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Overview

Context statement

The place of the Vietnamese language and culture in Australia and in the world

Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam. It is spoken by approximately 90 million people in Vietnam and approximately four million Vietnamese people living in other countries around the world, with the majority residing in the United States, Cambodia, France, Taiwan and Australia.

Vietnamese language and culture have evolved and continue to change over time due to processes such as globalisation and technological change and in responsParagraphe to Vietnam’s geopolitical and historical position in the world. The lasting influence of historical contact and exchanges between Vietnamese, Chinese and French people can be seen in the Vietnamese lexicon, for example, Sino-Vietnamese words (từ Hán Việt) such as phụ nữ, phi trường and hàng hải, and Vietnamese words of French origin such as cà rốt, xếp and ga lăng. Chinese allusions (điển tích) are also common in classical Vietnamese literature. Westernisation, globalisation and technological advances have also enriched the Vietnamese vocabulary, with new words such as Tây hóa, lai căng, tự do cá nhân, nhật ký điện tử, mạng lưới toàn cầu and điện thoại thông minh.

In Australia the place of Vietnamese culture and language is defined by patterns of migration. The first major wave of Vietnamese migration to Australia began in the mid-1970s with the arrival of large numbers of refugees following the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. In more recent years, the vast majority of Vietnamese migrants have come to Australia through family connections, and there are growing numbers of skilled migrants. The migrants’ need to maintain Vietnamese identity through language, culture and religion contributed to the Vietnamese language flourishing in the home and being delivered in after-hours Vietnamese school settings.

Vietnamese language and culture represent an important part of the linguistic and cultural diversity of Australia. Vietnamese people have made and continue to make a significant contribution to the development and enrichment of Australian society in areas such as commerce, agriculture, industry, health, the arts, education, hospitality, tourism and international relations.

The place of the Vietnamese language in Australian education

Since the 1990s, the place of the Vietnamese language in Australian education has benefited from expanding diplomatic and trade relationships between Australia and its Asian neighbours. Since that time, there has been an increase in the number of students studying Vietnamese in primary and secondary schools and in after-hours Vietnamese language schools run by Vietnamese community organisations. The dramatic increase of students studying Vietnamese reflects the growing Vietnamese community in Australia, as well as government policies supporting multiculturalism.

The nature of Vietnamese language learning

The modern standard version of Vietnamese is Tiếng Việt. Vietnamese is a tonal language written in the Roman alphabet with additional diacritics for tones. The tone system is a distinctive characteristic of Vietnamese phonology; for example, a word may be repeated with any one of six tones to indicate six different meanings (ma (ghost), má (mother), mà (but/that), mã (horse), mả (grave) and mạ (rice seedling)). Consequently, pronunciation and intonation play a key role in the learning of Vietnamese, with a clear correlation between sound and writing systems.

The importance of intercultural awareness in language learning is illustrated by distinctive features of Vietnamese such as the complex system of personal pronouns, which is vital to building and defining relationships, with use of the personal pronouns em, anh, chị, , ông, bà, con and cháu contingent on the relationships between speakers in contexts of communication. The frequent use of idioms, proverbs, similes and metaphors in both daily interactions and literature is another key feature of Vietnamese language use.

The diversity of learners of Vietnamese

The Australian Curriculum: Languages – Vietnamese is pitched to background language learners, the dominant cohort of learners of Vietnamese in the Australian context.

The background language learner pathway has been developed for students who have been exposed o Vietnamese language and culture, and who may engage in active but predominantly receptive use of Vietnamese at home. The range of learners within the Vietnamese background language learner pathway is diverse, defined for the most part by different waves of migration. Learners may be first-, second- or third-generation Australians, and their use of Vietnamese may extend beyond the home to involvement in community organisations and events and to everyday interactions with Vietnamese friends. Other learners may have been born in Vietnam, where they may have completed some education.

A key dimension of the Australian Curriculum: Languages – Vietnamese involves understanding the interrelationship between language and culture. The curriculum is designed with an intercultural language-learning orientation to enable students to participate meaningfully in language and cultural experiences, to develop new ways of seeing and being in the world from a bilingual perspective, and to understand more about themselves in the process.

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