Sacre Bleu: students shun French language specialty in Vietnam

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Students of French department at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Education

Poor career prospects have left fewer and fewer students choosing French as their major in Ho Chi Minh City, according to a report by the Tuoi Tre newspaper.

The report cited the HCMC University of Social Sciences and Humanities (USSH), one of the country's hubs of foreign language training, as saying that the number of applicants for its French department decreased from 230 in 2007 to 152 this year.

The situation was similar at the HCMC University of Education, it said.

Worse still, several universities like Nong Lam, Hung Vuong, and the HCMC University of Foreign Languages and Information Technology (HUFLIT) have had to close their French language faculties or pare them to the barest minimum.

"The situation will be really tragic in the next few years," said Nguyen Hoang Trung, dean of the French department at USSH, said.

He said the main reason for the decrease in French-majoring students is that most businesses in Vietnam, both local and foreign-invested, favor employees with English competence.

"Even French-owned companies are the same. I myself have many times gone to French businesses to learn about their employment demand, but they said they only recruit people with English skills," Trung said.

In fact, at a conference on teaching French at Asia-Pacific countries last year it was reported that, at the moment, only some 20 percent of university graduates with French as their major had the chance to use the language at work.

However, Trung said, he personally has found that the figure is just around 10 percent.

Minh Ngoc, a graduate from HUFLIT's French department, also told Tuoi Tre that it was hard for her and her classmates to find a proper job.

"While graduates with other languages like English, Japanese and Korean as their major could find a job right after graduation, we were unemployed for many months before getting a job with humble salary and no requirement for French skills," she said.

Meanwhile, Tran Chanh Nguyen, vice dean of French Department at HCMC University of Education, attributed the worsening situation in HCMC partly to the mediocre investment and teaching quality.

He said very few of graduates from the university's French department wante to work as lecturers, despite support from France, in part because no recruitment for French lecturers was allowed for a long time.

As a result, the department was always in great need of French teachers, he added.

The same situation was repeated at USSH's French department where just 15 lecturers, five of whom are studying in France, were available. Each of them therefore have to teach 250-360 periods per semester, double the regulated periods of the Vietnam National University HCMC.

According to Trung, in an effort to attract more students, his department will change its programs to provide students with more skills besides language proficiency. The university would also approach companies to learn more about social demands, he said.

However, Trung said it was students' awareness that mattered they should consider French in particular, and foreign languages in general, as just supporting tools in their work.

"If they don't learn other skills, it is surely difficult to get a job," Trung said.

On the other hand, Nguyen said how French teaching and learning will survive in Vietnam mainly depends on the government's policies.

Only when the government has set up suitable multi-language policies suitable for the country's development, can it offer necessary support and clear guidance for improving the teaching and learning of French in Vietnam, he said.

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