Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 4, 2009
Vietnamese seminarians get a taste of English
Albertans awed by dedication of Vietnamese to studies, faith
St. Nicholas Seminary, a junior seminary, offers English as part of its curriculum.
Tutt said the seminary requires its students to learn English because English has become the language of the world and knowing English will give them opportunities abroad.
“When we left we didn’t know the extent of what we would be doing. We just knew we’d go there to teach so we said this is going to be a real challenge,” explained Lesniak.
“It turned out to be probably the most rewarding experience that we ever had in our travels.”
So serious were seminary authorities about the English lessons they cancelled all classes to allow seminarians to focus exclusively on the language.
“We found out that they had been studying grammar, vocabulary, so they knew the foundation but did not know how to communicate (in English),” noted Lesniak who travelled with his wife Carol, a former Catholic teacher.
“It turned out that they had a much bigger vocabulary and a much bigger command of the English language in writing than we had anticipated. But if you said a word to them, like ‘though,’ they would have no idea what that word meant; they had no idea how to pronounce a single word in English,” added Tutt.
“The Vietnamese words are all one-syllable so we could see some of the problems they would have in English. When you have three or four syllable words they wouldn’t have a clue how to put them together.”
The Alberta group, with participants from the Ukrainian Eparchy and Edmonton, Calgary and St. Paul dioceses, was the first-ever foreign group to come and teach at the seminary.
Participants stayed in a six-suite hotel across the street from the seminary and had supper with the seminarians everyday. Seminarians divided themselves in three groups, according to their year of study.
English lessons ran from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
“But we actually taught a lot longer than that,” noted Tutt. “Because it was immersion what we ended up doing, at supper time when we were eating we felt obliged to correct, correct and correct if they made a mistake because that was our role there. So our days were very long days.”
During the lunch hour Lesniak also tutored the seminary rector and one of his assistants while Tutt tutored the seminary administrator.
“We practically lived with the seminarians for two weeks so we really got to know them and their English improved,” said Lesniak. “As time went by we noticed the improvement, we noticed the ability to have conversations with them.”
When seminarians were asked what they had gained from the English immersion, they felt they had gained the equivalent of a year of English learning in two weeks, noted Tutt.
The Catholic presence in Vietnam is strong although only 10 per cent of Vietnam is Catholic, participants pointed out. Catholics are concentrated in southern Vietnam, with a Catholic church every two miles.
The government, however, restricts the number of ordinations to the priesthood. “They are allowed 10 ordinations (of priests) every three years,” Lesniak said.
“All of these seminarians when they finish they might wait for a number of years before they get ordained.”
“For example, the administrator of the seminary finished his theology training and was ready to be ordained three years ago and still doesn’t have his ordination date,” added Tutt.
Most seminarians are in their early 20s and therefore were raised in the time since the communists gained full control of the former South Vietnam in 1974.
“We were the first foreigners that they had been exposed to and they were actually afraid of us coming because they had basically been taught that North Americans were to be feared,” commented Tutt.
“At the end of the day we all fell in love with them and they all fell in love with us,” added Lesniak, a former director of Lifelong Learning and Alternative Education for Edmonton Catholic schools.
“They even composed a song for us at the end in English to thank us for what we had done. They want us to come back because they learned the language through immersion, which is far more effective than what they were doing.”
Tutt, who teaches the Christopher Leadership Course in Edmonton, said teaching English to the seminarians at St. Nicholas “is probably the most rewarding thing that I’ve ever done.”
“I would say they are probably the most hospitable people I’ve met,” she said. “They are (also) extremely polite.”
Tutt was also impacted by the faith commitment of the Vietnamese. “The cathedral was across the street from us as was the seminary. There was a Marian shrine there and three times a day people would gather and say the rosary; the last time it was about 10:30 or 11 o’clock at night.
“We couldn’t understand the first night or two what was going on because we didn’t understand the language and then we realized that it was the people praying the rosary.”
The experience was fulfilling for the whole group.
“We feel that we really made a difference, that we really positively impacted them and that we also destroyed some of their perceptions about North Americans,” Tutt said.
“I was taken aback by the passion in which they took to learning English and the strong faith they have and the desire they have to serve,” added Lesniak.
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