Watch CBS News

Young software developer builds app to preserve Hmong culture

Young software developer builds app to preserve Hmong culture
Young software developer builds app to preserve Hmong culture 03:19

SAN FRANCISCO -- If you want to try to save an entire culture, there is an app for that.

Annie Vang created Hmong Phrases after she began to realize the younger generation of Hmong Americans were no longer speaking their native language.

"When I created the app, I really wanted to use it as a study guide and a special gift to myself that, yeah, I exist, I am out there," said Vang.

The Hmong are described as people without a nation or state, considered an ethnic group but not nationality.

"We can't say we are from a certain country," said Vang. "Hmong people didn't have a country we just occupied southeast Asia."

After fighting alongside the Americans during the Vietnam War, the Hmong were forced to flee to the United States where an estimated 330,000 live in the country, nearly 96,000 in California.

Annie's family was part of the first wave of Hmong immigrants. She was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and came to the U.S. in 1978 with her parents.

Today she is worried, her heritage and culture are beginning to fade away.

"There is a big language gap between the elders and younger generation that if we don't continue teaching Hmong to our children everyone will English and not know what Hmong is," said Vang.

She created the app, by first teaching herself how to code in 2009.

"I bought myself an iPhone, went to community college and learned iPhone app development," she said.

That is when she caught the eye of Apple, who invited her to their Entrepreneur Camp for Female Founders, where she met with Apple engineers to help improve Hmong Phrases.

Today, she is CEO, developer, and marketing director and if you listen to the app - it is her voice translating the two Hmong dialects from English.

"A lot of Hmong words are very simple, they are based on vowels and tone makers at the end," explained Vang.

Currently, Hmong Phrases is available in the App Store; she hopes to soon make a version for Android. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.