Is the American Dream Turning Canadian?

By: Keely Burkey

When Truong Nguyen (called simply ‘T.’ publically) decided to attend high school in America in 2001, his reason was simple: “I wanted to live the American dream.” He added he felt a bit of pressure from his parents, who encouraged him to complete his education abroad and gain his citizenship in the foreign country.

Funding his first year with an international scholarship, Nguyen and his parents paid for the rest of his high school career themselves. After graduating, he went on to complete a BA in computer science from the University of Louisiana. He said he liked the culture of the South.

“I found a job in San Francisco working for a startup and I got a company to sponsor my [H1B] visa application,” he said. “But it’s hard. You have to stay in the same job for three or four years before getting a green card, and if you switch jobs, you have to start the process all over again.”

As an engineer in Silicon Valley’s quickly rotating startup community, sticking to one job wasn’t feasible or realistic. “When I moved to Canada, the process was a lot easier. It’s just a lot better.”

As Vietnamese youth become sought-after students in the international education system, concerns like the difficulty of the application process and new visa laws start to matter. Is the American dream becoming the Canadian dream?

canadianImage source: instinctmagazine.com

Getting Savvy

As Christopher Runckel, America’s first diplomat to Vietnam after the war, told us, “In some markets, like the United States +and Canada, the recruiter is basically trying to recruit the kid, but here [in Vietnam] they’re trying to recruit the parents, and they’ll often choose the programs the kids will go off to.” For parents, the decision has many factors at play: safety is typically the number one concern, though price and prestige also enter into the decision-making process.

Chi Thuc Ha, the Director of University Counseling at American Education Group (AEG) says that family ties also play a strong role. If the future college student’s uncle lives in Texas, chances are parents will feel more comfortable if their child attends the University of Dallas rather than Cal State.

While these factors undoubtedly play a part, more and more often Ha says that the parents are changing, not just their kids. “[P]arents are a lot more savvy now,” she said. “I think in the past, especially with the EB5 [visa], they were just focused on where they had put financial and economic roots. [...] Now they’re trying to find what’s the best fit for their kid.”

canadianImage source: brookings.edu

According to the Vietnam Department of Statistics, almost 130,000 Vietnamese students studied abroad in 2016, and almost all of their tuitions were self-funded.

It’s a student group that could bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to a country during each four-year education cycle, not counting higher education after college.

Universities have caught on to the potential windfall; hundreds of university representatives come courting to Vietnam’s major cities every year in the hopes of swaying kids and parents towards their schools. At the Global Education Fair coming to HCMC this March, for example, representatives from 13 countries will be present, all ready to woo.

In particular, Canada has made systemic efforts in their immigration and education system to appeal to a broader range of international students, and their efforts have been paying off.

canadianImage source: ibb.co

Enter Canada

Although Ha works primarily with students focused on American schools, she has seen a dramatic shift in interest. “It hasn’t been until the last few years that students have been like, ‘Hey, by the way, can we also apply to these other countries?’” And because Canada’s application process runs a few months after most colleges in the United States have sent their acceptance letters, she sees many students opting for Canadian applications.

“Almost every student I have this year submitted an application to McGill and Toronto,” she said.

The proof is in the numbers: According to statistics from a survey put out by “Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada”, students from Vietnam studying in Canada have risen dramatically: in December 2016, the survey cited a 55 percent year-on-year student increase, second only to India’s 57 percent. Compare this to the United State’s more modest 5 percent gain in the same period.

canadianImage source: duhocacura.vn

However, this accounts for almost 5,000 Vietnamese students in Canada, still a paltry sum compared to the around 22,000 studying in the US.

Runckel says the increase doesn’t have so much to do with the schools, but with the government. “I’ve seen an increase in interest in Canada this year in particular. And a lot of that’s because they changed their immigration law.” Making the immigration process easier has made Great White North more welcoming to students and immigrants, just as the United States have been shutting their doors increasingly tighter.

Getting the Right People

How to make Canada more appealing to Vietnamese students? It starts with the application process. According to Deren Temel of University World News, in 2015 Vietnam was ranked third-slowest for Canada’s study permit processing time, a major factor as a student makes plans for his or her future. In response, two programs have been started to increase the efficiency of Canada’s application process: the Canada Express Study (CES) program, an 18-month program launched in 2016, and the Study Direct Stream (SDS), which will be officially on line in March 2018 and will focus on post-secondary college applications.

Both programs are similar on paper, and work to accomplish the same goal: to make the transition from Vietnam-based application to Canada-based student as quick and effortless as possible. The system requires less financial documentation and has a faster visa processing time than traditional methods, and all forms and documents are easily accessible online.

Eligibility for the fasttrack are relatively simple: an IELTS score of 6 or above is one of the several conditions, along with an investment of CAD$10,000, to be deposited to Scotiabank, Canada’s national banking chain, which will be used by the student during their first year abroad.

So far, the changes have made a positive difference for the northern country’s educational goals. Speaking from the Consulate General of Canada’s office in HCMC, Consulate General Kyle Nunas said that the changes have made a large difference: now that the process is easier, over 50 percent more Vietnamese applicants are choosing to apply to Canada than two years previously.

What’s more, completing education in Canada gives that student credit in the country’s point-based permanent residency application program.

canadianImage source: youinc.com

A complete education gets the aspiring Canadian resident up to 30 points, almost half of the 67 points currently required to live in the country legally.

“The point is to have more people come into the country, but to have the right people come—skilled, smart, experienced,” Runckel said. This is in direct contrast to the United States’ process, which encourages students to stay on a student visa and then return home after they gain their degree due to the U.S.’s difficult immigration process.

For Consulate General Kyle Nunas, the changes work to make Canada more welcoming to a wider group of people. “We’re a nation made by immigrants, after all,” Nunas said.

Unintended Consequences

As Canada makes efforts to accommodate new residents, immigration and international laws have been tightening since President Donald Trump has stepped into office, and even before. “I think we’ve done more to lose some of the good will that we’ve with some countries in the last year than we’ve done in any one-year period in our history,” Runckel said. He said the the policy changes have had unintended victims, like small colleges who previously depended on international students as an important source of revenue.

For Vietnamese citizens hoping to move to the United States after college, the H1B visa has made a concrete difficulty for their plans. Multiple people we talked to agreed it’s getting harder to nab one of the visas, especially with the current lottery system in place.

canadianImage source: cdn-images-1.medium.com

Hillary Huong Vu, a video animator who attended Missouri State University from 2012 to 2016, said that during her time in the country, the increase of anti-immigration sentiment became palpable, both socially and in the government. “I personally didn’t experience anything huge,” she said, when trying to recall instances of racism directed against her. “It was just little things, like people talking slowly because I have an accent.”

Vu’s worst experience came at the tail-end of her time in the U.S., when a man approached her on the street loudly asking her if she was from China or Korea, and telling her to go back to her country. “It was scary,” she said.

Hate crime incidents in America have gone up over the past year, from 5,800 in 2016 to more than 6,100 last year, according to FBI statistics. Ha at AEG says it’s unlikely any safety concerns would affect a Vietnamese family’s decision to study or move to the country. “For most families that I work with, that’s not something that they really see, primarily because as Asians we’re not the primary target [...] when people talk about anti-immigration,” she said.

Vu agreed, saying simply, “I don’t think Trump has any affect on the students that go there to study. If they find a program, they’ll go.”

“And I would just say, ‘Be careful, choose wisely.’ It’s not bad if you’re comfortable with it.”

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5 Discipline Traps to Avoid With Your Children

By: Claire McCarthy

Mistakes even smart mothers make, and what to do instead

After 17 years of being a mom and a paediatrician, I've been able to learn a lot about discipline from my own experiences, as well as from other parents. While there are all sorts of possible blunders here are five biggies that most of us are guilty of - and ways to avoid these common mistakes... 

1. Thinking that One-Style-Fits-All

This one's not surprising: The bookstores are teeming with manuals, each touting an expert's best method. Friends and family love to tell you what worked for them and there is definitely something appealing about the simplicity of a one-approach-fits-all strategy. But some children freak out when you speak to them sharply, while others are unaffected. Some learn the first time you tell them something; others need so much repetition, you despair of their ever learning. Some listen right away; others need time to scream it out before you can talk to them. And it's not just temperament; it's age and development. 

Discipline Traps to AvoidImage source: excelsior.edu

The job of a toddler is to push limits, to do crazy stuff that you've told them time and time again not to do. The job of a tween (roughly ages 8-14, who are “between” childhood and teenage years) is to start asserting their independence from you, sometimes in obnoxious ways. And neither one is going to listen to a big lecture. 

A toddler is going to need simple, direct, quick discipline. A tween is most likely to respond to a punishment that removes her from her peers. But despite your best efforts, both the toddler and the tween are likely to keep doing the same “bad” thing for a while. Understanding where they are in life is key to picking the right approach to discipline, and preventing desperation (yours). 

2. Over-doing it

My husband does this a lot. He metes out punishments that are either more reflective of his mood than the crime or thoroughly unworkable, like saying "You have to stay in your room this afternoon" when he has errands to run and needs to bring the kids with him. The punishment should fit the crime, not your frustration level. And it needs to be something feasible, that doesn't overly affect siblings who've done nothing wrong. 

Discipline Traps to AvoidImage source: nbcnews.com

A friend taught me a great trick. If one of the kids is doing something they shouldn't - being mean to a sibling, for example - I say, "There will be consequences." (It's particularly good to use in public, because while it may strike fear into your kids, it sounds pretty benign). Over the years, it's been shortened to "Consequences!" with the appropriate firm-but-not-yelling voice, furrowed brow, and I'm-totally-serious gaze. If the misbehaving child doesn't stop, there are consequences, but I have a moment to think about them. 

Sometimes I'll ask, "What do you think your consequences should be?" It's interesting how often kids come up with a fair punishment (e.g., apologizing and letting the wronged sibling play with his favourite toy for the rest of the day). 

3. Under-doing it 

We've all been there. Little Jake is throwing sand at everybody within reach from the sandbox, and the responsible (I'm using the word loosely) grown-up is saying, distractedly, "You're going to get into trouble if you don't stop doing that." And little Jake keeps right on heaving sand because he clearly knows his mother isn't going to stop him. Sometimes these types of kids are punished, but they're not bothered by it. Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating harshness. But for a punishment to work well, I explain to parents, it needs to be something your child doesn't want to have happen again. 

Discipline Traps to AvoidImage source: meredithcorp.io

In our house, taking away favourite toys (the length of time varies with the gravity of the offense), sending the kids to their rooms (our variation on a time-out), or losing screen time (computer and/or TV) generally works. So does "No play-dates for X period of time" and, for the teenagers, "You're grounded!" 

4. Being Inconsistent 

Once you've said no to something, like "No throwing sand," you have to continue saying no. You can't give in sometimes ("Well, okay, you're having fun and nobody seems to mind getting it in their eyes"). Kids get confused and pick up quickly on the fact that they have, well, latitude.

Since you don't want to say no to everything, pick your battles and decide what's really important to you. In my case, I'm not so concerned about neatness, but I won't tolerate meanness, lying, or anything violent or dangerous. Once you've decided on your rules, set them clearly and stick to them. The other part of this is follow-through. If you take away your child's TV privileges for the day and then give in while you're making dinner because you don't want him underfoot, he'll figure out pretty soon that there's a good chance he may not get punished if he decides to break the rules. 

5. Always focusing on the negative 

When you've got a kid who has trouble with rules, it can make for a really difficult relationship when all you seem to do is reprimand. The solution is to catch your child being good. If she goes a solid 15 minutes without picking on her sister, she should get kudos. Even if it's only five minutes, try your best to notice it. You'll be surprised how effective this can be.

It's human nature to like praise, and to want to please the people we love. This can work for you in other ways, too. As you enter a store, instead of saying, "If you don't behave, I'll be really angry and won't get you a treat," try saying, "We have to get the shopping done, and I need help. If everyone is good and helps me, we'll stop for ice cream on the way home." 

Discipline Traps to AvoidImage source: nantucketbrokers.com

Think about it. Which would you rather hear? It's not a bad idea, actually, to ask yourself variations on that question often. What would you rather hear? How would this make you feel? Granted, you're a grown-up, and would probably need to be told only once not to bite. But asking yourself questions reminds you that your kids aren't just crazy beasts put on this earth to make you insane (although it feels that way sometimes) and that discipline isn't just about keeping order. Discipline is about keeping our children safe and helping them grow up to be kind, successful, happy adults. 

This article was kindly provided by our friends at SmartKids. For more informative articles on Childcare visit www.smartkidsinfo.com

Discipline Traps to AvoidImage source: smartkidsinfo.com

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Foreign Universities are Serving a Core Vietnamese Value

By: J.K. Hobson

The prioritization of education has been a core feature of Vietnamese culture for centuries, and now the Southeast Asian country is opening its doors to foreign-owned entities providing public education for its aspiring academics.

Australia’s own Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) was established at the turn of the millenium in Ho Chi Minh City and was the first foreign-owned, public university to open in Vietnam. Professor Gael McDonald told Sinh Vien Viet Nam Newspaper last December, “Some of the key achievements in this area have been the introduction of authentic learning, reduction in examinations, a move away from textbooks to more contemporary materials, professional development for staff… with the mission to focus on delivering world class internationally recognized postgraduate degrees in Vietnam…”

foreign universitiesImage source: demo.tuoitrethudo.vn

With a staff of academics from 25 countries around the world, RMIT engages in community outreach and has an increasing student population hailing from provinces outside the urban centers of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.

New University Strengthens Cultural Ties

This year, Fulbright University Vietnam will open in Ho Chi Minh City.

The original Fulbright program was launched over seven decades ago as a means of establishing closer diplomatic ties between the United States and countries around the world through the promotion of education and cultural exchange.

President Barack Obama praised the university during his visit to Hanoi in 2016 saying, “It is the first not-for-profit, independent university in Vietnam - which will bring academic freedom and scholarships to underprivileged students. Students, academics and researchers will focus on public policy research, governance, business, engineering and computer science, liberal education - everything from the poetry of Nguyen Du, the philosophy of Phan Chu Trinh to the mathematics of Ngo Bao Chau …”

foreign universitiesImage source: wellspringsaigon.edu.vn

Fulbright University will open its doors in the fall of this year, promising a new and innovative approach to higher education in Vietnam, while engaging in community outreach and offering need-based financial aid to qualifying students.

An Integral Value

At its inception, Vietnam’s educational culture was largely influenced by Chinese systems, particularly Confucianism. Confucian ideals dictated that although man is at the center of the universe, man is a social being, and finds his (or her) highest potential realized in community with others. Within this potential is the ability to be educated, and as such, education should be accessible to all. As community is important in Vietnam, education is seen as being not only a way of the advancement of the individual, but as a way of cultivating the kind of character that will help uplift his or her community.

foreign universitiesImage source: img.nordangliaeducation.com

Former leader Ho Chi Minh decided when Vietnam gained independence from France on September 2, 1945 that the government’s three biggest priorities would be “fighting against poverty, illiteracy, and invaders.” His philosophy on education was guided by the principle that “an illiterate nation is a powerless one.” In October of that year, he issued a “Call for anti-illiteracy.” The nation responded to the call by creating 75,000 literacy classes with 96,000 teachers in order to teach 2.5 million Vietnamese to read and write.

foreign universitiesImage source: plan.ie

Borrowed Traditions

Vietnam has long been known as a country and a culture that consistently keeps an eye on progress. Throughout history, the Southeast Asian country has borrowed and integrated ideas about ways of living from influential societies, from the neighboring Chinese, to the French who formerly colonized it.

The opening of foreign-owned public learning institutions in Vietnam marks a paradigm shift in the country’s policies towards education. With the world’s eye on Vietnam as an emerging economy, it is sure to continue to attract foreign interests.

Vietnam is emerging as a bona fide market for educational investment, and its consistent desire for quality education is sure to be instrumental in its rise towards becoming a middle-income country, as it cultivates the minds of global-minded scholars.

Banner Image source: education.kilroy.net


Tech’s Moment To Disrupt Education Arrives in Vietnam

By: Keely Burkey

Stephen Coyle, an IELTS instructor for the Reliable English School (RES), didn’t just see the dawn of technology in the classroom—he heard it. “When I first started teaching [in Vietnam] 14 years ago, the noise level in the classroom was incredible; people were shouting, talking, laughing. Now, during the break, it’s completely silent. Everyone is just looking at their phones.”

SSISImage source: citypassguide.com

The heavy reliance on digital devices in Vietnam has come swiftly: over 35 million people use Facebook regularly in the country, and an estimated 32.43 million will have a smartphone in 2018.

The use of technology has irreversibly changed the way we look at the world and have become social, but in HCMC, will it change the way our kids learn as well?

A Tech Emphasis

Thomas Galvez, Saigon South International School’s Technology Learning Coach, acknowledged that technology can have detrimental effects on a child’s socialisation, but averred that it it’s all about balance. “It’s not about weaning them off [of smartphones],” he said. “It’s about teaching them the appropriate times to use it, and to understand the effects.”

With separate technology coaches for the elementary, middle and high schools and an overall ICT Director in the administration department, it’s safe to say that SSIS takes the role of technology in the classroom seriously. Earlier this year, SSIS became the first Apple Distinguished School in the country, a distinction both prestigious and rather nebulous.

SSISImage source: citypassguide.com

At the moment 400 schools spread across 29 countries are Apple Distinguished Schools. To hold this coveted title, Galvez said it wasn’t so much having Apple products (although SSIS is a completely Mac-driven institution and requires all parents to purchase a personal MacBook for their child when they enter the 4th grade), but rather promoting an innovative approach to learning. Finding ways to do this is Galvez’s bread and butter.

Although he acknowledged that it’s impossible to keep up with all the technological trends, he keeps current through an active world-wide professional learning network with other technology coaches. “Twitter is a great medium for this,” he said.

Once he discovers something he thinks might make learning more efficient, or connect kids in a deeper way, he meets with teachers to discuss how the program can be integrated into their lesson. For a language class, he said that SoundCloud is often useful, which allows teachers to comment in different places on a student’s audio file. For multimedia collaborations, he might suggest Explain Everything, an interactive whiteboard app that lets students create visual presentations in the cloud, so students and the teacher can interact as it’s created.

“That’s the great thing about these cloud-based tools,” he said. “They provide asynchronous capacities that students and teachers can access to provide feedback and learn anytime, anywhere.”

The emphasis on creativity and multimedia emphasised by Mac products is widely believed to help prepare students for future careers, many of which will require teamwork, collaboration and thinking outside of the box. However, as Rob van Driesum, a parent of an SSIS child (and, full disclosure, the freelance copy-editor of #iAMHCMC) points out, “Not all kids will end up working in multimedia. They’ll need skills in Windows-based Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook and so on.”

End in Itself?

The debate about technology’s role in the classroom has been raging for over a decade, since the concept of One-to-One learning was first propagated in the late 1990s. By providing students with personal learning devices, from which they could read digital textbooks and complete assignments, many claimed that the learning process could be more efficient and streamlined.

SSISImage source: citypassguide.com

Subsequent studies have suggested that digital learning isn’t the silver bullet some first believed it was, and some schools have tempered their expectations, or at least begun to view technology as a tool rather than an end in itself.

Thomas Galvez at SSIS mirrors these thoughts. “The whole focus of this job is really not technology,” he said. “Learning is always going to be at the centre of schools.”

He paused for a moment, and then continued: “A good teacher is a good teacher. And to be a good teacher, you don’t necessarily need technology. Really, it’s about relationships.”

Banner Image source: enews.ssis.edu.vn


What's the Most Popular Second Language in Vietnam?

By: Molly Headley

From being part of the Chinese kingdom and the French colonial state to its complicated past relationships with the U.S. and Russia, Vietnam has historically been a country crowded with languages. As a result, Vietnamese itself was only recognized as the country’s official tongue in 1945.

Today it is mandatory for all students in Vietnamese schools to follow their studies in Vietnamese but the recent influx of foreign business and tourism has increased the importance of learning other languages as well. The majority of students study English as their first foreign language with French being the reigning second.

The priority of Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) is for all students in Vietnamese schools to learn English as their first foreign language, according to Priscille Lasémillante, Attaché for the French language at l'Institut français du Vietnam (French Institute of Vietnam) . Then, when possible, they can learn a second foreign language. Today French is the foreign language the most taught after English, with approximately 40,000 students. 10,000 or fewer students study Japanese and a fraction study Korean, German, Russian and Chinese, Lasémillante said in an interview given in French.

second languageImage source: 4.bp.blogspot.com

From Tradition to Necessity

To understand the country’s dominant languages today, we have to go back to the 1954 Geneva Conference where Vietnam was officially divided through the middle. This rupture informed not only policies but also language. In the North, Chinese and Russian took precedence in the educational system, while in the South, French and English became the preferred languages. However, after reunification, the Southern languages and Chinese plummeted out of favour and it was Russian that connected the country to the rest of the Communist bloc.

Do Huy Thinh, from the Vietnamese TESOL Association, wrote that, “Russian became the dominant language, overshadowing the demands for all others in Vietnam’s early reunification".

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Vietnam found itself with a surplus of Soviet-trained professors and a sudden lack of opportunities for Russian trained students; as a result the language is barely taught in Vietnam today. In 1987, Vietnam introduced Doi Moi , the open door trade policy that brought the country onto the international stage. The resulting explosion of business, tourism and foreign investments launched a need for new languages in Vietnam and English quickly took the lead.

second languageImage source: i.imgur.com

English Arises from the Ashes

The English language was granted special authority in 1994 when the prime minister signed an order requiring government officials to learn foreign languages, with English being the primary focus. Foreign investments and influences from English-speaking countries have further solidified English as the top studied second language in Vietnam. MOET recently attempted to codify language training even more with the federal education agency’s Project 2020 initiative. Launched in 2008, the project’s mission is to advance Vietnamese students’ English to the level necessary for employment, yet as of 2018 Vietnam remains 7th in Asia in English language proficiency.

second languageImage source: marrybaby.vn

Motivation and Mobility

Today Vietnamese parents tend to push their children to study whatever language has the greatest utility.

French remains popular in large part because between 1992 and 2006, French language education in Vietnam was financed by the French government. Numerous scholarships— notably in the sectors of medicine, engineering, and law—still exist to help Vietnamese continue their studies in France, and the only Vietnamese degree recognized internationally is a French-Vietnamese diploma in engineering.

German became another contender for a second language when Goethe-Institut cultural centers were set up in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and student foreign exchanges began to develop. Japanese become a third major player through scholarship schemes intended to help Vietnamese students study at Japanese universities.

Time to Look Towards China?

English is still necessary for advancement in Vietnam and throughout the region—it is the official language of ASEAN—yet some experts warn against parents becoming too obsessed with their children becoming anglophones.

“We must not only focus on English, but also pay attention to demands of localities and grades. Besides prioritising English, we need to develop other foreign languages,” Minister of Education and Training Phung Xuan Nha said in reporting by Vietnam News. “Cities and provinces which have the necessary facilities to teach other languages should be encouraged”.

The lack of Chinese taught in Vietnamese schools may be surprising given that Mandarin Chinese is the language spoken by the most people worldwide, and it is the official language of mainland China, Taiwan, and Singapore, countries in close proximity to and bearing business interests in Vietnam.

"China is the world's second largest economy,” Nguyen Thi Linh Tu, deputy head of the Chinese language faculty in the Hue University’s University of Foreign Language, said. “Learning Chinese, Vietnamese people can access a huge market in China and Chinese communities in other countries".

second languageImage source: taiwan-panorama.com

Priscille Lasémillante agrees. The Vietnamese have a super power just in front of them. China is in the process of developing a cultural cooperation with the rest of the world and perhaps Vietnam should take note, she said.

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Learning Vietnamese? Forget it

By: Rob van Driesum

Giving up on to Learning Vietnamese in Saigon

Rob, an editor, former publisher and self-professed language nerd, gave up on learning Vietnamese...

I have lived in Saigon for almost five years now and gave up on learning Vietnamese. I know the basic phrases (hello, goodbye, thank you, sorry, the numbers from one-to-10, turn left, turn right, go straight) and am adept at gestures and smiles, so usually I'm OK in daily encounters. But conversing? Forget it.

I like to think I have a head for languages. I speak four European languages fluently and get by in 'holiday' Spanish and Bahasa, along with rusty Latin and classical Greek from high-school days in Holland.

My Australian wife and I spent four years in Kuala Lumpur where I carried a little two-way dictionary in my pocket and learned a new word most days. Before we moved to Saigon, I could manage fairly well in simple sentences.

learning vietnameseImage source: vlstudies.com

Bahasa is a monotonal language with a simple structure. Vietnamese, however, is highly structured with a rich literature of which they’re justifiably proud, and it’s a tonal one – Standard Northern has six tones and Standard Southern has five. Mandarin has four plus a fifth, neutral one. Check the many meanings of the Vietnamese word "nam" depending on the tone: five, south, man, year... How do you get your head around that if you haven't grown up in a tonal environment?

Incomprehension in Vietnamese

I enrolled in two Vietnamese-language courses. I bailed out of the first after one session (amateurs) and finished the second, but wasn’t much the wiser except that finally I could read the diacritical marks. You can learn a familiar-looking alphabet within a day if you put your mind to it. I can still drone out the Greek alphabet I learned decades ago, Russian less so but I can make sense of the signs.

But whenever I tried to utter a full Vietnamese sentence in my best intonation, I was met with incomprehension. Or received an answer in Saigon slang I couldn’t make sense of. And don’t get me started on the differences between South, Central and North Vietnamese. My 10-year-old daughter, who speaks some Vietnamese thanks to the language classes at her international school and has little trouble with the tones (acquiring a language without an accent gets much harder after age 12 or so), meets with benign derision up in Hanoi. They think her Southern accent is ‘cute’.

learning vietnameseImage source: freepik.com

Some expats say they learn by living with Vietnamese people in shared houses, but my path was different so that wasn’t an option. Still, why haven’t I become reasonably conversant in Vietnamese after all those years, when I enjoy languages and am keen to learn?

I could try to persist, but I find it extremely difficult and there’s little incremental improvement. Nam...

Vietnamese too difficult to learn? The Latin script is messing with you.

Interestingly, an American friend who lives in Thailand, who speaks fluent Thai and wrote several best-selling travel guidebooks to Thailand, says that the Latin script is a hindrance to learning Vietnamese. He says he knows how to pronounce the Thai character, but Vietnam’s script throws him off because it’s too familiar to his original English.

My current saviour is the Vietnamese option on Google Translate, a great tool with our temporary maid who barely speaks English (her more fluent sister who has been with us for years just had a baby).

Fortunately, Vietnamese people are very tolerant with a great sense of humour. I twice had a total stranger come up to me in the street who patted me on my tummy (it’s a bit more prominent than most) saying, “You lucky man!” And that was meant as a compliment.

Gotta love this country.

Video source: HỌC TIẾNG ANH ĐƯỜNG PHỐ

Banner Image source: 123vietnamese.com


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