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A study on the effects of some cultural dimensions on the learning of english at thanh hoa medical college




A study on the effects of some cultural dimensions on the
learning of English at Thanh Hoa Medical College
(Nghiên cứu sự ảnh hưởng của một số phạm trù văn hoá đến việc học
tiếng Anh tại trường Cao đẳng y tế Thanh Hoá)

Field: English Language Teaching Methodology
Code: 60.14.10

Hanoi, 2011





A study on the effects of some cultural dimensions on the
learning of English at Thanh Hoa Medical College
(Nghiên cứu sự ảnh hưởng của một số phạm trù văn hoá đến việc học
tiếng Anh tại trường Cao đẳng y tế Thanh Hoá)

Field: English Language Teaching Methodology
Code: 60.14.10
Supervisor: Do Mai Thanh, M.A

Hanoi, 2011



American and English


English language teaching


Vietnam National University













1. Rationale


2. Aims of the research


3. Research questions


4. Significance of the research


5. Scope of the research


6. Methods of the research


7. Design of the research






1.1. Theoretical background


1.1.1. An overview of Culture – Language – Communication

4 What is culture?

4 Language and culture

5 Language and communication

6 Cross cultural communication


1.1.2. Cross-cultural studies on the Anglicist–Vietnamese communication styles

7 Subjectivity – Objectivity

9 Directness – Indirectness

13 Accuracy – Inaccuracy

15 The use of tenses

15 The use of genitive indicators




Review of previous studies




2.1. Students’ survey


2.1.1. Discussion of the survey questionnaire and the informants


2.1.2. Findings


2.1.3. Comments on the results of the survey questionnaire


2.2. The teachers’ survey questionnaire


2.2.1. Discussion of the survey questionnaire and the informants


2.2.2. Data analysis of teacher survey


2.2.3. Comments on the results of the teachers’ survey questionnaire




3.1. Teaching the target culture to students


3.2. Teachers’ role in teaching the target language culture to students


3.3. How to incorporate cultural knowledge in classroom


3.3.1. Penpals


3.3.2. Comparison


3.3.3. Role play




1. Summary


2. Suggestions for further research







1. Rationale
To any nation all over the world, culture and language are inseparable parts. Language is a
product of culture and reflects culture. Therefore, during the process of acquiring another
language, learners not only need to master the language but also understand its culture
especially its values, norms and perception shared by native speakers.
That English is so important brings the necessity of learning and teaching foreign language
in Vietnam. There has been a great demand of studying it as the most universal trend. Most
of the learners have a desire to reach a goal of communicative competence after each
English course. It is assumed that the comprehension and knowledge on the phonological,
grammatical and lexical aspects are not only the bridge to the English language teaching
and learning. In fact, it is the differences in linguistics and communicative behaviors that
cause the obstacles on its teaching and learning task. People should bear in mind that
things such as the place of silence, appropriate topics of conversation, forms of address,
and expression of speech acts are different across cultures and the ability to use language
appropriately plays a very important role in the communicative process.
Therefore, English language teachers should be aware of these distinctive features to help
learners overcome the psychological and cultural barriers in the teaching and learning
It can be said that Vietnamese culture still has certain influences on English acquisition.
The interference of the native culture, to some extents, may limit students’ ability to
acquire the second language comprehensively. Moreover, the researcher’s observation also
points out that students get many difficulties in recognizing errors caused by the
interference of their own Vietnamese cultural thought patterns. The most common
mistakes made by Vietnamese are in greeting routines, politeness, and indirectness –
directness. For example, many English speakers complain that Vietnamese are very nosy
and inquisitive when they ask questions such as “Where are you going? Have you had
lunch? What are you doing?” To many Vietnamese, however, these are common questions
and people regard them as part of the greeting formula. In addition, English speakers often
remarks that Vietnamese do not greet and address them properly. They often get annoyed
or even feel frustrated with such questions. The foreigners are not aware that it is cultural


differences that cause them unpleasant feelings. At the same time, Vietnamese people do
not know that they have violated the others’ privacy and caused “culture shock” to the
foreigners. As a result, the two sides may fail to communicate effectively due to the
cultural differences out of their expectation.
Much of the reason lies in the fact that they do not pay attention to cultural differences in
communication. Additionally, it is a tradition that in Vietnam English teaching process
focuses on only linguistic competence and cultural knowledge is not centrered on.
This has inspired me to do research on cross-cultural communication with the focus on the
three cultural dimensions based on Dr. Nguyen Quang’s framework, namely: Subjectivity
– Objectivity, Directness – Indirectness, Accuracy – Inaccuracy. These cultural dimensions
exist in every language but differ from culture to culture. Hence this study was carried out
in the expectation of studying some cultural practices in Vietnamese communication styles
which affect the English learning process at Thanh Hoa Medical College.
2. Aims of the research
It can be affirmed that the study was carried out with 2 main aims.
Firstly, this investigation aims to find out some cultural practices in Vietnamese
communication styles which affect the English learning process.
Secondly, it is hoped that some pedagogical implications for the English teachers will be
drawn out.
3. Research questions
In fulfilling two main aims, the study needs to set up clear objectives. Two following
research questions are expected to make the objectives clear.
Research question 1: How do some cultural dimensions, namely Subjectivity –
Objectivity, Directness – Indirectness, Accuracy – Inaccuracy affect the Vietnamese
learners of English?
Research question 2: What are the solutions for the Vietnamese teachers of English at
Thanh Hoa Medical College?
4. Significance of the research:
The investigation provides an insightful awareness of the influences of some Vietnamese
communicative practices on their learners of English.
As for students, identifying what influential dimensions is a good way to better their
English usage. It should be noted that not all cultural dimensions can be considered to


cause the interference on the use of English. However, by the suggested implications, the
research is expected to reveal some practical ways for students to practice their English and
improve it.
As for teachers, this is a good chance for them to reconsider the role of cultural dimensions
in learning English. Through the research, they can make use of some implications in order
to improve students’ competence in English. The study is also expected to generate a
serious issue on cross-cultural studies. Subsequent researches can develop the idea raised
in the research.
5. Scope of the research:
The study focuses on investigating the influences of some cultural dimensions on the
language learning. There will be three potential cultural dimensions on investigation
namely subjectivity – objectivity, directness – indirectness, accuracy – inaccuracy
presented in the theoretical background, and this predication will be looked into in the
process of data analysis.
6. Methods of the research
The study was designed to use a combination of various methods to achieve its aims and
objectives (qualitative and quantitative). To begin with, an extensive review of literature
was conducted, critically examining some cultural dimensions affecting the English
Secondly, a useful and plausible tool is conducting a survey questionnaire on second-year
students and teachers of English at Thanh Hoa Medical College to investigate how cultural
dimensions affect the English learning at Thanh Hoa Medical College and the solutions.
7. Design of the research:
The research consists of three parts, part A – Introduction as the first part, part B –
Development including three chapters, chapter I is the Literature Review in which the
review of works on the similar topics and the theoretical background will be revealed. To
be more specific, terms and relationship between culture, language and communication as
well as the overview of some Vietnamese cultural dimensions are going to be presented.
Chapter II is known as Discussion of the survey and Data analysis. Chapter III named
Some implications for Vietnamese ELT teachers. Part C – Conclusion, which is the last
one, concludes the major findings of the investigation, the limitations and suggestions for
further research.


1.1. Theoretical background:
This part presents the background knowledge of related issues with a critical review. The
understanding of Culture – Language - Communication in general as well as the
relationship between culture and language, language and communication, communication
and culture, the influence of native culture on English learning will be taken into
consideration as key concepts. After that, potential influences of cultural dimensions will
be investigated.
1.1.1. An overview of Culture – Language – Communication What is culture?
The term “culture” has been defined by many scholars. It comes from the Latin word
“colere” that means to build on, to cultivate, and to foster. Culture appeared at the same
time mankind appeared and began to work. However, culture is a general and abstract
concept. In each domain, culture is dealt with from different points of view.
Rosaldo (1984) clarified that culture is far more than a mere catalogue of rituals and
beliefs. R.A.Hudson considered culture as “the kind of knowledge which we learn from
other people either by direct instruction or by watching their behaviour.” This knowledge

cultural knowledge – which learned from other people


shared non-cultural knowledge – which is shared by people within the same
community or the world over, but is not learned from each other.


non-shared non-cultural knowledge which is unique to the individual

According to Richard Camphell, culture in his book “Media and culture” was defined as “a
broad category that identifies the ways in which people live and represent themselves at a
particular historical times”. Ronald Wardhaugh shared the similar idea with him when
saying that “culture is the “know-how” that a person must possess to get through the task
of daily living, only for a few does it require a knowledge of some, or much, music,
literature and the arts” (1985: 217).
In short, the term culture has been defined in different ways by many scholars. Culture is
sometimes identified with notions of personal space, appropriate gestures, time and so


forth. Culture is something to learn, it affects the way we act and respond, including the
visible aspects and dos and taboos of working in other countries Language and culture:
“Just as birds have wings, man has language. The wings give the bird its peculiar aptitude
for aerial locomotion. Language enables man’s intelligence and passions to acquire their
peculiar characters of intellect and sentiment.”
(G.H.Lewes – The study of psychology)
Language is “a system of sounds, words, patterns, etc. used by humans to communicate
thoughts and feelings” (Oxford advanced learner’s encyclopedic dictionary: 506).
Halliday (1970: 143) pointed out three basic functions of language as following:

Ideational function: expressing the speaker’s experience of the real world
including the inner world of his own consciousness.


Interpersonal function: establishing and maintaining social relations.


Textual function: making links with language itself and with features of the
situation in which it is used.

From the above functions, we can see that language and culture have a close and
inseparable relationship. We cannot comprehend the one without understanding the other.
Without the language of a culture, we surely have no means to communicate in that
culture, and vice verse, with the absence of cultural knowledge in a language; we are
unable to use the language appropriately.
In general, language, certainly, is determined by culture. Early anthropologists have the
belief that language and its structure were totally dependent on the cultural context in
which they existed. However, thanks to language, culture is preserved and enriched. All
the beliefs, values, attitudes, and perceptions ... can be transmitted via language. They are
interwoven in such a way that culture influences the expressing language and language is
full of cultural dimensions.
Many applied linguists also concluded the interrelationship between language and culture.
Edward Sapir (1921: 1961) stated that “language does not exist apart from culture, which
is from the socially inherited assemblage of practices and beliefs that determines the
texture of our lives.” and “language actually shapes the way in which we perceive, think
and therefore act.” Language is really a mirror to reflect the ways of looking at the world.
Therefore, in teaching and learning a language, language knowledge cannot be separated


from culture as Kramsch (1993) said that “a language cannot be learnt without an
understanding of the cultural context in which it is used.” Language and communication:
Language – “the most important means of communication of human being” (Lenin) - is not
only studied as a system of signals but also considered in many fields of communicative
act. Without language, there would be limited communication. Language has a significant
meaning to our identity and existence in life. It is a vivid reflection of thoughts, practices,
tradition and culture. Researches are realizing the importance of culture in language and
language communication. Language is a component making culture of a community and
culture factors are present in language communication. As the differences and similarities
among languages in phonetics, grammar and vocabulary called cross-language, different
communities have different language communication styles. The differences in these
communication styles are not identified easily and often cause misunderstandings. For
example, the “straight-forward to the problem” style of Anglicist culture seems to contrast









culture. Cross cultural communication
People in the same country share the same cultural values and norms, so people with the
same background communicate more easily than those who come from different cultures.
However, the tendency to globalization has developed so quickly that cross cultural
communication is unavoidable.
According to Nguyen Quang (Cross-Cultural Communication, 1998: 5), cross cultural
communication is the process of sharing or exchanging information verbally or nonverbally between people from different cultures which are influenced by different cultural
values, attitudes and behaviors. From this point of view, it can be seen that different
cultural values and knowledge may lead to misunderstanding and culture shocks in
particular contexts. What is believed to be “right” in one culture may not be appropriate in
another. For example, Anglicist people may feel frustrated and unsatisfied with questions
that they consider to be “too curious” or “impolite” such as “How old are you? Are you
married? How much do you earn? ...”, but in Vietnamese culture, they are quite normal
and friendly.


Some people use slangs so you can't look them up in the dictionary to get the real meaning,
for instance, when you are in Vietnam, you will hear a man say something like "ông nội
mày đấy" when they want to threat or play a joke.
For example:
A: Ai đỗ xe ở đây vậy? (Who parked the car here?)
B: Ông nội mày đấy! (It’s your grandfather!)
"Ông nội mày đấy" does not mean "grandfather" but just means "It’s me". (The implied
meaning is that I’m on the higher position than you and you should be careful). And what
are effects of these problems? Misunderstanding the languages makes you confused so
much. For example, when Westerners visit Vietnam, they may feel disturbed when hear
"What are you doing?" or "Where are you going?”. Indeed, these sentences are just "Hi" or
"good morning"... or in some situations Vietnamese people never say “thank you” or
“sorry”, instead they say “Em xin bác.)” or “Tôi đoảng quá!”.
For example: In a shop
A: Here you are. (Của chị đây.)
B: I beg you. (Em xin bác.)
Or someone spills some tea on someone else’s shirt, he may say “Tôi đoảng quá!” “I’m so
These may lead you to stress if you don't know how to deal. To overcome these problems,
it is necessary that people learn to recognize cultural differences and similarities. That’s the
reason why they need to take in cultural knowledge while learning a foreign language as
Hymes (1964: xi) stated: “We know instinctively that to understand what somebody is
saying, we must understand more than the surface of meaning of words. We have to
understand the context as well. The need for background information applies all more to
reading and writing. To grasp the words on a page, we have to know a lot of information
that isn’t set down on page”. It is similar to Nguyen Quang’s idea that on trying to be
successful in mastering a second language, the learner should reach not only linguistics but
also cultural knowledge of the language (Nguyen Quang, 1997: 7).
1.1.2. Cross-cultural studies on the Anglicist – Vietnamese communication styles:
There are many reasons which can cause difficulties to learners in L2 acquisition namely
their ability, age, attitudes. It will be insufficient if cross – cultural categories are not
mentioned. There are some major cultural categories that greatly influence the process of


learning and using English language by the Vietnamese learners, namely Subjectivity –
Objectivity, Directness – Indirectness, Accuracy – Inaccuracy. Nguyen Quang’s work in
Foreign Language Journal (1998) allows him to draw the conclusion that there are fourteen
major Anglo-American-Vietnamese cross-cultural categories as followed:
1. Subjectivity – Objectivity;
2. Directness – Indirectness;
3. Accuracy – Inaccuracy;
4. Positive and Negative politeness;
5. Self-abasement and self-assertion;
6. Abstractness – Rationality;
7. Sentimentality – Equality;
8. Hierarchy – Equality;
9. Introversion – Extroversion;
10. Deduction – Induction;
11. Group orientation – Individual orientation;
12. High context – Low context;
13. Redundancy – Economicality;
14. Staticality – Dynamicality.
All or some categories may exist in many languages. However, one culture may have the
preference to one side of certain category to another. For instance, in terms of accuracy –
inaccuracy category, the difference in using passive voice among cultures is very
noteworthy. Anglo people consider passive voice a symbol of formality and they tend to
use it in formal speech and in written documents. There is no dissimilarity in speaker or
writer’s attitude to the issue in active and passive voice. On the other hand, passive voice
with the clear distinction of “bị” and “được” (to be in passive voices) becomes a barrier to
Vietnamese learners during the process of English language acquisition. “Bị” refers to
negative meaning whereas “được” implies the opposite.
Hôm qua tôi bị 8 điểm (I got mark 8 yesterday)  under the speaker expectation
Hôm qua tôi được 8 điểm (I got mark 8 yesterday)  above the speaker
Or some passive verbs in Vietnamese do not exist in English.
Tuần trước tôi có vinh hạnh được gặp thầy hiệu trưởng.


(I was met by the Headmaster last week)
Was met denotes the pleasure not passivity.
It is impossible to list all cross – cultural categories here. What is more, the investigation
into influences of Vietnamese cultural dimensions on English learning is the mainstreams
of this study. As a result, the research will go into details with some cultural categories
which may have prominent influences on the English learning. Subjectivity – Objectivity:
Each nation possesses typical viewpoints of the ego, nature and society. In general, there
are two ways of recognizing the relationship between the ego and the other consisting of
both humans and things among different cultures. The first one named subjectivity in
which the ego considers himself or herself a subject in connection with the objects. The
second way when the ego and his or her surroundings have an equal role as objects is
called objectivity. The understanding of the nature of these two perceptions will be much
clearer in the following definitions:
“Subjectivity can be understood as the communicative way in which people consider the
speakers or the writers’ position, feelings, and attitudes. Objectivity can be understood as
the communicative way in which people consider the ego an object, as a result, the speaker
or the writers’ positions, feelings, and attitudes are hardly seen, unless some intra –
linguistic, para – linguistic and extra – linguistic factors are used.” (Nguyen Quang –
cited from Nguyen Quynh Sam, 2000: 11) The substance of Nguyen Quang’s research is
that subjectivity seems to dominate Vietnamese culture where as the Anglo-American are
likely to prefer the objectivity. Object-oriented structures are more prominent than speakeroriented expressions in English. It is clearly shown through the following major aspects:

Location and use of prepositions in English and Vietnamese (Subject-oriented and


Passive voice in English and Vietnamese


Use of personal pronouns

In the use of prepositions in conversation or composition, the Anglo does not regard the
position of ego as important in talking about the direction of their movement. Learners of
English should bear in mind that it is not the position, but the direction that people in
Anglo culture pay attention to. For instance, when someone says “This is the first time I
have been to Sam Son.” From the utterance, it is very difficult for the hearer to make out


where the speaker is from. The aim of this utterance is to inform his or her position namely
Sam Son. On the contrary, the listener or reader can easily identify the position of the
speaker or writer by the following utterances in Vietnamese: “Đây là lần đầu tiên tôi đến
(arrive)/ra (go to)/xuống (go down)/lên (go up) Sam Son.” A variety of positions is made
use of so that it can be inferred from the sentence above the social space of the speaker or
writer. It depends on the preposition to decide whether he or she is the foreigner or a
Vietnamese from different places. It is the first cross-cultural category that has caused
many difficulties for Vietnamese learners in mastering English as a L2. The interference of
subjective culture leads to mistakes in both speaking and writing. The study on the
influences of Vietnamese cultural factors on English learning among first – year students at
English Department, CFL, VNU, which was carried out by Do & Van (1998) took this
matter into consideration. The survey pointed out student’s mistake due to this kind of
thought: “I swim under the water” (cited from a first – year student’s writing). Because of
the subjectivity in Vietnamese culture, this student made use of the preposition “under”
instead of “in” in standard English. One more example is the two objects “sky” and “bird”.
When the bird is flying, the Anglicist say: “A bird is flying in the sky”. The reason is that
in fact, the object: “bird” is moving into the object “sky”. Obviously, the Anglicist tend to
leave out “ego” factor, they stand out of the world and only observe the relationship
between the two objects. In contrast, Vietnamese tend to conceive their “ego”. In this case,
subjective factor is clearly seen. They look up to the higher position, they see “sky” is
above and “bird” is also above. The thing they concern is not the positive relationship
between the bird and sky but the relationship between them and the bird. Thus they say:
“Con chim đang bay trên bầu trời” (A bird is flying in the sky).
The pair of prepositions “Trong – Ngoài” (In – Out) provides another evidence about the
dominance of subjectivity in Vietnamese. When the ego is in a larger/lighter space
compared with a smaller/darker one, he/she employs the preposition “trong” and vice verse
he/she uses “Ngoài” such as “Trong nhà”, “Ngoài ngõ” (In the house, out the lane), as the
lane is considered to be lighter. When compared to the road, the lane is smaller and darker,
so Vietnamese people say: “trong ngõ, ngoài đường” (in the lane, on the road).
The use of prepositions “Ra – Vào” (Out – In) in Vietnamese can be explained in the same


The use of passive voice is also an interesting indication of objectivity and subjectivity. It
is obvious that the objectivity is expressed much clearly and strongly under the form of
passive voice. From Nguyen Quang’s paper, passive voice is often used in case of formal
speech or written communication in English. The Anglo-American has the tendency of
speaking or writing in passive voice more than the Vietnamese do. In academic writing, it
is sometimes necessary to compose sentences like: 1. It is believed that … 2. I am strongly
convinced that … 3. He is considered to be … In these cases, the objectivity can always be
seen. However, if we translate those statements into Vietnamese, the active voice sounds
more acceptable: 1. Người ta tin rằng … People believe that … 2. Tôi thật sự tin rằng … I
strongly believe that … 3. Người ta cho rằng anh ta … People think that he … In
Vietnamese, the ego always plays a very important role, as a result, he or she should be the
subject of the utterance. Once again, the subjectivity can be seen clearly. Furthermore, the
passive voice in Vietnamese is often understood by two ways: “bị” and “được”. This
distinction reflects the differences in speaker and writer’s attitudes towards the issue
mentioned in the sentence. “Bị” indicates the bad luck or negative attitudes; on the
contrary, it will be good luck or positive attitudes in case of “được”. For instance, the
sentence: I got mark 7 can be translated into Vietnamese in two ways: Tôi bị điểm 7 (under
the speaker’s expectation) Tôi được điểm 7 (over the speaker’s expectation).
A sense of subjectivity is strongly felt in this case: English people utilize passive voice
neutrally while the Vietnamese let out clearly their personal feelings. The word “được”
implies something that is neutral or that the speaker is happy and pleased to do something
or feel honored of doing something. For example, “được thưởng” (be awarded), “được
khen” (be praised), “được yêu” (be loved), “Tôi được vinh dự gặp ngài Thủ tướng” (I had
honor of meeting the Prime Minister.) whereas the word “bị” refers to the opposite
meaning, for example “bị mất việc” (lost job), “bị thi trượt” (failed the exam) ...This is
another matter that learners of English should pay attention to in compositions. It can be
suggested that passive voice plays an essential part in English academic writing.
English and Vietnamese share the same meaning of addressing systems which are used to
affirm and address oneself in social relationship or kinship relation as well. In English,
most of personal pronouns are neutral which reveal no special attitudes of the speaker
towards the hearer. In reverse, in Vietnamese, addressing system is not only used to call
each other but also expresses different feelings and relationship with the listeners.


Different address forms for the same person reveal different attitudes: negative, positive or
neutral. There is a complex system of address forms in which speaker chooses an
appropriate address form due to age, social status, attitudes, feelings and distance.
The third personal singular “She” can be translated as follows based on different attitudes:
She (neutral)



Cô, chị, em, bà ...

Chị ấy, cô ấy, bà ấy ...

Mụ, con, ả, thị, con mụ ấy,

Nàng, người...

Chị ta, cô ta, bà ta ...

con mẹ ấy ...

For example:
- Positive: Bà là một người phụ nữ nhân hậu. (She is a kind woman.)
- Neutral: Chị ấy đang đi làm. (She is working.)
- Negative: Mụ ta là loại đàn bà vô lương tâm. (She is a kind of nonethic woman.)
He (neutral)



Ngài, chàng, ông, anh ...

Anh ấy, ông ấy, cậu ấy ...

Thằng, hắn, gã, y ...


Positive: Ông là một con người vĩ đại. (He is a great man.)


Neutral: Anh ấy sẽ không đến đâu. (He will not come.)


Negative: Hắn chỉ là một kẻ vô công rồi nghề. (He is only a jobless man.)
They (neutral)



Những con người ấy, các vị Họ, người ta, chúng nó ...

Bọn nó, lũ chúng nó ...

ấy ....
- Positive: Thưa ngài, các vị ấy vẫn đang chờ ạ. (They are still waiting, sir.)
- Neutral: Họ là những con người của công việc. (They are men of work.)
- Negative: Lũ chúng nó thì làm được cái gì. (They can do nothing for life.)
In summary, English personal pronouns only refer to person who the speaker is talking to
and remain neutral if there are no other supporting infra-linguistic, para-linguistic factors.
Contrarily, many Vietnamese pronouns are accompanied with the speaker’s feeling and

13 Directness – Indirectness
The second cross – cultural dimension that may have prominent influences on English
learning is Directness – Indirectness. In every language there exist the two kinds of
expressions: direct and indirect ones. Therefore, it is not correct to say that a language is
direct and another is indirect. In Nguyen Quang’s point of view, the evaluation of
Directness and Indirectness of a language should be based on not only the language itself
but also its cultural background and should be interpreted in the relation with cultural
values (negative or positive cultural values, taboos ...) and the interaction between
language, thought and culture.
As reported by Kaplan. J (1972), “cultural thought patterns” of foreign students studying in
the United States are different from culture to culture as expressed through their essays.
Direct expressions are preference in the Anglo-American culture, on the other hand,
Oriental people including the Vietnamese are likely to prefer indirect patterns. Many
Americans even “can judge members of cultural groups that value indirectness (i.e.
hesitating, not “getting to the point” and “beating around the bush”) as not bring assertive
world. Nevertheless, they do not realize that a large percentage of the world’s cultures
values indirectness and consider it rude to insist on getting to the point (Levine, D.R &
Adelman, M.B, 1992). Instead of “getting to the point”, Vietnamese culture values the
gentle way to the conclusion or the main idea of their speech and composition. This feature
can be seen clearly when people have to write a letter of refusal. Supposed that there was
an invitation to a wedding party, the following example will stand for a typical English
writing: Unfortunately, much as I’d like to be at the wedding, especially a Dutch wedding
(!), it simply isn’t impossible for me to take that weekend off; I have to work fairly late on
Friday night, and friends are coming down to stay from Sunday lunchtime so there would
be no way in which I could squeeze a wedding in Holland in between. (cited from Vu et.
Al, 2006, p.48) The reason why the writer cannot take part in the wedding can be seen
without any ambiguity. However, in one sample of letters written by a Vietnamese, it
sometimes takes a long way for the reason to be mentioned as cited from one student’s
letter of refusal: I would love to but unfortunately I will not be able to come. I had to write
to you to say how sorry I am that I cannot make it. (cited from Van &Do, 1998) This is one
example of a letter which is under the interference of indirectness in Vietnamese culture.
The writer cannot find an appropriate way to explain the reason of refusal.


The differences in employing directness and indirectness between Vietnamese and
American English can be manifested more clearly in subtle and sensitive topics, for
example, making requests, borrowing money, love declaring, bad news informing ... In
making requests, Vietnamese people tend to give reasons before requesting. They employ
many lead – in sentences to reach the purposes. Nguyen Quang provides an interesting
example between a research worker and his director (1997):

Situation: A research worker in Hanoi has an ill mother in the country. He wants to
have some days off to visit her, so he meets his director.

Him (H): Is it nasty today, isn’t it, sir!
Director (D): Yes, I’ve got an unhappy stomach these days... It’s the bad weather, perhaps.
H: Young and healthy as you are, you can’t stand it, let alone old people.
D: Yes, they surely suffer.
H: (a pause) My mother is eighty, you know...
D: Oh, is she? It’s really longevity.
H: Yes, but she’s just fallen ill due to the weather.
D: Oh, my god, is it serious?
H: She went to visit my sister in another village the other day and caught a cold on the way
back because of the weather change.
D: Any treatments for her?
H: Yes, Yes, I’ve bought a lot of medicine for her...uh...by the way... I just come to ask for 3
days off t come and visit her. Is it possible, sir?
D: It’s O.K. It’s Wednesday today, so you’ll have 4 days off including Sunday.
H: Yes, thank you very much, sir.
(cited from Ngo Huu Hoang, 1998: 47)
Most of Nguyen Quang’s students read the conversation and thought that it would be polite
to carry the conversation in that way to get the speaker’s purpose. However, when the
conversation was given to some Australians and Americans, most of whom thought that
the way the man led to his request is “extremely unnecessary”, “very confusing”, or even
“irritating”. For them, the purpose of the visit should be mentioned immediately, any
reason should be informed afterwards.
In the study “How to convey bad news in American English and Vietnamese” of Nguyen
Quang, he concludes that Americans express much more directly than Vietnamese people


do, even with such a subtle topic as death. Words such as “die”, “was killed” appear much
more frequently than in Vietnamese (35/178 compared to 2/182). For example:

Your wife tragically was one of those killed in the plane crash.


I’m sorry that your wife was killed.


It is going to be difficult for you to hear this, but I’m sorry to say I think your wife
is dead.

The word “die” or “dead” tend to be replaced by the Vietnamese by other expressions:

Không còn (not alive)


Qua đời (pass away)


Mất (pass away)


Một trong những người xấu số (among the ones who have bad fates)


Về nơi chín suối (go to the hades)

In conclusion, directness – indirectness is one of cross-cultural categories which have
much influence on Vietnamese learners’ speaking and writing style. Only when having the
sufficient understanding of Anglo – American tradition and doing more practices under the
teacher’s instructions, learners can overcome this problem and obtain both linguistic and
cultural competence. Accuracy – Inaccuracy
From Nguyen Quang’s point of view, the Vietnamese seems to be more inaccurate than the
Anglo – American. He suggested some cases which can point out the differences between
two cultures: The use of tenses
In English grammar, there are sixteen tenses to express a certain action happening at a
certain time such as simple present, simple past, simple future, present continuous, past
continuous, etc. And affixes are the indicator used to clarify different tenses in English. To
understand this we will look at the use of some important tenses in more detail.
The simple present tense is used for general statements of facts or to express habitual or
everyday activities. For example:

The Earth goes round the Sun.


I go to school everyday.

We use the present continuous tense to talk about an activity that is in progress at the
moment of speaking.



It is raining now.

The simple past tense is used to indicate that an activity or situation began and ended at a
particular time in the past.

His wife left him ten years ago.

When we express the idea that something happened before the present, at an unspecified
time in the past, we use the present perfect tense.

We have eaten it before.

The present perfect continuous tense is used to indicate the duration of an activity that
began in the past and continues to the present or to express a general activity in progress
recently or lately.

He has been running all the morning.

Past perfect tense is used to express an activity that was completed before another activity
or time in the past.

They had finished lunch by the time I arrived.

When we talk about an activity or event going on at a particular time or over a particular
period in the future, we use the future continuous tense.

I will be watching T.V at that time.

The future perfect tense is used to express an activity that will be completed before
another time or event in the future.

I will have finished my thesis by September.

From the examples above, it is shown that tenses in English are formed and used
differently. The two ways of forming tenses in English are adding infections to the bare
form of the verbs and combining inflections and auxiliaries or modals. The rules for the
formation and usage of tense are fixed. Therefore, the English language is very accurate.
However, the situation is not the same in Vietnamese. There are only lexical indicators
such as “đã, rồi, (already) từng (ever), vừa (just), sẽ, sắp (will), toan …" to express the
past, present and future. The situation seems to be simpler in Vietnamese. That is the
reason why many learners of English get difficulty in finding an appropriate tense to
translate Vietnamese into English. Examples of “đã” can prove much ambiguity to
Vietnamese learners due to the influences of inaccuracy. “Đã” can be understood as an
indicator to past tenses in Vietnamese; nevertheless, the translation into English seems to
be various in terms of the verb tenses. Moreover, what determine tenses and aspects in


Vietnamese are not auxiliaries, but context clues, especially metalinguistic, intralinguistic,
and extralinguistic contexts as exemplified by Nguyen Quang (2002).
E.g. “Đã” is used to refer to an action which is to take place in the future.
- Vào giờ này ngày mai tôi đã có mặt ở Hà Nội.
(I will be in Hanoi by this time tomorrow.) The use of genitive indicators
As a matter of fact, the genitive indicators are the “-s” genitive, possessive adjectives and
pronouns and the preposition “of”. It has the equivalence in Vietnamese named “của”.
Accuracy in English indicators of possession often cannot be used interchangeably. The
case of –s genitive and –of genitive should be taken into careful consideration. As
suggested by Quirk, R and Greenbaum. S (2003, p 96 -97), the “–s” genitive is favored by
animated nouns, in particular persons and animals with personal characteristics. We can
only say the youngest children’s toys, but not the door’s window or the love of John. On
the other hand, -of genitive is chosen in case of being the link between inanimate nouns
such as the title of the book or the system of the society. It cannot be affirmed that –s
genitive does not replace –of genitive in all cases and vice versa. Learners of English
should bear in mind those above basic rules. In addition, possessive adjectives and
pronouns play an important role in English. The great awareness of possession of the
Anglo – American is revealed through the close relationship between noun and its
possessive adjectives such as “my, your, her, his, our, their, its”. Such words are never
absent in English noun phrases of possession. On the contrary, the usage of “của” is likely
to be more flexible. It is the only genitive in Vietnamese; as a result it is popularly used for
both animate and inanimate nouns. In many cases, the Vietnamese even obmit “của” as can
be seen in the following examples: Tôi ghi bài vào vở. (Literal translation: I take note in
notebook) (Standard English: I take note in my notebook) Tôi cầm lấy ví rồi đi thẳng.
(Literal translation: I took purse and went away) (Standard English: I took my purse and
went away) The problem is that Vietnamese learners sometimes forget such indicators of
possession while speaking or writing in English due to the inaccuracy in their culture. This
is another point they need to take into consideration.

Review of previous studies

Nguyen Quang’s work in Foreign Language Journal (1998) points to draw the conclusion
that there are fourteen major Anglo-American-Vietnamese cross-cultural categories.


1. Subjectivity – Objectivity; 2. Directness – Indirectness; 3. Accuracy – Inaccuracy; 4.
Positive and Negative politeness; 5. Self-abasement and self-assertion; 6. Abstractness –
Rationality; 7. Sentimentality – Equality; 8. Hierarchy – Equality; 9. Introversion –
Extroversion; 10. Deduction – Induction; 11. Group orientation – Individual orientation;
12. High context – Low context; 13. Redundancy – Economicality; 14. Staticality –
Such dimensions exist in every language. The problem is that one culture may be in favour
of one side of a certain dimension than another. For example, in terms of directness –
indirectness dimension, Anglicist people (British, American, Australian....) tend to be more
direct in speaking than Oriental people. Vietnam is an example, it is common for
Vietnamese people to have the habit of “beating around the bush” before going to the main
The study on the influences of Vietnamese cultural factors on English learning among first
– year students at English Department, CFL, VNU, which was carried out by Do Mai
Thanh & Van Thanh Binh (1998) took this matter into consideration. The study mentioned
the common mistakes made by the first year students in the Faculty of English Language
Teacher Education (formerly known as English Department), University of Languages and
International Studies, VNU due to the influences of some cultural categorical dimensions.
This was conducted among the 1st year students K32 in 1999 and over ten years has gone
by, therefore, the results may have been different thanks to the openness of Vietnam to the
world, the improvement of the process of learning and communicating in English, the
incorporation of cultural points into language lessons at upper secondary schools in
Another study by Ho Gia Anh Le in 2003 on Accuracy and Inaccuracy in English and
Vietnamese also dealt with aspects of Accuracy and Inaccuracy in English and
Vietnamese, the influence of this categorical dimension on English learning and some
implications for the learning and teaching of both Vietnamese and English as foreign
languages. The author comments that most of sentences that the pupils made were
grammatically correct but there existed a lot of cultural mistakes due to the interference of
cross-cultural categories in general, and Accuracy and Inaccuracy category in particular.
The most typical errors are verb tenses, prepositions of place, the use of directness and
indirectness in communication, insufficient redundancies in English usage.


Tran Thanh Dung’s study (2004) concentrates on cultural factors that affects on teaching
and learning English in secondary schools in terms of cultural category Subjectivity –
Objectivity. This implies that the subjectivity of Vietnamese learners has much effect on
their process of learning English. Many pupils find it disappointed and bored with learning
a second language when they meet difficulties in doing exercises. One of the reasons is that
they lack cultural experience, so they sometimes make mistake while studying. Therefore it
is essential that they be provided enough cultural knowledge to avoid misinterpretation in
the lessons.


2.1. Students’ survey
2.1.1. Discussion of the survey questionnaire and the informants
This survey questionnaire is designed to research the interference of some cultural
dimensions on the medical students, as seen from cross-culture and communication.
The Vietnamese student respondents are 300 in number. They are second year students of
nursing at Thanh Hoa Medical College.
The survey consists of two main parts.
In the first part: students are asked what to say in the following situations:
1 .Situation 1: You meet your English friend(s) in the street.
2. Situation 2: You want to borrow your friend VND 200,000 for some reason.
3 .Situation 3: Your friend says to you: “What a beautiful dress you have!”
4. Situation 4: You want to refuse your friend’s invitation to his/her party for some reason.
In the second part, students are asked to translate four sentences
1. Vào Nam ra Bắc.
- The aim of this sentence is to investigate how students use prepositions to translate (“to”
or other prepositions).
2. Mặc dù thời tiết xấu nhưng họ vẫn đến đúng giờ.
- This sentence is aimed to look into how students use “although”/“but”.
3. Bởi vì trời mưa cho nên tôi ở nhà.
- This sentence is to investigate if Vietnamese students use both “because” and “so”.
4. Hôm qua tôi bị thi trượt.

The aim of this is to check whether Vietnamese students know the difference
between English and Vietnamese passive voice.

However, the survey cannot cover some following factors:

Students’ language proficiency – what their English levels – beginning,
intermediate or advanced are. All of the students are in their second year and their
supposed English level is pre-intermediate.


Students’ communicative competence – this is a survey questionnaire and students
are asked to express their use of English in written form, that is although there are
questions to test their communicative competence and spoken language, the author
can not access 300 students to measure individually.

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