Learning Vietnamese is really difficult I have decided. As a native English speaker I have now determined a new benchmark for learning the language.
And that benchmark is being able to say the Vietnamese words for ten, nose and mosquito without having to repeat myself half a dozen times before admitting defeat and reverting to sign language. To explain, these three words are very similar: mười, mũi, muỗi, with only subtle inflections to mark them out as distinct. Hear for yourself on Google Translate by clicking the speaker icon.
This new measure, I suppose, is a bit like deciding you can use chopsticks properly when you can eat beer nuts with them. I have a lot of respect for chopsticks (đôi đũa). They are the Swiss Army knife of the East. You can deploy them in eating, cooking, stirring and a whole host of other things including puncturing a milk carton after breaking the plastic ring pull. I added that to the list yesterday morning while my bowl of cornflakes waited expectantly.
Meanwhile, as if the subtleties of the Vietnamese language isn’t taxing my brain as it is, I recently met sisters who are called Thuý and Thuỷ – pronounced Twee; the first with an upward emphasis on the vowel sounds and the latter pronounced like a question.
According to some people, though, I struggle with English. I therefore apologise in advance for murdering the Vietnamese language. A friend of mine reckons she is the only person in Hanoi who understands my Vietnamese. I think she is exaggerating a little bit.
While I have in the past been accused variously of speaking Vietnamese with a Chinese and Korean accent, I have discovered that being Scottish does give me an advantage over UK compatriots from the extreme south. I can produce the -ch sound as it is identical to loch. If your best stab at Loch Lomond is Lock Lomond then you have another hill to climb learning Vietnamese. Sorry.