|Participants are seated in groups so everyone gets a chance to talk (Photo: VOV)
The project’s cafes involve no registration, no attendance sheet, and of course, no homework, but still try to help students improve their English conversation skills.
The “No name” café, which is part of the “Talks Café 100% English” project, is hidden in a small alley along Pham Van Thuan street in Bien Hoa, Dong Nai province. Like the other cafés in the project, “No name” is an ordinary coffee shop during the day, but turns into an English class at night.
The participants are diverse in age, gender, and job, but all have to follow one basic rule: “No Vietnamese maybe spoken in class”. Through activities led by a qualified instructor, participants learn to make small talk and work effectively in teams while improving their pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. By creating a friendly environment where people can converse freely in English, “Talks café” overcomes the lack of confidence which seems to be the biggest barrier to learning English.
11th grader Vo Thi Xuan Dao said, “I can see clearly that my language skill is improving, thanks to the fun lessons and activities here. We just drink coffee, chit chat in English, and make a few friends along the way. There’s no pressure at all, so I feel happy to join in.”
At “Talks cafe”, they do not separate learners into language levels, but they try to provide one-on-one support for beginners. Participants are seated in groups so everyone gets a chance to talk. Each table has at least one native English speaker, or a Vietnamese teacher who has a bachelor's degree in English, an IELTS 6.0, or a TOEIC 800. They receive 2 weeks of training before joining a “Talks café” session. The fee for each class is 3 dollars, half the money participants would have to pay for a 2-hour English class.
Learner Thuy Anh said, “What I like most about the “Talks cafes” project is the friendly environment it creates. When I don’t know how to say something, I get suggestions from the teachers and other students. My mistakes are corrected, my listening and speaking skills are improved, and I feel more confident when I say something in English.”
After 6 months founder Quyen received funding from Shark Tanks Vietnam 2018, a TV show that finds startup projects to invest in, “Talks cafe” now has 4 branches in Bien Hoa, with 45 teachers and 300 students. Quyen hopes to open branches in Ho Chi Minh City and start franchising in 2 more years.
Quyen said, “I want to develop a teaching model that is low in price, but high in quality. I want to change the habits of students who spend their time after school doing nothing into learning and relaxing at the same time. Learning English this way, you can practice and connect with positive people. Thinking about how Vietnam will develop when everybody can speak English fluently is a tremendous motivation for me to do this project.”