“How’s your Vietnamese coming along?” people ask me, for it’s the sort of outlandish hobby that gets remembered. The answer is: so-so, could be better. I’m struggling with two problems, and I’m pretty sure that many serial language learners are familiar with them.
One is keeping up the self-discipline. I found that not too hard when I was at school, easy when I was staying in Latin America and very easy, indeed irresistible, when I was in love with a German woman. Using Duolingo, with its computer game based psychological tricks, also used to help. But studying at home from a conventional book and CD, motivated mostly by my wish to write an article in a year’s time, I find the going somewhat hard.
The other problem is vocabulary. I’m trying to study my course book – from Assimil’s With Ease series – at a pace that will allow me to learn not only the grammar, but also the words. Grammar, for me, is comparatively easy, and Vietnamese is not particularly demanding in this department. I could probably acquire the broad outlines in a theoretical manner by assimilating a short article. But studying grammar without vocab is like finding out about love-making from a sex ed video: without experiencing what it’s really like, you miss all the fun.
But there the metaphor stops, for memorising words is less self-rewarding and more of a challenge – the fun only starts when you try to say things with them, probably to stumble. And even the first set of 200 includes such devilish doppelgangers as có ‘to have, there is’, cô ‘Miss, madam, you (female, young)’, and cố ‘to try’, while cơ followed by thể means ‘human body’ – on its own, it means ‘muscle’, but fortunately that’s not on my flashcards yet.
So considering the whole situation, I guess what I’ll have to do is set aside half an hour every day at a fixed time and do the nitty-gritty work.
Okay. Here then is my belated new year’s resolution: the first 30 minutes after my lunchbreaks will be dedicated to Vietnamese. Should it on some occasion prove utterly impossible, I have to reschedule it. Skipping it is no option.
And you can help, too. You are hereby invited to ask me, “How’s your Vietnamese coming along?” I hope that next time I can truthfully answer, “Not too badly, thanks.”
I’m quite looking forward to the book that polyglot Alex Rawlings has written, How to Speak Any Language Fluently: Fun, stimulating and effective methods to help anyone learn languages faster; due out in June. Knowing him and having read a few paragraphs, I have high expectations.