BY NHIEN NGUYEN
There are many nonprofit organizations that offer the very helpful and needed classes of ESL – English as a Second Language, but a precious few offer that plus VSL.
VSL? Yes, VSL – Vietnamese as a Second Language.
In its second quarter of offering VSL classes, Helping Link is providing a unique service to meet a growing demand of Seattle-area folks interested in learning or re-learning Vietnamese.
As Vietnamese Americans are the third highest ethnic population among Asian Pacific American groups in Seattle, Vietnamese language has become a popular language to learn.
Lao-American Kaesri Keopanya, who has been living in Seattle for 18 years, is one of the students of Helping Link’s VSL beginning-level class. Keopanya, a chemical dependency counselor at Asian Counseling & Referral Service, wanted to be able to communicate with Vietnamese people who are her clients or just generally Vietnamese residents living in the area.
“The more languages I can speak the more benefit that is to me and others,” Keopanya says.
For Vietnamese American Jeannie Mai Tram, who was born and raised in Seattle, her incentives for enrolling in the fall quarter VSL class are varied.
Like many younger-generation Vietnamese who grew up in America, Tram would like to become literate in her native tongue.
“It’s horrible that I managed to live 22 years without knowing how to read or write my own language!” says Tram.
Tram wants to be able to communicate with the portion of her family that is not fluent in English.
“Also, when my parents yell at me in Vietnamese, it will be nice to know what they’re yelling about,” says Tram with a smile.
As Tram is currently volunteering as a Helping Link ESL tutor for recent Vietnamese immigrants, she hopes that expanding her Vietnamese vocabulary will help her students learn English.
“While you don’t need to know Vietnamese to teach English, it helps the students when they want a direct translation and in a way, makes them feel more comfortable,” she says.
Re-learning the Vietnamese language for Vietnamese Americans shows that the younger generation has become proud of their cultural roots.
Tram grew up being the “token Asian” in her neighborhood, when it was embarrassing to come from a different background. As a student at the University of Washington studying business with a focus in finance and entrepreneurship, Tram is surrounded by people of many different backgrounds.
“It has become a prideful thing to be multicultural,” says Tram, now the vice president of communications for the Society for a Vietnamese-American Identity.
Helping Link’s VSL classes target people looking for an intensive yet manageable language learning experience. The classes are at night, on Mondays and Wednesdays, which works great with those working or going to school.
The location of the classes, which is at Helping Link’s office near 12th Avenue South and Jackson Street, provides an additional learning tool of cultural immersion in Seattle’s Little Saigon neighborhood.
VSL students say that the classes are very intimate so there is a lot of opportunity to practice speaking and get one-on-one attention. Tram says, “We also have many different guests come speak or read to us so that we can hear people with different accents.”
Though learning the Vietnamese language is not easy for some, previous beginning students say they have learned to read and pronounce Vietnamese words. They also gained unexpected benefits, such as friendship and expanded their social network.
“As of today, I still can’t communicate in Vietnamese. I only knew a few words,” says Keopanya. “I need to take more classes, study hard, and practice with the people around me.”
Helping Link is offering beginning and intermediate Vietnamese as a Second Language classes. The quarter runs from Sept. 11 through Nov. 30. The $400 tuition cost benefits Helping Link. www.cityofseattle.gov/helpinglink/.
Bilingual computer book serves Vietnamese speakers
Helping Link, with a grant from City of Seattle’s Tech Matching Fund, and in partnership with Seattle City Schools, has produced a landmark bi-lingual textbook covering computer basics in parallel Vietnamese/English. In addition to the basic skills material, the book also covers the installation and use of VPS Font and VPSKeys, software that adapts the standard keyboard and display for Vietnamese phonetic characters (the Western character set augmented with “diacritical” marks that guide pronunciation). The outer cover folds out into a convenient reading stand for hands-free reading while doing keyboard/mouse exercises. Cost: $25. For more information on achieving wider distribution of the book, contact Minh-Duc Nguyen at: [email protected] or (206)781-4246..