Fulbright Scholar Addresses Language Education
On April 24, Moravian College hosted Chinh Nguyen, a lecturer in language teacher education at the College of Foreign Language Studies at the University of Danang, Vietnam, and a 2017-2018 Fulbright scholar at the College of Education, University of Washington, Seattle. Chinh’s main scholarly interests include language studies, identity in language teaching, sociocultural issues in language teaching, and social justice in education. The focus of his Fulbright project aims to explore the policy and practice of social justice teacher education in U.S. higher education and put forward recommendations for implementing social justice teacher education in Vietnam. Chinh gave a presentation to the campus community and talked with students in EDUC 244/534, “Including Students with Disabilities,” taught by Tristan Gleason, assistant professor of education who coordinated Chinh’s visit. Three of Gleason’s students--Jaime Ernst ’19, Eda Turkdonmez ’19, and post-baccalaureate student Shai Keshodkar reported on the presentations and shared their reflections on the day.
Public Presentation: Language Education in Vietnam from Historical and Political Perspectives
by Jaime Ernst
Chinh Nguyen began by reviewing the history of the Chinese script and the importance of written language in Vietnam. He explained that Catholic missionaries from Europe first introduced a standard written language to Vietnam, and that due to French colonization of the country, modern Vietnamese script is based off of the European alphabet. When Vietnam gained independence in 1945, however, the majority of the population was illiterate, so educators and government officials gave priority to the Vietnamese language. Foreign language education then divided the country into a North (which studied Russian and Mandarin Chinese) and a South (which studied English and French). The government influenced this division until the nation reunified in 1975.
Chinh went on to focus on the politics embedded in language education. He outlined the change in foreign language education through the political history of Vietnam and then the genealogy of his family. He explained how Vietnam went from learning Chinese and French to French and Russian to Russian and English and now English alone. He spoke of a linguistic imperialism that influenced the policies, pedagogical practices, native speaker modes, and materials involved in language education. In Vietnam today, 99 percent of secondary students study English as their second language, however, only about 10 percent of these students actually retain the language and can use it proficiently, Chinh said.
Through his Fulbright research, Chinh finds that language is not only relational, educational, and political, but it can be also a tool for unification and freedom as represented in the examples from his interviews with teachers. Chinh encourages teachers to use multidisciplinary perspectives while teaching, with a focus on historical, social, and political events, and English, he points out, is the current language that provides universal access to all of the world's culture, lifestyles, and ethnic groups.
Classroom Presentation: Social Justice Teacher Education: Transformed Teacher Education in the US and Vietnam
by Shai Keshodkar
Various teacher education programs in the United States encourage teachers to be social justice advocates, both in and outside the classroom, thereby, preparing them to commit to minimizing inequalities within the school system. Chinh discussed how he examined this approach in his studies of language education in Vietnam and the results he obtained.
Since English is a second language in Vietnam, Chinh’s study placed thirty-seven English-as-a-foreign-language pre-service teachers in various communities of varying socioeconomic backgrounds—urban, rural, and mixed ethnic minorities--to examine the teachers attitudes toward teaching and toward social justice within these communities. The pre-service teachers were to examine and compare their mindsets before and after the placements and their readiness to teach English.
The teachers concluded that prior to the experience, they considered the teaching role to be one of a knowledge provider of the subject being taught. After the placement, they agreed that they had to “pay close attention to critical thinking skills in other subjects and combine them with English” for the overall benefit of their students.
In terms of the social justice aspect of the study, the pre-service teachers highlighted wide inequality within the local communities and noted stark differences in schooling and facilities provided to the affluent versus the economically disadvantaged communities. In addition, they saw obvious disparities in the attitudes of families toward their children learning English in school. The urban communities accepted English as a school subject, while the ethnic minorities didn’t consider English as important as Vietnamese.
Chinh’s work showed how the pre-service teachers’ understanding of teaching transformed in accordance with the spirit of social justice teacher education.
Eda Turkdonmez ’19, English Secondary Education
Listening to Dr. Chinh, put the content learned in my education classes into perspective. As an ESL student myself, I know how hard it is to learn a new language and to have to adapt to the changes when doing so. Coming from a Turkish background, I find English a difficult language to understand. When coming to a country whose language you don’t know, you feel like an outsider because there is no way to properly communicate. I remember the days when I walked into a classroom not knowing a word of English. Almost a senior in college, I still have not mastered the English language completely. At home, all that is spoken is Turkish, and at school I speak English. There is such a disconnect between the two languages, and it is difficult when I cannot find words to express myself. Some days, when I cannot find the right word, I substitute a word from the other language.
My situation also applies to the students that I am working with as a language guide and teacher assistant. I am currently working with eight students whose first language is not English: seven speak Spanish, and one speaks Turkish. I am especially challenged in communicating with the Spanish-speaking students because I do not know the Spanish language. Although Turkish and Spanish are somewhat similar, nothing takes the place of one’s native language. At the end of the day, one is comfortable with what one knows best.
Jaime Ernst ’19, English Secondary Education
The talk with Dr. Chinh solidified how language is more than just a means of communication; language is a living thing that has the power to unify or free citizens of a country. Learning about the history of language in Vietnam helped me to better understand information that I had discussed in classes at Moravian, such as Dr. Black’s course “English Language.” Dr. Chinh’s lecture continued to fan the embers of my interest in language acquisition, which is why English is my major and Spanish and mathematics are my minors (math is it’s own language, of course), and why I am pursuing an ESOL Certification. Overall, I feel that the lecture continued the mission that Moravian started of challenging me to think about other cultures and lifestyles while considering the environment and community that surrounds me and what I know of it.
Shai Keshodkar, Post Baccalaureate Student, 7-12 Biology Education Certificate Candidate
Dr. Chinh’s lecture was very much in line with our pre-service teaching experiences. He talked about how diversity and the multicultural nature of the community we live in has elements of social justice and injustice and how as teachers we are being prepared via our education classes, discussions, and experiences to address them. As teachers and social justice advocates, we need to stand up for our students and equip them with not just knowledge of content but the critical-thinking skills they need in and outside of school. On a personal note, I agreed with his outlook on retaining one’s native language in addition to learning English. Despite speaking English, I have managed to retain four additional languages, and I intend to keep my South Asian culture, heritage, diversity and languages alive and pass them on to my children. That element of social justice was, for me, one of the most important takeaways from his lecture.