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ORANGE COUNTY

Vietnamese Language Classes to Be Offered

Education: Parents asked Garden Grove to consider the courses, saying their children are not learning the tongue of their heritage.

May 29, 2002|VIVIAN LETRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two Garden Grove high schools will offer foreign-language courses in Vietnamese starting in September, joining the few public schools in the state that teach the language as an elective.

Students of Vietnamese heritage make up 32% of the Garden Grove Unified School District's high school enrollment, and more than half the student bodies of its two high schools--Bolsa Chica and La Quinta--where the courses will be offered.

Westminster High School, which added Vietnamese classes to its curriculum in 1999, offers beginning to advanced level courses. The school, in the Huntington Beach Union High School District, is looking to offer the language in an Advanced Placement class.

Garden Grove will offer the language as a one-year pilot program, then re-evaluate it.

Parents in the district approached the schools a month ago about whether officials would consider offering the classes, saying young Vietnamese Americans are not learning the language of their heritage.

The decision to offer Vietnamese reflects a relatively recent willingness by public-school educators to expand foreign-language offerings beyond traditional Spanish, French, German and occasional Japanese.

"We have seen an increase in the less commonly taught languages in the last five years," said Arleen Burns, an educational programs consultant with the state Department of Education.

But as schools look to provide instruction in Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese, they also discover the challenge of building a curriculum with little history on how it should be done and few textbooks.

"Vietnamese is an uncommonly taught language in K-12 schools, so certainly it may be more difficult to find textbooks than commonly taught languages such as Spanish, French and German," Burns said. With no state-approved textbooks, the major source of help in the state is the East Side Union High School District in San Jose, which started teaching Vietnamese in 1991.

"We had to write the textbooks and the curriculum at the time, and we now sell them to other districts throughout the nation for beginning to advanced courses," said Beth Reis, coordinator of English Learner Programs for the district. The schools commissioned Vietnamese scholars to write the textbook.

State officials will be meeting with publishers next month to evaluate textbooks and other materials for these newer language courses.

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