Multicultural Monday – Vietnamese Lessons For Kids

by Amber Stiles on June 25, 2012

How in the world do you teach preschoolers a second language without full immersion??  Alexa is resistant to the idea that there are multiple ways to say the same thing.  A bed is a bed is a bed in her world.  I mean, it was up until a few weeks ago when we decided to start this.  I know NOW is the best time to get her acquainted with the Vietnamese language, but it’s HARD.  Especially when Peter is gone most of her waking hours.

Teaching Kids VietnameseI’m really enjoying Rosetta Stone for myself, but it’s too advanced for Alexa.  She needs simple and easy to use.  I downloaded an app on my phone that just says the names of what’s pictured in Viet.  She thinks it’s a game.  I think it’s a leeeeeeeetle too simplistic.  That said, it is getting her familiar with the sounds and she likes it.  That’s a HUGE plus!

So what do I do?  I’m planning on labling the whole house with the Viet words for our everyday items.  *note to self – get index cards*.  What else?  All the advice articles just say to keep at it, have patience, yadda yadda.  Of course those ideas are key, but how do you even explain that Grandma and Ba Noi are the same thing?

I want Peter to ask his parents for some insight and some actual help.  I’ve told him to ask them to speak Viet around the girls.  Always when speaking to each other, and to use a mix of the words when speaking to the girls so they get used to the sounds and tones.  Vietnamese is a hard language for English speakers to pronounce because some of the tones used don’t exist in both languages.  Vice Versa is true as well.   If I do learn to be even close to “conversational” I’ll still have a heavy Western accent.  The same as Peter’s family has a heavy Viet accent when speaking English.  It’s normal and very much OKAY.  It’s still hard to hear and speak the difference.

Back to the In-Laws.  Peter’s father helped run Viet lessons with their church.  He should have some workbooks and possibly computer programs to use.  If nothing else he’ll have advice.  There are a few reasons why I won’t send the girls to church program, but at least we can benefit from the collective knowledge of people who have taught there.

This article on teaching Vietnamese to kids says to do the following:

  • Label items around the house – I already addressed that we’ll do that.
  • Read bilingual books – we have a few of these and need to get better at reading them.  I also need to check out some of the traditional English books that have been translated into Viet.
  • Play Vietnamese music so the kids can sing along – I have one kid song CD and the Audio CDs that came with my Rosetta Stone.  I should start playing them in constant rotation in the car.  For me and for the kids.
  • Use online and computer lesson games – I have Rosetta Stone, but like I said before I think it’s too advanced right now, but will be perfect in a year or two when Alexa can sit still and really do it.  I *should* just do my lessons in front of her on the TV computer.
  • Expose your kids to cultural opportunities - This one is easy since Peter’s family lives so close.  There are many different holidays and family traditions that the girls will be a part of.  I do wish they were involved with the more secular groups, but we can always reach out to them on our own as well.

Here are two YouTube channels I am using for myself.

  1. Learn Vietnamese
  2. Tran Fanatic

I wish I could find some good ones for kids.  They need to make a Dora-type cartoon for Viet.  Kai-Lan is great for Chinese kids, but it’s not exactly the same thing ;D  Though we do love Hoho *teehee*

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Missa June 25, 2012 at 2:05 pm

This is so exciting — your daughter will be so happy that you’re doing all this!


Amber Stiles June 26, 2012 at 1:23 am

I hope so! Right now it’s really frustrating but we’re trying to be pretty casual about it so she doesn’t feel negatively about this.


Classic NYer June 25, 2012 at 5:03 pm

I hope you have more success than my parents did. I still can’t speak my father’s native language… then again, my parents didn’t try as hard as you seem to be trying.


Amber Stiles June 26, 2012 at 1:37 am

What is your father’s native language if you don’t mind me asking?
I think it will help that I’m also learning at the same time, rather than just relying on Peter to do it in is (very limited) free time.


Aly June 25, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Really cool that you are doing this for Alexa!!! I wish my parents would have taught me Greek … I know a handful of words thanks to my Grandma and that’s it! Boo, hiss!


Amber Stiles June 26, 2012 at 1:38 am

You should totally learn it! Rosetta Stone is pretty amazing if you can swing it. Some libraries also lend it out. There’s also this program called Mango that’s much less expensive and usually free through your library. I would love to hear about it if you decide to try :-)


Thien-Kim June 25, 2012 at 6:54 pm

As a Vietnamese speaker trying to teach my kids Viet, I find it just as hard. For me because my English is much better than Vietnamese. As the kids get older, they ask what the Vietnamese word is for things that I do not know. I have searched long and hard for something that is like Dora or Ni Hao Kai-Lan for the kids, but with no luck. My parents have purchased DVDs for my kids to learn but they get bored very easily. Here are some inexpensive DVDs you can try.

Just keep exposing the kids to Vietnamese. It doesn’t happen overnight. And they are absorbing more than you realize!

Keep it up!


Amber Stiles June 26, 2012 at 1:41 am

You always know how to make me feel better :-)
I think Peter is having the same issue as you. His Viet isn’t completely fluent. When I ask him what something means (especially without accents) he can’t tell me about 75% of the time. If I ask him to tell me what some random English word is translated…he’s about 50% accurate and almost never able to tell me how to spell it.
He could talk to the girls in Viet, but would have to look things up the same as I to write them out or define them.

Thanks for the link! And thanks for the advice. The exposure is what is most important to me. Even if they’re never fluent at least they’ll be a part of the culture and have some understanding when their elder family members speak TO them.


Kara Henley August 7, 2012 at 4:21 am

Oh my goodness! I was just trying to look up stuff to teach my kids Vietnamese and came across this! I have a 2 yr old daughter and a 5mo old son that are half Vietnamese! My boyfriend is fluent in Viet but speaks english to our daughter, the only time they hear viet is when he’s talking on the phone or at his parents house which is about 2 days a week. She understands a lot of Viet but doesn’t really speak it. Cuong’s family doesn’t teach her how to say the words, they just talk to her because they don’t speak much English. Thanks for the tips and websites!

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