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Book Review: Compelling Conversations that Connect with Vietnamese Learners
03/08/2019

Vian Tormis

“I actually made friends in this class,” Leeza Stavinkov said wistfully, waving her slender arms in the air for emphasis. “Like in my other classes we just kinda sit there but in this class we actually like talked to each other.”

I smiled at her. You know that famous l...
“I actually made friends in this class,” Leeza Stavinkov said wistfully, waving her slender arms in the air for emphasis. “Like in my other classes we just kinda sit there but in this class we actually like talked to each other.”

I smiled at her. You know that famous last-day-of-the-semester weary smile all instructors are all to familiar with.  I wish I could have mustered more but it was the last hour of my last class of the Spring semester and I was exhausted. In addition, I had a bulging briefcase of speaking and listening tests, grammar quizzes, and finals to grade.

However her comment stuck with me throughout the summer vacation: I actually made friends in this class. I actually made friends in this class. I actually made friends in this class.

As language instructors I know we are committed to correcting comma splices and adjusting egregious subject verb agreement errors; however, those things can also be learned through online videos too. No, as ESL instructors we are more than knowledgeable grammarians: we are the facilitators of community and connection through meaningful language acquisition. Who doesn’t want to learn something new when they have made a new friend from class to learn with?

But how? How do we cultivate this connection and community without neglecting the academic rigor and substance that well, you know, gets our programs funding and state budget increases? I like to use the Compelling Conversations series. The series is all about creating meaningful natural conversations in the ESL/EFL classroom. As a Speaking and Listening instructor I am constantly rummaging for new resources. And I think I may have found a gem. 

The second book in the series, Compelling Conversations that Connect with Vietnamese learners of English!, focuses on improving the accuracy and fluency of Vietnamese English Language Learners. Even though it targets Vietnamese learners I use it in a culturally diverse classroom because a majority of the activites are applicable to learners from all backgrounds. I appreciate this textbook because it uses conversation starters, interview questions, classic quotations, paraphrasing exercises, and traditional proverbs to create authentic English conversation. I have found that authentic conversation naturally develops into fruitful classroom discussions. My favorite pages are the fill-in-the-blank charts because it forces students to get up and mingle. You know that whole making friends thing.

From an academic angle this book introduces academic vocabulary, examines common prefixes and suffixes, and provides conversation opportunities for students to use their new vocabulary. I’m convinced that the quality conversation starters are golden. Now that I have been teaching ESL for a decade, I couldn’t agree more with Australian linguist David Nunan, the most effective English language learning does indeed take place when two language learners practice consistently and grow together.


Sounds like true friendship to me.

Nguyen, Teresa, and Eric H. Roth. Compelling Conversations:  Speaking Exercises for Vietnamese Learners of English. Chimayo Press, 2017.