- Being hired within a week of arrival … inspection.
- Riding a scooter at 6 pm on Điện Biên Phủ lane … Uh, check.
- To eat mắm tôm & balut … Uh, check!
- In Tiếng Việt, learning to say your eleventh term … what?
More often than not, in the Vietnamese language, an alien seeking to speak more than basic food-related words and phrases receives blank stares and utter frustration in response. And if you happen to have any comprehension, we’d bet the answer was in English.
Why is it so widely accepted that it’s a pain in the butt to learn Vietnamese? About pronunciation? With grammar? About vocabulary? An immense inventory of vowels, consonants and six different tones? Let’s be real, many speakers of tonal languages, including Chinese people, are struggling to learn Vietnamese. It’s not an issue exclusive to speakers of European languages.
With as little linguistic jargon as possible and with some guidance from trusted experts, the City Pass Guide breaks down these issues and aims to help you learn Vietnamese in Saigon.
The phonology of Vietnam, ethnic variations, its ramifications and how to avoid ruminating about it
To begin with, in the English language or any other Indo-European language, most Vietnamese vowels have no corresponding relatives.
The issue was summarized in the shortest and sweetest way possible by Anthony Lee, an expat living in Vung Tau city:’ Foreigners take a very simplistic view of the language. In Latin spelling and pronunciation, they try to draw similarities.
Let’s get down to business to quickly address some of these issues and get ready to learn Vietnamese in Saigon
Point 1: Stop trying to pronounce consonants from Vietnam as English consonants.
Some practice is required for Vietnamese consonants such as ‘T’, ‘Tr’ and ‘Ng’ The English t without an aspiration (without a heavy burst of breath) is a popular guide for pronouncing the Vietnamese ‘T’. The IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) for the Vietnamese ‘T’ is /t/. if you happen to be a linguistics nerd.
Mr The Phi from SVFF shared a technique for pronouncing the notorious consonant ‘Ng’ with the City Pass Guide.
“Imagine that the word ‘belonging’ is pronounced and you progressively delete the ‘belo-‘.”
Point 2: Stop trying to pronounce vowels from Vietnam as English vowels
“ Sửa chữa ” implies repair, while’ sữa chua ‘implies’ yoghurt ‘. Not only are the sounds distinctive, the ‘ư’ and ‘u’ vowels, which you might have skipped, are distinctly distinct.
To start off, because of false friends, basic vowels such as ‘u’ are sometimes mispronounced by English speakers. We’re pretty sure that most expats love and know that ‘ bún ‘ implies rice vermicelli, but if you pronounce the vowel as oo instead of ah, it will really help.
Here is a simple example;’ ua’ is sometimes mispronounced by foreigners in Vietnamese as a diphthong consisting of oo and ah. In Vietnamese, contrary to common myth, certain vowel clusters don’t just sound like a mix of stand-alone vowels. As a consequence, ‘ua’ is pronounced similar to a diphthong consisting of oo and uh,
Also, vowel length is important. The vowel pairs ‘a’ and ‘ă ‘are generally rendered as ah but vary compared to the effective final consonant in the voiced length. ‘c’t’ means cut, for example, and ‘cát’ means sand. In addition, the length of the vowel also affects the rising tone that accompanies both words. Because of the vowel length,’ C’t’ would sound like a short high note, while ‘cát’ would undergo a more pronounced increase in pitch as the vowel length makes it.
Point 3: Dialect differences are true, but for international learners it is not the end of the world.
Vietnam is a wonderful nation with a reach of 1650 kilometers from north to south. Traveling from north to south provides viewers with a snapshot of classic dialectal continuum examples. Native speakers insist that the Northern and Southern ‘accents’ of the language are mutually intelligible (we prefer to call them dialects!).When everyday encounters led me to recognize frequent misunderstandings between native speakers of various dialects, I was honestly unconvinced. Perhaps more distinct and foreign are the core varieties considered.
Your ears have not yet become used to hearing variations between various dialects as a non-native learner.
Here’s an easy example of introducing these variations to beginners. Most foreigners who speak in-survival Vietnamese probably know the term used to call for the bill, ‘ tính tiền ‘.
The word ‘tính tiền ‘ is similarly pronounced in the North as ting tee-uhn. Most Southern speakers, on the other hand, will pronounce the same word as tuhn ting. Most words ending with ‘n’ in the southern accent render the ‘n’ as -ng instead of -n to break this down. In the northern voice, the final consonant ‘nh’ is rendered as ‘-ing’. ‘nh’ often decreases the length of previous vowels and subtly shifts the vowels more than often; these sounds are better replicated when listening to a native speaker.
How does this affect your path to being fluent in Vietnamese, if ever? The Southern dialect is accepted to be widely understood in Saigon, but if they were not born and/or educated in the South, many peers and strangers you might meet during your stay in Vietnam may not speak the Southern dialect. Regional vocabulary from other parts of the nation is also common in Saigon, regardless of one’s dialectal origin, beyond pronunciation, mostly for purposes of impact and relief.
Bottom line: While speaking all major dialects equally well might not be important, knowledge of the differences plays a huge role in developing your listening skills. However, it is probably best to start with the Southern dialect, because our goal is to learn Vietnamese in Saigon.
Some of Saigon’s best places to learn Vietnamese
For others, learning a foreign language actually means picking up a language on the streets naturally. But for many, this may be a daunting challenge, for Vietnamese in particular. To understand the advantages of studying with experienced teachers at a dedicated language center and the common challenges students face in their learning journey, we visited two trustworthy Vietnamese language centers in the heart of the city to learn more strategies.
Hardened Educators and Motivated Learners’ words of knowledge and advice
The lowdown was offered to us by SVFF, who runs the aptly named centre, Learn Vietnamese with SVFF.
Many students have a lot of optimism, but many don’t realize how much time it takes to learn a foreign language. We suggest that they start a 20-hour course and urge them to proceed if they like the experience,’ said Phi. This may sound negative, but Phi told us it all has to do with the surroundings of a student.
“If you live in District 1 and District 2, it is difficult because there are a lot of Vietnamese who speak English.”
There’s no encouragement to improve! He provided us with an oddly morbid but hilarious example.
James Clavell ‘s book “Shogun” chronicles the exploits of an English sailor who has been stranded in ancient Japan. In a village, he was pressured to learn Japanese and to become fluent within 6 months. If he had lost, they would have killed everyone in the village.
The importance of quality teaching materials was also emphasized by Phi. Her students have an online forum with real-life transcriptions, audio clips and dialogue on real-life subjects, including unique professions, travel and even meditation.
“ To forge fluency in one dialect, do your best. Get the correct accent for that one! You should practice when doing that to listen to others.”
Learning Vietnamese is the secret to real communication in Saigon
“In the end, it was worth it to go through the challenge of learning Vietnamese! The payback is worth it, ”Sagar shared enthusiastically.
A genuinely honest human reaction makes it worth it! “Concluded Tess.
We also interviewed her to learn more about the theory at SVFF , beyond just receiving pronunciation advice from Mr Phi . Physical classes are offered by SVFF, but they also concentrate on online lessons and making entertaining videos.
We create videos on a regular basis and publish them on various platforms on a regular basis. On our Patreon Learn Vietnamese with SVFF page, some of our more in-depth videos are available.
Patreon is a subscription site located in San Francisco that enables fans of video makers, artists and musicians to pledge a small amount of money of their choosing to get access to new and exclusive content.
“We found that many people tend to research and watch videos on their own,” explained Phi.
“Phi also gave us a refreshing example:” In English-speaking countries, board games are common, but students seem to have no chance of playing board games that feature the Vietnamese language.
A Vietnamese language game based on the famous Family Feud game show was developed by one of our teachers … it was great fun! We had a good laugh about a typical situation in Ho Chi Minh City, too.
For many Vietnamese people who speak English, when they see a Western face, it is normal to turn to the English speaking mode immediately. Even when spoken to in Vietnamese, they prefer to reply in English. This really annoys individuals! “Exclaimed Phi.
“In Vietnamese, they think you don’t understand the answer, so they shut down.”
But at the very end, with such actions, one could somewhat empathize. Really, how many foreigners talk more than a few simple Vietnamese words?
Vietnamese Speaking Club in Saigon: a Secret Gem for Talkative Learners
The City Pass Guide also discovered a hidden gem for learners beyond self-learning and pay-per-class choices. Mr. Vinnie Prabhu, a software developer who lived most of his life in Washington DC, runs the Vietnamese Speaking Club at Highlands Coffee on Calmette Street on Sunday nights, almost always without fail, once a week.
The event attracts a large number of enthusiastic local students and adults from all sectors who are delighted to converse with foreigners in Vietnamese.
Vinnie recalled the experience of his childhood that inspired him to learn the language of his present country of residence: “My parents never spoke to me in my native language.”
Vinnie is married to a former local teacher who produces materials for the event’s beginners, who frequently have no pre-existing language skills.
Vinnie, who speaks excellent Vietnamese, also shared his road to fluency with the City Pass Guide.
“Unlike English, Vietnamese has clear spelling. The tones can be complicated, but don’t stress the pronunciation too much. Listening and repetition are going to get you there!
Vinnie was straight to the point when asked about his motivation and constant enthusiasm for running a weekly case.
“The event ‘s founder quit a few years ago. My motivation was simple: because I came every week, I was the best person to keep it alive.
His admirable enthusiasm for the language and expressing his passion for it speaks volumes, with an almost 1-to-1 learner-native speaker ratio at the gathering.
Where to find some of the best places to learn Vietnamese in Saigon
Learn Vietnamese with SVFF : https://www.facebook.com/svffvn/
Vietnamese Speaking Club: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1141127672570835/