Luan Pham

Meet Luan, an international PhD candidate from Vietnam. Find out about his early experiences as a language learner and how they led to his PhD research on the role of emotion in language learning.

Thesis title: Humanizing global EFL course-books for students in Vietnam: Effects on language performance, interest and self-esteem.
Supervisors: AP Tan Tin and AP Helen Basturkmen
Faculty: Arts (School of Cultures, Languages and Linguistics)
Funding: University of Auckland Doctoral Scholarship

Tell us about your journey to PhD study

I was born in a poor family in the North of Vietnam. My parents’ schooling ended when they completed year 4. Despite our financial hardship and my parent’s limited education, I came to understand the advantages that a good education could bring, not just to myself but to my family and wider society.I obtained a BA in Language Teaching and taught English to university students for five years. In 2013, I gained funding from the Australia Award Scholarships and went on to study an MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages in Australia. Then, in Spring 2016, I was offered two doctoral scholarships: one from the University of New South Wales and the other from the University of Auckland. I chose to continue my studies at the University of Auckland.

Tell us about your doctoral research – in layman’s terms!

My research proposes to ‘humanize’ English language course books. It involves adapting English language course books to make them more emotionally engaging, which makes language learning more of an emotional experience – one that connects classroom events to learners’ lives. The research focuses on examining the potential effects of this approach on learners' language performance, language interest and self-esteem. The aim is to raise awareness of the importance of the emotional domain, and to make English language education more humanistic, that is, more balanced, learner-oriented, and more effective in meeting students’ individual needs.

How did you develop an interest in your topic?

When I learnt English, it was using outdated methods and materials which were neither engaging nor effective. Later, as a teacher myself, I saw my students struggling to learn a new language because of the same challenges. This inspired me to seek a more effective approach to language teaching in Vietnam. The learner is a human being, after all, and comes to their language classroom filled with emotional experiences. While the cognitive domain (e.g. memorisation and analysis) is important, so to is the emotional. If learners’ emotional domain can be tapped and exploited in language teaching and the learning process, it can aid successful learning outcomes.

Describe your life as a doctoral researcher.

Completing a PhD means working towards being a independent researcher. For this reason, I mostly work alone on my topic, but I have great support from my supervisors when I need it. Working this way (and having access to the huge collection of resources that are available) has helped me develop my independence and identity as a PhD candidate.

As part of academic life at the University of Auckland, I have attended and presented papers at several language teaching conferences in Vietnam and New Zealand, most recently at The Applied Linguistics Conference in November 2017. I have engaged in publication and submitted papers to several journals; I have one book chapter printed and one journal article in revision process. A PhD thesis is not the only mission to complete!

What does research look like to you?

My research activities everyday are not very much different from what I have been doing as a language teacher. After building up my approach, I examine English course books and evaluate them based on my criteria and the target learners’ needs. And then, drawing on my own experience, available resources and what the literature suggests, I re-design the lessons. It is quite an interesting and rewarding experience. I’m just like an architect!

In the next stage of my research, I will conduct an experiment with these ‘humanistic’ lessons in the context of Vietnam.

What aspects of your research most motivate you?

One of the things that motivates me is the practical aspect of my research. As a professional teacher and a researcher, it is such a rewarding experience to see students enjoy English lessons while developing both their language and personal growth. After all, learners should be treated as human beings, not as machines learning a few language features.

Have you got any advice for those starting or about to start a PhD?

I think doing the PhD is quite a long and tough journey, but it is a very worthwhile and memorable experience. When you have a passion for doing research or innovating, and are in an academically supportive environment like the University of Auckland, go for it and you will succeed.

Also, if you love natural beauty, New Zealand is the best destination.