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Brown, Princeton Universities Offer First-Ever Vietnamese-Language Classes

The two Ivy League colleges are collaborating on beginner and intermediate Vietnamese language courses after high demand from members of their student bodies.

The Brown Daily Herald, the university's student-run newsroom, recently shared that during the fall semester, nine students joined the inaugural Vietnamese beginning-level course, while five are in the intermediate. Two students from Princeton are also enrolled in the intermediate course and join classes virtually. 

The classes are being led by Trang Tran, a visiting lecturer in the East Asian Studies department at Brown who previously taught English in Vietnam before receiving a Fulbright Fellowship to come to the United States. She notes that the majority of her students are of Vietnamese descent with varying levels of speaking ability thanks to living with Vietnamese parents and grandparents.

Trang adds that the lack of quality teaching materials for Vietnamese makes the course a challenge compared to English. But even though the courses do not fulfil language study requirements, she has been impressed with how motivated the students are. To help them hear a variety of accents and increase their fluency, the course will feature various guest speakers to counter-balance the course having a single instructor, in contrast to other languages offered, such as Chinese, that have numerous teachers.

The courses are the result of efforts by the Southeast Asian Students Initiative, which brought it up back in April 2019. Student members of the initiative say the courses are an important part of developing the Vietnamese community on the campuses.

Kaitlan Bui, a fourth-year student, shared with the newspaper the importance of the course personally: “There has always been a component of shame that is historically rooted in war, in trauma and all these other things...I really grappled with my identity as Vietnamese-American" and being able to take the class was “a metaphor for wanting to be proud of [her] heritage.” 

While courses are relatively rare, the Vietnamese language is already taught at several colleges and universities throughout America. Notably, the University of Houston, University of California, Washington University and Yale University all have Vietnamese courses. Many other schools offer study abroad and exchange programs that include language instruction.

[Photo by Trang Tran via Brown Daily Herald]

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