By Brittany Hanson/Garden Grove Journal
If you asked Dr. KimOanh Nguyen-Lam why she works so much with language, her simplified answer might be: “empathy.”
The long version of her answer covers a little more than three decades, new citizenship, education and making changes in a local school system.
Now, the Garden Grove Unified School District board member is looking at a new position in Washington D.C. where she can help further language learning.
Since 2004 Nguyen-Lam, 51, has served as a member of the Garden Grove Unified School District.
She recently accepted a position from the Office of Post Secondary Education, directing the International and Foreign Language Education Program for the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. for which she will resign from her current post in June.
According to Nguyen-Lam, the office is responsible for encouraging and promoting the study of foreign languages and cultures of other countries at the elementary, secondary, and postsecondary levels in the United States.
“It administers programs that increase expertise in foreign languages and area or international studies, and coordinates with related international and foreign language education programs of other federal agencies,” said Nguyen-Lam.
Some of the programs funded by the office include American Overseas Research Centers, Fullbright-Hays Doctoral and Faculty Research Abroad and the Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language Program.
As someone who came to the United States with no prior knowledge of English, she understands all too well the stigma that can come with learning a new language for everyday communication.
Now, she hold a Doctorate in Transformative Learning from the California Institute of Integral Studies, Master’s degree in Education Administration from Pepperdine University, a Master’s degree in Education Psychology from United States International University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from California State University Long Beach.
She also now speaks English, French, Spanish and Vietnemese.
“I was made to feel ignorant, inadequate and inferior because of my lack of English language ability despite my good foundation in academia that I had received from Vietnam,” said Nguyen-Lam, “Even today, most people tend to equate intelligence with English language fluency. People who do not converse proficiently in English are often perceived as less educated or not intelligent”
. Having lived through that experience and having been able to help students to advance academically using specialized instructional approach convinced me to become an advocate and outspoken in this field.”
One of her many priorities for the future, said Nguyen-Lam, is to bring foreign language learning to younger students in order to make comprehension and retention more viable.
One of her beliefs is that children should become proficient in English and another language, not only for their learning benefit, but for the future of communications and business.
“Learning another language opens students’ minds and perspectives, preparing them to become critical thinkers, adaptable to new situations and less judgmental. Additionally, language and culture skills open doors to new opportunities,” said Nguyen-Lam.
Compound that with the integration of new technology within the classroom and
One of the doors opened to Nguyen-Lam in her pursuit of language learning advancement was the California State University Strategic Language Consortium, where she has been the director for the past six years. The CSU-SLC is a response to a call for more college graduates to be involved in foreign languages related to business, international policy and the nation’s security, such as Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Korean and Persian.
For Nguyen-Lam, her high point in working with GGUSD and serving on the board was the personal knowledge that she was able to make a difference through, “promoting policies and practices that support greater student achievement and family and community inclusiveness.”
The work that I’m the most proud of is the change in the district’s hiring and selecting of new teachers, principals and other school or district administers, said Nguyen-Lam.
Nguyen-Lam said, “There is a stronger sense of collaboration and partnership between teachers, administrators, parents, and community members. We are here to serve our students.”