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Farmers learn English on street

At the ancient town of Hoi An, in the central province of Quang Nam, farmers often go to the street to learn English from foreign tourists.

Mrs. Tran Thi Dieu, 79, an amateur tour guide on Thanh Toan bridge, Hoi An town.

There are farmers who are illiterate but they can speak English very well, so they have numerous customers.

In the afternoon, Mrs. Hoa, 60, from Cua Dai ward, Hoi An city, and several women who wore old conical hats, talked with nearly ten of foreign visitors. The tour guide had nothing to do. “Local people have a standard pronunciation of English,” he said.

“That is Pidgin English. We do not learn English at any class. To sell goods and invite visitors to travel on the Hoai River… we have to speak English. To learn English, we have to go to the street to listen to how tourists speak, and imitate them,” Mrs. Hoa said.

Hoa used to be a fisherman. Since Hoi An became a tourist center, she has turned to be a boat rower on the Hoai River, serving foreign tourists.

The woman said at first, she did not have any client because she did not know how to invite them to use her boat. She was determined to learn English. However, she is illiterate so she could not attend English class. Several neighbors told her to go to the street to talk to foreign tourists and learn from them.

“Learning Pidgin English was very quick. If I spoke incorrectly, they would correct it. When I was free, I asked my colleagues to teach me,” Hoa added.

She said that at present, she could introduce to tourists about the lifespan of ancient houses, the specialties of Hoi An and the city’s history.

Like Hoa, most of traders and service providers in Hoi An can speak English. Anyone who do not know English go to the street to learn it from tourists. Whenever foreign visitors go past, they invite tourists to buy goods or use their services in English. If tourists do not stop, they also say “Good luck!” to them.

Mr. Nguyen Dinh Cang, 55, has been a xe om (motorbike taxi driver) in Hoi An for five years. He is not only a xe om driver but also a tour guide.

“I’m elderly, so it is difficult to learn English, even Pidgin English. Besides listening to tourists, I have to practice pronunciation and suitable gestures to draw the attention of visitors…,” Cang said.

He said that he spent a year on the road to speak with tourists and learn from tour guides to have his current English.

Cang said that in Hoi An, each person learns Pidgin English based on his/her own need. For example, Mrs. Quynh who sells whistles can only tell tourists the price of whistles ($1/whistle). Mrs. Ngoc can invite tourists to taste her noodle, etc. However, xe om drivers and cyclo drivers have to study more English to tell the way and be tour guides. Some of them can speak 3-4 foreign languages.

At present, students from universities in Da Nang also go to Hoi An town to expand their English by talking with foreign tourists.

Tran Quoc Hao, from the Duy Tan University, goes to Hoi An every weekend to talk with tourists. Many tourists are willing to talk with him for hours.

“I learn English in the university but directly talking with foreigners is the best way to study,” Hao said.

He said that though he was trained of English methodologically at school, he was inferior to Hoi An’s residents in pronunciation or flexibility.

Mr. Vo Phung, director of the Hoi An Culture-Sports Center, said that Hoi An is a very busy tourism center. Local people meet with foreign visitors everyday, so their English keeps developing.

“Not only traders but also normal people in Hoi An learn several sentences of English to help visitors whenever they ask the way. This makes Hoi An more amazing,” Phung said.

Le Ha

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