Second annual Hmong Minnesota spelling bee


Tzianeng Vang, an organizer and co-founder of Minnesota Hmong Language Group in 2007, said this year is the second year for the annual the Minnesota Hmong Spelling Bee. He said the Spelling Bee is a way to help student learning but also a way to develop teaching and articulation of the complex Hmong tones.

Tzianeng Vang shares more information about the Minnesota Hmong Spelling Bee.

What would you like to achieve from this event?

If it does not become its own institution, then I would hope that the Hmong language schools and/or programs would adopt it and incorporated into its annual event so it could continue to benefit us all, the Hmong language learners.

Do you see a different purpose this event serves besides as a competition?

For the school, it builds collaborative efforts. For the instructors, it affirms and adds value to our work toward providing proficient speaking, listening, writing and reading in the Hmong tones. For the parents, it gives an opportunity to showcase the talents of their children. For the students, it helps in listening, speaking, writing, reading and self esteem.

Do you think this event is beneficial to Hmong community in Minnesota?

I hope it does. It is important that we initiated such event for we have the most Hmong language programs in the nation. How many are there?Currently we have over 15 Hmong language programs here in the Twin Cities areas.

Are there many of school have Hmong curriculum in Minnesota statewide?

No, that’s a process that the MN Hmong Language Group is trying to identify; we are currently meeting on the second Thursday of every month at Lao Family Community Center to do that. Members attending include all of the MN Hmong Spelling Bee Club’s and other institution such as the University of MN’s Hmong Language Program.

What’s the difference between Hmong spelling bee and English spelling bee?

Hmong spelling bee is more limited and less complex. If you know the tone well you’d do well. In the English spelling bee the word list is vast and more complicated; you have to remember root, part of speech, definition etc.

But, how hard is that to excel or to learn the tones in Hmong language?

It is difficult if you’re not familiar with the Hmong tone and/or spoken language. As for our spelling bee contest we have made it even more difficult by requiring the speller to spell in both White Hmong and Hmong Leng (Green/Blue) dialects.

Every organizational program, school and/or family situation emphasizes it differently. Most of our member school teaches as early as kindergarten.

From what schools are the contestants coming from?

For this year we have students coming from seven different schools: Achieve Language Academy, Hmong Academy, Long Tieng Academy, New Millennium Academy, Noble Academy and Saint Paul Public School District: Jackson and Phalen Elementary.

How many students can a school send out to participate in the event?

A member school can enroll up to 10 per school, but only 5 are permitted to participate in the spelling bee contest; others serve as alternates.

Do you see more contestants this year compare to last year?

Yes! (There are) about 20 participants more.

Will the venues always in St. Paul?

I hope not. Once adequate space is identified I am sure we will be hosting it west of the river as well.

Do you see an opportunity to organize this event in different city?

I would hope so, though, the current interest and available resources are only here. We do hope that other cities and/or states would want to have us help organize such event in the near future.

Do you also try to get the words out about this event to different cities in Minnesota?

No, the focus is for the Twin Cities for now. Currently available resources just cannot afford the opportunity for us to realistically do this in any other cities than the Twin Cities.

It is good to see that Hmong has an early awareness to preserve next generations in using its mother tongue, while many other immigrants may actually lose theirs in this system. Do you see it that way?

Prior to coming to America, Hmong have this great story about being eaten by this gigantic American monster; and it is true that many refugees such as the Hmong and other Southeast Asians, as well as earlier immigrants, have been eaten by the American giant. One good example is the Hmong Archives that I was part of, as one of the founding board member. The Hmong realized the importance of archiving our heritage and experiences even 30 some years had passed; we knew this because of knowledge about the Norwegian American Historical Association here in Minnesota. They were not so fortunate for they have already lost over one hundred years worth of archival materials and personal experiences before the formal archival process started. With experiences shared by other refugees and immigrants, the Hmong have many greater examples to follow, but our work to preserve and promote our heritage language is something that both Hmong and non-Hmong have to continuously support. I am not sure of how much the spelling bee will play a role, but if it does I am thankful for that is one of the unspoken goals.

Lastly, what do you hope to improve in both organizing the event and inviting more participants?

As in any field, progress can only be made with learned experiences; I do hope that we continue to learn and willing to change for the better; having more participating members will definitely increase the number of participants registered to compete.

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