The Power Of Compliments In Education

Written By:

Blog Date – Updated:

Updated 11:48 pm

How long has it been since you last received a compliment from a person for anything you do: getting high grades, passing a test, working more productively, etc.?

Whatever that compliment is for, your soul will be filled with warmth and pride, from which you have more motivation to pursue your wishes. Thus, in the educational environment, teachers are always recommended to give students compliments to encourage their performance, and in workplaces, employees also deserve compliments for their work efficiency. However, in some cases, a compliment is a luxury, and I have entirely acknowledged this after 18 years of studying at school.


James Rector, a project leader & innovator, posted his research on Linkedin discussing the major differences in education systems between Asian and European nations. One of his striking findings is that most Asian schools are “lecture-based and learning is memorization-based” while classes in Europe are more student-centered and liberal.

(James Rector, 10 Big Differences between Asian and American Education Systems, 2016)

This common and widely admitted information also shows that the study atmosphere in most Asian nations (including Vietnam) is fiercely competitive. Instead of pursuing their passions, students tend to follow the paths their parents and teachers planned to gain so-called success in the future. Obviously, Asian students show high academic performances at their institutes, but they hardly receive a compliment from their educators or parents.

This is a picture of a student in Singapore studying with her tutor at home. This country’s students struggle with heavy pressure from study and academic excellence. (AFP/Theodore Lim)

“Spare the rod and spoil the child” is a popular parental-teaching method of Asian parents – they opine that giving many compliments may make the children arrogant and self-confident, leading to their idleness and refusal to try harder in their studies. Thus, the adults seemingly criticize them for reminding them of their weaknesses and the need to pay more effort.

I am a student in Vietnam. Throughout 18 years, I have witnessed every innovation in the education system and experienced the fight for ranking and the importance of degrees. The pedagogical methodologies have gradually prioritized the student-centered approach, and the educators have gradually become mentors rather than controllers. Nevertheless, a compliment is still a luxury for a student like me; this made me wonder in my early schooling years, but along with my growth, I soon realized the disappointing reason for this matter.


Many people were affected by this so-called custom at school, and when they became teachers, they followed this. Nevertheless, I always bear in mind that a compliment is entirely different from overrating; a compliment is applauding someone for their efforts. Due to the rapid development of society, everyone is struggling with the rat race and tons of pressure burdening their shoulders; hence, a compliment should not be a luxury or a threat but a norm.

To prove my conception, I have experimented by giving compliments during my internship as an ESL (English as Second Language) teacher at a renowned center in Hanoi. I didn’t have a compliment when I was a school, but it doesn’t mean that my students should be in the same situation as me: they deserve to be praised for their efforts.

The results shocked me for one month but then relieved me utterly. I had a chance to teach 7 people aged ranging from 7 to 60, each of whom has a different learning purpose and shows different learning attitudes. Younger students learn English only to improve their performances at school, while those in their 30s study hard for a more stable career in the complicated labor market, and those in their 50s study to get accustomed to a cross-cultural society.

I am not a creative teacher since I’m young and quite inexperienced. Somehow I still followed a conventional approach (theory-based and memorization-based learning), and whenever my students didn’t finish their homework punctually, they still got punished slightly. However, I made a difference by giving them a lot of different compliments even when they were lazy or had trouble with their learning progress:

Wow, today your speaking is so much improved”

You are a really good boy. You remember every word”

Wow, see? These phrases cannot challenge you!”

Today you didn’t finish your homework but tomorrow, I’m sure this will be a piece of cake for you!”

After all, I received a lot of positive feedback during my classes for the second month. I received a lot of shiny smiles from my students and compliments from their parents. Some kids even told their mothers about my compliments in enjoyment. Another positive thing is that my students showed clear improvement in their English abilities; some could even communicate fluently with me as an actual friend. They seemed to have more interest in my lessons and readily told me how well they performed in English classes at school. I admitted that I gave them a lot of compliments, but none of them became arrogant or disobedient.

I realized that a compliment can push the students considerably because they understand there is always a person recognizing how much difficulty they have gone through and sympathizing with them. They understand that even when they make mistakes, there is always a person readily forgiving them and being a partner with them in their studying journey. They understand that a compliment will appear as a ray of light even when thrown into the dark, motivating them to stand up and run for their ambitions.


Adults have their pressure stemming from their work and life. So do students.

Students assume the responsibility to stretch to their full lengths to receive a holistic education, which makes them stressed and tired. Stress comes not only from a huge amount of knowledge and a large pile of books but also from peer pressure. Compliments can be seen everywhere in many European classes, but a rare in most Asian classes: it is time for a change. Asian educators should pay more attention to their students’ feelings and give them compliments based on any degree of their performance. Asian educators should try sympathizing more with their students to create a warm and motivational class instead of turning a day at school into a phobia for students.

Our hearts and souls are not rigid; they are easily hurt and broken

A compliment should not be underestimated. It is of considerable importance and one of learners’ most effective driving forces. Our hearts and souls are not rigid; they are easily hurt and broken. Therefore, a compliment can sometimes heal the pain and support a person to continue chasing their dreams.

At Project Sprouts, we realize that we can not solve all the problems of poverty in a situation like this. But we can seek to make a difference in the lives of needy children by giving them school supplies and encouraging them to continue their education; we can provide them with winter coats, boots, and blankets to help them stay warm during the cold winter months.

Project Sprouts would love to have you be a part of our community and help us help worthy children in North Vietnam. We cannot solve all the world’s problems, but we can do our part to help poor kids grow by giving school supplies, winter coats, boots, and other supplies.

You can find out more about Project Sprouts by clicking here or going to our give now page to donate by clicking here. As we are a grassroots organization, all funds help those in need.

Why Is A Study On Poverty Important?

The term “poverty” is broader than our usual conceptions; it doesn’t simply imply that people have financial difficulties, no accommodation, or no qualified education. Instead, poverty indicates how future generations are being threatened by the food shortage and unequal distribution of knowledge and employment opportunities.

You can learn more by reading Why Is A Study On Poverty Important? by clicking here.

Poverty And Problems: Migration And Immigration

As I have introduced in previous blog posts, poverty is the root cause of many social problems and ills. I want to post a series of blog posts about poverty and its effects on people and society. And in the first blog post, one of the topics receiving great attention from everyone is migration and immigration.

You can learn more by reading Poverty And Problems: Migration And Immigration by clicking here.

James Johnstone
Follow Me