ORANGE COUNTY, California—The local Asian population is growing, yet not necessarily represented throughout local public schools’ foreign language curriculum.
Namely, the Vietnamese population lacks such representation.
Orange County (OC) has the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam and could become the largest Asian subgroup in California by 2030, according to an OC Health Needs Assessment (OCHNA) 2010 report.
The 2010 U.S. Census revealed that there are over 183,000 Vietnamese living in OC, an increase of 35.6 percent from the 2000 Census.
Since the late 1970s, the Vietnamese population has had a growing presence in OC, currently representing over 6 percent of the OC population.
Though largely distributed in Garden Grove and Westminster, the Vietnamese population is dispersed throughout OC.
However, where the language is offered in public schools correlates to where the Vietnamese population is heaviest.
Public schools offering Vietnamese
Bolsa Grande High School (HS) in Garden Grove, as well as LaQuinta HS and Westminster HS in Westminster are the only public high schools in OC that offer Vietnamese language courses to its students.
Westminster HS, under the Huntington Beach Union High School District (HBUHSD) added Vietnamese as part of its world language curriculum in 1999; while Bolsa Grande and LaQuinta, under Garden Grove Unified School District (GGUSD), added the language into its curriculum in 2002.
The additions at Bolsa and LaQuinta came after parents told school officials that younger Vietnamese Americans, which make up over half the student population at both schools, were not learning their ancestral language.
Who takes the Vietnamese courses
La Quinta Vietnamese teacher Mr. Leon Nguyền told the Viễn Đông that of the 42-48 students he teaches in his level 1 and 2 Vietnamese courses, 90 percent are Vietnamese American students born in the United States; while 9 percent are Vietnamese students born in Vietnam and 1 percent are non-Vietnamese students.
All students wishing to graduate from public high school in California must either take a foreign language or visual and performing art course for at least one year, which means all California high-school students have the opportunity to study Vietnamese for at least one year.
However, they can have more of an opportunity to study Vietnamese, as getting into a California State University (CSU) requires students to take at least two years of courses in the same language. To get into a University of California (UC), students must also take at least two years of courses in the same language, though they are recommended to take three years.
If students choose to take Vietnamese as a foreign language, their curriculum will focus on developing listening, speaking, reading, and writing Vietnamese, as well as exposure to Vietnamese culture.
Barriers to offering Vietnamese in public schools
Dr. Thúy Võ Đặng, who collects data for the UC Irvine’s Vietnamese American Oral History Project, told the Viễn Đông that Vietnamese American youth could feel a disconnect with their ancestral language and culture.
She continued, saying that some Vietnamese parents want to provide for their children’s futures in the United States and not dwell in the Vietnam of the past.
“Parents are not telling their children about Vietnam and their lives before migration too much,” Dr. Đặng told the Viễn Đông, adding that knowledge about the past would afford younger Vietnamese American youth with an intimacy surrounding their ancestral language and culture.
Though, there are other barriers hindering schools from teaching Vietnamese as a foreign language. As Asian languages like Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese are not the traditionally offered Spanish, French, and German foreign language courses, there are not many textbook options available or curriculum examples to follow.
There is another barrier regarding the dialect taught to students, as there is more than one Vietnamese dialect.
“I try to teach both dialects in my class,” Mr. Leon told the Viễn Đông. “However, when it comes to pronunciation, I try to teach more of the Northern dialect, due to its pronunciation to be more accurate and distinguishable when speaking.”
Thought to consider
Has offering Vietnamese language courses at the three schools helped Vietnamese Americans attending those schools connect to their cultural heritage through language?