Anh chao cac em" (Hello everybody! )
Julien Desrousseaux tries his best to pronounce the sentence in Vietnamese to greet his students at Nguyen Dinh Chieu Secondary School before his English classes start.
Recognising the familiar voice of their foreign teacher, the two visually-impaired students reply to him in Vietnamese with big smiles, eagerly waiting for their class to begin.
For today's lesson, he helps them revise grammar with the simple past tenses by telling them to make sentences using the past tense. After some minutes of hesitation and with Julien's help, Dao Thuy Linh and Vu Hoang Chung come up with correct answers.
Desrousseaux has worked as a volunteer English teacher at the school for four months. Every day at lunchtime, he spends an hour helping the students to work on their speaking and writing skills besides their other English lessons in the morning.
To be able to work with visually impaired students, the 25-year-old Frenchman spent time learning Braille, but the work required a lot of time and patience.
"At first, I was worried and afraid about being faced with a class of visually impaired students. Things were totally new for me," recalls Desrous-seaux.
During his very first lessons, he discovered that teaching needs preparation and lesson plans.
"The challenge was mostly due to their sight: none of visual supports could help us, such as a blackboard or paper. Everything had to be done through oral communication," he said.
To make the lessons more interesting, he introduced various games that stimulated the use of other senses such as hearing, touch and smell.
To help the young Frenchman and his students overcome the language barrier, once a week, a Vietnamese volunteer visited Julien's class to help explain words that his Vietnamese students did not understand.
After four months, Julien is pleased to see that his students' English skills have improved, and they have grown enthusiastic about learning the language, something he didn't see on his first day with them.
"I am impressed that the students are now very motivated to learn English. They have a one-hour break between morning classes and my English lessons, but they try to eat their lunches quickly so we can start early," Desrousseaux said.
He has also tried hard to improve his Vietnamese so as he can communicate better with his students.
"When I first spoke Vietnamese, they were very surprised and happy. After, they were eager to teach me several new words in Vietnamese. Since then, I feel that they are more open to me and I have gained their confidence," he said.
Besides teaching, Desrousseaux and the other volunteers at the school help the blind students to integrate into society, and to feel more confident about themselves.
They have taken part in various concerts and played sports with other blind students at the school.
"I appreciate Julien a lot. He is very kind and passionate about teaching us," said Linh.
Chung, his other student, says he is grateful to find out more about a different culture.
"Thanks to Julien, we have learnt a lot about France. He is very patient with us and we have become good friends," said Chung.
Free French lessons
Besides his time at school, Desrousseaux gives free French lessons to Vietnamese people.
"I want to feel useful during my time in Viet Nam," he said.
He created a Facebook group "It's French time" to discuss the lessons, and people can send him personal message before they join the group.
He holds different classes for different levels of students in different cafes around Ha Noi.
"Each time my students suggest a different location so I can discover more of the city. I've made a lot of friends through the classes, and it's great."
Desrousseaux came to Viet Nam with a volunteer programme from France managed by the ADICE association that sends young volunteers from the north of France to developing countries.
To fulfil his dream of discovering the world and helping people in need, Julien quit his job and chose to live and work for one year in Viet Nam, a country that he didn't know anything about before his arrival.
Julien said he has fallen in love with the country and with Hanoian city life, where everything surprises him.
Julien finds it funny to be quite "noticeable" on the streets of Ha Noi and on buses because of his height of nearly 2m.
"A few days ago, some people asked to take photos with me and I didn't know why," he laughed.
"Sometimes, I think about staying in Viet Nam when my contract is over because I feel I have become Vietnamese," he said.