For the first time, Princeton is offering a Vietnamese course this semester in partnership with Brown University.
The course, taught in person by a lecturer at Brown, is taken via Zoom by two Princeton students from a classroom at East Pyne Hall.
Despite the novelty of the course, advocacy for its implementation dates back several years. Cam My Nguyen ’23, one of the students on the course, discussed her personal journey and pushed the course in an email to the Daily Princetonian.
âWhen I entered Princeton, I realized that Southeast Asians are not only less represented in the university population, but also in academia,â Nguyen wrote.
Nguyen said she spoke to her Director of Studies, Associate Dean of College Rebekah Peeples and Center for Language Studies Coordinator Vandana Bajaj about the possibility of taking Vietnamese, but she was told that it was not an option.
Several students have contacted the Princeton Center for Language Study (PCLS) in the past to advocate for Vietnamese study opportunities. In May 2020, nine Princeton students received an email from PCLS following their request and promising to “start conversations with our partners within the University” to establish a Vietnamese study program.
The momentum generated by students around Vietnamese finally paid off last summer when a program coordinator from the Princeton Center for Language Study (PCLS) contacted Brown’s Center for Language Studies and expressed the Princeton students’ interest in learning Viet, according to Peeples in an interview with the “Prince.”
âAnd it just so happens that Brown established this sequence of lessons in Vietnamese and was able to offer some of our students the opportunity to join this class virtually,â Peeples said.
Bajaj and PCLS Director James Rankin also acknowledged the crucial role played by student advocacy in facilitating the partnership that enabled the Vietnamese course in a statement to the âPrinceâ. They explained how inter-institutional partnerships can make courses in less taught languages ââmore accessible to students.
âSince the least taught languages ââare also those with fewer trained teachers and very small class sizes, one strategy being used by schools across the country is to share the teaching of lessons, in real time by videoconference, with students from other schools, “noted statement.
Despite the benefits of telecollaboration learning, Nguyen wrote that occasional poor audio quality can make learning âdifficultâ.
âBut the professor was very accommodating,â she said.
Brown’s Vietnamese guest speaker and course teacher Trang Tran acknowledged the physical divide between Brown and Princeton students due to the hybrid format.
âI want my students at Brown and Princeton to be able to interact with each other more, so I reached out to people who have experience in blended education to help me,â she said. in an interview conducted in Vietnamese.
In addition, she explained how she designed her program to better accommodate the students in her class.
âI am using a new textbook updated this year because I think it is better suited to Brown and Princeton students in my Vietnamese Intermediate class who are all ngÆ°á»i Má»¹ gá»c Viá»t [Vietnamese heritage speakers]. “
âMy students want to know more about their roots, their culture and they want to be able to talk to their families,â Tran explained. âSo I don’t want my class to be all about language. “
Instead, Tran envisioned a more comprehensive curriculum.
“Lá»p cá»§a cÃ´ … cÃ³ thá» nÃ³i vá» vÄn hÃ³a, vá» cÃ¡ch cÆ° xá», cÃ¡i suy nghÄ© cá»§a ngÆ°á»i Viá»t Nam,” she said. âThe class was able to discuss the culture and customs of the Vietnamese people. “
Nguyen cited her experience as an American of Vietnamese descent as a strong motivation to pursue the language.
“Both of my parents were born in Vietnam, and I would like to connect more with my Vietnamese heritageâ¦ I feel like this is a big step!” Nguyen wrote.
The chance to reconnect his students with their heritage brings great joy to Tran. “CÃ´ ráº¥t lÃ vui,” she said, describing her students’ decision to enroll in their native language as “ráº¥t lÃ quan trá»ng vÃ ráº¥t lÃ cÃ³ Ã½ nghÄ©a [very important and meaningful]. “
âThey could have chosen to learn Spanish, Chinese or any other language, but they chose to learn Vietnamese,â she explained.
The future of Vietnamese at university remains to be determined. Departmental factors and the level of student interest play an important role in deciding whether the Vietnamese streak will continue into the spring semester and extend beyond this academic year.
Currently, the course is hosted by the Department of East Asian Studies (EAS), but department chair and professor Anna Shields explained that the possibility of offering Vietnamese studies in EAS âis not available. not something that we immediately have on the department’s agenda â.
âRight now our resources are very dedicated to supporting our current languages, Chinese, Japanese and Korean,â she said.
Shields noted logistical issues, such as translating credits from the Vietnamese course into the EAS certificate, which “would require discussion with faculty.”
âIt’s really a whole new business, a work in progress, and we kind of want to see where this is going,â Shields said.
Peeples also highlighted the role of Princeton students in establishing a new language sequence, stating that “students’ continued interest in the language sequence is also very critical.”
She notes how the progression of American Sign Language (ASL) from a stand-alone course to a credit sequence was the product of student advocacy.
âStudent commitment to this sequence really manifested itself over time and through expanded offerings which ultimately made it clear that there was enough student interest to hire a speaker to continue this teaching in a manner consistent with the language requirements of the university. . “
Excited about the Vietnamese course, Nguyen said she hoped it would one day become a language sequence.
âBeing able to take a Vietnamese course is very exciting for me because it gives me the feeling that the University thinks it is an interesting opportunity, although it is always disappointing to have to take a course at Brown rather than having ours, âthought Nguyen.
“I would like to continue studying Vietnamese,” she added, “so I hope I can meet my language requirements and continue as well.”
Ngan Chiem is a junior in the political department and is preparing a certificate in creative writing. In her spare time, if she’s not cooking Vietnamese dishes, Ngan likes to cover student activism on campus. She can be reached at email@example.com and on Instagram @nganstop.