A Vietnamese doctorate candidate has been offering free Vietnamese and Chinese courses to Vietnamese brides and their in-laws in Taiwan to facilitate integration and help remove social stigmas imposed on the local Vietnamese community for the past decade.
By 8:00 pm, inside a studio at an extracurricular educational center in Taipei, a lecturer had already began speaking Chinese, sometimes articulating certain confusing sounds in the Vietnamese language.
The woman was Tran Thi Hoang Phuong, 47, a former Ho Chi Minh City and graduate from the University of Law.
Phuong is a lecturer at the Faculty of Vietnamese language at the Taiwan Politics University and is currently working on her doctoral degree at another university in the territory.
She ended her 30-minute lecture in Vietnamese: “It’s not difficult to learn Vietnamese. Let’s try our best.”
She has recounted her experience teaching free Vietnamese in Taiwan for the past 14 years ago during a recent interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
Where things all began
Phuong’s Taiwan story began when she tied the knot with a Taiwanese man who worked in Vietnam and moved back to Taiwan in 2001, a time when thousands of young Vietnamese women were scrambling to marry Taiwanese men.
She was so upset that Vietnamese brides, including herself, were looked down on by natives that she even considered returning to Vietnam.
As heartbreaking tales of struggles faced by Vietnamese brides emerged in the media, Phuong was left numb with shock.
One story that stood out was the tale of a Vietnamese bride who had just given birth and became involved in misunderstanding with her non-Vietnamese speaking in-laws. Unable to speak Chinese, the woman was unable to clear up the misunderstanding and in her sorrow the distraught mother attempted to plunge to death alongside herself her infant child. The woman survived with a broken leg, but her baby died.
The story set Phuong on a path to break down the language barrier and keep such heartbreaking stories from reappearing in the news.
She then participated in a volunteer program in which she worked as an interpreter for Vietnamese brides.
During her work with the program, Phuong found that many women yearned for social integration but are unable to integrate due to language differences.
“I long to change how native people look at Vietnamese women,” she said. “Such changes must stem from education.”
Many of these women attended Chinese classes held by the local government but failed to make progress because their Taiwanese teachers explained the lessons entirely in Chinese.
Phuong wrote to the Taiwan Open University to request a classroom where she could teach Vietnamese to women in need.
The principal agreed, deeming the free-of-charge class a possible solution to complicated migration issues.
“I use Vietnamese to explain new Chinese words and be understood more clearly by my students,” Phuong stressed. “My students are happy now that they can communicate with their in-laws.”
When Taiwanese in-laws get to learn Vietnamese
Hearing of her success, a number of her students’ husbands and mothers-in-law came to the class to see for themselves what the classes were about.
They were so impressed that their wives and daughters-in-law were learning Chinese so quickly that some of the families even approached Phuong to explain that they wished to learn the Vietnamese language and culture.
Phuong asked the principal of the Taiwan Open University for another classroom and received consent.
Seventy students, all husbands and parents-in-law of Vietnamese brides enrolled in her first class Vietnamese language and culture class.
Chancing upon a newspaper article on her classes, the principal of the Taiwan Politics University asked Phuong to teach Vietnamese classes at his school, where she has been working as a full-time lecturer for the past 11 years.
After a while, she received letters from people in other cities including Tainan, Taichung, and Kaohsiung, expressing interest in learning Vietnamese but lived too far away to attend her classes.
In 2007, Phuong managed to seek sponsorship to produce a Vietnamese teaching program on the radio and television.
She has made a total of 80 five-minute radio broadcasts, as well as 100 five-minute broadcasts and 18 thirty-minute television episodes.
She also features Taiwanese men married to Vietnamese women, professors, businessmen, civil servants and even officials as her guest students during the broadcasts.
Set on proving other Vietnamese women are capable of such achievements, Phuong began training many Vietnamese in Taiwan to become teachers.
She founded an association in Taiwan which gathers Vietnamese teachers in different schools and aims to promote Vietnamese language, culture and art.
Phuong also organizes music shows and cultural programs featuring Vietnamese brides.
“I’ve noticed a remarkably positive change in the local attitudes towards Vietnamese women,” Phuong noted.
Many Vietnamese brides were once frowned upon by their in-laws for speaking Vietnamese to their babies.
“After watching Vietnamese teaching radio and television broadcasts, many families are now more receptive and willing to let their children and grandchildren pick up the language,” she added.
Locals used to address foreigners married to Taiwanese men as “foreign brides” and “migrants” but now it seems they’ve settled on “new resident.”
The current addressing term “new resident” is indicative of natives’ acceptance of foreign brides as members of their society, another distinct change, the lecturer stressed.
Dinh Thi Dung, a Vietnamese lecturer who teaches her mother tongue at the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology, said she owes her current success to Phuong.
Dung, who settled with her husband in Taiwan 12 years ago, joined Phuong’s classes and became inspired to follow in her footsteps.
She has taught Vietnamese at her university and other schools as a full-time job.
According to Dung, Phuong is the initiator of Vietnamese teaching programs in Taiwan.
After she first came to Taiwan in 2001, Phuong obtained a Master’s degree in marriage and child development and held a job as a social worker.
In 2005, her “Vietnamese language and culture” course was recognized as an outstanding course by the Taipei educational department.
She nabbed a Golden Bell Award for the year’s best radio presenter in 2015, when she also starred in her first Taiwanese television news broadcast in Vietnamese.
From 2018, Vietnamese will officially be listed as a foreign language available to Taiwanese students in grades 3-12, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Ho Chi Minh City announced in January.
Taiwan is arguably home to the highest number of migrant Vietnamese brides, with Vietnam's national broadcaster VTV reporting in September that approximately 100,000 Vietnamese brides live on the island, about 70 percent of whom have obtained Taiwanese citizenship.
In the past several years, there have been relentless reports of Vietnamese brides in the island suffering brutal domestic violence and sexual abuse by their foreign husbands and in-laws, with some even losing their lives.