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Trang Le is helping plan new programs in Vietnamese language and culture. Photo by Mimi Ko Cruz

Hopes and Plans for Vietnamese Major

Proposed Degree in Language and Culture in Planning Stage

November 17, 2009

By Mimi Ko Cruz

Cal State Fullerton students may someday major in Vietnamese language and culture, thanks to a $238,000 U.S. Department of Education grant to plan and develop a program.

Trang Le, hired this fall as a lecturer in modern languages and literatures, is helping lead efforts to develop a proposed bachelor's degree program, as well as a minor and an international sequence in Vietnamese.

She said the program is being designed to prepare students “to take advantage of the rapidly growing business and professional opportunities resulting from trade between the U.S. and Vietnam, as well as to serve ‘Little Saigon’ (a predominantly Vietnamese American community in Westminster) and other Vietnamese American communities with a need for teachers and medical, law enforcement and other professionals fluent in the Vietnamese language and culture.”

"This is a needed degree," said Angela Della Volpe, acting dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, "especially in Orange County, which has a large Vietnamese American population. It will help produce Vietnamese language and culture experts who can then go into the Vietnamese community and find work."

Graduates of the program also would be prepared to begin advanced training for international relations and diplomacy, Le added.

The federal grant for the program was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton). Royce graduated from Cal State Fullerton in 1977 with a B.A. In business administration-accounting.

Survey Says

Le recently conducted a survey of students enrolled in Vietnamese language courses offered at the CSUF Garden Grove Center and found:

  • 61 percent of the students speak Vietnamese at home and were born in Vietnam;
  • 64 percent said they hope the courses will help them improve in Vietnamese writing;
  • 61 percent said they would enroll in a higher-level course; and
  • 65 percent said they are interested in learning more about Vietnamese culture.

Le said she will be using her study results as she plans new courses.

About the Coordinator

Le was born in Vietnam the second of 10 siblings. When her father became ill, her family suffered financially. She looked after her younger siblings as she was growing up, and would study and go to school during her free time. Her father could not work and her mother tried to launch a small business but failed.

Although she graduated from high school as a math major, Le became fascinated by the English language and studied her older sister’s grammar book. She tutored the sons and daughters of rich families for more than a decade to earn money for her family’s survival while continuing her own English studies and set her sights on college.

“In Vietnam, you have to take a competitive entrance exam to be able to attend college,” she recalled. “Everyone told me not to take it in English because I majored in math, but I did and I passed all the tests in the exam and got to go to Hue College of Education as an English major.”

When she graduated in 1978, she was one of three who were appointed to lecture at the university. She received tenure in two years.

In 1993, Le received a scholarship to attend the graduate diploma program in teaching English to speakers of other languages at the University of Canberra. In 1997, she earned a master’s degree in TESOL from Deakin University. In 2001, she was awarded two grants to attend a doctoral program: one from Teachers College at Columbia University in New York for her tuition and the other from the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia for her living expenses. In 2006, she earned her doctorate in education with a specialty in international educational development.

“It was like a dream,” Le said. “And, I love my career. I love teaching.”

Because she was born and grew up in Vietnam and is fluent in Vietnamese, she said, helping Cal State Fullerton expand its Vietnamese language and culture program is a natural fit.

Recently featured in Radio Free Asia, a Vietnamese language radio program, Le answered a question about how she felt when offered her Cal State Fullerton position.

She responded: "I felt very happy and proud of being Vietnamese because there are many other languages but the university has paid attention to Vietnamese due to the fact that the Vietnamese community here is the largest outside Vietnam and that, to some extent, has influenced the education system in the U.S.A. in general and Cal State Fullerton in particular.

“Therefore, I would like to contribute a very small part to the introduction of the Vietnamese culture to American students and encourage Vietnamese heritage students to preserve our own culture and traditions .... I will do my best."

"Dr. Le is bilingual and bicultural, with a special knowledge and sensitivity of American-Vietnamese culture and with hands-on experience in the field of education, language and community practice," Della Volpe said. "She is a great asset to the university and the community."

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