Vietnamese language under incipient threat of being lost

With so many Vietnamese families nowadays wishing for a native English speaking environment for their children and giving a lot of importance to the English language, there is an incipient fear now that the mother tongue may soon be less spoken and even go into oblivion one day.

Principals of international schools in Ho Chi Minh City said that when they established the schools, the Board of Directors expected that more than half the students enrolling would be children of expats living and working in Vietnam. However, as it turned out, there were more Vietnamese students than foreign students, often at a much higher ratio.

This should come as no surprise, seeing that nowadays more and more young Vietnamese parents prefer an English name for their child and almost all these children know how to speak English before they even pick up words from their mother tongue.

However, Vietnam is not the only country faced with this problem. Zimbabwe in Africa faces an even worse crisis than Vietnam. The country won its independence from Great Britain in 1980 and English become one of the three main languages of the country besides Shona and Ndebele. However, according to journalist Constantine Chimakure, Zimbabwean parents only want their children to speak English and punish their children if they do not speak in English, even at home.

Chimakure says that he does not allow his children to speak English at home. He believes that native languages of Zimbabwe will become extinct in 20 years and feels sad at the thought of the mother tongue being lost forever.

Trinh Xuan Thuan, a famous Vietnamese-American astrophysicist, said in an interview with Thanh Nien Newspaper in 2009 that he was born in Vietnam and lived here until he was 18 years old. The time spent in Vietnam were the most important years for him as they affected his way of looking at life through the eyes of his parents, family, and friends.

Although he has lived for far more years in foreign countries, he   believes he is deeply rooted in Vietnamese culture and all his works carry the Vietnamese hallmark. Professor Thuan wrote his books in French and taught his students in English but he uses Vietnamese when writing emails to Thanh Nien.

In an interview a few years back, professor Tran Ngoc Them warned that when a child grows up in a mixed cultural environment such as in international schools, that child can never apprehend any specific cultural characteristics and over the years cannot identify with any one place or nationality.

‘It is exhausting to practice speaking Vietnamese in a country where everyone wants to speak English. Even when they do not understand what you are saying, they pretend they do’, said Calvin Godfrey in an article sent to Vietweek, an English weekly newspaper of Thanh Nien.

Jon Dillingham, a colleague and fellow-countryman of Calvin Godfrey, had a simpler wish, to know a Vietnamese girl who does not have an English name. Both Godfrey and Dillingham call themselves--‘not-so-quiet Americans.’

By An Diem – Translated by Thuy Doan

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