In most Asian families, most kids’ first language is their native language. My first language is English but my second language is Vietnamese. It has always been equally important to me in my life. My parents spoke English, but little of it. As I was getting a little older, one day I heard my parents talking in Vietnamese and it was something about me because they said my name, I got really curious and asked them. They would not tell me anything and would just laugh so it made me angry.
I realized that while living in an oriental household it was hard to go through the days not being able to understand half the things my parents say. I wanted to learn so I could talk to my parents and my grandparents, so I asked my parents to teach me. They started off with talking to me in simple Vietnamese until I caught on. As I caught on they moved on to more difficult things. As I was starting off in Kindergarten, my parents also enrolled me in Vietnamese bible school. There they taught me my alphabet. The alphabet was not the same as the English alphabet.
The Vietnamese alphabet does not have the letters F, J, W, or Z. Other letters put together make the sound of those letters. Letters were duplicated but had symbols above them to make them sound different. That was only the beginning of things. Anything that was taught at bible school was in Vietnamese. We had to read and write about the bible in Vietnamese. Reading was a little difficult because the way words looked were not the way they would be pronounced in English. The letters T and H together would sound like the letter T alone, and the letter T alone would sound like the letters T and H together.
It all got really confusing. The Nun’s would not answer someone unless they asked a question in Vietnamese and would not take an answer unless it was in Vietnamese. Getting into third grade and higher they expected us to be able to read good enough to read bible verses at church. My parents were always trying to help me with my readings but it was always a little difficult for me. They would make it hard on me and get mad when I do not say the words the right way. I would get angry and not want to learn anymore. But I then finally realize that they were just trying to help me.
The more I went to bible school and the more my parents taught me I was understanding it. I started to enjoy learning it more so I would randomly listen to conversations either it was my parents, grandparents, aunts, or even uncles just to see if I could understand and speak back. I would read random Vietnamese magazines to see if I could translate them. I then finally realized that I have learned Vietnamese pretty well. Learning Vietnamese has helped me a lot. Knowing Vietnamese helped me get a job at an Asian restaurant.
The manager at the restaurant specifically wanted someone who knew Vietnamese because there are a lot of Vietnamese people on the Gulf Coast and I was working as a hostess. Working as a hostess you greet customers and answer any questions they have. Most customers were older Vietnamese people. They would ask questions like “What do they serve here? ” because most of them do not know how to read English to read the menus. Knowing how to speak Vietnamese helped me talk to my parents and grandparents easier. Vietnamese has really helped me have a better relationship with them.
When I am at my grandparent’s house they talk to me and they tell me how good I am at speaking. I am able to translate for others that do not know English well. I am able to go to the oriental market and ask the clerk where something is if I do not know. I now go to the oriental market for my mom all the time and am confident that I will get everything she needs in a timely manner. Being able to read in Vietnamese does not really help me as much right now because most writing is in English today, but it does help when I go to the market because I can usually get the items I need pretty quickly.
I realized that learning Vietnamese can help me in the future. It could help me get a job as a Dental Hygienist and also get patients. Through this learning experience it made me realize how important learning other languages is. When I have kids, I am going to make sure they learn Vietnamese. With my knowledge I will be able to help them as well. I can also encourage them to learn other languages to better their chances at a successful life. Literacy played an important role in my life and I want to show my kids how important it can be in their life.