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[Audio] Meet Hanh Dinh, a Murray State Graduate Student from Vietnam

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Matt Markgraf, WKMS
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As an ongoing series, we invite individuals who make up Murray State University's diverse body of international students to share some background into their native country, cultural traditions and experiences here at MSU. On Sounds Good, Matt Markgraf speaks with Hanh Dinh, a graduate student from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, now in her second semester at MSU, working towards a Master's degree in the TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language). They discuss Vietnamese water puppetry, approaches to teaching English and how her country has changed over the past 40 years.

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Extended Conversation

(In the extended conversation, they discuss Vietnamese cuisine, more on the war and US relations and regional differences in Vietnam. In the second half, they go much more in-depth on teaching English, linguistic intonations and accents and some basics on speaking Vietnamese.)

Hanh Dinh says she decided to come to Murray State after going to several information sessions seeking qualified programs for a Master's degree in the U.S. Murray State stood out because the brochure said that Murray was one of the friendliest towns in the U.S. She says Murray has a great combination of modern and historic, urban and natural lifestyles.

As president of the International Student Organization, she says the goal is to try to create opportunity to welcome international students and local American students in order to exchange cultural knowledge and enhance collaborations, like scavenger hunts, an international bazaar, Tent City with food from different countries.

Ho Chi Minh City is very dynamic and busy, she says. Growing up there with a strong international presence, she feels this helped her have an open-minded, friendly and sociable personality, which helps her adapt to a new environment quickly. Tourists to Ho Chi Minh City might like to visit the historical museums to learn more about Vietnam and American war, Independence Palace - where the president in the Southern government lived. There are also coffee shops and bars and Buddhist temples and pagodas.

Water puppetry is a popular cultural art form in Vietnam. They usually re-tell legends of how Vietnamese people developed the country long ago. Hanh Dinh recalls the story of how Vietnam was created - where a woman gave birth to 100 children. The wife took 50 children to the south and developed farming. The husband took 50 children to develop the mountainous areas. Stories like this are told through incredible mnpuppetry appearing to dance over the water, where the puppeteers are behind a curtain.

Pho is a traditional food in Vietnam, a white noodle in soup with beef broth, spices and vegetables. Holidays offer sticky rice cakes stuffed with beans and meat. Dinh says her favorite food is spring rolls. She enjoys cooking for American friends and says the basic ingredients and spices are available in Murray and gets a majority of the ingredients in shops in Nashville and Louisville.

As an outgoing and open-minded person, Dinh said she didn't feel too much culture shock coming to Murray. People usually ask her about the war, to which she says the country has changed a lot since then and updates them on recent developments. Growing up with a Vietnamese perspective on the war, Dinh says she was born in a peaceful time and when reading about what happened in the history books, she learned that a lot of people sacrificed to protect the peace of the people today and the responsibilities of people today to continue making good things. One of these is to never let war happen again and to try to make friends, reach out and have a global understanding with each other. Not long after the war ended, Vietnam re-established connections with the American government and there's now a good relationship between the two countries, she says.

There are many memorials throughout the country and regions that suffered from the war. There are many programs between Vietnam and the U.S. to have American soldiers come back to the battlefields and to search for friends.

Compared to Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi in the north is one of the oldest regions of the country. When seeking an older, more traditional Vietnam, where living pace is slower and people are more nostalgic, Hanoi's food, living style and architecture embodies this. There are more old houses and buildings in the north, she says.

Hanh Dinh says she started learning English when she was 10. At that time, there were a lot of language centers in the city. She went to school and through native speakers and local teachers was able to learn English. Outside of this, she grew up watching the Disney Channel, Discovery Channel and CNN. Also, watching English channels on YouTube has been a great resource, she says.

In the TESOL program, approaches and methods can vary, from experiential learning (ordering food in a restaurant) other methods involve conversations like communicative approach where the teachers and students interact with each other, or projects and presentations in English. You could also start by reading novels or listening authentic input, she says. Her favorite method to teach would be task based learning, where one starts with a lesson by giving the student a task to do where they interact with each other. She also likes teaching her students to express themselves and talk about their experiences in the language they're trying to learn - opinions and feelings.

When learning another language, you'll realize the differences in the sound system. For example, she says her "final sounds" were difficult to pronounce: 'fiVE' or the 'ed' at the end of words in past tense. Your first language also influences your second language, too, she says, that even when imitating an American accent she still sounds Vietnamese. But she says it's important to emphasize to international students to be proud of the way you speak English and that American friends will support you and do their best to listen and communicate.

At first Dinh was afraid to speak English because of difficulties with pronunciation. But she recalls a teacher who told her to open your mouth, speak with confidence and don't be afraid of errors. Often how you speak has to do with your mother tongue. Vietnamese and American sounding systems are similar, she says. A greeting in Vietnamese is "Xin chào" (pronounced like SEEN tee-ow).

After graduation, Hanh Dinh says she'll be seeking a Ph.D. program in the United States to continue her work in TESOL.

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