Vietnamese Study Plan

I grew up speaking Vietnamese in my early, early childhood. Up until about 4 or 5 years old it was the only language I spoke. In kindergarten I had an accent with my English, and so I told my parents I only wanted to speak English to fix it. Since then, I’ve more or less stopped learning Vietnamese. It’s resulted in a language barrier between me and my family.

This year I’m going to change that. I want to break the language barrier between my parents and grandparents, especially before my grandparents pass. They’re getting old and ill, and I want to make the most of the time we have left together.

Where I’m at Today

I probably know somewhere between 200-500 Vietnamese words. Again, this a by product of refusing to pick up more of the language as a young child and teenager.

Fortunately, I still grew up around the language and consumed lots of Vietnamese media as a kid. Although I don’t have a precise grasp of the grammar and language rules, sentence structure is “intuitive” to me. When I sound out or hear sentences, I can generally identify if they’re correct or not.

My listening ability is lacking, but far above a beginner’s. When I hear sentences that are within my comprehension and vocabulary, I’m able to understand all or most of it. I’m also able to understand quick or accented speaking (within reason; very fast or heavily accented Vietnamese takes me a few repeats).

I cannot write or read, and my speaking ability leaves a lot to be desired. I can speak simple sentences and sound out words, but it’s really slow. I also have very little understanding of the pronunciation and accents of Vietnamese writing. It doesn’t help that the writing system has been made very confusing by the French (thanks, colonialism).

The Goal

Based on the Common European Framework for Languages I’m somewhere between A1 and A2. My biggest obstacle to having B1 level of Vietnamese is vocabulary.

In the short term, the main goal is to increase my vocabularly from a few hundred words to a few thousand words. I think I already have an informal grasp of grammar rules, and so I’ll underemphasize studying them. My primary focus will be consuming lots of media to develop better listening abilities, and having lots of informal conversation to develop speaking fluency. This should be sufficent to start having more conversations with family.

In the longer term (6+ months from now), I’d like to know something in the ballpark of 15,000-20,000 words, with an emphasize of technical and business vocabulary. I’d like to be able to consume and produce writing and conversation about technical and business topics in Vietnamese.

Ideally I’d like to end up somewhere between B2 and C1 by the end of this study period.

The Plan

I was inspired by this post: How I Learned French in 12 Months The tl;dr near the top highlights the most effective strategies that the author found when learning French. Based on the above and some experience learning other languages in the past, here is the plan:

  1. Start Vietnamese Duolingo Tree
  2. Start consistently reviewing this Vietnamese Anki deck everyday
    • Aim for 50-100 words/day
  3. Populate another Anki deck with vocabulary from Duolingo and some Vietnamese reference books I’ve picked up
    • Southern Vietnamese for Beginners by Anh Bui and Jack Noble
    • Elementary Vietnamese by Binh Nhu Ngo
  4. Begin listening and watching Vietnamese podcast and media
    • Vietcetera’s Have a Sip podcast
    • Netflix’s catalogue of Vietnamese films…
    • …and Vietnamese dubs of various series (also can be found on Netflix)
      • With a focus on K-Dramas, Terrace House, and other dating shows. Based on the English subs of these shows, most of the language is casual and suitable for day-to-day use – exactly what I’m looking for.
  5. Take note of any new words I hear and add them to the Anki deck
  6. After about 1-2 months of the above, sign up for weekly iTalki lessons with a tutor
    • focus on speaking fluency, listening comprehension, and slang/cultural norms for young adults
  7. Continue the above for ~1-2 more months, then evaluate progress and make adjustments to study plan

I’m going to dramatically increase my passive consumption of Vietnamese media. I am already listening to Vietnamese music, and occasionally watching Vietnamese movies and shows.

Currently going through my Anki deck takes ~10-15 minutes. I hope to double or triple this time daily to hit my goal of 50-100 words/day. At the moment I do not have enough words to learn, but that will change within the next few weeks. In addition I hope to spend 15-45 minutes/day on Duolingo, depending on how much free time and motivation I have. This is about 30-60 minutes of more “active” learning and another hour of more passive learning.

After a few weeks of this, I’ll evaluate the effectiveness of these methods and adjust as necessary. Once I reach a level of vocabularly where I can make small talk (~1000-2000 words), I’ll start iTalki lessons with tutors. I imagine this will take at least a month and at most three months. I expect to start taking lessons ~6 weeks from now.

In total, I am hoping to spend ~10 hours/week on Vietnamese study during the first few weeks. Once I figure out the most effective exercises and drills for me, I’d like to ramp up to closer to 20 or even 30 hours a week. I admit, it’s a rather aggressive schedule, but I think it’s necessary if I want to attain my goal of being B2 within 6 months.

Wish me luck!