Last week, Viet Nam News asked its readers how would they feel if a Vietnamese approached them for language exchange.
Here are some replies we received.
In Sang Cho, Korean, Phu Tho Province
I think a language exchange would be good. I have been working for a Korean electronics company for many years in Viet Nam. Many staff want to learn Korean language, and I have been wanting to learn Vietnamese language. So, it would be a good idea for a language exchange between us, as long as both parties could get some good result.
Plus, it would be a good chance to get mutual understanding about cultures, people, and food, etc.
Huong Thieu Huyen, Vietnamese
Since I was a linguistics student, I was advised to communicate with native people as much as possible to improve my English.
My English teachers, my friends and I usually found part-time jobs which gave us chances to speak English like teaching assistants to teachers at English education centres or shopkeepers in the Old Quarter where foreigners flock.
Sometimes, foreigners asked us how to say something in Vietnamese and we are so happy to help. I myself have never had a specific English-speaking partner for a language exchange.
In my opinion, language exchange is too general. I prefer an English class with a systematic schedule.
It's a pity to hear that a foreigner finds himself used and taken advantage of after a language exchange.
Vietnamese might stop the language exchange because she/he found that's enough for her/him. But if the foreigner is still excited to learn, the language lessons would have been continued.
I think, any Vietnamese is willing to help you if you want to speak Vietnamese and understand more about Viet Nam.
Jeffrey MaGee, expat
I think that an expat should feel honoured to be approached for language lessons.
I think he should teach to the best of his ability and be satisfied knowing that he is building friendships/relationships.
I don't totally agree with him. I am one of those who is trying to learn English. And definitely, I have been trying to find native foreigners to practise my English skill.
At first, I have tried to get closer to them, very polite I have said "Hi, my name is...., I'm learning English and I wish I have a chance to speak with foreigners, Would you please talk with me for a while."
After that, if they say "Yes," I will continue, if they say "No," I'll say thank you to them and don't forget to congratulate them to have a great time.
I know, I might take a lot of their time. But I also know, they already know what I need from them, they have a right to say "Yes" or "No," if they don't feel comfortable. Just like the way we help each other when we go outside and meet someone in need of help.
But it's different when I meet them two times, three times, I'll give them something such as inviting them to a cup of coffee or food, asking them to keep in touch, and I'll help them in their need.
I don't really know how we should act, it depends on our feeling. In fact, if we like each other more than just practising, we can give more than that.
I do not care to be approached on the street by someone asking me if we could spend time speaking English. The short period of time spent does not help the person requesting the exchange.
Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi
English language exchanges always feel like theft to me. That's why I say my schedule is full or I am leaving soon. Of course, if I need help to fix a problem I always expect the other guy to ‘phone someone who speaks English.'
I know plenty of white guys who get girlfriends (and then wives) this way. My first teaching gig in Taiwan found dozens of fresh young females practically perched off their chairs, chirping and preening, seeking more than just conversation.
There's nothing wrong with a legitimate chance encounter and a friendly meeting. After all, that's what life is all about. Learn, travel, meet new people and hopefully make lifelong friends.
Civilized educated people exchange pleasantries all the time. I am happy to talk philosophy and politics. Again, what else is there?
As long as both parties accept the evolving status quo knowing they can break off at any time, I see no problem with language exchanges.
Rick Power, Bali, Indonesia
For six years I have lived in Indonesia I have only pick up a little of the language and I really think that living or having a close connection to a foreign person is the real solution to picking up the language. But you must be willing to learn as well.
Rie Watanabe, Japanese, Ha Noi
I do not mind if someone approaches me for language exchange. I have benefited from language exchanges as I have learnt a lot Vietnamese from my friends. When I went to Viet Nam for the first time to learn Vietnamese about 10 years ago, I asked Vietnamese friends to help me practice and they always accepted unreluctantly.
But for those who really want to learn Japanese seriously, I would advise them to attend courses at professional language centres. There they can really learn about the language, the culture and lifestyle of Japan.
Kim Thuy, Vietnamese, Ha Noi
When I was a student, I usually went to the parks, museums and other spots which attracted foreigners, having some chats with them in order to improve my speaking and listening skills.
I never asked them for a serious lesson. We just talked freely as friends.
First, we got to know about each other and then we chose a topic that both sides were interested in to discuss. By doing this, we both had fun and no one felt like being used.
When I was asked to teach them some Vietnamese, I felt proud. It was good to know that foreigners wanted to learn my language and I loved the way they tried to communicate with local people in Vietnamese.
Many foreigners that I talked with were excited to know more about Viet Nam's culture and history. They told me they felt happy when local people spent time talking and explaining things to them, which made them feel like they were welcomed here and they highly appreciated my friendliness and hospitality.
I kept in touch with many of them even after they left Viet Nam.
From my own experience, I believe that the perfect way to have a language exchange is to do it naturally, without any "contract", like if you teach me some English then I will teach you some Vietnamese in return.
It is much better when you approach and talk to someone as friends, which makes both sides feel open and comfortable. Language exchange should be fun, not a serious task.
By talking freely to foreigners, we can enhance our listening, speaking and also communication skills. It is also a good chance to explore other cultures and learn new things from foreigners.
On the other hand, I think it also benefits foreigners, as the best way to understand and have a good experience in a foreign country is to talk and make friends with local people.
I think the best gifts that both sides exchange in a language exchange is a spiritual and intangible one, for example knowledge and friendship. So I think it is wrong to say that giving free English lessons gives the teacher nothing. — VNS