Mary Wong Teaches Translanguaging in Vietnam
After two years of waiting due to COVID restrictions, Mary Shepard Wong, PhD, professor in the Department of Sociology, TESOL, and Modern Languages, traveled to five cities across Vietnam over three weeks to co-lead four workshops sponsored by the U.S. Department of State on translanguaging. Wong, along with another language specialist, Dongping Zheng, PhD, from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, joined three Vietnamese professors on this project. The team worked together virtually from 2020-2021 to develop a guidebook for all K-12 English teachers in Vietnam on translanguaging in the classroom. “After leading the workshops, I have a much deeper and broader understanding of education in the region,” Wong said.
The guidebook, the in-person workshops, and an online course with prerecorded lectures, are part of a larger project supported by the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training for thousands of English teachers across Vietnam. During the workshops, she and Zheng emphasized the power of using translanguaging in the classroom, a process in which teachers and students are encouraged to use all of the languages they know to support their learning. “Instead of using an English only approach, we want to value all learners, all languages, and the cultures they bring to the classroom, to celebrate them, to use all they bring to support learning,” she said. “It’s like being in an art classroom and being told to use only pencils. If you have all these wonderful paints, markers, and other art supplies, why would you limit yourself to just pencils?”
The vast majority of participants were believers in translanguaging by the end of the workshops. Wong taught the teachers to use action research in their classrooms to explore how best to apply translanguaging in their context. “One participant said she used to think research was too difficult and boring, but now she sees how it can help her improve her teaching and help her students learn. She’s planning to implement action research to explore how to best infuse her teaching with a translanguaging approach.” In a survey of 120 workshop participants, 118 agreed or strongly agreed that they would try to use translanguaging and action research. “Many in our workshops are lead teachers and teacher educators, so we anticipate a cascade effect, where they will share what they have learned across Vietnam,” she said. “Our goal was to train teachers and to promote an understanding of U.S. culture. I think we accomplished that in many ways inside and outside of the classroom.”
A big component of this mutual understanding was possible because of the intentional effort Wong put into experiencing Vietnamese culture. She and Zheng wore traditional Vietnamese dresses called ao dai when teaching. “They greatly appreciated how we embraced and honored their culture,” Wong said. “The food was phenomenal. The people were fantastic. They treated us so well.”
Although Wong has visited Southeast Asia more than 20 times over the past two decades, this was only her second time visiting Vietnam. The trip took her to Hanoi, Dong Ha, Ha Tinh, and Ho Chi Minh City. “I really enjoyed Hanoi because I got to see my former student, Andrew Riese (’11). He and his wife showed us the best of Hanoi, which has been their home for over a decade,” Wong said. “I hope to go back to Vietnam soon and follow up with my colleagues, see the teachers again, and experience even more that the country has to offer.”
Posted: September 29, 2022