Teresa Nguyen is an ESL Teacher, Author and successful YouTuber based in California. Find out how she utilized her first language to start a bilingual (English-Vietnamese) YouTube channel with more than 12,000 subscribers from around the world to help Vietnamese speakers learn English.
Hello Teresa. Can you start off by telling us about your teaching journey?
I became interested in language development due to my own experiences as a child immigrant from Vietnam, an ESL student, and then as an English instructor in three different countries. These experiences have given me an understanding of how lives can be transformed through learning English.
Through the years, I have found that teaching a wide range of learners in a variety of subjects has allowed me to explore different perspectives on teaching as well. I taught specialized English to immigrant adults in corporate America (2008) and to Vietnamese programmers in corporate Vietnam (2010). I taught elementary (2009), high school (2012), undergraduate, graduate (2014), and re-entry (2013) students from over 25 different countries academic English to further their education at an English-speaking institution.
It has been an explorative, exciting journey! I have shared these experiences with colleagues at a variety of professional educational conference including CATESOL and TESOL, placing a great emphasis on apps in relation to language learning/acquisition.
How long have you been teaching?
It’s been an exciting 10 years at California State University, Fullerton and now at Golden West College and Irvine Valley College, community colleges in California, USA.
Can you describe a typical class?
No lesson is ever the same. No teaching day is ever the same. Even if I’m teaching the same lesson, the same book from the previous semester. Because when my students walk into the class, they bring their past, present, and future. Thus no two classes are ever the same.
If you think about it, the classroom is a glimpse of the outside world. As in the world at large, classrooms bring people in contact with each other and students have to learn how to cohabit, to communicate and relate, even if it’s just a semester. And the one key item that is binding everyone together is a specific vision and an overall structure of community.
The culture of my classroom represents the way we, my students and I, live together for even just an hour. The most important element is compassion and love, the most potent words in my professional lexicon. Virtually everything I do in the classroom is for the social, emotional, and academic growth of my students, and I hope, is evident to my students. Because looking back on my own experience, the teachers that I remember most were the ones that cared.
Therefore, I hope that I can inspire student excellence through my compassion. How? We celebrate student achievements (e.g. American citizenship). We build strong relationships with each other to exhibit as much compassion as possible (e.g. we call classmates “best friends”). All these factors, I believe, are essential in creating a climate and culture that enable students to soar.
What do you do in your spare time to relax?
Go to the gym for Bodycombat classes. It’s such a fun cardio sport that allows me to kick, jab, and master self-defense in a non-contact environment. It's martial arts and boxing-inspired, combining pre-choreographed routines from a variety of disciplines such as Muay Thai, Capoeira, Taekwondo, and Karate. It’s so fun that I’m actually considering getting the certificate to teach it. The reality is that I work so much juggling teaching, content creating, filming, and material writing that when I do have a spare minute or two, I just want to sleep.
You took on the tremendous task of writing a book and starting your own YouTube Channel. Can you talk a bit about them?
Last year, I published my first oral language textbook – Compelling Conversations – Vietnam: Speaking Exercises for Vietnamese Learners of English (Chimayo Press, 2016). The primary audience is Vietnamese Americans, unlike other EFL books limited to Vietnamese living in Vietnam. I also included Quizlet and Kahoot! in each chapter to provide additional opportunities for students to be autonomous learners.
This positive experience as an ESL material writer helped me turn another dream into reality – In November 2016, I started a bilingual (English-Vietnamese) YouTube channel to teach English to those that don’t have the resources or time for formal English language learning. The goal was to create a low risk, high return positive language learning experience. As I develop the channel, I can imagine helping not only English language learners in the U.S. but across the globe. Lessons – sometimes all in English and sometimes in both English and Vietnamese – include the Academic Word List and conversational guidance. Currently, I have over 12,000 subscribers from all over the world.
What sets your book/channel apart from the others?
There are many English teaching YouTube Channels out there. However, the material that I create is very based on my life and experiences and of course, my individual personality. The format is based on student outcomes with a lot of the focus on instructional delivery and assessment/evaluation. I additionally try to incorporate authentic materials into the lessons such as music videos and conversations/speeches of Americans. There are four strands of English learning that the student can focus on Everyday Vocabulary (for my beginners), Academic Vocabulary (for those that want to enter university), Accent Reduction, American Culture, and free audio to Compelling Conversations – Vietnam. Yet I also have a distinctive niche. It’s a bilingual channel. All the videos are in English and Vietnamese.
How long did it take you to write the book and then develop the YouTube channel?
Textbook writing is a long process. And believe it or not, thanks to technology, my co-author and I met only about three times during the whole process. But overall, it took about a year before the book published. As for the YouTube Channel, it took about three months before I was able to finally upload my first video. I didn’t take into consideration content writing (for the teleprompter), wardrobe malfunction (e.g. no green), lighting, recording angle, voicing, editing, and a million other factors. A five-minute clip takes about 20 hours of behind- the- scenes work. We’ve come a long way since that first video.
Where can teachers and students purchase your book and your other resources?
Purchase the book from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Compelling-Conversations-Speaking-Exercises-Vietnamese/dp/0990498832
Free audio for the textbook: https://youtu.be/8NQpFtK8MYE
Free PDF chapter of the book as well as more textbooks from the publisher: http://chimayopress.com/
Do you have any plans for a second book or are you working on any other projects?
Yes! I have some more books as well as other products on the way to help support the program. Please check out our website regularly for updates.
Where can people find you on social media?
What have you had to do outside of your comfort zone as a teacherpreneur?
Putting myself out there to promote my projects mostly. To be honest, I’m actually quite an introvert by nature so doing TV interviews or meeting reporters drain me. However, I understand that marketing is such a key tool. I may have a wonderful product but if nobody knows about it, then it’s useless. It builds brand awareness, increases sales, grows the business, and engages customers. As a result, I had to reach out to newspapers, magazines, anyone that could see the value of my product.
What benefits did classroom teaching allowed you to excel as a teacherpreneur?
Surrounding myself with interesting folks. Knowing students, colleagues, friends who are doing fascinating things is inspiring, and they are the ones that give me the best ideas, advice, and feedback. The people around you, and their positive and inspiring attitudes, matter.
Do you do everything yourself or have you had to get help?
Anyone who has ever started any kind of entrepreneurial venture knows that it is a tremendous amount of work but oh-so-worth-it! ESL Garage is still a baby. It’s now only about a year old. To this point, it has been completely self-financed. When I started this project, it was my donation to the community – to anyone and everyone that wanted to learn English from anywhere and everywhere. After this initial self-financed phase, I am now hoping to attract other investors and this has been a challenge. But ESL Garage wouldn’t be where it is today without the wonderful people that have helped me along the way. I would like to specifically thank my cameraman: John Montoya, and my editors: Keyon Nguyen and B.GIO Creative Studio, – and of course, all my wonderful volunteers in filming and subtitling!
What advice would you give to teachers who are considering starting out on their own?
Just do it. Nike. I think the number one mistake is not starting at all. The worst-case scenario — nobody buys my textbook or watches my YouTube channel – is not even bad. If I started and it flopped, at least I got to write/film with my creative juices, share them with friends and learn some valuable lessons along the way. Fail forward I guess is the term for it. In fact, this hypothetical situation of learning something and having fun along the way, even in “failure”, is demonstrably better than if I’d not started at all.
I talk to many teachers about their fear or doubt in trying something new or "putting themselves out there". What advice would you give to these teachers?
It’s ok to not know. I don’t know what will happen with my business. The world is changing and my business will change. I will certainly change as well. We’re all experiencing/learning life for the first time.
Thank you so much, Teresa for sharing your teacherpreneur story. I hope to see you again at the next TESOL Convention.
Interested in learning more about transitioning from a teacher to teacherpreneur but don’t know how to get started? Here are some ways:
Connect with me on social media. Teacherpreneurs must be on social media.
My name is Patrice Palmer, M.Ed., M.A., CPP. I have more than 20 years’ experience as an ESL Teacher, TESL Trainer, and Writer. I spent seven amazing years teaching in Hong Kong and have taught students from 8 to 80 years in a variety of programs. I now work as a teacherpreneur doing the things that I love such as writing books, courses and teaching materials; coaching teacherpreneurs, travelling at any time of the year and applying the science of positive psychology to all my work (www.patricepalmer.ca). Contact me at [email protected]
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