Pursuing a career in English education wasn’t a choice for Minh, EF Education First’s Senior Director of Research and Academic Partnerships. It was a calling.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to teach,” says Minh, who grew up in a Chinese household in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam before moving to Los Angeles at age ten. “Being a good student, I explored all of my options, from consulting to law to business, but I knew in my heart that my true passion was teaching. It was a pretty easy decision once I was in America.”
After studying in Yale University’s teacher preparation program, Minh was eager to “get his hands dirty as quickly as possible” by putting theory into action in real classrooms. Through a placement with Teach for America, he was able to get to work right away, teaching math and science to fifth graders in L.A. It was a tough job—“talking about fractions and decimals are the last things kids want to do,” jokes Minh—but these early experiences affirmed his commitment. Within two years, he knew exactly what and how he wanted to teach.
“I still wanted to teach, just in a different context,” recalls Minh, whose next position led him to the Chinese University of Hong Kong. There he discovered an opportunity to pursue another one of his lifelong loves: writing. “I’ve always loved English, and I wanted to explore teaching at a higher level,” he says.
Following two years of teaching literature to English majors, Minh decided it was time for a change. A friend from Yale who was working in EF’s Hong Kong office recommended the EF360 Global Management Trainee Program—a highly selective, year-long management training program that pairs college grads with key EF leaders around the globe. Minh applied and was assigned to shadow EF’s Chief Culture Officer, Ming. The rest is history.
“Working with Ming as an EF360, I was given exposure to senior leadership and critical projects, which led to more involvement in these types of projects,” says Minh.
During the program, he learned the secrets to driving global marketing and branding campaigns across EF’s business units. He also collaborated with a global team to create the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), now regarded as the world’s most comprehensive ranking of countries by English skills. More than five years later, this work remains vital to his role at EF.
“I’m responsible for everything EF EPI, from writing with my co-author Kate, to data analysis and translating the report to into 14 languages, to its design, printing, and PR launches,” says Minh. He spends about 10 months out of the year producing and promoting the report. Each fall, Minh orchestrates a global PR blitz for the EF EPI launch, an effort that has brought him to 23 countries and counting.
“My proudest moment was when we launched at the House of Commons in London with nearly 40 members of Parliament in attendance,” recalls Minh. “In preparation for Brexit, we wanted to return to the home of the English language to remind people about the importance of international education and language learning for the U.K. market.”
With more than a dozen EF campuses in the U.K. alone, Minh and his team hoped to convince local leaders to improve the visa process for students seeking to move abroad and learn a new language. By examining how language policies and investments can affect economic competitiveness, the EF EPI provided the perfect platform to jumpstart the conversation.
“EF EPI is our biggest thought-leadership piece,” says Minh. “It’s done amazing things for us in terms of getting people to know EF. We’ve received a lot of inbound interest from governments, schools, and universities that want to know how their countries can improve and what changes they can make to their language policies and investments.”
Minh has also played an important role in launching and building partnerships for the EF Standard English Test (EF SET), a free alternative to expensive English proficiency tests such as TOEFL and IELTS.
“It’s a super radical proposition—standardized testing doesn’t have to be expensive and inconvenient,” says Minh. “We offer a free alternative that’s equally rigorous and available online.” For students and workers who don’t need a formal language credential, EF SET offers a convenient way to gauge and share English language proficiency with institutions and employers. To get the test in front of more people, Minh has established unique relationships with ministries of education, Voice of America, and even LinkedIn.
“LinkedIn has nearly 500 million professionals on their social platform,” he says. “If you’re from a non-English speaking country and you add English as a skill, LinkedIn will now prompt you to certify this by taking the EF SET. Once you’ve finished the test, you can display your EF SET score on your profile.”
Building and sustaining partnerships like this, in addition to presenting research and marketing EF’s international language campuses in Asia, keeps Minh pretty busy. While he estimates that he spends 50 percent of the year traveling, he still finds time to practice meditation at the Su Bong Zen Monastery as a Dharma teacher in training. And for the past three years, he’s dedicated his evenings and weekends to completing his Doctor of Education (EdD) in English language at the University of Hong Kong.
“Similar to how I always wanted to teach, I always wanted a doctorate,” says Minh, who recently wrapped up his dissertation on adult motivation to learn English. For this passionate researcher and teacher, it’s just one more step on Minh’s lifelong journey to make language learning more accessible to the world.