Vietnamese university English as a foreign language (EFL) teachers' beliefs and practices: A Cultural Historical Activity Theory analysis
This study was conducted within the context of Vietnam’s reform policy imperatives to promote Western-developed pedagogical practices and instructional materials to raise the quality of English language education. However, at the time of the research there had been limited changes in the practice of tertiary English teaching and learning. The literature suggests that the culture of the Vietnamese English as a foreign language (EFL) classrooms is generally influenced by Confucian values. Additionally, the culturality and historicity of tertiary EFL teachers’ beliefs and practices have been under-researched. Drawing on Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) and Activity System Analysis Methods, this case study analysed the cultural and historical roots of Vietnamese tertiary EFL teachers’ beliefs and practices. Nine teacher participants from a public university in central Vietnam engaged in classroom observations and individual in-depth interviews (pre- and post-observation). Resources and documents were also collected and analysed (e.g., government policy documents and directives, curriculum documents, tests, prescribed coursebooks, lesson plans, class handouts, and students’ work). A reflexive journal provided a complementary data source.
The CHAT and thematic analysis revealed that the outcomes of the teachers’ EFL teaching activity appeared to differ from the government’s and university’s intended outcomes for the national foreign language reform. This might be because of the lack of teacher input into the reforms and the institutional valuing of continuity and teacher retention (i.e., selected students being retained as teachers upon graduation). Cultural Confucian values (e.g., obedience, filial piety, hierarchical collective harmony, role modelling, face keeping, and other culture-specific norms), interwoven with teachers’ past histories (e.g., the teachers’ familial and school apprenticeships of observation, perezivanhie in the community) and their institutions’ past histories worked to preserve traditional teaching practices and to limit transformation. A CHAT analysis illustrated how the misalignment between the current reform with its Western-developed language policy and resources with that of the teachers’ values and beliefs and institutional practice caused systemic inertia in tertiary EFL teaching activity. Consequently, the reform objectives were not sufficiently realised.
This study indicates that in order to bring about transformation of EFL teaching in Vietnam, there is a need for a comprehensive mapping of the EFL activity system to identify structural elements, including the existing contradictions within the system. Moreover, it highlights the potential value of a comprehensive examination of other CHAT constructs, including the subject(s), tools, rules, community, and division of labour for a context analysis for a successful reform. Future research and national reform policy could fruitfully focus on the culturality and historicity of teachers’ beliefs and practices for a better alignment between the government policy and the institutional and classroom reality. It is recommended that tertiary EFL training programmes should provide pre-service teachers with opportunities to explore their own beliefs to better prepare them for adapting to their teaching contexts.