There’s a huge interest among Vietnamese Americans in Southern California to keep the language and culture alive among their American born children and grandchildren. But doing that isn't so easy.
California State University Fullerton will soon be launching a program designed to help.
Starting next year, the university will offer classes for a bachelor’s degree in Vietnamese language and culture, as well as training teachers in Vietnamese as a foreign language.
Cal State Fullerton education professor Natalie Tran said most of the teachers teaching Vietnamese as a second language now aren't credentialed - because it doesn't exist.
"Typically what they do is they have a credential in another content area like a science or math,” she said. This program is a first of its kind for California teachers.
Garden Grove Schools Superintendent Gabriela Mafi said her district now offers Vietnamese at five of her seven high schools - and demand is growing.
"We also are launching at intermediate schools - our intermediate schools are grades 7 and 8 - next year a Vietnamese language class that will be the foundational Vietnamese class so they can enter into high school at level two," Mafi said.
According to the last census 183,766 Vietnamese live in Orange County, many around Garden Grove and Westminster. That’s more than a third of California’s 500,000 Vietnamese.
The population was established nearly 40 years ago, by thousands of refugees escaping the 1975 communist victory in the Vietnam War. Second and third generation immigrants have struggled to keep up with spoken and written Vietnamese despite their parents’ efforts.
"Sometimes, some students do lose that mother tongue,” said Garden Grove teacher Emma Phan. “So I think there’s a disconnect and as they get older, if they lose that language, their native language, they’re not going to be able to communicate with their parents as much."
Families that can afford it and have the time, send their kids to private weekend language schools, she said. There’s even a movement among parents to convince Garden Grove Unified to start a Vietnamese dual language immersion program. It would be the first in California.