-Aide et Action, Vietnam-
Language Barrier – We Speak different Languages!
Photo: Children in satellite preschool in Tam Duong, Lai Chau © Éliane Leoni / AEA Vietnam
Greeting us at the door of the classroom, Hmong teacher Phu Vang Sao said cheerfully “The teachers attend class regularly, and they are very interested in learning other language. Some of them are even able to sing songs with Hmong children.” In the hot air of summer, in this 30m2 classroom, teachers were listening to lectures and taking notes of new words, sometimes they giggled when someone told jokes with basic Hmong words. Around 30 teachers, looking very young and full of enthusiasm, who were Kinh majority people sent by Government to “bring letters” to the children here. Their communication skills has improved a lot since they first came here. Before, from the first time trying to talk to Hmong children, teachers felt crestfallen because they could not understand what children said.
“In my class, almost all children speak Hmong language and they know only a very few simple words in Vietnamese. It is very challenging for me to make them understand the lessons. Sometimes I feel very exhausted because I have to repeat one sentence many times, and try different ways, but as you know, the difference in language makes the lesson more difficult for our children,” said one of the young teachers, Ms. Doan Thi Diu, a primary school teacher trainee.
In AEA’s project areas, 90% children are Hmong ethnic minority – who live in the mountainous area and speak their own language, only 5% of primary teachers are ethnic minorities (1) (VNS, 08/2008). Most teachers are Kinh majority. They do not learn any ethnic minority language in colleges nor there is curriculum for ethnic minority languages for teacher trainees (2) (Aide et Action, 2010). When teachers speak Vietnamese but children speak Hmong, they hardly can understand each other because of language barrier. The situation leads to a developing distant between children and teachers, and as a result, it negatively affects children’ learning outcomes and contribute to higher school drop-out rate.
*Note: Kinh is the most populated minority in Vietnam and speak Vietnamese which is the national language.
“Yes! We Can Speak Two Languages Now!”
Thanks to the donor’s support, a training course on Hmong language has been organized for teachers. 30 teachers from pre-schools and primary schools in Ta Leng, Nung Nang and Khun Ha communes are studying Hmong language in order to better communicate with these ethnic minority children. These trainings on Hmong language last between 2-5 days at a time depending on the complexity of the module, within five consecutive weeks of summer breaks.
While Hmong language training meets the needs of many teachers, children are the ones who benefit the most. They feel more confident when talking to teachers in classes. And in the summer before entering elementary school, children will get to study Vietnamese and soon will completely clear away the language barrier. “It is interesting to know another language especially, it will help children communicate better. Hmong is not much difficult – just when you need to invest more time then you can learn very quickly. I’ve enjoyed it very much,” said Mr. Vu Thanh Quang, a primary school teacher trainee.
Photo: Teachers concentrate on studying at AEA Hmong language training course © AEA Vietnam
“I find it easier to talk to teachers. I can ask teachers for the subjects that I do not understand “, said student Giang A Phu, Khun Ha primary school. In fact, with basic training like this, teachers cannot communicate fluently with the children, but most importantly, children feel closer with teachers.
Photo: Preschool children in Ta Leng, Tam Duong, Lai Chau enjoy socializing with friends and teachers © Trang Nguyen / AEA Vietnam
During the course, the teachers learned about basic communication scenarios in Hmong people’ daily life. Moreover, they also have the opportunity to learn more about the local culture and traditions. As ethnic minority culture and customs are at risk of being lost, AEA strategy helps local community preserving Hmong language as a fundamental asset of culture. We believe that with this Hmong language course, teachers will have better communication skills and a better understanding of the culture of Hmong people and they can in turn support children to be more confident and have much better performance in school as well as in life.
Apart from Hmong language training, AEA is developing supplementary learning content in 2 languages Vietnamese and Hmong language to enable all students to digest the materials while promoting social cohesion. The set of materials covers 5 topics (gender equality, life skills, disaster preparedness, child rights, local culture and customs), enabling children to learn in their mother tongues about issues relevant to them. The development of the material set involves teachers and parents’ participation, which is critical to ensure relevance, suitability and most importantly, ownership of the materials development, all together generate stronger chance to be incorporated into school activities in the long-term.
(1) VNS, 2008, Bid to boost ethnic pupils’ literacy, quoted by Aide et Action, 2010 in What education for the ethnic minorities of Vietnam? Pre-schooling as a pattern of social integration.
(2) Aide et Action, 2010, What education for the ethnic minorities of Vietnam? Pre-schooling as a pattern of social integration.