Tintin, bagels, coffee and the Star of Sai Gon.

5th May 2021

Coffee shops, as I drill into my students, are ubiquitous in Sai Gon, so cafes need something special to make them stand out, to encourage people to go there by choice, not merely out of convenience. One such cafe is:

Cà Phê Cô Ba

4-6 Đồng Khởi, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh 700000

The cafe exudes an old-world charm, a romanticised exotic and mysterious Sai Gon. Dark-wood furniture, a twirling staircase, the aroma of fresh coffee; it requires but little imagination to picture the spirits of beautiful Vietnamese ladies in áo dài, amidst the heady scent of perfume and opium.

Enhancing the ambience, the main room has antique sewing machines along one wall, while the wooden shutters display the boy reporter Tintin on his (unofficial) visit to Viet Nam.

Furthermore, there is a back story. The cafe is named after Trần Ngọc Trà, born around 1906, and named ‘The First Beauty of Sai Gon.’

I’ve had to rely on some online translations, but it appears Ms Ba Trà was a great beauty who intoxicated powerful and wealthy men with her charm. Unfortunately, as her looks faded, she became addicted to gambling and ended her days in poverty.

You can read more (in English) here: https://vtc.vn/nguoi-dep-sai-gon-dung-bua-ngai-lam-tieu-doi-10-ty-phu-ar140046.html

The coffee is pretty average but the price is reasonable considering the central location. Incongruously, the cafe is situated inside a modern office block and is reached by lift. The sounds of modern Ho Chi Minh City, of people shouting into mobile phones, and advertising covering every space bring one back to the modern world.

Review on Tripadvisor: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g293925-d14159617-Reviews-Ca_Phe_Co_Ba_Dong_Khoi-Ho_Chi_Minh_City.html:

Serendipity – I had to go into my bank, which had moved to a new location, and afterwards, driving around a famous ex-pat area of District 2, I discovered this:

I haven’t had a bagel since my last visit to London, way back in 2020, and that was factory produced, purchased from a supermarket, in a pack of six. There was nothing for it – I simply had to go in, get my coffee ‘n’ bagel fix.

I opted for the classic smoked salmon & cream cheese, along with ice coffee.

Motorbikes, coffee and bagels … a sign of changing Sai Gon.

Bagel with ‘everything’ (poppy seed, sesame, cheese). My bagel cost about £3, the BLT £2, coffee just over £1.

The verdict ? Well, delicious, of course, nostalgic, you betcha, but a bagel … ? No, not what we have back in east London (where there are still two all-night bagel bakeries). It was more like crusty bread, bagel-shaped, as opposed to the chewy, doughy texture I am used to (goes without saying that bacon and ham are not on the menu in Kosher delis).

However, I was delighted to find this store and though it’s a little far away, I’ll be happy to return.

Meanwhile, I noticed a New York Bagel store in District 1 … I shall try that in due course.

IELTS Mindset: Create narratives & April 30th

26th April 2021

No photo description available.
Grounds of the Independence palace, Sai Gon

Friday is Reunification Day in Viet Nam, so provides us with a topical subject for this week’s lessons.

First up, the relative clause game. To encourage students to speak more fluently, and to use complex sentences as a matter of course, a little speaking activity. I shall recite a short extract at various points, I shall stop and ask a student for extra information including the correct relative pronoun. Got it ?

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Yes, Thay Paul we got it … but can you give us an example, please ?

Oh, you know I will ! Let’s invent an English friend, Mr John … use adjectives to describe his personality and appearance, nouns to tell about his occupation and see how far we get. Ready ? Let’s go !

Mr John, WHO is from London, is on holiday in Sai Gon, WHICH is the biggest city in Viet Nam. John, WHO loves history, wants to visit the War Museum WHICH is located in District 1 and is an extremely thought-provoking experience. John, WHO is an estate agent, is quiet and a little serious although he is extremely friendly. John, WHO is 32 and unmarried, wants to learn about the war WHICH ended in 1975.


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Sai Gon 2015

Ms Kim, WHO ____________, works in Sai Gon, WHICH ______________________. Kim, WHO __________________, wants to visit Ben Thanh Market WHICH ______________________ additionally __________________. Kim, WHO _________________________, wants to buy a birthday present for her mother WHO ___________________.

No photo description available.
London 2010

Mr Peter, WHO loves ______________ , is killing two birds with one stone. He’s using his laptop WHICH _________________ to have a Zoom meeting with his business partner WHO _________________________ as well as drinking coffee at Mario’s WHICH ______________ . Because he lives in Italy, Peter WHO _____________________________ , speaks both English WHICH ________________________ and Italian because his wife WHO _________________________ was born in Rome WHICH ____________ .

Piece of cake, hey ? OK, on to this week’s exercises. We’ll continue with making a narrative.

I had a really bad day yesterday, Sunday. To help explain, here’s some extra vocabulary:

Vocabulary: cancellation / hyper-active / irritating / excruciating / connection / deafening / anti-smoking / culture shock / a real handful / “A plague on both your houses !”

William Shakespeare quote: A plague on both your houses.

The exercise can be found on this previous blog: https://thaypaulsnotes.com/2019/01/14/ielts-lesson-3-may-the-force-be-with-you/

Finally, the lesson pertaining to April 30th. I have a whole blog dedicated to that subject, a blog which may be accessed here: https://thaypaulsnotes.com/2020/04/05/adult-speaking-class-level-3-remembering-april-30th/

See you next week

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IELTS Mindset 1: Lesson 5 Review

14th April 2021

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Do you want to join Thay Paul’s class ? “I willl give it my utmost consideration.”

New vocabulary

unique – one of a kind, nothing else like it

imminent – going to happen or start very soon

you get what you pay for (or you pay for what you get) – if you buy something cheap, you get bad quality

to romanticise – to make something ordinary more interesting

to fantasise (fantasize US English) – to wish for something great to happen

use your imagination / give your imagination free reign – it is OK to pretend, to make up a better story

I will give it my utmost consideration – I will think about it very, very carefully (and then say ‘no’).

firstly, secondly, additionally, another point is, on the other hand, however, finally, in conclusion, to sum up, all things considered – all ‘signpost language‘, to help organise your ideas.

Are you ready to rock ?

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Miss Ngoc in Sai Gon … hey, ho … let’s go !

I’ll be burning the candle at both ends because my IELTS test is _______________ .

Remember, you don’t have to tell the absolute truth in your speaking test. It’s totally OK to ________________________________ .

I picked up this shirt at Saigon Centre and, yeah, it cost an arm and a leg, but just feel the quality … you ____________________________________ .

We booked a really reasonable room at the beach, but the water was cold, the sheets were stained and there were bugs everywhere. We totally _____________________________________ (use past tense).

Thay Paul, we have a new class of students. They are extremely lazy and unmotivated and only want to play with their phones. Would you like to teach them ? ________________________________________________ .

What did you do last weekend ? “I sleep.” Is that all ? Ah, c’mon, do better, ______________________________________ .

Quick – fire round

No photo description available.

You planned a day out for my friend Ethan. Describe these photos using as many IELTS features as you can:

No photo description available.
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Highlands Coffee opposite the Rex Hotel 2012

Areas to focus on: being confident about answering the Part II questions, so we shall work on fluency and developing the ability to speak for longer periods without hesitation.

Just a minute

Speak for one minute on:

Food in your country

What you do in your free time

Your family

Holidays in your country (e.g. Tet, Thanksgiving, Christmas etc)

A link to last week’s notes: https://thaypaulsnotes.com/2021/04/07/ielts-mindset-1-lesson-4-review/

See you next week

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IELTS: Mindset 1, Lesson 4: Review

7th April 2021

No photo description available.
Photo by Thay Paul. Sai Gon

Vietnamese coffee kept warm in a three lions bowls, the lions being a symbol of England. If you love coffee, you’ve come to the right place; coffee shops are _________________ in Sai Gon, and throughout Viet Nam.

The missing word … ?

24 Ubiquitous Antonyms. Full list of opposite words of ubiquitous.
Google Images

New vocabulary:


faith (noun) faithful (adjective) faithfully (adverb)




on the ball

This is gonna be a doodle !

How to use them ?

Lady Thu stated that she would (try) ___________ to learn more vocabulary.

I expected the students to pass with flying colours, but instead I was very _______________________ by their low scores.

Mr Sang knew every answer, he was really _________________________ last night.

Passing a driving test in Vietnam is easy. _______________________________ .

Those Armani T-shirts are absolutely fake ! At that price, no way are they ____________ .

Street food stalls are ubiquitous in my neighborhood; the food is (tasty) ______________________ and the prices are quite ___________________ .

Mr Lee (adverb) _____________ promised me he would be on time for the meeting.

We also covered some basic introduction phrases which you categorically have to memorise:

Some standard opening lines:

That’s a very interesting question

Well, that’s a great question

Well, there is so much to say about that subject, where shall I start ?

It’s funny you put that question to me because earlier today I was just thinking about …

As a young Vietnamese (add your own nationality), I …

And now, a typical IELTS question: What do you do in your free time ?

Remember the first rule of introductions: never answer the question immediately. Remember the second rule of introductions: never answer the question immediately.

So, how to pass with flying colours ? Ah, c’mon, Man, you should know by now ! OK, breaks down like this. Give me:

A great introduction

An organised speech, point by point (use ‘signpost’ language).

At least one idiom

Several L-FWs

Ideas linked by discourse markers

Appropriate intonation, stress & body language

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Thay Paul, can you give us an example, please ?

Sure thing

Well, that’s quite an interesting question because, as a young Vietnamese student, I don’t really have much free time. I have to study all day, then do homework in the evening; I’m really burning the candle at both ends. However, when I have time to myself, I like to hang out with my friends and forget about school.

Firstly we meet in coffee shops, which are ubiquitous in Sai Gon, and talk and laugh. Highlands in my favourite because it has free WiFi as well as being very comfortable although some of the coffee prices are sky-high.

Additionally, I love swimming which, in my opinion, is incredibly healthy, and it doesn’t require much equipment. Subsequently, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

However, my absolute favorite past time is to sing karaoke, which I believe comes from Japan, in a private, sound-proof room. For me, it’s a perfect way to relax and forget all my stress about work, life and my parents !

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Piece of cake, right ? 23 / 9 Park, District 1, Sai Gon

A link to previous blogs for this class may be accessed here: https://thaypaulsnotes.com/2021/03/24/ielts-mindset-1-lesson-2-review/

Ethan Hawke Sticks Up For Texas, Reps Beto and Turns a Dead ...

Next Lesson, you’ll be planning a day out in Sai Gon (or your city) for my friend Ethan. You can read up here: https://thaypaulsnotes.com/2020/12/16/ielts-planning-a-day-out/

IELTS: Mindset 2 first review

22nd December 2020

IELTS information for Ghana students – Achilinks Consult
Ready to pass with flying colours

After three or four lessons, I expect my students to know several common idioms (their meaning and how to use them appropriately), a number of low-frequency words (L-FWs), how to introduce an answer, how to form a complex sentence and to demonstrate varieties of intonation and stress.

Without these features, you ain’t gonna get above a ‘5’, no way. Therefore, time for a quick review, see how you’re measuring up to the standard, whether you need to turn over a new leaf and put your nose to the grindstone.

Therefore, let’s recap


it’s raining cats and dogs

it costs an arm and a leg

piece of cake

I’m burning the candle at both ends

once in a blue moon

pass with flying colours

turn over a new leaf

put your nose to the grindstone

5 Best IELTS Practice Tests for International Students | ApplyBoard
Students putting their noses to the grindstone

Part 1: What do the aforementioned idioms mean ?

Part 2: Give each student an idiom. They have to use it, correctly, in a sentence.


gritty / industrial / quite / safe / residential / boring / peaceful / suburban / bustling / vibrant / city centre.

ubiquitous // naïve // stroll // a bazaar // bizarre // predictable

absent-minded // sky-high, astronomical // an entrepreneur //

hawkers or peddlers // a mover and a shaker // consider //

Part 3: Students have to describe their neighbourhood, using as many L-FWs, and idioms, as they are able.

Encouraging IELTS students to read beyond the course book | Collins ELT
Students burning the candle at both ends


That’s a very interesting question

Well, that’s a great question

Well, there is so much to say about that subject, where shall I start ?

It’s funny you put that question to me because earlier today I was just thinking about …

As a young Vietnamese (add your own nationality), I …

Part 4: Students have to demonstrate they know how to introduce their answer.

What do you want to do in the future ?

Give them one minute to prepare a very short reply.

Student Visa For Australia Without Ielts 12th Pass Students in Jalandhar,  VISA Solution Services | ID: 8848189962
It’s funny you asked me that question because recently, I have been considering moving to Australia …

Complex Sentences:

Part 5: Moving on, students have to form complex sentences out of the following information, using intonation to reflect excitement or a positive point and, conversely, a negative factor. Discourse markers to be employed in order to link ideas, naturally. Furthermore, I shall be listening for adverbs and adjectives.

First, choose the correct relative pronoun (who, which, whose or where)

London //

capital of UK // many shops and museums // expensive and cold

Teacher John //

from New Zealand // smiles and plays guitar // talks too fast

Ironman //

real name Tony Starke // very rich and intelligent // is fictional

Thailand //

90 minutes flight from HCMC // friendly people, great food // many western tourists and crowded

ABC English Centre //

located in city centre, District 1 // use laptops and tablets in classes // lessons are four hours long, with extra homework.

Team work

Part 6: Class split into two teams. They have to plan a day in their city (here, of course, it’s Sai Gon) for my friend Ethan.

The exercise can be found on this blog: https://thaypaulsnotes.com/2020/12/16/ielts-planning-a-day-out/

Just look for this picture:

Ethan Hawke Sticks Up For Texas, Reps Beto and Turns a Dead ...

Finally: review negotiation language. Watch this video and discuss your views on the tourists opinion of Sai Gon:

How do the tourists feel about the city ?

As residents, do you agree with the review ?

Students can discuss the video using the following language:

I agree totally // I agree to an extent // I disagree // I’m not entirely sure about that // No way ! // They don’t know what they are talking about !

optimistic // uninformed // delusional // open-minded // enthusiastic

IELTS: Beginning to speak with IELTS language.

12th November 2020

Mindset 2, Unit 1 speaking

Today we’ll focus on two important aspects of IELTS, namely how to introduce an answer, and then beginning to use idiomatic language.

First off the bat, a review of recent vocabulary.

Arrange class into two teams. Ask the missing word(s) for a point [see if the students can use them in other sentences for an extra two points].

EON Heli Bar at Bitexco Financial Tower - Amazing views from Saigon's  highest lounge bar

Prices at Bitexco Sky bar are ______________ .

In Sai Gon, coffee shops are ______________ .

A ________ tried to sell me a Rolex watch, but I knew it was fake. I am not that ___________ to believe it was genuine.

The student was dancing and shouting things. His behaviour was very ________ but it is __________ that a class of teenagers will be a problem.

Tony agreed to meet Mary to go for a _______ but he forgot. He’s so ________________________ .

Ben Thanh Market, Saigon - Guide to Day & Night Market (Hours, Map)

Ben Tanh Market, which is like a _______ is a main tourist sight although for western people, the prices are _________________ .


Western asian Stock Photos, Royalty Free Western asian Images |  Depositphotos®

astronomical or sky high // ubiquitous // hawker // naive // bizarre // predictable // stroll // absent-minded // bazaar // astronomical or sky high


Last week, a top cat student responded to the question, “How do you spend your free time ?” by stating, and I quote:

“Well, I’m a student at university, so I don’t really have much free time. However, when I’m not studying I like to …

Today, we’ll concentrate on introductions.

The First Rule of Fight Club is... | Ability Ministry

First rule of introductions is NEVER answer the question immediately:

e.g. “How do you spend your free time ?” “I play video game and sleep.”

That sucks - Chris Traeger The real one | Meme Generator

Second rule of introductions is NEVER answer the question immediately.

Practice Makes Perfect GIFs | Tenor

So, here’s some typical IELTS topics and some sample introductions:

Your hometown / Tell me about your hometown

Food in your country / What is traditional food in your country ?

Travel / Where would you like to visit ?

Work or Study / What job would you like to do ?

Some standard opening lines:

That’s a very interesting question

Well, that’s a great question

Well, there is so much to say about that subject, where shall I start ?

It’s funny you put that question to me because earlier today I was just thinking about …

As a young Vietnamese (add your own nationality), I …

Now … your turn.

Think of a good introduction to each of the four questions

Photos of indians talking to each other Stock Photos - Page 1 : Masterfile


it’s raining cats and dogs

it costs an arm and a leg

piece of cake

I’m burning the candle at both ends

once in a blue moon

pass with flying colours

Turn over a new leaf

You categorically have to learn these idioms and be able to use them, appropriately, at the drop of a hat. Which idioms fits:

Something that doesn’t happen very often

Something that is very easy, no problem

Very bad weather heavy rain

Working or partying all day and night

Deciding to change your behaviour and be a better person

Something very expensive

To do extremely well in a test

Jewish students celebrate record A-Level success! | Jewish News
Happy students, just received their grades

Vietnam on Video: Part 2

26th October 2020

A collection of clips predominantly featuring western people and their views on Vietnam. I have also added some suggested sequences for pronunciation practice … and so, without further ado …

First time in Viet Nam – First impressions of Viet Nam

A vlog by Divert Living, posted just over two years ago and which has already received more than a million hits:


Pronunciation Practice:

[American English accent]

Try 04:44 – 04:53

” … and I asked them, ‘How much is aqua (water) ?’ Aqua’s fifteen thousand, beer’s twenty thousand … of course I’m gonna get the beer, now … it’s just as expensive as the water.”

09:00 – 0913

“Fun fact, Vietnamese cuisine is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world … and, to go with the food, the size of the dining tables and chairs are super small.”

This vlog was shot in Ha Noi, so let’s get their take (their opinion, view, experience) on Sai Gon:

What to expect – Saigon or HCMC

Now they travel to my neck of the woods (the area I live in or was brought up in), and they encounter, among many other delights, coconut coffee:


Pronunciation Practice:

09:50 – 10.00

“Wow … that’s so strong, but it’s got a ball of coconut ice-cream in the middle … whoah !”

And the young lady who I believe is Korean adds:

“I wanna try … This is the coffee king … ahhhhhhhh !”

Talking Point:

The young travellers give their views on the environment and cleanliness of District 1 which is the city centre [UK] or downtown area [USA].

To what extent do you agree with them ?

What do Vietnamese students think of the Vlogger’s appraisal of Sai Gon ?

Let’s move on and talk about traffic which is quite a serious issue in Vietnam. Firstly, attending driving school … what can go wrong ? A clip from the world-famous motoring show from the BBC, ‘Top Gear.’


[UK English accent]

Right from the get go (from the very start) we have some great lines:

“Cheer up … this is gonna be a doodle … [Vietnamese] … it wasn’t !”

01.23 – 01:45

“How the hell … what did you just do ?”

“It was eighteen. Eighteen years old.”

“How did you know ?”

“Did you not bother learning Vietnamese before we came here ?”

“Well, no.”

“You’re screwed, then.”

Time for some food and the ubiqitous Phở My favourite TV chef, Mr Keith Floyd, who sadly passed away in 2009. He came to Asia, and visited Vietnam and now he’s going to tell you about Phở:


[UK English accent]

02:32 – 02:38 and continuing up to 03:05

“Vietnamese are industrious, hard-working, incredibly energetic people …”

“So, the most essential thing here in Vietnam is a great breakfast, a thing called a pho.”

What goes in a pho, Keith ?

“You might put chicken, you might put meat, you might put fish but as long as you’ve got noodles and a rich stock, you can’t go wrong.”

How English people dress …

Top 5 Coolest Celebrity Chefs Ever! « Appliances Online Blog
Far Flung Floyd | DVD | Buy Now | at Mighty Ape NZ
Top Gear Vietnam Special - Tour Vietnam With Quality Motorbike Rentals
Three Englishmen in Sai Gon

How English people really dress. Thanks for visiting my blog. All the best.

Young Teens: A funny thing happened to me …

17th January 2019

Tonight’s class has fourteen students, mostly girls (“made of sugar and spice and all things nice,”) and four young lads, one of whom demonstrates slight Hulk-like tendencies (i.e. gets angry at the slightest provocation and starts lifting chairs as if to hurl them through several walls). Simple classroom management has to be employed here; the lads are NOT allowed to sit next to each other. Of course, at this age the boys categorically will NOT sit next to any girl (just wait a year or two until those hormones kick in!) so I have to locate them around the room. It can be dis-illutioning for a teacher to allocate so much time to controlling a class as opposed to teaching them, but such are the realities. C’est la vie.

The theme of the lesson is how to tell an anecdote, but to begin (and to wait for the inevitable latecomers), we’ll do some quick warm-up games. I’ll also be able to recycle work form other lessons (which justifies the time spent making slides / Powerpoint Presentations etc).

We’ll begin with a quiz; I’ll show four famous buildings and ask the students to identify them and tell me as much as they can about them:

After, I will point to some (previously-boarded) numbers and ask how to pronounce them, numbers such as:


10, 000



Friday the 13th

I’ll show them that amounts (e.g. £35.99p are often said as simply 35 99, rather than saying ‘pounds and pence.’

For a more active game, help them burn off some energy, I’ll do a ‘run & write.’ In their previous lesson, they learnt past continuous. For this game, the class can be kept in two teams (a bit of competition adds to the excitement, even if there are no prizes at all), one team has a red marker, the other, a blue. I will say a sentence using simple past, they have to write it on the board, using past continuous. For example:

Last night I slept = Last night I was sleeping

Then the whole team has to shout out the sentence. It could get somewhat noisy and impossible to monitor, but it creates freedom for everyone to speak (they are not being listened to individually) and gets the whole class involved, and a noisy engaged class is far preferable to one slouching, sighing and sleeping.

We will then move into the topic area, combining story-telling with pronunciation and accents. I have a great clip of the magnificent Irish actor, Peter O’Toole being interviewed by the fast-talking USA TV host David Letterman. The students can compare the two accents, see which one they understand easier. The clip is below:

Letterman asks O’Toole if he has a story about a fellow actor, Richard Harris. Instead of a rather pedestrian, “Let me see …,” O’Toole, cigarette in hand, responds, “Oh, I’ll shuffle through my memory,” before proceeding to tell said story (this occurs at 0:32 – 3:33).

I extend the activity by asking the students to mimic / copy O’Toole’s voice and elocution. Obviously, I don’t condone smoking at all, but students have had great fun sitting crossed legged, imaginary cigarette held aloft, and repeating, “Oh, I’ll shuffle through my memory.”

The serious aspect here is to demonstrate the rhythms and stresses in English – the elongated “oh,” as he thinks, the focus on the verb, “shuffle’, the linking of “through my,” and the final stressed but downwards – intonations of “memory.” A lot of work covered in just six words. Good value for your teaching bucks !

We’ll then move into a personal anecdote of mine. I’ll create a slide and give a leading narrative using tonight’s key language:

For one thing

As I discovered last year

As you can imagine

In fact …

like the time …

Thanks to ..

People are very interested in stars as I discovered last year when I was in

I saw a very large

Outside a large

in the centre of the city. As you can imagine, I was curious. There were a lot of people there, in fact many were extremely …….

Why were they there, for whom were they waiting ? This was like the time I was in London and many film stars were going into a cinema. I waited … but nothing happened. I was thinking of going, but thanks to some screaming and shouting, I stayed. To my surprise, I saw the world-famous Hollywood movie star …

I felt very lucky. Actually, it was very exciting I just wish I had my phone with me.

The students will then turn to book work, some listening and then creating their own anecdote. Here, I will probably have to help, give ideas. Most students spent too long thinking about ideas and therefore not producing any work. I have found it better to give them a limited choice and then make them start the work.

(In my first year, at my first centre, the students had to write a short story about a boy and girl going to the cinema. I checked all the pupil’s progress, only to find one student had done nothing, all lesson, because he couldn’t think of names for his protagonists. At the end of the semester, I was asked for my recommendation; should he be allowed to progress to the next level ? Absolutely not (it was the only honest answer) CUT TO angry parents, wagging of fingers and pulling of student out of school. Good riddance to bad rubbish, as we say.)

Today we also have some speaking practice and a quick lesson about British culture, in which they will listen and read about the author Daniel Defoe. This will be a chance to elicit how much they know about British literary characters. It could be surprising; they may know Oliver Twist, or Alice (Wonderland). Who knows … some may even have heard of Robinson Crusoe … we shall see. This will then lead into famous writers from Vietnam. I think the most famous is The Tale of Kieu’ by Nguyen Du.

Very famous Vietnamese poem and I highly recommend giving it a read.

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