Learn Vietnamese on the streets of Hanoi

After discarding the idea of a 12 month stretch in a Vietnamese prison as the ultimate language immersion course, I have hit on a much better alternative…hanging out at lunchtime with the security guard.

Even though my Vietnamese is poor and his only word of English seems to be okay, we do manage to communicate to an extent. We will probably not discuss the possibility of advanced civilizations on other planets any time soon, but we get by somehow. The main topics of conversation are generally the weather, the footie, and women who pass by.

So far I have discovered that we are the same age, he has two children, aged 27 and 15, and one grand child. He works very long hours, kicking off at 7am and knocking off at 10pm when Twitter Beans Coffee closes for the day.

I can only imagine how mind-numbingly boring a job that of a security guard must be, sitting around most of the time, interspersed by shouting at people and occasionally shuffling motorbikes around so their owners can’t find them. At least I provide some form of entertainment for half an hour each weekday. We have a laugh. Though quite often it is at our inability to communicate after going round in circles for three minutes.

Despite the complete lack of lesson plans or a curriculum, I do fancy that my pronunciation has improved. And through deduction and guesswork, Dang has actually taught me some Vietnamese.

I put that to the test the other day when he taught me a new phrase and I tried it out later on one of the other security guards that came along for a chat. As I reeled off my newly won Vietnamese and got the appropriate reply straight back, I could see out of the corner of my eye that Dang was grinning widely. Clearly I am his star pupil.

One missed accent and Google Translate completely mangles the translation

It’s all fun and games. A bit of banter and craic that we both enjoy. Not all the passers-by get it though.

A woman who was waiting for a taxi came over to our bench to talk to Dang. My ears pricked up when I heard my name mentioned, and I chipped in. The woman apologized and explained she had asked Dang if I was waiting for a taxi too. When she heard I wasn’t waiting, and that Dang and I were having a conversation, she was a little surprised and asked what we talked about.

Sometimes I share her surprise. Like today I discovered that the manager of Twitter Beans Coffee has moved to the branch at Thanh Long and won’t be coming back. And that the new manager is called Huong. Not bad if, like me, your Vietnamese is still at Janet and John level. So definite signs of progress.

The secret, then, seems to be 20-30 minutes with a security guard at lunchtime and the same again on DuoLingo in the evening. Better still, the other security guards, who had largely ignored me due to my lack of a motorbike, now say hello and know my name.

And, as if all of that is not good enough, I have not acquired a single regrettable prison tattoo. Or the ability to fashion a shiv from a toothbrush. These will have to wait.

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2 thoughts on “Learn Vietnamese on the streets of Hanoi

  1. It’s so cool that you’ve decided to learn Vietnamese. 🙂
    I know a lot of people who has decided to live in an another country and they have stayed there for years without knowing the language. I find that very weird and unacceptable. Don’t they want to connect with the people and culture? Why decide to stay that long and miss the opportuniy to learn a new language?
    I would definitely do what you’re doing if I lived in a different country. Good luck on your journey of learning Vietnamese! If you have any question, feel free to ask me, I’m a Vietnamese after all. ❤
    By the way, how would you rate your current level based on the CEFR scale (A1, A2, B1, etc.)?

    Like

  2. Thanks. Totally agree. There is so much you miss out on not understanding Vietnamese. The more I learn, the more I understand about Vietnam and its people. Plus you only truly get to know someone when you can speak their language. A1 for now

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