The academic world in many parts of Asia has become “English crazy” in recent years. In an effort to “internationalize” education, universities in countries where English is not a native language are offering programs in English, and governments in such countries are also expanding the teaching of English in K-12 schools.

Hue

Today I came across a brochure for the University of Hue from the early 1960s, and was somewhat surprised to see the following passage:

“Although Vietnamese is used as the medium for teaching at this University, English is its first foreign language. Owing to the great dearth of Vietnamese text-books at the present moment, the knowledge of a foreign language, in particular of English, is deemed to be essential to all students.

“This will enable them to carry on studies of their own and also to do research later on. It is hoped that no graduate of this University will be unable to read English books and to follow lectures in English.

“Courses in English, on a practical level, are being provided to all students of the University.”

English

So fifty years ago the University of Hue was trying to do what many universities in the region are trying to do now.

That’s impressive, but one can also see potential problems in the situation that was described in this brochure. They didn’t have many Vietnamese-language materials, so they used English ones, but they taught in Vietnamese.

In such a “mixed” academic environment, what gets produced and what do people get good at? Does everyone become equally capable in Vietnamese and English? Which language does knowledge get produced in? Both?

There was a “great dearth of Vietnamese text-books” at that time because Vietnam was just coming out of the colonial period when a good deal of “advanced knowledge” had been produced in French. One wonders where this policy of the University of Hue would have led to. Would this “international” approach have led to the creation of knowledge in two languages? Or would English have emerged as a kind of “neo-colonial” language (that is, as the language in which “advanced knowledge” was produced, like French had been during the colonial period)?

These are all questions that it would be interesting to ask someone who worked at the University of Hue in the 1960s and early 1970s, because they must have confronted some of the very same issues that many universities in the region are starting to confront today.