● Teaching Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
● Type of Teaching Job: After-school language centre
● Student Age Group: 5-15 years old
● Monthly Salary: 38 million VND ($1,700 USD)
● Monthly Rent: $550 USD
● Living Arrangement: 2-bedroom apartment
● Monthly Savings: Between $400-500 USD
● Contract Bonuses: 50% towards work permit costs, 10 million VND ($440 USD) on completion of a 1-year contract
The Love/Hate Relationship of Teaching English in Vietnam
By Kirstie Woodward
Vietnam is a crazy place to live in but an amazing place to teach English. It’s easy to immerse yourself into the Vietnamese culture and it’s becoming a more westernised country every day.
Arriving in Hanoi, the country’s capital, having already secured a job, it strangely felt like home. It has a homely feel to it even though it’s completely different to the UK. I guess living in Thailand prior to the move to Hanoi made it feel familiar in some ways.
The salary is high in Vietnam but the cost of living is so low. You can live like a king and still have plenty of savings left at the end of the month. The teaching side is very different to what I’ve done before. Lesson plans are pre-made in the language centre and teaching is through an interactive smartboard. In Thailand, I made all of my own lesson plans and taught from textbooks.
Education is taken very seriously in Vietnam and students barely have any free time. After-school education is costly but parents think more education is the best start for their children. There are so many language centres around Vietnam and most are quickly expanding. Sometimes you really have to feel for these kids, learning a second language is tough but on top of all of their extra classes, it’s a lot of work for them at such a young age.
What amazes me is how much the students love to learn here. They’re so engaged and I get so much respect from my students. Personally greeting me when they enter the classroom or buying gifts just for being their teacher. In fact, you’ll find respect from children both inside and out of the classroom. Kids in Vietnam are so confident and don’t shy away from speaking with a foreigner. Adults love it too, taking selfies with foreigners is a normal thing here. I wonder how many photos of me there actually are circling around Vietnam.
Teaching is so rewarding, especially when teaching in a country where students are wanting to learn your language. However, it’s not always plain sailing and there are pros and cons to teaching in Vietnam and probably in most countries too. Teaching is a tough job and you need to have a lot of patience to control a class full of students who don’t understand most of what you say.
What I Love about Teaching English in Vietnam
Vietnam is a hub for teaching; there are teaching opportunities everywhere you look. You hear some horror stories about not getting paid on time but for the majority of jobs, there are some pretty reliable companies to work for. The beauty is that Vietnam is becoming a popular tourist destination which means more and more people want to learn English. You can find opportunities in schools, language centres and private tuition. Great if you want to earn an extra bit of cash!
The students in Vietnam are amazing to teach. On the whole, they are confident speaking in English and aren’t shy like some of my Thai students. Confidence in the ability to speak English can also bring negativity to the classroom though. These students know how to push boundaries and try to rebel in lessons. It can be difficult to discipline students when you know they are experimenting with their English and they start coming out with rude English phrases.
Students make the job rewarding, you can build a great rapport with them. Most of my students love being in the classroom and you can joke around with them without them getting offended. Obviously you have those students who don’t participate and hate studying after school which can be frustrating, but can you blame them going to school all day and then studying after school too? All in all, the students I’ve taught in Vietnam are a joy to teach with their creativity and cheeky personalities.
High salary and Travel
Vietnam has a low cost of living, and matched with a high salary means you can live extremely well.
I’ve managed to save a lot of money living here, without having to compromise on the experience. You can get flights as cheap as 600,000VND (around 30USD) to fly to different parts of the country, and only slightly more to surrounding countries. I just got back from an awesome trip around Taiwan and spend around $150 USD on the 3 hour flights.
When you live in the middle of South East Asia, you really have no excuse not to travel more. Travel in Vietnam is really easy due to the rise in tourism. I was a backpacker here four years ago and I can see tourism has really taken off since then. Sleeper buses run through the night, stopping at various destinations along the way.
Right in the centre of Vietnam is the stunning historical town of Hoi An. Ask anyone who’s travelled to Vietnam and I guarantee they will say Hoi An was one of their favourite places in Vietnam. It is also the place to go if you’re looking for tailor made clothes. I had a dress made to fit, choosing the material and design myself, for just $30 USD. Bargain!
What I Hate About Teaching English in Vietnam
Driving in Hanoi
Driving in Vietnam is crazy and traffic in Hanoi is the worst I’ve ever seen! Rules are not enforced so traffic lights mean nothing. You can stop at a traffic light on red and everyone will just keep going. It’s often much safer going through a red light than it is waiting for green! Driving here can be dangerous but exciting at the same time. I would pass any hazard protection test back in the UK in a second!
The pollution in Hanoi is horrendous too. Everyone has to wear face masks to block out the polluted air. You can be driving and swerve to avoid a huge fire from burning paper on the side of the road, to then have to swerve again to avoid oncoming traffic driving up a one-way street!
Strict and Tedious Curriculum
The curriculum I teach has been created to make learning fun for the students. However, it can become tedious teaching the same lessons over and over again. I miss having the freedom in my classes like I had in Thailand. Where you could be creative in your teaching and have fun with the kids! The lessons here are 1.5 hours long but because of the amount of teaching material to get through, there’s not enough actual time to get to know your students.
Getting to know my students has been the biggest challenge for me. Working in a language centre rather than a school means you teach so many different classes. In Thailand, I remembered each of my students names after two lessons. Here, I struggle after teaching them for two months!
You may not have expected to see supermarkets as one of the things I dislike living in Vietnam but I promise you, I have a valid reason. You know you’re in Asia when each food aisle is designated for one thing. You have a whole entire aisle for noodles, then another aisle for rice, another for soy sauce and another for chilli sauce.
This gives you limited options of actual ingredients to buy and cook with. Vietnamese food is great, but sometimes (like everyone) you just need a good old English meal. I’ve found some places to buy western food, but I had to visit a gourmet store and pay high prices. Just the little things you come to miss being away from home. Luckily, I went back to England for Christmas and stocked up as much as I could. You should have seen the amount of food I brought back with me! 2 months later though and I’m still getting through it so it was definitely worth it!
Despite its cons, Vietnam is an awesome place to live and teach English. Students love to learn and there’s a huge social scene in Hanoi too. It really is becoming a popular destination for ESL teachers and paired with a low cost of living and a high salary, it’s easy to see why!
Contact Kirstie Woodward
To learn more about my life teaching English abroad check out my blog: www.tefltravelsabroad.com
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