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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

A Vietnamese Cultural Study

By Yvonne Thriver

 Special to CSMS Magazine


 Diversity in the classroom is a phenomenon that can no longer be ignored. With the convergence of multiple cultures within the U.S. school system, teachers must implement multicultural processes into their classrooms. Educators need to adopt certain competencies for education to be appropriate to all students. These competencies include “(1) understanding diversity, (2) understanding the self, (3) assessing acculturation, (4) multicultural communication skills, and (5) empathy” (Samovar and Porter, 2004, p. 252). In order to achieve these competencies, one major factor needs to be intrinsically motivated, “willingness to undergo personal transformation … and be open to new experiences that might transform us” (Kim, 2004, p. 255).The reality of today is that the Asian American co-culture is one of the fastest growing cultures in the U.S. with Florida ranked as the 6th most Vietnamese populated state (NAVASA, 2000). The goal of this briefing report is to inform educators of pertinent Vietnamese cultural content that will aid in meeting Florida standards for grades K-3. In meeting the first two competencies needed to achieve multiculturalism, Vietnamese cultural artifacts and sociolinguistic language functions will be identified, and then they will be compared and contrasted to that of the U.S.This information will then reveal the impact it has on teacher/student and parent/teacher interactions preparing educators and administrators to communicate properly and decrease misinterpretations. Lastly, strategies will be developed to adapt school curricula to cultural linguistic differences as well as strategies for content area teachers to use with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students. It will be an overall guide to ensure Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American students feel welcomed, appreciated, respected and know that teachers have a genuine concern for their achievement in the goal of education.

Vietnamese Culture

 Vietnamese culture is full of wonderful color, art and tradition. The flag is a representation of their pride and their ability to protect their way of life. It was created by Nguyen Huu Tien during an uprising against French troops in Nam Ky on November 23, 1940. It is a red flag with a five-pointed golden star representing the red blood of Vietnamese who sacrificed their lives to be freed from the French and the yellow star representing the yellow skin and victory of the people (Vietnamese Embassy, n.d.). Though there does not exist food prohibitions Vietnamese tend toward a vegetarian diet (Vietnamese Embassy, n.d.) Chopsticks are used in Vietnam, and would be an excellent artifact to have in class to bring cultural awareness (Smith, 2004). The ao dai is the traditional dress of Vietnamese women. The original design was influenced by the French during the 19th century harmoniously combining traditional culture and western style. “It was made tighter, clinging to the body and more colorful, from thin materials and worn with loose white trousers” (Huynh, n.d.).One of the most interesting forms of art and one that could be used to bring Vietnamese culture into the classroom is water puppets. First, the puppets were carved of wood by farmers from a village puppetry guild. Then, the farmers would use stories from Vietnamese traditional tales and heroes who resisted invaders and act them out with the puppets. They would then stand in the water for hours performing. The puppets would be manipulated by bamboo sticks almost 2 meters long and a bamboo curtain would divide the audience from the performers.


 To understand the Vietnamese culture and their communication methods it is imperative to define their cultural patterns. For the purpose of this report the Hofstede’s Value Dimensions will be used to compare and contrast Vietnamese and U.S. culture. Hofstede’s cultural taxonomy is divided into five value dimensions, individualism versus collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, power distance, masculinity versus femininity, and long-term versus short-term time orientation. Individualistic cultures emphasize self and is the “most important unit in any social setting” (Samovar and Porter, 2004, p. 59) and in the collectivist culture the “groups to which a person belongs are the most important social units” (Lustig and Koester, 2006, p. 65).Needless to say the United States is an individualistic culture that encourages competition, the pursuit of personal goals, independence, and the right to privacy (Samovar and Porter, 2004). However, the Vietnamese culture is collectivist “centered on the family” (Smith, 2004, para. 11) and “by virtue of the principle of collective and mutual responsibility, each individual strives to be the pride of his family” (Huynh, n.d.). Privacy is not highly valued and extended family members could be found sharing one room. (McLeod, 2001, p. 138).Uncertainty avoidance is a cultures preference to adapt to changes and cope with uncertainties (Lustig and Koester, 2006, p. 66). U.S. culture prefers uncertain situations encouraging novelty, and interpreting uncertainty as a new and exciting adventure to conquer and explore. Change is viewed as good and acceptable and risk taking is encouraged. Rutledge defines the Vietnamese culture as eclectic, adaptable, resourceful, …and resilient” (1992, p. 45) when referring to Vietnamese in America. Yet, they truly have difficulty tolerating uncertainty, which is why they have in the past and still today follow “many rules to control social behaviors, and … adopt elaborate rituals and religious practices that have a precise form of sequence” (Lustig and Koester, 2006, p. 66).Power distance is the amount of distance between authority and members of a particular culture (Samovar and Porter, 2004, p. 64). The American culture has a low power distance where “all are created equal” and can voice their thoughts. The Vietnamese culture is high power distance where “great importance is placed on status and rank” (Samovar and Porter, 2004, p. 65). Children raised in high power-distance cultures like Vietnam are “expected to obey their parents without challenging or questioning them” (Lustig and Koester, 2006, p. 67). In the same respect, they do not feel comfortable questioning the teacher or giving opinions in class.Masculinity versus femininity is the amount of authority one gender has over the other in a particular culture. Though women in America have moved forward in the feminist movement, America still tends to be a masculine society. In the Vietnamese culture the man is dominant and reverenced. The elder speaks for the family and on a whole represents his family (Rutledge, 1992). However, women to have respect and are highly valued when they are in educated positions.Lastly, long-term versus short-term time orientation is the most note-worthy because of how it influences most Asian cultures. Americans are short-term time oriented with the need to have everything now. Vietnamese have a more extended concept of time (Smith, 2004). Urgency by Americans could be misinterpreted as suspicious so patience is required to have effective communication.Non-verbal communication is more valuable to the Vietnamese that most can imagine. Following is a list of non-verbal U.S. gestures and the possible Vietnamese interpretation.Nodding is related to greeting, affirmative reply and agreement. Shaking one’s head is a negative reply and disagreement. Bowing is a form of greeting equated with great respect. Touching a child’s head is not appreciated, but not offensive. Avoiding eye contact is sign of showing respect to people of senior age or status or of the opposite sex. Winking is not decent, especially when directed at people of the opposite sex. Frowning is a show of frustration, anger, or worry. Smiling could be agreement, embarrassment, disbelief, mild disagreement, appreciation or a gesture of apology. Shaking hands is a friendly greeting between men (but not the elderly) and not customary between women or between a man and a woman. However, it is acceptable between a Vietnamese woman and non-Vietnamese man. Holding hands with or putting an arm over the shoulder of a person of the opposite sex is not usually done in public. Crossing arms is a sign of respect. Placing one or both hands in the pockets or on the hips while talking is a sign of arrogance, and lack of respect. Patting a person’s back, especially a senior in age or status is a blatant form of disrespect (Huynh, n.d.)    These are just a few of the many non-verbal communications that the Vietnamese practice, and it is imperative for teachers to be aware of these non-verbal gestures in order to practice effective communication with their students. However, the next step is to analyze how these differences impact communication and how can teachers strategize in order to overcome any language barriers that might be detrimental to Vietnamese student’s ability to succeed in the U.S. educational system.Impact of Sociolinguistic Differences in the Classroom SettingHow does this apply to the classroom setting? First, American students acculturated to an individualistic mentality are likely to ask questions of the teacher, whereas the Vietnamese would probably not. Physical contact should be avoided, especially the head and shoulders. If they avoid eye contact, realize that the student is not ignoring or disrespecting authority. On the contrary they are actually showing respect. Use group projects to allow for the collectivist culture to be part of their learning experience and reward in group fashion. Do not be offended if parents do not come to school for school functions, just know that they value learning and that the support system usually exists at home. Expect to be visited by the father when parent/teacher conferences to arise. Finally create a classroom environment where cultural artifacts are readily available and use them in classroom lessons.In conclusion, as educators we must earnestly look at U.S. ethnocentrism and willingly accept that education today has to change if students are to compete in an international society that is globalizing everyday, more and more. At the same time, multitudes of cultures are permeating our school system and it is our obligation to ensure that all students feel welcomed and sure that they will get equal education opportunities in class. To make this happen we need to become more culturally aware, diverse, knowledgeable and tolerant. Use it as an opportunity to learn from students as much as they learn from the teacher.


 Huynh D. T. (n. d.) Non-Verbal Communication. Retrieved on April 28, 2008 from http://www.vietnam-culture.com/articles-55-6/Non-verbal-communication.aspx.Lustig, M.W., & Koester, J. (2006). AmongUS: Essay on Identity, Belonging, and Intercultural Competence. (2nd ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.McLeod, M. W. (2001) Culture and Customs of Vietnam. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.National Alliance of Vietnamese American Service Agencies (NAVASA). (2002). Ranking of 50 States by Vietnamese Population: from most populated to least populated. Retrieved on April 28, 2008 from http://www.navasa.org/html_stats/Ranking_State_50.htmRutledge, P. (1992). The Vietnamese Experience in America: Minorities in Modern America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Samovar, L. A., & Porter, R. E. (2004). Communications Between Cultures (5th ed.). Belmont: Wadsworth.Smith, E. D. (2004) Doing business in Vietnam: A cultural guide. Business Horizons. Retrieved on April 28, 2008 from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1038/is_n3_v39/ai_18348266/printVietnam Embassy. Vietnamese Culture. Retrieved on April 28, 2008 from http://www.vietnamembassy-usa.org/learn_about_vietnam/culture/ Also see Make our society a better place  What we need to teach our ESOL students about Nonverbal communicationIndian Culture: Vibrant and thought-provokingRole of alternative languages in our society

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