When it comes to foreign languages, education officials in Vietnam no longer think English is enough.
Chinese (Mandarin), Russian and Japanese are now named “first foreign languages” for Vietnamese students, enjoying the same status as the language of Shakespeare.
Under a new plan recently announced by the Ministry of Education and Training, select elementary schools in Hanoi will start teaching Japanese this year on a trial basis.
Then next year, third graders at some schools will also learn Chinese and Russian.
The pilot program will be reviewed after a few years and the languages will be introduced to more schools.
It remains unclear how many “first foreign languages” a student will be required to learn.
As if that’s not enough, there are even more options: Korean and French will be taught as non-compulsory “second foreign languages.”
Parents have criticized the plan, particularly unhappy with the decision to make Chinese and Russian mandatory languages.
Many argue that the ministry should invest more in English teaching as many Vietnamese students are unable to communicate with foreigners after years in school.
Others say their children are not guinea pigs for the ministry’s never-ending experiments.
Phung Xuan Nha, the education minister, said the government will still focus on enhancing the quality of English teaching but the learning of additional languages should be encouraged.
Vietnam's VND9.4-trillion ($440.3 million) language training program launched in 2008 has not delivered strong results as expected.
In recent years, a majority of high school students kept scoring poorly when sitting a paper-based national English test for graduation, which does not test speaking and listening skills.