Hello, hallo, and sabaidee!
We are Team IX and the lengths of our internships ranged from two to three months between 15 October 2019 and 15 Feb 2020. We all worked either at the Lao-German Technical College (LGTC) or at the Vocational Education Development Institute (VEDI) in Vientiane. Without hesitation, we can each say we had the best and most interesting time there.
After we introduced ourselves in our introductory team post on this blog in October 2019, and now that everyone of our team has finished their internship (pre-, while-, and post-phase), we would like to give you an insight into what our work within the project entailed. Additionally, our final reports tell future applicants what they can expect to learn and experience in this project.
Lao-German Technical College (LGTC)
We are Yvonne-Jacqueline Dyck (née Muss) and David Trendl, and from 16 October 2019 until 15 January 2020 we worked at the Lao-German Technical College together. We will now tell you a little more about our specific tasks at the LGTC.
Here in Laos everyone calls me “Jacky” as that seems to be easier to pronounce and as Lao people like to abbreviate or nickname long names. My main task is working closely together with my tandem-partners Ms Akina Yatsadahuk and Ms Ketsana Siphonephath. Usually we put our focus on preparing and team-teaching the two weekly BHS student English Beginners classes, but I also join my partners for many of their other English classes. Since Ms Akina went on maternity leave in late 2019, I am spending more time preparing for and teaching classes together with my tandem-partner and new friend Ket.
Ket is also one of the teacher-students in my teacher-class, where I teach Advanced English. This is one of my favourite classes as the teachers are very eager to learn, often ask very detailed and interesting questions, and we can work on a more advanced level besides having plenty of fun together.
Besides my tandem-work and teaching the teacher-class, I also teach a few student groups by myself. In December 2019, I started an English Conversation class to a group of “BHS graduate students” (students which have already graduated from the LGTC and have received a scholarship provided by BHS Corrugated) We mostly work on work-related vocabulary, with the main goal being fluency in English. Working with this group is always interesting and very productive, as they already graduated and therefore have already been learning English for quite some time.
In addition, I am happy to teach Ms Somsanouk Phannavong a one-on-one German lesson every week. The two of us also get together with my team member David Trendl and his German student Mr Lee Lor for a shared German Conversation class. Ms Somsanouk and Mr Lee are very kind and also very quick-witted students. David and I enjoy teaching them very much.
Other than my teaching and tandem tasks, I have the “Special Task” of being the “blog mistress”. This means I am responsible for organising the blog contributions by my team, e.g. advising my fellow-team members on topics, content, writing style and technicalities, and also reminding them of their blog duties and deadlines.
My other “Special Task” is writing agendas and minutes for our team meetings. This is usually due in a 2-3 week rhythm before and after we schedule team meetings with LGTC-project leader Johannes Zeck. As challenging as those “Special Tasks” are sometimes, I am grateful to gain practical experience with such a professional procedure, which I might benefit from in the future.
I work at the Lao-German Technical College with my team-member Jacqueline Dyck. I am responsible for the progression and development of the English proficiency level of a group of LGTC teachers. Working closely together with the teachers is a task of utmost importance because it will lead to sustainable results: If the teachers improve their English skills and learn about new (communicative and academic) methods and techniques for designing lessons (e.g. language games, performing English songs, keeping vocabulary lists, or working with IPA), all their students will also benefit from this, and the progress will be ongoing.
At the same time, they are helping me to learn the Lao language and develop a basic core of important words and phrases, which I can use during my classes. More importantly, everyone is sharing and exploring their cultural experiences, stereotypes, or expectations, which is another interesting field that I find especially valuable for my personal learning and growth. Developing mutual trust, understanding and exploring new ways of teaching as a team (which I have never done before), is another very valuable experience for me.
Speaking about bi-directional learning, my tandem-partner is Ms Moukdala Keomixai, who is a very hard-working, busy, and highly-valued English teacher at the LGTC. Even when she seems to be bombarded with administrative or secretarial work (as her English skills are very good), she always finds time to plan lessons with me or to answer my questions about our classes or other topics in regards to my stay in Laos. She is such a lovable and pleasant person to be with — and always ready to lend me an ear if I have questions that I am not able to solve on my own.
The team-teaching works very well with Ms Moukdala Keomixai because she is such a fast learner, good partner, and a very open-minded person. We try to implement new ways of teaching almost on a weekly basis; it is never a problem to deviate from the book and try out new techniques or activities or let the lesson take a different route due to an interesting—but unexpected—question of a student. That is why the team-teaching project is enrichment for all of us.
Both the tandem-teaching and a host of other activities we do together – like an adventurous trip to Vang Vieng or an invitation to a beautiful wedding – are great experiences of personal and cultural value that I will never forget.
In addition to my work with various teachers, I also enjoy teaching the BHS Pre-Intermediate student class, which I do in cooperation with Ms Moukdala. My students are very close to my heart and some of them I also join for activities outside of our teaching environment like jogging along the Mekong River, visiting the Night Market, having lunch together, or attending various celebrations. Naturally, we try to speak English while we are out together. Furthermore, I learn lots of new Lao expressions during the Night Market visits with Mr Lee Lor and Mr Vansylor – every situation is a situation in which to learn and prosper, especially in the eyes of a teacher!
Apart from my teaching, I have two “Special Tasks”. One of these tasks is the mentoring of the “Technical Dictionary” which was first established by Thomas Pelka (Team VIII) and then continued by Rebekka Vogt (also Team VIII). I work closely together with Mr Outh Sinminah to add a variety of new technical vocabulary to our ever-growing Technical Dictionary, which will hopefully be helpful to our students in their future careers.
Mostly, I make sure the translations into German and English and the example sentences are correct. The Technical Dictionary has more than 250 words by now, which cover far more than just the most basic tools and verb phrases, but it is still work-in-progress with the ever-present possibility of adding new words — in Lao, English, and German — and exploring more complicated technical terrain by adding more new words.
Furthermore, I am responsible for the maintenance of the Lending Library (our collection of English course books, Simplified Readers, technical dictionaries, books on didactics and methodology, and much more) and the Didactics Room. This task makes it necessary to properly document the lending process. This has to be done on a regular basis until students are fully able to keep the lending-system running on their own accord. (Using libraries is not an established cultural practice in Laos.)
I support them and make sure everything is returned at the date that was agreed upon; this is also noted by entries on the “Lending Sheet” so we can keep track of the books. I am always happy to give suggestions for which material to pick and how to work with it to the best of my ability.
Both of my Special Tasks make it necessary for me to be in a mentoring position and stay attentive to the needs of the partners involved; on the one hand providing guidance and support is crucial, while on the other hand I have to hold myself back at certain times so the students learn to keep these systems running mostly by themselves.
All in all, there are always a lot of things to do and a host of activities to keep a watchful eye on, which is not always easy and can be quite a challenge. Nonetheless, this is the reason why I am having so much fun and every day is an adventure in itself, with plenty of learning going on on both sides!
Vocational Education Development Institute (VEDI)
We are Phi Ha Nguyen and Laura Jakob and we work at the Vocational Education Development Institute (VEDI). Phi Ha worked from 28 October 2019 to 15 January 2020 and Laura from 15 December 2019 to 14 February 2020.
We would like to tell you a little more about our piloting work at the VEDI. Being the “pilot project team” means that we are the first volunteers to work in the bi-directional teaching and learning project at the VEDI. Our work involves trying to set up the framework for a bi-directional cooperation, for example by developing tandem work with a Lao English teacher and preparing different workshops as well as teaching English to the VEDI students and staff.
Phi Ha Nguyen
My name is Phi Ha Nguyen and I work as the first volunteer at our pilot project with the Vocational Education Development Institute (VEDI) in Vientiane. Before Laura came to join me in December, I tried to progressively set up the bi-directional learning and teaching project with my Lao partners from the VEDI, while in close contact with the project leaders.
Every single person at the VEDI was extremely welcoming and friendly, and already in the first days they accepted me into the “VEDI-family” with open arms.
One of these special people is my tandem-partner Ms Vankhame Sisoulath, my maemai (Lao word for “new mother”). She teaches an English class at the VEDI, and our goal is to develop English teaching at the VEDI and both our professional skills further.
This is the first time to work in a tandem for both of us, and we are learning a lot from each other and evolving together as a team. However, our relationship goes far beyond the professional side, as Ms Vankhame is also like a real maemai to me. She helps me to settle down in Lao culture and my new working-environment in the most warm-hearted manner possible.
Apart from my tandem-work with Ms Vankhame, I teach three different English classes for the VEDI staff: a Beginner, Elementary, and Pre-Intermediate class. Each class has its unique challenges and dynamics, which make them extremely exciting to prepare and teach.
In the beginning, I thought that it would be challenging for me to adapt my skills in teaching methods and techniques for primary school children to adults, but I was proven wrong. My students are very enthusiastic and eager to learn and appreciate the fun little twists I try to incorporate into my classes, especially my Beginner students. Consequently, I am more than grateful to be able to challenge myself and also my students for us to grow together.
Note by the editor: The techniques we use to teach English to primary children in Germany are very well-suited to teach new learners of English of any age in Laos, as they focus on playful, communicative, and oral teaching. They do not overburden the learners too much with the Latin alphabet or English spelling at the same time.
This is probably also the reason why the project concept was successful in the early years in Ban Sikeud and Ban Phang Heng, where we started out with the first teams at AfC-supported three state schools, 2 primary and 1 secondary.
Besides my teaching work at the VEDI, I am also the “Media Manager” of our team. This means that I am responsible for gathering, organizing, and saving all the files created during our stay in Laos. By doing so, I try to make the work for future teams more effortless by ensuring that all the files are easily accessible and later teams’ work can build on ours.
With Laura’s arrival in December, we are able to bring even more skills, approaches, as well as perspectives into the project, which I am really thankful for. Together we try to set the path for the next team by developing the tandem-work as well as the English classes further, but also by preparing the framework for future workshops.
Laura is not only a great partner to work with, but also to live and experience the Lao way of life with. The “VEDI family” never fails to make us – and also the rest of Team IX, who work at the LGTC – enjoy after-work evenings or weekends with them. This can mean playing various sports, like volleyball or pétanque, having a couple of Lao-beer and singing karaoke together, or visiting events, such as the That Luang Festival or Bacis together. The teachers and staff at the VEDI are absolutely lovely and caring and are always up for an evening full of laughter and interesting stories.
All in all, I am sure that both my cultural and learning experiences as well as all the bonds that I am able to create in Laos will have a lasting impact on my professional and personal development, and I hope that I am also able to give some of the love and expertise back to my “VEDI family”. I am more than grateful to be able to gather so many different experiences – and I really look forward to returning to beautiful Laos one day in the future!
Hello and Sabaidee everyone!
I am Laura Jakob, and I work at the Vocational Education Development Institute (VEDI) in Vientiane. My main tasks here include working with my tandem-partner Mr Khonekham Phi Tak Soun Thone to prepare our joint tandem-classes, and teaching the three different “teacher classes” – Beginner, Elementary, and Pre-Intermediate. Because we are the first team to work here at the VEDI, we also have to organize and prepare a lot of organizational piloting matters such as establishing timetables, holding meetings, and creating teaching material and filing systems for the English classes.
Tandem-work with Mr Khonekham is always very interesting and a lot of fun as he is open-minded and willing to learn and share. In the beginning we had some teething problems because the concept of tandem-work was entirely new to the teachers at the VEDI. However, we quickly adapted to each other and became a very good tandem-team by the end of my stay.
The English classes are really big (70 students) by western standards, and the students’ skills are very diverse, so a lot of preparation and creativity goes into planning differentiation (tailoring instruction to meet students’ individual needs) into these classes.
Besides teaching tandem-classes, I also teach the Beginner, Elementary, and Pre-Intermediate teacher classes with Phi Ha, and – after she left – also by myself. Each class has their own unique features, and it is interesting to teach different levels and sizes of classes. The Beginner class is the biggest class, and the teachers are all eager to learn and improve their basic English skills. They are fun to teach because they are eager to learn, but sometimes we revert back to using body language or even a little Lao to explain when they do not understand us.
The Elementary class is very lively, as the teachers like to make jokes in English and always want to learn more! Finally, the Pre-Intermediate class is our smallest class, but all teachers show great interest in English, and it is always satisfying to teach them and see them apply what they learned in the next lesson. Here we can also have deeper discussions, as the teachers ask detailed questions, and we can also exchange our ideas about language learning, culture, and our daily lives. All teacher-classes are a great joy to teach, as everyone shows such interest and engagement in the lessons.
Besides my regular tasks, I also stayed a bit longer to help train the next team, Team X, at the VEDI, and help them settle in in their first week. It was gratifying to share my knowledge with the next team and make their start in Laos easier.
In my free time I joined many sport events at the VEDI such as playing boule (pétanque) and tug-of-war, because the VEDI loves to hold such events. Football and volleyball are also very popular. All in all, my time at the VEDI was a rewarding experience, and I am grateful to have been a part of this wonderful project.
Text by Y.-J. Dyck, L. Jakob, P.H. Nguyen & David Trendl
Photos by Y.-J. Dyck, L. Jakob, I. Martin, P.H. Nguyen & David Trendl