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For the past 10 years I've been wanting to learn Vietnamese. It was mainly a fleeting interest that would pop up occasionally, but I would never pursue it fully. Everytime I started to try, there were little things that would get in the way of fully investing myself... and I would give up! I believe that many of the roadblocks that I faced in my journey to START learning, are common roadblocks that can be avoided by others. So I wanted to make a post with my tips of how to successfully start learning!

Note: Skip to the bottom TLDR section if you don't care about the backstory and just want to know about good learning resources etc for Vietnamese.

Why?

Why learn Vietnamese? Well for me it is because my in-laws are Vietnamese. My wife was born and raised in the USA, but speaks Vietnamese pretty well. Ever since I met her I've been interested in the culture, and the more I see of it the more I want to learn. I have this dream/vision of one day being able to talk with people in her family in Vietnam. Plus I need more hobbies!

Failed Attempts at learning

So for the past 10 years I would occassionaly "start" learning only to give up after about 2 days. My dad was very supportive of the idea and he even bought me Rosetta Stone as a gift one year. Typically I would say "I'm going to learn now for sure!" and I would start doing Rosetta Stone... then I would say a few of the words I was learning to my wife... and she never understood me! I would then try and say some things to my mother in law and she would just shake her head and explain that I'm not saying anything.

I would get very frustrated with my lack of progress and determine it was futile...

This happened several times. Always I would go back to Rosetta Stone because I figured it was the best way to learn, and always I wouldn't learn anything useful or anything that my Vietnamese mother-in-law could understand. I decided it must be that my accent was just to bad.

What I realized (Vietnamese dialects)

This past year I finally went to Vietnam for the first time, and met alot of Linh's extended family there. This gave me the boost in motivation that I needed to pursue learning more seriously.

When I finally forced myself to do some research about the Vietnamese language, I learned that there are several major dialects that are spoken in different regions of Vietnam. This ended up being the critical piece of understanding I needed in order to make a breakthrough in my learning.

So it ends up that my family speaks a Southern dialect of Vietnamese. Rosetta Stone teaches a very proper Northern dialect of Vietnamese that sounds quite a bit different... and even has it's own words for many common things. Everytime I went to learn I would start learning the northern dialect, and my mother and wife couldn't understand me. Typically people in the north and south of Vietnam don't have that much trouble communicating... However with the different accent/dialect coupled with my own American accent, it made it really hard for my family to understand me when I spoke the words I was learning. This compounded my frustration and made it very easy to give up.

I think Rosetta Stone kinda sucks

So I had this EXPENSIVE resource Rosetta Stone that had already been paid for... and I was somewhat determined to use it. However I eventually realized that it wasn't for me. It attempts to jump right into the language instead of teachings basics about grammer and pronunciation first. I think this is a big mistake because it left me with more questions then answers everytime I tried to study.

I started doing some research about learning languages in general... and I found resource after resource from personal blogs etc, of people talking about how Rosetta Stone doesn't work very well. One of them asked the question "Have you ever heard of a fluent speaker of that learned from Rosetta Stone?"... I started searching for reviews, and realized that the answer is basically No. I can't find many references to those who have actually learned a language through Rosetta Stone.

To top it off, Rosetta Stone strictly taught only the Northern dialect, which isn't what I needed.

Finally finding the right resources

Once I realized my problem... the prospect of learning vietnamese became much easier AND much more difficult at the same time! Why? Because I soon learned that there are very few resources online for learning the Southern Dialect of Vietnamese. I spent a couple of weeks trying different tools/apps/websites etc, trying to find some good resources, and it was pretty difficult to find anything other then northern Vietnamese.

Eventually I found a few and found a learning approach that works for me. I paid for some of mine, but I also use some free resources. I will list them below because they might help someone else trying to do the same thing as me!

TLDR

There are many Vietnamese dialects and unfortunately most resources online for learning Vietnamese only teach the Northern dialect, even though the Southern dialect is very popular and spoken by more Vietnamese people living outside of Vietnam. Below are listed some of the resources for learning the Southern dialect that I have found that have been effective for me.

Free resources

  1. The Learn vietnamese with annie youtube channel, has several playlists that can teach you the basics of pronunciation and so forth. They teach the Southern Dialect and are based out of Ho Chi Minh. Their website learnvietnamesewithannie.com has a ton of other free resources too like blog posts that explain important concepts etc.
  2. Another great youtube channel/resource is Learn Vietnamese for foreigners. This channel is essential because they make new videos all the time of real world scenarios. They also speak mainly in the southern dialect, and they have great example videos that show the difference between northern and southern for various words/topics. I feel like listening to these videos helps my listening comprehension. They also have a website with more resources. I believe you can purchase lessons etc from them as well, however I cannot comment on this because I have yet to do so (but may in the future).
  3. Duolingo is another great resource. It is a free app for your phone (or you can go there on your computer), that has a great vietnamese course. Unfortunately just like most other online resources, it focuses on the northern dialect, but I've found that it is still very useful for learning new vocabulary. Also in the app there is the ability to ask questions about every single word or phrase. I often find myself asking questions like "Is this phrase/word used in the southern dialect as well?" and I often get very good responses that help clear up my confusion.
  4. https://forvo.com/ is an amazing website that has real recordings of people speaking nearly every language. There are thousands of recordings for Vietnamese words and phrases, and it is really nice to hear a native speaker say them, rather then always having to resort to the google translate. The only downside is that it doesn't specify the dialect that a word is spoken in. Most of the recordings are in the northern dialect, but it is still a great tool for learning, and is especially useful once you've already learned to recognize north vs south accents.

Paid resources

  1. Learn Vietnamese with Annie has alot of great PAID resources as well. I am a subscriber to their weekly podcast, which helps immensely with hearing comprehension and also helps introduce words into my vocabulary. They also have tutoring services where you can take a course online over skype (or in person if you happen to be in Ho Chi Minh). I've found the prices to be totally reasonable and well worth the price.
  2. Udemy has some learning Vietnamese courses that are worth taking a look at... unfortunately they are very expensive. Occasionally Udemy offers massive discounts (80%-90%), and if that happens then it could be worth picking up this one: https://www.udemy.com/learn-to-speak-vietnamese-like-a-native/. I repeat this is only worth it if it goes on a big sale. I got it for $30 when it is usually listed for $195. This particular course was helpful becuase it is taught by a person who is not a native speaker and therefore learned the language later in life. He gives a unique perspective on pronouncing Vietnamese words coming from speaking English.

I can't recommend any other paid services because I haven't used any others ther then Rosetta Stone... which you can see from my words above I was not a big fan of. Duolingo has a similar methodolgy and product to Rosetta stone except for it's totally free and funner to use.

Other Notes/Tips

You can type in vietnamese on Windows, Linux, or Mac by downloading Unikey. There is a different setup depending on your computer, however if you google "Setting up unikey for Mac" etc, then you can find good guides for getting your keyboard setup to do Vietnamese accents etc.

Conclusion

Learning Vietnamese is proving to be really fun and rewarding! I recommend taking the plunge to anybody who is on the fence about learning. I've found that I'm enjoying it much more as an adult then I ever did trying to learn a language in high school etc. Once I gain some proficiency I plan on choosing a new language to learn!

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Isaac Earl

Web dev & whatever else


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