Language Proficiency, Use, and Maintenance among People with Vietnamese Heritage Living in Australia


  • Sharynne McLeod Charles Sturt University
  • Sarah Verdon Charles Sturt University
  • Cen Wang Charles Sturt University
  • Van H. Tran Charles Sturt University



multilingual, bilingual, Vietnamese, heritage language, language maintenance, language proficiency


Multilingualism provides cultural, economic and social benefits to individuals and societies. Many people with Vietnamese heritage have migrated to English-speaking countries such as Australia, Canada and the US. This study describes language proficiency, use and maintenance of 271 adults with Vietnamese heritage living across Australia. The majority were first-generation immigrants (76.6%), spoke Vietnamese as their first language (94.3%), and indicated Vietnamese was their most proficient language (78.5%). The majority were more likely to use Vietnamese (than English) with their mother, father, older siblings, Vietnamese-speaking grandparents, relatives in Vietnam, and Vietnamese friends. They used English and Vietnamese with their partners, children, younger siblings and English-speaking grandparents. They were more likely to speak English when working, studying and watching TV, but used English and Vietnamese equally on social media. The most important reasons for maintaining Vietnamese were: maintaining bonds with relatives, maintaining Vietnamese cultural identity, and building friendships.

Author Biographies

Sharynne McLeod, Charles Sturt University

Sharynne McLeod is professor of speech and language acquisition at Charles Sturt University. She is an elected Life Member of Speech Pathology Australia, Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, founding chair of the International Expert Panel on Multilingual Children's Speech, has held a number of roles in the International Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics Association, International Association of Logopedics and Phoniatrics, and was editor of the International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. 

Sarah Verdon, Charles Sturt University

Dr Sarah Verdon is a senior lecturer and research fellow at Charles Sturt University, Australia. Her research focuses on the development of a culturally competent workforce and supporting the communication of children from diverse backgrounds.

She is co-chair of The International Expert Panel on Multilingual Children's Speech.

Cen Wang, Charles Sturt University

Dr Cen (Audrey) Wang is the project officer of the VietSpeech study at Charles Sturt University and is responsible for quantitative data collection and analyses. With a background in educational psychology, her research focuses on children’s academic and social emotional development and the associated factors.

Van H. Tran, Charles Sturt University

Dr Van H. Tran a linguist and a NAATI-accredited translator. She has taught English language and linguistics and translation at University of Wollongong and Western Sydney University. Her research has focussed on discourse analysis, systemic functional linguistics (SFL) and recently home language maintenance and children’s speech acquisition. She is a PhD candidate on the VietSpeech Australian Research Council Discovery Grant examining Vietnamese language maintenance and Vietnamese-English competence.


ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics). (2016). Census of population and housing: General community profile. Retrieved from

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics). (2017). Census reveals: we’re a fast changing nation. Retrieved from

Adesope, O. O., Lavin, T., Thompson, T., & Ungerleider, C. (2010). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the cognitive correlates of bilingualism. Review of Educational Research, 80, 207–45.

Bankston, C. L., & Zhou, M. (1995). Effects of minority-language literacy on the academic achievement of Vietnamese youths in New Orleans. Sociology of Education, 68, 1–17.

Bernat, E. (2004). Investigating Vietnamese ESL learners’ beliefs about language learning. English Australia Journal, 21(2), 40–54.

Bialystok, E. (2011). Reshaping the mind: The benefits of bilingualism. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 65(4), 229–235.

Blake, H. L., Bennetts Kneebone, L., & McLeod, S. (2017, in press). The impact of oral English proficiency on humanitarian migrants’ experiences of settling in Australia. International Journal of Bilingual

Education and Bilingualism. Advance online publication

Blake, H. L., McLeod, S., Verdon, S., & Fuller, G. (2018). The relationship between spoken English proficiency and participation in higher education, employment and income from two Australian censuses. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 20(2), 202–15.

Blake, H. L., Verdon, S., & McLeod, S. (2019). Exploring multilingual speakers’ perspectives on their intelligibility in English. Speech, Language and Hearing. Advance online publication.

Bracey, J. R., Bámaca, M. Y., & Umaña-Taylor, A. J. (2004). Examining ethnic identity and self-esteem among biracial and monoracial adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adoles¬cence, 33(2), 123–32.

Camarota, S. A., & Zeigler, K. (2014). One in five U.S. residents speaks foreign language at home, record 61.8 million: Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic speakers grew most since 2010. Retrieved from

Cavallaro, F. (2005). Language maintenance revisited: An Australian perspective. Bilingual Research Journal, 29, 561–82.

Cho, G. (2000). The role of heritage language in social interactions and relationships: Reflections from a language minority group. Bilingual Research Journal, 24, 369–84.

Clarkson, P. C. (2007). Australian Vietnamese students learning mathematics: High ability bilinguals and their use of their languages. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 64(2), 191–215.

Clyne, M. (2008). The monolingual mindset as an impediment to the development of plurilingual potential in Australia. Sociolinguistic Studies, 2, 347–65.

Cook, V. (2016). Premises of multi-competence. In V. Cook & Li Wei (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of linguistic multi-competence (pp. 1–25). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Department of Immigration and Border Protection. (2014). The place of migrants in contemporary Australia: A summary report.

Eberhard, D. M., Simons, G. F., & Fennig, C. D. (Eds.). (2019). Ethnologue: Languages of the world (22nd Edition). Dallas, TX: SIL International. Retrieved from

General Statistics Office of Viet Nam. (2016). Area, population, and population density by province. Retrieved from

Goldfeld, S., O’Connor, M., Mithen, J., Sayers, M., & Brinkman, S. (2014). Early development of emerging and English-proficient bilingual children at school entry in an Australian population cohort. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 38, 42–51.

Hambleton, R. K., & Kanjee, A. (1995). Increasing the validity of cross-cultural assessments: Use of improved methods for test adaptations. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 11(3), 147–57.

Ho, J., & Birman, D. (2010). Acculturation gaps in Vietnamese immigrant families: Impact on family relationships. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 34(1), 22–33.

Kang, H. S. (2015). Korean families in America: Their family language policies and home-language maintenance. Bilingual Research Journal, 38, 275–91.

Karidakis, M., & Arunachalam, D. (2016). Shift in the use of migrant community languages in Australia. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 37(1), 1–22.

Lam. H. (2011). Raising children bilingually in mixed marriages: Stories of four Vietnamese-Caucasian families. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Arizona State University, Phoe¬nix, AZ.

Luo, S. H., & Wiseman, R. L. (2000). Ethnic language maintenance among Chinese immigrant children in the United States. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 24, 307–24.

MacIntyre, P. D., Noels, K. A. & Clément, R. (1997). Biases in self‐ratings of second language proficiency: The role of language anxiety. Language Learning, 47, 265–87.

McLeod, S., Harrison, L. J., Whiteford, C., & Walker, S. (2016). Multilingualism and speech-language competence in early childhood: Impact on academic and social-emotional outcomes at school. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 34, 53–66.

McLeod, S., Verdon, S., Bowen, C., & International Expert Panel on Multilingual Children’s Speech. (2013). International aspirations for speech-language pathologists’ practice with multilingual children with speech sound disorders: Development of a position paper. Journal of Communication Disorders, 46, 375–87.

Migration Council Australia. (2015). The economic impact of migration. Retrieved from

Munro, M., & Derwing, T. M. (2015). Intelligibility in research and practice: Teaching priorities. In M. Reed & J. Levis (Eds.), The handbook of English pronunciation (pp. 377–96). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Nguyen, A., Shin, F., & Krashen, S. (2001). Development of the first language is not a barrier to second-language acquisition: Evidence from Vietnamese immigrants to the United States. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 4, 159–64.

Park, C. Y. (2007). Maintaining Korean as a heritage language. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ.

Park, S. M., & Sarkar, M. (2007). Parents’ attitudes toward heritage language maintenance for their children and their efforts to help their children maintain the heritage language. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 20, 223–35.

Phạm, B., & McLeod, S., (2016). Consonants, vowels, and tones across Vietnamese dialects. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 18, 122–34.

Ruben, R. J. (2000). Redefining the survival of the fittest: Communication disorders in the 21st century. Laryngoscope, 110, 241–5.

Ryan, C. (2013). Language use in the United States: 2011. Retrieved from

Sims, M., & Ellis, E. M. (2014). Raising children bilingually is hard: Why bother? Babel, 49, 28–35.

Spolsky, B. (2004). Language policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Spolsky, B. (2007). Towards a theory of language policy. Working Papers in Educational Linguistics, 22(1), 1–14. Tang, G. (2007). Cross-linguistic analysis of Vietnamese and English with implications for Vietnamese language acquisition and maintenance in the United States. Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement, 2, 1–31.

Tannenbaum, M. (2003). The multifaceted aspects of language maintenance: A new measure for its assessment in immigrant families. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 6, 374–93.

Veltman, C. (1983). Language shift in the United States. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Verdon, S., McLeod, S., & Winsler, A. (2014). Language maintenance and loss in a population study of young Australian children. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 29, 168–81.

Verdon, S., Wong, S., & McLeod, S., (2016). Shared knowledge and mutual respect: Enhancing culturally competent practice through collaboration with families and communities. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 32, 205–21.

Willoughby, L. (2018). Language maintenance and shift. In J.-O. Östman & J. Verschueren (Eds.), Handbook of pragmatics: 21st annual installment (pp. 125–40). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Wong Fillmore, L. (1991). When learning a second language means losing the first. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 6, 323–46.

World Bank. (2019). GDP growth. Retrieved from

Young, R., & Tran, M. (1999). Language maintenance and shift among Vietnamese in America. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 140, 77–82.



How to Cite

McLeod, Sharynne, Sarah Verdon, Cen Wang, and Van H. Tran. 2019. “Language Proficiency, Use, and Maintenance Among People With Vietnamese Heritage Living in Australia”. Journal of Monolingual and Bilingual Speech 1 (1):55–79.