Church Trains Vietnam’s Hmong to Preserve Their Language

Church Trains Vietnam’s Hmong to Preserve Their Language

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A diocese in northwest Vietnam has launched a language course for ethnic Hmong Catholics to increase evangelization work and preserve their old writing created by foreign missioners.

Some 30 lay leaders and catechists from Hmong communities in the mountainous province of Yen Bai attended the Hmong language-teaching course organized by Hung Hoa Diocese’s committee for ethnic minorities on May 21-24 at Nghia Lo Church.

“The course aims to train Hmong Catholics to be fluent in the Hmong writing system according to international standards and to know how to teach it to villagers,” said Father Peter Nguyen Truong Giang, the committee’s deputy head.

Father Giang, who is fluent in the language, said participants are expected to teach villagers, especially children, how to read and write the language, which was initially Romanized by foreign missioners.

Missioners came to evangelize Hmong people in the area in 1917. They composed Latin-French-Hmong and French-Hmong dictionaries and Hmong prayer books, printing them in Hong Kong from 1930-40.

Since the missionaries were expelled from the area in 1954 after communist forces defeated French troops in northern Vietnam, local Catholics have taught themselves oral prayers and have had no resident priests. Catholic books were banned and gradually lost.
Hmong writing is not taught at public schools in the area.

Father Giang said teaching Hmong writing is an effort to preserve their cultural traditions and develop evangelization work.

Course participant John Sung Cho Cau, 42, said he learned how to read and write the old Hmong language from his parents when he was a child but he found some difficulties in writing international Hmong.

He said he has a duty to “keep alive our culture and writing and teach them to younger generations.”

In some parishes, Hmong Catholics can sing hymns and read prayers and the Bible in their language.

Father Giang said the latest course was the third held by his committee this year. About 100 Hmong Catholics have joined the courses.

The priest said the diocese will train Hmong catechists in their own language so that they can work well with villagers.

Hung Hoa Diocese covers 10 provinces and serves 245,000 Catholics including 20,000 Hmong people.