Moregon's Southern Vietnamese Journey: Road to Wedding

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Moregon
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Joined: Wed May 04, 2022 11:56 am
Languages: Italian (N), English (C2), Japanese (B2-C1), Vietnamese (A1)
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Moregon's Southern Vietnamese Journey: Road to Wedding

Postby Moregon » Wed May 04, 2022 1:12 pm

INTRODUCTION
A log by a new member of the forum but not of the language learning community. :D
Aside from English (acquired in a more natural way through school and intense media consumption), I have been studying Japanese on and off for the last ten years, often procrastinating by lurking on old and new communities (the old koohii board, Reddit, sometimes HTLAL etc.).
By doing so, I've tried with varying success basically every method, tool and fad: Anki, goldlists, subs2srs, L-R, Heisig, extensive reading, intensive listening, couple of months of language school in the country and so on and so forth...
The result is an optimistic C1 in reading ability, a B1-B2 in listening (good with real life conversations, less with TV and radio), an embarassing A2 in speaking.
Putting Japanese temporary on the back burner, I now want to take advantage of my experience (if not the shining examples of the actual results...) to tackle a new project: learning Vietnamese, specifically the Southern dialect!
My wife is Vietnamese, but all these years we've been communicating through our other shared languages (Italian, English, a little bit of Japanese). In a few months, thought, we'll be travelling to Vietnam to celebrate our (belated, thanks COVID) wedding there, and this time I don't want to play the part of the dumb, silent, westerner like I did during my previous trips: I want to actually sound dumb by trying to chat with her family and friends! :D
So here it is, apart from my personal situation, I hope that this log will become a decent guide to a lesser known language!

THE LOG
The last five years I've tried to pick up Vietnamese two times, always giving up for lack of motivation. So, when I started again twenty days ago, I had about two-three months of Vietnamese study under my belt, giving me a headstart especially in tones and in the phonetic differences between Northern and Southern Vietnamese.
The last one is a really thorny problem that frustrated me no end during my first attempt; most resources teach the Northern dialect or a mixture between the two, maybe telling you when they use different words for the same concept but without pointing out all the subtle ways their phonetics differ. Luckly, during my second attempt I had focused on that, scouring obscure boards and pestering my wife, so that now I have a decent foundation.
Unfortunately I didn't save any note at the time, but if you're starting out with Southern Vietnamese, ask your teacher or search online for differences like: the pronunciation of the "i" in words like "tin" or "tinh"; the pronunciation of "không", especially in the initial and final consonants; a ton of others!

My resources now:
- a subscription (around $10/month) to the website "Learn Vietnamese with Annie": they're a language school in Saigon who also owns a YouTube channel and a website full of lessons. They're the best (and maybe only) resource I could find to learn authentic Southern Vietnamese. My wife confirmed that the language they use is completely Southern, from the accent to the slang choice. They have around 600 lessons divided in beginner-intermediate-advanced, and each lesson consists of a 15 minutes podcast, where a native speaker and an English guy translate and comment a 1-minute dialogue.
- Anki. I have a love-hate relationship with it, and initially I didn't want to use it, but I've realized that I'll never be able to reach a conversational level in time if I don't take advantage of such a powerful tool, as boring as it is long-term; maybe I'll drop it after it will have jumpstarted my vocabulary.
- The first three books of Harry Potter, in Vietnamese and in translation, with the Vietnamese audiobooks. This is more to have something to look forward to do.

My short term goal:
to arrive as close as I can to a B1 level before the half of September, when I'll travel to Vietnam, so to be able to chat about the simplest things with my family-in-law. B1 is almost surely unattainable, even considering a probable month and a half of unemployement later this summer, simply because I can't see myself studying 6-8 hours a day. But even a comfortable A2 I think would be enough to at least start to know my Vietnamese relatives directly, instead that through my wife's interpreting.

My long term goal:
to be able to converse comfortably with my wife about intelligent topics (a solid B2 let's say).

Current workload:

I listen to one or two lessons during my commute, I read them again later in the day and add 20 new words daily to Anki (only recognition), I relisten and shadow old dialogues until I get tired. If my wife is free, I ask her explanation about problematic points; when we chat during the evening, if I notice that I know all the words, I try to intermingle simple Vietnamese comments and jokes ("What will we eat tonight?" or "The cat is noisy, we should sell him") to test my pronunciation.
Sometimes I study a couple of points from a grammar book I bought ("Vietnamese: An Essential Grammar" by Binh Ngo).

Total daily study time:

1-1.5 hours, but it'll sure increase when Anki kicks up full force.

My hope is to sustain this rhythm now so to have around 1800-2000 words by August, and then ditch the textbook-style dialogues and spent the last month before the trip extensively reading-listening Harry Potter, watching simple cartoons on YouTube, and consistently chatting with my wife. For sure it's a better-balanced plan compared with what I did in the past with Japanese (months of only studying kanjis, months of mainly Anki, months of only reading etc.), but stay tuned to see how effective it actually is!
I plan to update around once a week. :)
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Re: Moregon's Southern Vietnamese Journey: Road to Wedding

Postby zenmonkey » Wed May 04, 2022 7:01 pm

Lovely goal and superb motivation. I look forward to hearing about your small successes snowballing into a rich experience.
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Moregon
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Re: Moregon's Southern Vietnamese Journey: Road to Wedding

Postby Moregon » Thu May 05, 2022 2:59 pm

zenmonkey wrote:Lovely goal and superb motivation. I look forward to hearing about your small successes snowballing into a rich experience.

Thank you so much! I also hope it'll go well, both for myself and to leave a hopeful log for all the future poor souls who'll embark in this painful, tonal journey. :D
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Moregon
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Languages: Italian (N), English (C2), Japanese (B2-C1), Vietnamese (A1)
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Re: Moregon's Southern Vietnamese Journey: Road to Wedding

Postby Moregon » Thu May 12, 2022 3:08 pm

Quick update:
nothing much to report, following my plan but with a slight increase in pace: I'm trying to add 25-30 new words to Anki every day, and to squeeze an additional podcast lesson when washing the dishes. I want to take advantage of the initial enthusiasm to reach a "critical mass" of vocabs, since I know that in a couple of months traditional lessons will become a real slog, and I want to move as quickly as possible to authentic material.
354 words in Anki, around 30 lessons from the Annie website studied (i.e. listened to at least 3-4 times, shadowed and ankified).

As a side note, I went out to lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant here in Italy this last weekend and there I've really noticed the difference between Southern and Northern Vietnamese! The waitress was from the North and she really threw me off with her accent. It's not like I can understand a random conversation in Southern dialect either, but at least I've got somewhat used to its prosody; the Northern dialect sounded almost more similar to Mandarin than the Vietnamese I'm getting used to. In any case, she and my wife were able to chat without any problem, so I guess I'll have to get used to it too, in time. :mrgreen:
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Moregon
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Re: Moregon's Southern Vietnamese Journey: Road to Wedding

Postby Moregon » Sun May 29, 2022 8:28 am

In retrospect, my original idea of updating every week was optimistic! I don't have much to report: I've settled back on a more leisurely pace of 15-18 new words a day, basically what I can extract from a new lesson. Together with listening, relistening to old dialogues, a little bit of shadowing and googling for problematic grammar, it amounts to one hour, one hour and half a day.
Until now I've semi-skipped only one day, last Sunday, when my mother and my aunt came to visit us from the countryside leaving me time and energy to just do some Anki reviews.

Pretty comfortable in reproducing all the tones except for the damned hỏi tone. In theory it should be one of the easiest, because it exists in almost every language: it's the falling and raising tone we use in English to express a question. But something in it throws me off and I can never get it completely right unless I've just heard it said correctly in a recording or from my wife. This is made more annoying by the fact that in the South they have even more words with it, because they pronounce the ngã tone the same way (differently from North Vietnam, where the two are pronounced differently).
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Re: Moregon's Southern Vietnamese Journey: Road to Wedding

Postby Axon » Sun May 29, 2022 6:14 pm

Moregon wrote:
Pretty comfortable in reproducing all the tones except for the damned hỏi tone. In theory it should be one of the easiest, because it exists in almost every language: it's the falling and raising tone we use in English to express a question. But something in it throws me off and I can never get it completely right unless I've just heard it said correctly in a recording or from my wife. This is made more annoying by the fact that in the South they have even more words with it, because they pronounce the ngã tone the same way (differently from North Vietnam, where the two are pronounced differently).


Hi Moregon, as a fellow Vietnamese learner I was curious about your experience with hỏi and decided to do some phonetic analysis using some YouTube recordings and the Praat software. I took some recordings of Learn Vietnamese With Annie where she's speaking deliberately and looked at the pitch of her hỏi tones.

If you're not familiar with tone notation, there's a 5-point scale used by linguists in the Sinosphere to show relative pitch, where 5 is high and 1 is low. Two numbers show the beginning and ending pitches of the syllable, so "55" would mean a flat high tone, "33" would mean a flat mid tone, and "21" would mean a tone starting lower than mid and falling to low. A third number is used if there's a contour and not a straight rise or fall, so "313" would mean a tone starting at the mid level, dropping to low, and rising to mid again.

One thing that surprised me was that the ending pitch of Annie's hỏi tone is regularly higher than the ngang tone. Annie's hỏi ends basically at the beginning of sắc, so a phrase like giỏi lắm looks to me like 214-45 across the two tones. And looking at a phrase like ỏ đâu, the tail end of ỏ goes a little bit higher than đâu.

I would definitely recommend looking at Praat and making some recordings of your own to check your pitch against different native recordings, eventually working your way up to rapid speech. If your wife is willing, she could record some words or phrases that have hỏi tones in different environments, such as different tones before and after, at the beginning/end of the phrase, different vowels, etc. (If she's not willing, you could pay someone on Fiverr to do something similar.) Tones appear in context far more often than not, so it's always a good idea to practice in context rather than isolation.
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