I have been teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City since 2008 and during this time I met a lot of people (mostly Vietnamese). Some of them speak good English, some others not very good, and many of them don’t speak English at all. Whoever they are and their language ability is, they always want to talk about learning English and how to do it better.
Based on their interest in learning English language and their results, I created my own classification of learners of English. This classification might be true for other learners of English (other than Vietnamese) as well.
This kind of learner has studied English for several years or more and he is not able to speak English. He finds English too difficult, almost impossible to be learned. He doesn’t understand that being in an English class is not enough and learning English process has to be extended outside the class. He wants to learn English but he wants it effortless. Math and other subjects were more important and received more attention. His teacher did a lot of grammar in the class and he is amazed of how many grammar rules he brakes speaking English. He realized that learning English is not funny. He gave up.
Most of the Vietnamese are beginners. They have taken an English class and they are able to speak some simple sentences. They have never had much interest in learning English but they tried just like everybody else. They stopped learning English because they are busy (family, job, etc.), lazy, consider it useless etc. At some point in the future they will need to study English again and probably they will be successful learners of English.
He studied English in school for 7 years or more. He learns English like he learns math, memorizing all the rules. He is able in most cases to write quite well about various topics and complete complex grammar tasks. He knows five synonyms for the word “pseudonymous”. The written English exam’ result is perfect. He cares only about the exam results. However, he can’t speak English or he speaks but nobody understands. His English teacher spent all the time explaining grammar points in Vietnamese and hasn’t provided any spoken English model. He is shy to speak English because he never did it. He doesn’t know how to apply in speaking all those grammar rules he has learned. He probably has had a bad experience speaking English that ruined his confidence and now he is a scared learner.
These learners speak English whenever they have a chance. Here I have to mention two of my neighbors (two brothers) and few of my students (maybe four out of one thousand). These learners create their own English environment. They speak English at home with their family members, listen and sing English songs, karaoke (in English), they knock at your door just to speak some English with you, watch English movies repeating every single phrase, and they can be seen in all English speaking clubs around the city. They don’t know grammar rules and they don’t care about them but they understand movies and are able to speak English in any circumstances.
He spends 10 hours a day in front of his ultra-thin laptop playing games, surfing the web, trying out some Photoshop techniques, or designing a website. Internet is the second world for him and he knows all the terminology necessary to be a successful net-geek. He learned a lot by reading and he often communicates with others with the same interests. He has desktop shortcuts to several online dictionaries and he is a very confident user of English.
This learner is fluent in English. He achieved his fluency through hard work and dedication. He is not perfect but he uses the language at a high level. He is a businessman or has a high position in a company. He always has to deal with foreigners in his work and first impression matters for him. He works hard to improve his pronunciation and accent.