Added: 28th Jul 2011
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Extract from interview with Helen Frizzell, 11-12 June 2009
Reproduced with permission of George Gordon
You really wanted to have some sort of extra curricular activities and there was photographing and things like that. But, I suppose just as an extension of our work, it was suggested to me, that it would be good if we could improve the English speaking amongst the Vietnamese staff. So I was never a teacher, but I decided I'd give it a go. So, I said I would offer to do it and...
The nurses knew a couple of American girls from the Peace Corps, and they were teaching English and so, I thought I'd take a bit of instruction, and they gave me a lot of material, and some advice. And so I – so then I had to find a place to teach, and the only classrooms at the, at the hospital was in the maternity unit. And I can't remember her name, but the chief midwife there was quite a formidable Vietnamese lady [chuckle]. And, even our nurses took no, took, you know, no liberties, with her. And, I, I said to Mr Suu, ‘I think I'll have to go and ask her if I can use a classroom'. He said, ‘no I don't think she will let you George'. And as I recall, I, – she did speak some English – so I said ‘well I'm going to go and ask her', and I noticed he didn't offer to come with me [laughter]. And that was the former chief nurse. So, I went and spoke to her and told her what I was planning to do, and, and so I said ‘can I use one of these rooms at night'. And, she said she would think about it. And then next day Mr Suu arrives with her and said ‘she would let you teach English in her classroom'.
So, I put the word out for hospital staff and I started. And as the photo shows here, there's quite a group in that photo, and that was in the early days, because, then some of the staff asked if their children could come and learn and then students at the Qui Nhon High School found out that my English classes were on and, and, we just had to take stock – we just couldn't fit them all in. So we just had to confine it to hospital staff and their children.
How long did you do it for?
Best part of, I ‘spose 9 months.
And how was that for you – I mean, how did you find doing it?
Brilliant. Brilliant. I loved it. I loved the exchanges with them and I liked, and the, the teaching aids we had – it was ...
You know, when I left to come home, those girls from the Peace Corp were still there teaching English, and they decided that we should have a farewell party of my students and their students. And, it was, it was a great occasion. I remember this party of fruit juice and, and local cake, and in a big room. And, we just stood there amazed as my class and their class, all Vietnamese, were communicating with each other in English. But there was some noticeable differences. For example, one group said ‘water' [American accent] and the other said ‘water' [New Zealand accent]. One talked group talked about a laboratory [American accent] and the other a laboratory [New Zealand accent]. And there were these, there were these little subtle – well not so subtle – differences took place, but it was very satisfying to see that they and we could understand what they were saying. Now we weren't talking about extensive scientific discussions here. We were talking about the normal sort of discussions, ability, to speak English, that would probably enable you to get by if you visited New Zealand, in terms of asking where the bus was, or, or what sort of a shop you were looking for and things like that.
Vietnam War Oral History Project, Manatu Taonga Ministry for Culture & Heritage