Cathedral pastor learning Vietnamese

By Anne Marie Amacher
Father Rich Adam writes out how to pronounce a word in Vietnamese during a class with Lien Truong at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. Fr. Adam and several staff members are learning Vietnamese.

DAVENPORT – Since late November, Father Rich Adam and some members of the Sacred Heart Cathedral staff have been taking Vietnamese language lessons from fellow parishioner Lien Truong.

Fr. Adam, the parish’s pastor, said he has a desire to learn some Vietnamese in order to communicate in at least basic phrases with the Vietnamese Catholic community at the parish.

Truong said the efforts of Fr. Adam and staff members to learn Vietnamese can entice the Vietnamese community to come together with the Anglo community at the parish.

“There are barriers here as in any bilingual community. Our goal is to bring us closer together,” Fr. Adam said. “The biggest barrier or obstacle is the language. We want them to speak English, so it’s only fair that we try to speak their language as well.”


He admits that Vietnamese is a hard language to learn. “We say the same thing about English,” Truong said laughing.

She added that she has been a volunteer at the parish and is open to helping in any way she can. When she heard that Fr. Adam wanted to learn Vietnamese, she jumped at the opportunity to teach him. She has experience tutoring others, but those students usually speak Vietnamese and want to learn English.

She tries to meet each Friday with Fr. Adam, pastoral associate Susan Stanforth, office assistant Barb Kendall, and bulletin and website staffer Terry Ratcliff. On occasion, others will join.

Fr. Adam practices his Vietnamese with Truong when she visits the office. He also tries to  incorporate what the group has learned of the “Our Father” in Vietnamese as the closing prayer for staff meetings. “They have learned about half of it,” Truong said.

The sessions begin with common phrases, words, numbers and days of the week that Truong says in English and the group repeats in Vietnamese. Then the students learn new words and phrases and continue to practice the Our Father with Truong.

“We sing/chant the part of the Our Father we have learned,” she said.

Fr. Adam said an example of the complexity of Vietnamese is that one word can have so many meanings, depending on where an accent mark is placed and what type of mark it is. The letters “ca” can mean fish, tomato, to sing, friction or elderly — depending on the markings. “Because of our accent here, we make things sound silly or even vulgar because we didn’t say an accent correctly,” the pastor said.

He discovered that the word for “you” can be said so many ways in Vietnamese. The correct way depends on whether the speaker is talking about a man or a woman, an elderly or middle aged person or a youth, Truong said.

“You have to work at it constantly,” Fr. Adam said. If you put it down for a couple of days, “you have to start all over again.”

But he and the others agree it’s worth the effort.

Background on Truong

A native of Vietnam, Lien Truong came to the United States in 1978. She had learned some English prior to arriving in this country, as well as some French. “I learned to read and write, but not speak English,” she said.

Truong considers English her native language today. She also speaks Vietnamese, French and is currently “dabbling” in Italian. She also took two semesters of Spanish and can speak “a few words.”

She says the Vietnamese Catholic community at the cathedral includes members who speak little or no English and others who are fluent in both languages. The elderly Vietnamese speak little to no English. The middle-aged members (50 and older) speak about half-English, half-Vietnamese. The children speak about 90 percent English and 10 percent Vietnamese. “When the children go home, their parents will speak to them in Vietnamese, but the kids reply in English,” she said.

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