ARLINGTON – Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not that hard to obtain a certain level of fluency in a foreign language in a matter of mere months; it just takes the right study habits, good instruction and a lot of exploration with the language you have already learned. I’ve done it with Korean, and am now trying to repeat my success with Vietnamese.
Luckily, the language is pretty easy as Asian languages go, with the exception of the six insane tones. Our classes spent about a month on getting our pronunciation and tones right; if we get them wrong, we can change the meaning in unpleasant ways: Tôi ngủ (pronounced with a tone that falls slightly before rising sharply) means “I sleep,” while Tôi ngu (pronounced with a flat tone) means, “I’m stupid.”
For the most part, I’ve got the pronunciation and tones down, but now I have to work on fluency and using my already large vocabulary. Luckily, I’ve faced this problem before and think I know how to solve this problem: Lots of reading out loud, lots of conversation, and an tutor over skype. This all got off to a great start for me yesterday when both of my classmates called in sick, leaving me with five solid hours of one-on-one instruction with some great teachers who were willing to test my comfort zone.
I have only 21 weeks left to reach the required proficiency, but I am aiming for fluency. Can I do it? I think so. Now, off to bed – or, as they say in Vietnamese: Tôi ngu.