What does ‘good English communication’ mean?

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RMIT Vietnam staff Matt (LSU) and Loc (Library and Learning Commons) – English communication in action!

By Pham Nguyen Hoang Dy, LSU

English has rapidly become an essential language in South East Asia. In occupational areas, many workplaces now require English communicative abilities. The better command of English one has, the more likely that he or she will get a good job at some international companies. In new technologies, such as Internet and mobile phones, English is utilized in more places than any other language. With English playing such an important role, the demand for learning English, particularly knowing how to speak good English, in South East Asia is very high. In Southeast Asian Education institutions,  huge investments have been put in developing English language programs.

In Vietnam, parents are sending their children to English classes at a very young age. Students and office workers are enthusiastically attending English speaking courses and English clubs of all kinds. They do not mind spending a lot of money and time on international schools as well as English language centres as long as they, or their children, know how to communicate well in English. However, what does “good communication in English” actually mean, I often wonder. In attempt to find the meaning of this concept, I have had a few interesting experiences with some Vietnamese and native speakers I know.

N.H., my old co-worker at an international school in District 10, HCMC often complained to me that her English speaking was not good enough to keep conversations going with foreign colleagues. I was surprised to know that someone like her, who writes perfect bulletins in English for our school, would rather join English speaking clubs outside the school every weekend to practise making conversations than actually try a casual conversation with some internal staff. N.H. explains that working for an international school, she would feel embarrassed if she showed some grammar or pronunciation mistakes to foreign colleagues. I wish N.H. would know that our foreign colleagues would not mind her small English mistakes, but they do notice that N.H. seemed to always keep distant from them.

In contrast to the first story, I was once listening to a conversation between a university student and a Japanese American. The Japanese American said: “I am American”; and the student immediately replied: “No. You can’t be. You look Asian”. The student was actually very confident of making and maintaining conversations in English. However, she caused some awkward moments while insisting that an American should not be so Japanese-looking. Her listener had to repeat twice: “I was born in America”. Without any ideas of what was going on, the innocent girl kept going on speaking. This situation suggested to me that cross culture education should be included in teaching a foreign language, and knowing how to communicate well in other languages also means knowing the culture of those languages.

So, is it so hard to effectively communicate in English with foreigners? I have observed a few other cases and come to the conclusion that it does not have to be.

T.A., a friend I know from Nha Trang, has many foreign friends even though her English speaking is not perfect. Most of TA’s expat friends said that they like to talk to T.A. because she is confident, easy-going, but well-aware of the cultural boundaries.  T.A. never focuses too hard on how fluent her English is, but always try to explain what she means clearly with her limited English. I think being relaxed and respectful is the main factor that helps her succeed in making conversations.

As well, my younger sister learns to speak English by watching English programs on TV. She likes to collect slang/common phrases from HBO movies, Cartoon Network and applies them to her conversations with foreigners. This hobby actually helps her English sound more natural than others.

In my opinion, apart from good English skills, good communication in English also means showing your personality and your understanding of a culture effectively while speaking. English clubs and classes at international schools or language centres are built to assist you with your English skills and give you better conditions to practise your English speaking. However, it’s you who create the way of expressing yourself to the world.

The following tips may be helpful for you:

  • Trust in yourself and relax while you speak in English. You will become more interesting for other people to talk to.
  • Do not worry too much about how your English sounds. Worrying too much will just make you feel more stressed, which reduces your fluency and perhaps make the listeners become less interested in what you are saying.
  • Pay attention to some cultural differences when you make conversations with people of other nationalities.
  • There are various ways you can practise using your English. The practice can be under some forms of entertainments such as watching a movie in English or chatting online.
  • Here are some websites that may be useful for you in practising English:




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One response to “What does ‘good English communication’ mean?”

  1. clare magee says :

    Hey Dy,

    Thanks for taking the time to write this article – it was very interesting me to read about your different friends’ perspectives and your tips were spot on. I was particularly interested as we will be starting staff classes for RMIT’s Vietnamese staff in the next few weeks. From what you’ve said – I think we’ve got the first couple of courses right! They are both speaking classes and one of them is in cross cultural communication!

    Thanks again

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