Mother's initiative helps kids improve English

(No.4, Vol.8,Aug-Sep Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Hai Oanh. Photo Hieu Tran

The children talk with the foreign visitors in Hue. Photo: Hieu Tran

Thirteen-year-old Bao Tram had her first chance to talk to foreign visitors, thanks to a tour she took in June. Tram said it was so much fun and such a nice experience that she wanted to do it again.
Tram and many others students in Quang Tri Province had not have opportunities meeting with a native English speaker for chit chat, as the province is not listed as a destination for foreign visitors in Vietnam.
Thanks to efforts by a young single mom who lives in the province’s Hai Lang District, Bao was able to have her experience in the country’s tourism hub, Hue City.
‘Hai Oanh was a good caretaker of us during her tour. She also helped us in overcoming our shyness in communicating with foreigners,’ said Tram.­
Hai Oanh is the tour organizer of the itinerary that Tram was included in June.
The 27-year-old Oanh started the tour service over a year ago, aiming to offer a chance to students in her English class to have a better English-speaking environment.
‘I studied university in HCM City and worked there for three years on a television programme before I returned to my home district, where I found out that hundreds of young people have learned English for years but have never got chance to talk with a foreigner,’ she said.
The young mother had the idea of bringing the children to the neighbouring locality, Hue, to seek a chance for English speaking. The first tour was in May of last year. With zero experience as a tour operator, Oanh had a tough time at her beginning.
Oanh at that time carried her 1-year-old son, driving her motorbike and leading a group of electric scooter-riding students from her home district to Phong Dien, an outskirt district of Hue but bordering Oanh’s home district.
There, the group took a local bus to arrive in the former citadel in Hue and waited for visitors to pass.
‘In the beginning, I hadn’t thought of a tour itinerary but only trips to escape. I was in debt and going through a divorce at that time and I determined that community work would be the best way out,’ said Oanh.
‘Later, more people got to know about the trip, I decided to make regular tours for children in the district. I named it ‘Amazing English Tours’, wishing to illustrate the feeling of the kids at their first time meeting with foreigners for talks.
Oanh said she got divorced early last year and her ex-husband left her a large amount of debt. ‘At the time, I had to tutor nearby children for a low salary and I found out they had never had the chance to practise with a native speaker,’ she said.
That was the strong push for me to decide to take advantage of the short distance from my home district to Hue seeking for chances meeting with foreigners.
In the former royal citadel in Hue, the young single mom met and asked foreigners if they could spend a little time talking to the group.
She felt much happiness looking at the confident boys and girls talking to strangers. Oanh emphasized that many in Vietnam were too shy to talk with foreigners, despite studying English for years.
She earned a good reputation thanks to the first successful trips and more children registered to go on trips with her to Hue. Oanh offered free trips at the early time of the tour but later she started charging for coach fares and meals.
The tours now do not use public bus in Hue, but they rented cars for private trips departing from Quang Tri.
By August this year, the tours will have accommodated a great deal of children, with almost 1,900 girls and boys in more than 65 tours to Hue and Hoi An.
Oanh said she expanded the tours to Hoi An to seek for the innovation for the itineraries. With tours to Hue, she gathered children, both primary and secondary school students from around Quang Tri. Her tours to Hoi An also welcome children from Hue.
Children are divided into groups and play together at various sites, a traditional craft village in Hue and the beach in Hoi An. Later they will present at the sites with large presence of foreigners to seek chances for conversation.
Oanh now runs three tours a week with around 30 children each. She has volunteers with her to work as team leaders, usually high-school students or graduates with good English skills. She wants to build a facility in her home district and invite native speakers to come and communicate with the children. At the same time, she is preparing to launch overseas trips to other Southeast Asian countries.
In late July, she made her first step in an expansion of the model. Oanh arrived in HCM City to offer chance to the city kids, using the same tour format she has applied in Hue and Hoi An.
‘That drove me to think of the upgrade for my tour format,’ she said.
She admitted that coherent planning skills gained in the three years working as a television editor has helped her much in designing tours, as she was innocent to the tour operating career game.
Parents of the kids attended in Oanh’s tour programmes, however, appraised Oanh’s skills and they seemed to trust the single mom.
‘I was surprised a lot during a tour to Hoi An with Oanh. My children were so confident in talking with the foreign strangers. It was thanks to Oanh in inspiring them,’ said Yen Nhi, a resident of Hue.
It’s good for Oanh to have such great skills as well as excellent chance for the kids in practicing English.
Whenever you meet children dressed in red colour T-shirt printed with Amazing English Tours in the citadel of Hue or in the old town of Hoi An, give them a chance to talk.­

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