Is it possible to learn Vietnamese by osmosis? Is there a critical mass where the pieces start to fall into place like a jigsaw?
I was pondering these questions on the bus recently. Or, to be more precise, on the pavement after I got off the bus.
To rewind a little, my bus had just pulled up behind another at a bus stop. As usual the bus was packed and there was no stop button to press. When the bus in front moved off, we pulled forward, momentarily stopped and began moving off without the doors opening.
Immediately, I yelled, “Anh oi! Cua!” I stepped off the bus and was struck, not by a motorcycle, but by the thought that I had just blurted out Vietnamese without having to analyse what form of address to use or recall to mind the Vietnamese word for ‘door’.
Maybe, just maybe, my daily ham-fisted wrestling with the language is beginning to pay off. Admittedly, it wasn’t the Vietnamese equivalent of the Gettysburg address, but it’s a baby step in the right direction.
The journey ahead, though, is long and bumpy. And pretty steep too, to be honest. However, it is only by each day murdering the language and offending the ears of Vietnamese people that I will stand a chance of getting to grips with what is acknowledged to be one of the hardest languages for a native English speaker to get their tongue around.
So thanks in advance for your patience and constant echoing of exactly what I have just said. At least to my ears it’s same same.
This is the crux of the matter – the tones, those pesky little accents that completely change the entire meaning of a word. Indeed, I hear and read Vietnamese and frequently get the completely wrong end of the stick. Often I have embedded a word with one meaning and can’t adapt to the notion that I need to look not only at how a word is spelt, but also what the accents are doing to it.
In my next blog post I will pull together everything I have learnt, or mis-learnt, over the past year or so. Suffice to say, the more I learn, the more confusing and illuminating it seems to be in equal measure…