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HUNTINGTON BEACH : English Skills Called Problem for Asians

A group of Golden West College teachers and Vietnamese students say English skills pose the biggest cultural roadblock for Southeast Asian immigrants trying to obtain an education in the United States, even for those who have lived here for as long as a decade.

That was the conclusion of a panel discussion between students and teachers who gathered for a recent 90-minute, solution-oriented session designed to help teachers foster a better understanding of Vietnamese students and their culture. The session focused chiefly on language-barrier problems.

Teachers said many Vietnamese natives persistently have problems expressing themselves clearly through writing and that many rely on fellow students to interpret instructors’ lessons rather than attempt to learn the new language. Additionally, efforts to pair U.S.-born students with Vietnamese immigrants often prove disastrous, they said, because American students are hesitant, or even antagonistic, about working closely with Vietnamese students.

The four Vietnamese students on the panel, while acknowledging the faculty’s difficulties, countered that teachers and students often ostracize them and show little regard for their native language and culture. For example, Lien Tran, a grandmother who moved from her homeland less than two years ago, said she has been frustrated that many instructors consistently mispronounce her name.

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Tran, however, lauded the efforts of the newly established intercultural center on campus, and encouraged Ruth Hunter, the center’s director, to expand its outreach program to students from other countries.

“We’re always lonely,” she said. Hunter, she said, “puts all her heart into the intercultural center. But many (U.S.-born) students don’t take advantage of it, or don’t realize how important culture is. We would like to have some activity to help (all) students to work together, to improve our friendship and to improve (relations) with foreign students.”

The students agreed with a science instructor’s assertion that students must achieve a certain level of English literacy before enrolling in certain classes. “If a student is too weak in English for (understanding instructions given during a science) lab, he has to get out of lab,” the teacher said.

Several teachers offered potential solutions for the problems, such as listing a student’s English proficiency test score on class rosters and arranging tutoring for students who are still struggling to learn the language.

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Tri Nguyen, a campus counselor who organized the panel discussion, said Thursday he hopes the meeting will be the first step in an ongoing effort to better integrate Vietnamese students into the college’s mainstream curriculum.

“Hopefully by sensitizing people to the needs of students of another culture, we can create an atmosphere to make some improvements,” he said.


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