Seeing An Old Friend Again: Vietnamese Language

Hi all,

I had a funny experience recently while chatting with “Arun” over at Angry Asian Buddhist. On Twitter, Arun posted something about Vietnamese keyboard support in iOS 6. I tested it on my iPhone, and it worked, so I posted back a message on Twitter saying:

@arunlikhati tiếng Việt là vui. 🙂

I think I said “Vietnamese is fun”. It really hurt my brain to remember all this, which accent marks go where, etc. But it was kind fun. I haven’t used Vietnamese at all in ten years, and I forgot nearly all of it, but it wasn’t always that way.

While in college, I studied Japanese for about a year, but I quit because I didn’t feel I was fitting in with the environment there. In hindsight, I wish I had stuck with it more. Actually, Japanese classes in college taught me some bad habits, and taught nothing about pronunciation and accents. When I think about that, maybe it wasn’t worth continuing. Anyway, I always liked doing things different, and not fitting any “mold”, so I decided to study something different and picked Vietnamese for some reason.

My teacher, a very nice but strict lady who fled North Vietnam in her youth, was very particular about pronunciation. I appreciated this much later when I went there and saw how sloppy American accents in Vietnamese were1, but at the time, her strictness annoyed many students. Vietnamese-American students didn’t like her because she was a Northerner and corrected their slang often, and non-Vietnamese students didn’t like her focus on pronunciation, the drills, homework and weekly “lectures” we all had to give. Each semester, the number of students decreased until there were 4 left. I was the only non-Vietnamese who stayed through all 2 years. But I was really proud that I finished it.

However, I had other language teachers in the past, and they weren’t very good so I appreciated her methods. She was tough, but fair, and really trained her students well. After 2 years, I had completed all the courses and could speak enough Vietnamese to give brief lectures. I once gave a 5-minute lecture on the history of Buddhism. It wasn’t great, but it was an accomplishment.

When I went to Vietnam though, I struggled a lot with communication. I could speak with native Hanoi residents pretty good, but many people in Hanoi came from the neighboring provinces, and spoke with “country” accents or slang I couldn’t understand. For example, Northern Vietnamese from the countryside would often pronounce Vietnam as “Vietlam” for some reason. When I visited the Perfume Pagoda, I was pretty helpless to communicate, which was frustrating. Looking back, I needed a lot more time and exposure. Two months wasn’t enough.

Also, when I came back, I tried to keep it going for a while. I could converse with Vietnamese people OK, especially elderly ones, but the opportunities decreased over time. I had graduated college, and had no job, and I was living with my girlfriend. I had to focus on getting a good job in computers, so I forgot all about Vietnamese. I talked with my teachers less and less until I finally stopped.

So, having a conversation in Vietnamese many years later, though very short, was a weird and nostalgic experience for me.

My wife recently found my old textbooks from college, and I was thinking it might be fun to revive those language skills, using the experiences I have with Japanese and Korean. It’s a shame to let it go to waste. Vietnamese-language resources are still not very common, so maybe I’ll do a “Vietnamese language Tuesdays” or something. It would give me a good excuse to brush up on it. 🙂

Well see. Learning a language a second time is much easier than the first time, but is still an investment of time.

1 Just like my American accent when I speak Japanese. ;p


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

12 thoughts on “Seeing An Old Friend Again: Vietnamese Language”

  1. I’m a big fan of Vietnamese, so keep up the good work! One small correction, I think it’s probably a little more correct to write: tiếng Việt có vui (or rất vui or vui quá). You can probably get confirmation from a reader who speaks better Vietnamese than I. Cám ơn nhiều cho bài viết này 🙂


    1. Ha ha ha, you’re not the first person to ask me that. I did study it in high school for a couple of years and totally forgot it.

      I should do it again but I just haven’t found the motivation. But who knows what tomorrow might bring? :-p


  2. I’ve followed your blog for quite a while, and I’m really impressed with how you keep up with so many Asian languages (all the difficult ones!)
    I’m studying Mandarin myself

    If you ever plan to get back into Vietnamese, I keep a blog that explains Vietnamese at (I’m a native Vietnamese speaker teaching Vietnamese as a hobby)
    The Viet Twitter you wrote should be “tiếng Việt rất là vui” or “tiếng Việt rất vui”
    There is no “có” between the subject and the adjective in a sentence (as opposed to the question “subject + có + verb / adjective + không?”)

    Have fun!


    1. Hi seahorseviet and welcome! I always enjoy meeting new people, especially if they’ve been quietly following for a while. It’s a surprise every time.

      Anyhow, thanks for the corrections. It’s starting to come back to me now that you explain it. I’m intrigued by your blog too, and happy to see that Vietnamese language education is getting into the Internet just as other Asian languages are. Back when I was studying it 10-12 years ago, computing resources for Vietnamese were almost non-existent and dealing with fonts was a pain. Thank goodness for UTF8 and such to make things so much easier.

      As for me, I have familiarity with many Asian languages, but I can’t say I am fluent in any of them. Japanese is by far my “strongest” language and I still don’t speak it well. Much work lies ahead, but traveling that road is half the fun. 🙂

      Take care and thank you.


      1. Hello,

        They had it back then too but it was mostly pirated copies of Windows 98 and kids chatting in cages over IRC. I can’t imagine what it looks like now. With newer technologies and open-source software I bet it looks different now.


      2. City people now have broadband Internet at home
        Even the countryside has Internet “shop” (not really Internet cafe)
        But they still mostly use it for entertainment
        Kids are still chatting (on Yahoo Messenger), watching YouTube, Facebooking


  3. It’s really interesting that someone wants to learn and blog about Asian languages. About the sentence: “tiếng Việt là vui”, someone already pointed out. It’s understandable but feels weird. I keep asking myself “what’s fun?” Study? Reading? Writing? It could be Học tiếng Việt thì vui。Besides, the concept is similar to Chinese using 很 to express the emotion, so he uses “rất” Of course I don’t go into details to spoil the mood. Thank you for writing and keep the blog up 🙂


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