Georgie from Teacher’s Friend Vietnam was nice enough to sit down with us and answer some of the most common questions about working in Vietnam as an ESL teacher. Not only did she spend a few years as a teacher herself, she now runs a business that helps teachers get quality jobs and prepare for their time in Vietnam.
Looking for more on Vietnam? Check out our guide to Teaching English in Vietnam or browse jobs!
This post is a summary of a 3-part video interview on our Youtube channel, to view the parts in their entirety click here:
- Part 1: What Was Your First Day/Class Like?
- Part 2: How to Find a Good Job
- Part 3: Avoiding Common Mistakes
What Was Your First Class Like in Vietnam?
When I first went to Vietnam I went over there twice, so the first time I was teaching in a private school, so it was completely disorganized. I arrived and they said, “okay, we’re doing an assembly so we want you to go stand up in front of 500 children and sing some songs and then we want you to play a game.” Luckily, I’m a drama student so I was okay at winging it but if you’re like a more reserved quieter teacher, it’s a bit full on. Also, the nursery rhymes in Vietnam are completely different to the ones at home.
They’re like head, shoulders, knees and toes, in England you would be like head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes. And they’d be like, heads and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.” I was like, “What is this?” Everything is like the same but different and it was very bizarre. Yeah, so I was doing all these songs but I didn’t quite know and just copying the other teachers. Then they were like, “Now get them to choose a piece of fruit and tell you what the fruit is.” I was like, “Okay.” They pushed a microphone in my hand and this is what happens when you work in the private sector that it’s all a little bit crazy.
So yeah, so then I went straight into my lesson, I hadn’t been told what age I was teaching, who I was teaching. I didn’t have any flashcard, I didn’t have any resources, I didn’t have a book. I had to borrow the book off the student. I was like, “Can I take this book? Okay, thanks.” In the private school where I was working it’s mostly they actually have a Vietnamese teacher who teaches them English, so the grammar and everything. What they wanted me to do was speaking and pronunciation, so that’s why they didn’t really give me anything. They just wanted me to go over what the students had already learned and just drill speaking and pronunciations. So it was very much what’s the word? Drill speaking pronunciation, I’ve lost the train of thought.
Basically, I drilled their speaking and pronunciation instead of teaching the grammar. So it’s lots and lots games, basically repeat it as much as you can without the students getting bored. That was the bad side, the good side was the students loved me like instantly because you’re a Western teacher like they’re really excited to see you. They’re like, “Oh.” They all call you Ms. Georgie, so they call you by your first name which is very bizarre, so I was Ms. Georgie for the whole time.
Yeah, they loved playing the games, very enthusiastic and they were a little bit loud and rowdy, and a lot of the teachers in Vietnam would actually give the kids a whack on the back of the head or get a ruler and give them a tap on the hand like nothing hard. But I was never going to do that and they knew that and so that was really annoying because they knew they could get away with stuff. There was no teaching assistant, it was literally me with 35 kids, sometimes 50 kids just going crazy. Yeah, it was a bit of an eye-opener.
When I went back about seven months later after I did some traveling around Vietnam, I went for a language school which was a private language school. And here I had a proper introduction, I met the other teachers, I went over the procedures. Again, that can be quite overwhelming in itself because they’re like, “Here’s the register, here’s the class list, here’s the course books, here’s all the different levels, here’s where to find the resources.” You’re just like, “Oh my gosh, I think my …” Like even for experienced teachers, I taught a lot before and I was like, “I think my head’s going to explode with all this information.”
But within three weeks, you’re there, you know what you’re doing, it’s fine, and again I had two teaching assistants for 18 students, and sometimes I’d have two teaching assistants and seven students. The numbers in the language, the private language centers have a lot smaller, and I had other teachers who had already taught my lessons or who were teaching the same as me, so we could bounce ideas off each other. There was a staff room. When I was in the private school, it was just me and all these Vietnamese teachers.
Again, I was given my materials in the language center and told, “Hey, here’s your materials and you’ll be doing this lesson in a week’s time.” As opposed to, “Hey, do your lesson now, go.”
What Are Some Characteristics of a Good Job?
So, if you’re looking for a good school, the pay that you want to be on is about $1,200 to $1,500 per month. You’re going to be on about $1,200, if you’re a new teacher.
But, you want to also take note of the amount of hours that you’re doing. So, you know, you may have read online that people are getting $2,000, $2,500. One, these are in the private schools, the ones where you get thrown in the deep end. And, also, I was teaching half hour lessons of speaking and pronunciation practice, and literally it was just playing games with like eight words for half an hour, then you go the next class, you do it again. Then you go the next class, you do it again. It gets so boring and so repetitive, and you’re not actually teaching any grammar or structures, or anything interesting, or any new vocabulary, because they already know it, because they’ve already been taught it.
Whereas in the language centers, you know, you’re doing the whole package. You’re doing the introduction to the vocabulary, the learning of the vocabulary, the putting it into a sentence. So, yeah, so that’s the first thing.
And, then, yeah, you also need to make sure the hours that you’re doing. So you might be told that it’s like, for example, $1,700, but then you find out that you’re teaching like 40 hours a week. So, if you do the math, you’re actually only on $10 an hour. Whereas the language centers that I work at, and the ones that you should be looking for it’s $1,200, but you’re only teaching for 18 hours a week.
Are There Any Common Red Flags to Look Out for when Job Hunting?
So one thing is make sure you check the hours matches the pay that you’re actually being given. So, look at the benefits that you’re going to get. If your school is not giving you a work permit, or a work visa, provided, you don’t want to work for them, because to work legally in Vietnam, you must have a work permit, and you must have the visa. You can do it yourself, but it costs you a lot of money, and all of the paperwork is all in Vietnamese so it’s extremely difficult. You’ve got to get down to the department of labor.
Imagine like a complicated process in your home country, but then in Vietnamese. So the easiest way, the way everyone does it, is the language center just provides that for you. So you definitely want to be with someone who’s going to provide that for you. And if you look at any job advert, it should say benefits, and it should say program provided. If you are looking at a job ad and it’s like hey, come teach some kids. You’ll have a great time, that is not the kind of place.
Go into the school, get a feel for it at the interview. That’s like the biggest one. So if you find a school that you like, go to the interview. If they’re asking you like what’s your experience? How would you teach this? You might get a question like how would you teach a young learner in comparison to adult class. Or something like that. Or a teenage class, sorry.
If you go to an interview, they’re like oh, okay, looks pretty, yes. Are you white? Yes. You know, all the care about. Do you have … They don’t if you’ve got TEFL. Do you look correct? Yes. Okay, you’ve got the job. That’s obviously like a big no. At the interview, it should be quite hard. You should be kind of trying to be, you know, thinking of the answers. It should challenge you a little bit. If there’s not really any questions, then they clearly don’t really care what kind of teacher you are, so they don’t really care about their students.
And, again, just some things to look out for. You should get medical insurance. I always suggest that you have your own on top of it, because it’s not that comprehensive. But you should get medical insurance included. You should get paid holiday of about four weeks included. You should get professional development included. They should have the resort, like resources and books that you can use, and online stuff. Some of the schools you just go to, and they’re like off you go, and you’ve got to teach a whole curriculum, and you’ve not got any materials or a course book, or anything, so that’s really important. And, again, they should provide benefits such as an end of year completion bonus, a hotel when you first arrive, airport pickup, your visa and your work permit, all of that kind of stuff should be outlined in your contract. And you should get a contract. If you don’t get a contract, don’t sign up.
What Are Some Common Mistakes You See People Make when Considering Vietnam?
I mean, definitely your TEFL. I get a lot of emails just asking me, “Can I just roll in with this TEFL?” No. You read online anyone can get a job in Vietnam. Can you work in Vietnam without a degree? Yes, you can. Can you work without a TEFL? Yes, you can. Yes, you can. But legally, no you can’t. It really annoys me because there’s a really big difference between those things and all of the things that I’ve told you to look out for, for example, with the benefits and the schools, they’re gonna come with the jobs they get you a job legally. You know? You do need 120 hour TEFL. It needs to have at least six observed hours of teaching from an ESL professional. That needs to be with actual ESL students, so people who speak English as a second language, not with your mate next door who’s also learning to be a teacher and speaks fluent English. You know?
Then, yeah, a lot of people they’ve read online that they can get $2,000 a month. You can’t. Not if you want to work at a good school and not get screwed over. Again, you could, it works, it was good for me. I did make a lot of money when I first did it, but it’s boring as heck. You know? You’re teaching the ABC over, and over, and over again to the same class and you’re on your own. You don’t have any sort of network. Again, a big mistake people make is just how much money can I make. Go for the job that gets you the most money. If you want to do that, that’s fine, but I like to work with teachers that are coming for the whole experience and who actually want to be good teachers. You know? Don’t just go for the one with the most money. Look at it as a whole package.
Then the last one would be expecting it to work the way it would in the UK or in a Western country. Don’t be that person that goes and then is, “This is so disorganized,” and goes to the classroom and moans about everything and how awful Vietnam is. It sounds really obvious now, but it happens a lot. People get jaded by it. You know? It’s really annoying. Even in the good language centers, people won’t communicate with you for like a week and you send emails and you have to literally … You have to be very direct. You have to call whoever’s in HR and be like, “Hi, it’s me. I need this by this day.” You know? You have to be very direct with them and people can find that really frustrating. But just accept it. That’s the way it is. You know? Just enjoy it as a different experience to what you’re gonna get in your home country.