of the best coffee shops in town.

Students in the south might be less willing to approach complete strangers in the street to practice their English (that’s not necessarily a bad thing ;)), but they have plenty of practice at these kinds of meet ups.  Over a morning coffee we chatted about job prospects, writing application letters, favourite movies and travel to other countries.

Vung Tau.jpg
Excellent conversation, and great coffee with the IELTS club in Vung Tau.

My advice to students doing this kind of thing is to prepare a short talk on one of these topics, and again record yourself as if you were chatting casually with a native English speaker.  It might sound a bit contrived, but hearing yourself back helps you improve your pronunciation and expression.  I’d say that generally Vietnamese students have an excellent study ethic, and their pronunciation is quite good – though there is always room for improvement!


I’m no expert on Vietnamese, though my students taught me lots of words whilst I was there.  I love learning new languages, and it was fun practicing what little I learnt whilst travelling.  The most challenging thing for me, as a native English speaker, are the tones – all five of them!

I can also see that some elements of English (final sounds in particular) can be a challenge for Vietnamese students.  Without tones to separate words in English, we have much more differentiated sounds – and that can be tricky when learning all of the different combinations in each word.  I find that Burmese students face the same difficulties when I teach English in Myanmar.

Here’s a great video to help with the trickier parts of English phonemes, specifically aimed at Vietnamese speakers:

A final rainy note, from the centre of Vietnam

In case you’re wondering – I didn’t miss out on the middle part of Vietnam, though whilst I was in Đà Nẵng and Hội An it rained for two weeks non-stop.  It was a great time to reflect on my travels, and to sample the unique foods and culture in the region (even if it meant getting very wet!).

To all the students and people I met in Vietnam, thanks for the wonderful time.  It’s very rewarding to see such strong competition to learn English.  Keep practicing.

If you’re an IELTS student or are studying English in Vietnam, feel free to comment below and tell me about your experiencess learning – what are the hardest things about English, and what are the most rewarding things about your studies?

4 thoughts on “My Recent Trip to Vietnam

  1. As many Vietnamese students I have trouble with ending sound and reading skill is also my weakness specially Yes/ No/ Not given and Summary. Could you give me some tips/ advisions to improve.
    I intend to take IELTS examination on 25 March with target 7.0, but I do some tests on IELTS Cambridge I just get about 5.5-6.0 for each skill I guess. Could you share with me what I should do now because I actually rare against the clock.
    Thank you very much. Your video is very nice and helpful. Thanks for coming Viet Nam.


    1. Thanks for the comment Polly.

      A good way to practice reading skills is to read lots of magazine, blog and news articles in English online. When you’re in the test you don’t have much time, so remember to look out for key words, phrases and headings – try not to understand every single word! That can be hard sometimes, but a good way to do this is practicing skim reading. Try reading an article, then summarize each paragraph – just describing the main argument in a few words. Then when you get to answering the questions you can look for more specific details.

      As for the pronunciation – I do love Vietnamese accents, and it’s usually not a problem. If you find that people don’t understand you, just practice a few words at a time. Always record yourself, and listen back.

      Let us know how you went with the test. Good luck by the way!


  2. I have problems about writting.. I think it’s so difficul to improve (I just had 4 for ielts writting)… Finding the best way to improve it. Can you give me some advises?… many thanks!


    1. Hi Truc,

      That’s a very common problem for IELTS students. I had a Vietnamese student once who always scored lower in one essay than the other, and it always bothered her. After you’ve written something try to get the feedback – i.e. get it checked for grammar, spelling and expression. Once you’ve seen the mistakes, don’t just move on the the next one – try to rewrite the marked essay without the mistakes.

      If you revise your work after you get it marked (in other words, rewrite the whole essay) it will stay in your memory and you’ll be less likely to repeat mistakes next time. Then when you have a couple of good essays, always come back to them and read again. This will also help you remember useful phrases and words.

      I hope that helps.


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