Vietnamese text by:Nha Chi
English translation by: Nguyen Tam
After nearly 25 years living abroad, most Vietnamese, in general, have achieved a stable life financially as well as spiritually in the land far away from home. However, many school-aged children and young adults in Vietnamese families are increasingly facing difficulties in speaking, reading and writing in Vietnamese. As a result, they often lack the knowledge in understanding Vietnamese culture, from social behaviors among fellow Vietnamese to lifestyle in the family or socialization between relatives. They even lack the deep understanding of their parent's love, passion and thinking.
They often face difficulties when socializing with Vietnamese communities due largely to lack of Vietnamese language skills. As a result, they tend to avoid socializing with Vietnamese people and prefer socializing with American friends instead in most cases. For instance, during a memorial remembrance occasion for my wife's families, a family gathering event, everyone but my cousin, laughed and enjoyed the fond memories I was telling about the youth of our aunts and uncles. He could not even make out a single word I spoke in Vietnamese.
Many parents have expressed their deep concerns seeing their children growing up without adequate understanding of Vietnamese language. In fact, the children are reluctant to speak Vietnamese because of the lack of vocabulary, being afraid to be laughed at when speaking incorrectly, or having few opportunities to use the language. From such experience, I have paid special attention to activities aiming at preserving Vietnamese language.
I once stopped by VNI headquarters at 14091 Goldenwest St., Westminster, CA 92683, phone: (714) 891-7656, and learned that a group of dedicated VNI software engineers had been hard at work designing a CD-ROM for learning Vietnamese on computers. I took the opportunity to discuss my concerns and opinions on the subject. I was wondering what path the Vietnamese language would take if our children cannot speak our native language, for they are not having much chance to learn and use. As I have believed, regardless of where we live, the Vietnamese people always strive for the opportunity to preserve the language.
VNI Software Company has pioneered and perfected a method to help the children to self-learn Vietnamese: "Em Hoc Tieng Viet" (Let's Learn Vietnamese), an appropriate method in the information and computer era. In past research and surveys, VNI has collected several different opinions on this issue. They often compliment each other but sometimes contradict each other. Nevertheless, they played a major role and helped VNI greatly in successfully completing this project.
Many volunteers and teachers have contributed their effort, dedication and time preserving the Vietnamese language. Others donate their free time during the weekends teaching Vietnamese at local temples and churches. However, they often contend that parents just want to bring their children to classes on the weekends, which did not provide ample time for in-class studying and practicing. Some parents even complain that their children only come to Vietnamese language centers reluctantly because school is on recess. They refuse coming to classes once normal school schedule resumes.
Besides, conflicting ideas on different teaching methods have also caused great concerns. Vietnamese employs two distinct spelling methods. Most major Vietnamese Language Centers are using the phonetic spelling technique, which assembles the sounds. This technique uses the alphabets a, b, c… as the base sound for a, bo, co… as known as a, bo, co spelling. According to this technique, a syllable can be divided into three distinctive parts: onset, rime, and accent. For instance, "truong" is broken into onset "tr", rime "uong" and accent "`". It can be spelled as "tro-uong-truong-huyen-truong". On the other hand, many parents prefer alphabet assembly or traditional method. According to this method, the consonants are spelled precisely the way they sound and syllable can be spelled one alphabet at a time from left to right. For example, "truong" can be spelled as "t-ero-u-tru-o-tro-huyen-truong". The majority of senior Vietnamese people were taught with this method.
After discussing with VNI team, I have learned that CD-ROM "Em Hoc Tieng Viet" of VNI Software supports both spelling techniques. Once installed, parents will be guided to select proper spelling technique for their children.
Teachers at the Vietnamese Language Centers may use the CD-ROM as a supporting tool to improve their students' spelling skills. Furthermore, parents with experience in the traditional method can assist children when needed.
Today, after having purchased the CD-ROM "Em Hoc Tieng Viet" from VNI, I have realized that this software is a great tool for children to learn Vietnamese. The first eye-catching feature of the CD-ROM is the beautiful graphics with colors perfectly blended together, appropriate with the children's world. A quick glance at the design team, I am delighted to know that the graphics is the work, in part, by Vivi Vo Hung Kiet, a well-known artist I have known before 1975. He has been on the staff, providing graphic work for several weekly magazines including Phu Nu Thoi Nay, Tap San Ky Thuat, Tuong Lai and other periodicals. Besides, the children theme songs are written exclusively for this CD-ROM by songwriter Nguyen Ngoc Khoa, who is a student of Duong Thieu Tuoc - and arranged by Phuong Vu, a well-known recording studio overseas.
Consulting staff on Vietnamese language includes Quyen Di, author and teacher; Mai Thai Bang, director of Hong Bang Vietnamese Language Center; and Le Dinh Nhat Lang, who has graduated from UCLA in Computerized Linguistics. The unique features on this CD-ROM include: alphabet table, recognizing alphabets, recognizing accents, spelling technique for simple syllables, number counting, verifying the capability of recognizing the numbers, learning words and syllables by pictures, and verifying the capability of recognizing the first consonant in a syllable. Besides, this CD-ROM also provides pictionary-style games, which help the children learn the alphabets quickly and easily with fun.
The CD-ROM "Em Hoc Tieng Viet" also includes a tracing book, which helps my children write many syllables. Upon completion, as many copies can be made as you wish for the children to retrace the alphabets or syllables they are not yet familiar. Previously, I have tried in vain to teach my children to recognize the accents. After using the CD-ROM however, they have begun picking up the accents rapidly. In this section, they are taught as follows: first, a word is given with accompanying picture. For example, "ca" is accompanied by the picture of a fish. Then they listen to the pronunciation from the CD-ROM, "ca-sac-ca, ca-huyen-ca, ca-hoi-ca, ca-nga-ca, ca-nag-ca". After listening repeatedly, they gradually learn how to form a word with an accent. The computer will ask: "Ca co dau gi?" and the children will be challenged to find the answer. With each wrong answer, the computer will sound the wrong accent for the children to distinguish between the right and wrong accent. For instance, they may click on the "huyen" accent, the computer will say "huyen" and reply "Sai roi!", then repeat the question "Ca co dau gi?" Once they have found the correct answer, the computer will applaud and add points to the credits, which encourage the children to learn more efficiently. If they click on the correct answer, the computer will say: "Dung roi! Ca co dau sac".
In the verification/check feature, which verifies the children's capability of recognizing the first consonant in a word, to my children, when recognizing the correct consonant on the screen, they just need to locate the first consonant and click, they would hear the applause and gain points. They truly love this feature. They even surprise me when speaking words that I have yet taught them. No wonder! The CD-ROM provides the picture along with the word for them to easily recognize.
In the pictionary-style games, once my children were playing, they pointed to the alphabets P and p and asked: "Is this the P daddy?" I then guided them through the alphabet table: "If you want to know these words, go to where the rabbit is. You'll learn all of the alphabets there."
In the number counting, my children could count 1 to 10 in no time. They know the answer about their age. In a few days, I was surprised to know that they could count from 1 to 100 easily.
To sum it up, I have realized that VNI is doing the right thing many parents wished. I no longer perceive VNI as a software company, which designs the fonts or character sets alone, but they are doing what many have longed to do: preserving the culture. They have been contributing significantly to the noble cause of preserving and cherishing the Vietnamese culture for the young generation living overseas. And I hope that VNI will continue to produce other worthy software products to support our common goal: to preserve the Vietnamese culture in the U.S.