Welcome back to the blog. It’s me – Trâm again. One of the most common questions I get when teaching Vietnamese is, “how long does it take to study Vietnamese?”
First, this question is not as useful as you may think. There are many things that decide how long it takes to learn a language, and time in a classroom is just one of them. I have seen people who study Vietnamese for a very long time without improving their fluency, while I
have taught people who can manage
good conversational skill in 6 months.
The question I usually ask is, “how much are you willing to invest in your goal?” This doesn’t just mean money, investments are:
1. How much are you willing to put yourself in a situation where you are forced to speak Vietnamese.
2. How much effort outside of a classroom are you willing to put in to learning Vietnamese.
3. How often you can include Vietnamese practice in your daily life.
If you can create a learning process/environment in your everyday life you will find your progress through the language much quicker than just relying on time in a classroom or with a tutor. Because practice makes better (not “perfect”).
A common experience in Vietnam is that foreigners trying to learn the language will speak in Vietnamese to a local, only to have the local reply in English. And then the conversation continues in English because it’s easier. In situations like this it is important to not be embarrassed or discomforted, and continue trying to speak in Vietnamese. You will need practice, and if you give up too quickly you won’t be getting it.
Secondly, people can be busy. It can be hard to include learning in your everyday life, especially for people who are busy or under pressure. Some people ask, “if I just rely on two lessons a week, how quickly can I learn?”
And the answer to this question is, how much do you want to know? If you just want the basics i.e., greetings, directions, being able to bargain at the market, answer simple questions etc. Then these won’t take too long. Between 3-6 months should be an easy goal. The important part to learn here is pronunciation, which can be much more important than in western languages like English.
A very important factor in learning Vietnamese is your experience with tones. Vietnamese is a tonal language, and the tone of a word carries much more information than it does in many other languages. Learning to hear tones can be the longest part of studying basic Vietnamese. People who grew up hearing tonal languages, or who have studied a tonal language before, are likely to progress through the basics of Vietnamese much quicker than those without that experience. Learning to hear tones in conversation can be a surprisingly long process as your brain needs to learn to process the conversation differently.
For students who want to learn more than just the basics then the key to learning is consistency. Keep learning, keep practicing. Find material that gives you a clear guide and direction (our self-study course is perfect for this). To be completely conversational can take years, especially if you don’t have time to practice more than a couple of hours a week.
I know this may not have been the answer that you were looking for, and may not be as satisfying an answer as you would like. Hopefully you now know that learning a language is a marathon, not a sprint. It can be important to define what your goals are, and the level of fluency that you want to achieve. Vietnamese is a very interesting language, but it is not always easy for new learners. With a clear direction and set goals you can see the progress that you make more easily and not feel as though you’re hitting a wall.
I hope to see you all in our next blog.