Nine people from 6 countries (Holland, Ukraine, Australia, Belgium, Vietnam, and the US) exchanged stories during lunch yesterday in a remote Vietnamese village near the China border. Whether experiences were related to the whole table or in side conversations — for example, the Dutch couple talking with the Belgians — the conversations had one thing in common: English.
The event signified in microcosm the quickest and most effective social infrastructure investment Vietnam can make to grow its economy. And teaching English to the Vietnamese is the most important social investment in Vietnam that is available to foreigners, especially Americans.
Proficient English underlies Vietnam’s future success in global commerce and tourism — and the lack of English-speaking Vietnamese is a huge drag on its economy. The Vietnamese government is well aware of this and now requires English to be taught in all 3rd grade classrooms. But the trick is connecting children with native English speakers, especially American Midwesterners whose pronunciation is the most accent-free in the world.
The importance of this objective to Vietnam’s economy can’t be over-emphasized. Vietnam needs foreign investment and international visitors to thrive. It needs workers who can understand an Australian boss. It needs exporters and importers who can conduct trade with Thailand and Korea and Taiwan (How would you do this except in English?) It needs lawyers who can negotiate international deals and make sure the contract reflects the agreement. It needs scientists, academics and doctors who keep up with their peers worldwide and who publish their own research in a language their peers can comprehend. It needs hotel receptionists and retailers who can talk with their customers.
Of course all of this may seem Western-centric. It also is part of the start-up cost of being a player in the global economy.