By Cath Edwards
After nearly two years of organising and advocacy, Footscray-based, multilingual advocacy organisation ViệtSpeak has secured funding to establish an early-years bilingual program at Goodstart Early Learning Centre in Braybrook for 2023, in partnership with the Little Multilingual Minds research institute at Western Sydney University. In the lead-up to this program, the Centre will run a 5-week bilingual pilot in October 2022. Two Vietnamese facilitators have been selected to develop documentation, learning materials and programming, and will run bilingual classes twice a week for four classes at the Centre.
In many areas across Melbourne’s west, Vietnamese is the most spoken language other than English. It is a fundamental part of Vietnamese people’s identity and shared history. Learning the language is key for Vietnamese-Australian children to connect with their family and their culture, and participate in the wider community. It is critical to the survival of diaspora Vietnamese communities.
Moreover, the benefits extend beyond the diaspora. Early years bilingual education provides children with a foundation to continue learning language throughout school and adult life. It enables children to learn and use two languages in multiple contexts, as opposed to a dedicated language learning class. Research indicates that such learning leads to stronger literacy and numeracy skills and greater flexibility of thinking. For non-Vietnamese children, it is also an invaluable opportunity to gain a bilingual education and connect more deeply with the west’s Vietnamese community.
This program is a milestone in ViệtSpeak’s fight for community multilingualism. ViệtSpeak was formed by parents of Vietnamese children in the west, Vietnamese advocates and education experts. It was created in response to the loss of Melbourne’s only bilingual Vietnamese-English program at Footscray Primary School in 2020.
ViệtSpeak’s mission is to help develop and maintain bilingual Vietnamese-English programs in Melbourne’s west. ViệtSpeak supports families to raise their bilingual children, particularly those of Vietnamese background. ViệtSpeak also stands in solidarity with efforts to maintain other minority languages in Victoria, such as Australian Indigenous languages. The group’s director, Hoang Tran Nguyen, says “Multilingual families in the area need better support for languages spoken at home. Parents we have spoken with are very interested in this pilot program.”
In addition to the October pilot, ViệtSpeak will also hold a community symposium on Sunday, November 27th 2022 as part of the Neighbourhood Festival in Melbourne’s west. Hosted at Footscray Community Arts, this symposium will reflect on the relationship between language and place, featuring discussion panels and workshops for families and community members. The day’s program is open to all and aims to highlight ViệtSpeak’s broader approach to language, connecting formal education with what is happening in people’s everyday lives.
The symposium complements the Goodstart early years program in helping to revitalise bilingual Vietnamese-English education in Melbourne’s west. It will be enriching for children of Vietnamese background, their families and the broader community. Establishing effective bilingual programs and community engagement is vital to fostering a sense of cultural identity and positive relationships with the wider world.