Vietnam Time

5/13/2019 7:54:24 AM

Swedish ambassador discusses ways to encourage reading in Vietnam

The Embassy of Sweden in Vietnam has made it a mission to promote reading amongst Vietnamese youth, a downward trend it says is closely related to the accessibility of international literature.

Ambassador of Sweden Pereric Högberg at a Swedish coffee chain in Vietnam. Photo: Ha My / Tuoi Tre News

According to Swedish Ambassador Pereric Högberg, books, particularly by foreign authors, are difficult to come by in Vietnam in comparison to countries with higher literacy rates like Sweden.

“I really miss big reading rooms where you can walk in and find anything you like from any country,” said Högberg, who believes that such places spark curiosity among the youth and encourage reading, during an interview with Tuoi Tre News.

Sparking curiosity

Högberg says reading spaces are clearly absent in the two Vietnamese cities he is most familiar with - Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.

According to Högberg, these places hold an important role in Sweden, serving as a gathering place of many youngsters and an option for a fun outing, just like coffee shops in Vietnam.

Swedes often flock to bookstores to relaxing during their “fiki” – a traditional daily coffee break observed throughout Sweden – which encourages a reading in a huge portion of the population.

However, Högberg says that creating reading spaces is only a small part of the issue.  He suggests introducing quality un-translated literature from other countries and cultures might as a means of creating a love of reading amongst the country’s youth. 

Bookstores in Vietnam typically only carry the most well known works from foreign countries, such as Gone with the wind, Pride and Prejudice, and Wuthering Heights, leaving locals with a dearth of options when it comes to hunting for modern novels.

This lack of variety and promotion not only bores readers but also limits exposure to foreign languages and cultures, creating a negative impact on global integration and youth who might want to pursue education abroad or settle in other countries.

The lack of literature from various countries also makes it difficult for many to find a book that suits them.

The wide range of cultures Swedish youth are exposed to plays an important role in developing inspiration since it creates curiosity.  It’s also resulted in one of the most literate populations all over the world.

Ambassador of Sweden Pereric Högberg at a Swedish coffee chain in Vietnam. Photo: Ha My / Tuoi Tre News

Even though the youth in Vietnam has not shown a competitive interest in books compared to their Swedish counterparts, several current trends show that reading is gaining more traction amongst young people, according to the ambassador.

One trend is their activeness on social media.  Vietnam has one of the highest number of accounts per capita in the world, which shows that curiosity is very much present in Vietnamese youth.

Facebook, in many cases, is being used as a tool for people to review books and cultural events.

Högberg openly commends this action and believes it to be a good incentive in promoting curiosity, development, and understanding.

Introduction of international literary pieces

Another important factor that can spark curiosity is the introduction of more international literature in the compulsory curriculum, according to the ambassador.

While Högberg believes Vietnam´s Ministry of Education and Training is doing quite a good job, it still puts too much emphasis on the understanding of Vietnamese culture, history, and society rather than the global society.

“International literature needs to be incorporated into early into education to create an awareness, interest, and curiosity, not only about your own history, your own language, and your own literature, but also the rest of the world,” Swedish ambassador claimed.

“One might not like it and might disagree, but that is not the main point.”

“The main point is being able to have access to it and what this wonderful globalized world creates and offers.”

“This will make innovative, smart, and curious citizens,” the ambassador added, indicating that the youth “holds an important role in the country’s both economic and social development.”

Having seen Vietnamese youth’s lack of exposure to other cultures, the Swedish Embassy in Hanoi holds a weekly event “Have a Fika” where 30 to 40 individuals gather on voluntary basis in order to discuss cultural differences of countries, especially between Vietnam and Sweden, so as to broaden the understanding of not only Sweden but also Nordic countries’ culture.

The program also points out the similarities so as to make it easier for people of different cultures to connect and assimilate while still holding their traditional and cultural values.

The program mainly aims at youngsters including open minded high school and university students.

Despite the efforts, the embassy of Sweden still believes much is to be done to reach out to people.

“We only reach the already convinced individuals - people that already know about international literature and culture, so we are still struggling to find a way to reach young Vietnamese,” Högberg claims.

Ambassador of Sweden at Pettson and Findus book launch even in December, 2018. Photo: Supplied

Bringing Vietnamese literature to the world

During his conversation with Tuoi Tre News Högberg also expressed his admiration of Vietnamese literature, especially several poets while claiming the lack of widespread advertising prevents them from being reached by a great population outside of Vietnam.

“As an ambassador, it is my mission to make sure that publishers in both countries find each other; in other words, creating a connection between authors of Sweden and of Vietnam,” Högberg said, indicating that it is something other ambassadors, consuls, as well as representatives of foreign countries should put emphasis on.

There is also a need for authors and publishing houses of Vietnam being more active and traveling the world in order to promote their work to the world, remarks the ambassador.

European countries are very keen on holding literature days that are filled with festivals showcasing literatures from all over the world that Vietnam can participate in as well.

Some of the efforts that the embassy has made include promoting books at several schools, especially translations of Swedish literature, such as the most recent launch of the nine-book children’s series Pettson and Findus.

Promoting literature through translation is one of the quickest ways to target younger generations effectively, said Högberg.

During a seminar on reading held in Da Nang City in 2018, some education insiders claimed that Vietnamese only read four books per person per year, including 2.8 compulsory textbooks at schools, compared to the Swedish population which is widely deemed to be one of the most literate ones.

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