As an emergent theme in educational research, examination of the lives and careers of teachers reveals a wide range of educational factors occurring in many different contexts. Despite the relationship between teaching and life outside school, research studies have been inclined towards the working aspects of teachers lives. Rather than following the predominant model in the research literature, this study focused on teachers lives in the broader sense exploring the life tensions faced by teachers of english language in vietnamese primary schools. Drawing on narrative inquiry as a research approach, data were collected from interviews conducted with six participating teachers. The findings indicated that the participants, similar to the majority of vietnamese teachers, were involved in struggles over living conditions. As a result of the low pay they received for their teaching jobs, they engaged in private tutoring to bolster their income to adequately support themselves and their family. As language teachers, the participants used the english language for access to other cultures but they lived under pressures caused by cultural differences. Along with depicting the lives of vietnamese teachers, the study offers suggestions to education leaders and educational researchers on how the situation might be alleviated. 2016 Informa uk limited, trading as taylor & francis group.