by Alissa Grisler
Over 5,000 students in Fairfax County speak Vietnamese as their home language. Despite this, Virginia hadn’t offered Vietnamese as a foreign language in public high schools until this school year. Fairfax County has introduced the first Vietnamese class in the state at Falls Church High School.
Vietnamese is the fourth-most spoken language in Fairfax County, following English, Spanish, and Korean. With the introduction of this class, Vietnamese will become the eleventh World Language provided by Fairfax County Public Schools. Falls Church Principal Michael Yohe, explained the lengthy process of introducing this Vietnamese course at Falls Church High.
“It takes several steps in order for a language to officially become a course,” Yohe said. “You have to gauge the interest of the community, create survey questions, send out surveys, create and write a program of studies, get the POS approved, find teachers qualified in linguistics and teaching, and interview candidates. It took about four years.”
Although the Vietnamese 1 class is small, maxing out at around 33 students, the school’s World Language Department Chair Kathleen Marcos believes it will continue to flourish.
“There are many students who want to join the program when we reach higher levels,” she said “Right now we’re only able to offer level one, but as we offer level two, three, and four, students who are already quite fluent in Vietnamese will be able to join the class and deepen their knowledge as well.”
Marcos added that the school board’s reaction to this course has been very enthusiastic. “There is a lot of support at the District level for Vietnamese. School Board members have been especially supportive, the school board president and any number of the members are really excited about it and also very glad that we’re able to offer this to our community,” she said.
Vietnamese teacher Yen Weiner is excited to be teaching this class at Falls Church. She thinks this will be a great way for her students to connect to their culture in their community and at home.
“You can tell there is a lot of Vietnamese population here and if you are Vietnamese and you can’t speak the language, it’s a way for you to connect to your heritage,” she said.
The students in Vietnamese 1 have also responded with positive feedback of the class. “The new Vietnamese class is really fun in terms of learning. The teacher has a sense of humor but she is brand new in teaching, so it will take her some time to teach in a more efficient way,” said student Kevin Truong.
Brandon Trieu is in Ms. Weiner’s fourth period class. He knows that high school can be filled with groups and cliques, but he assures us this is not the case in his class.
“We don’t really care about what grade level we are, you know usually high schools have an upper-class, lower-class, but if you’re Vietnamese you’re Vietnamese, and you’re taking this language. But you don’t need to be Vietnamese to take this class.”
Another student, Don Tran, has a different reason to learn Vietnamese. His family owns Huong Binh Bakery & Deli in Falls Church. Tran is excited for this class because it will help him “interact with other people that don’t speak English.”
This is a big step for the Vietnamese population in Falls Church. With the addition of this course, Falls Church is able to more accurately represent the diversity in the county and continue to cater to the needs of the community.