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Learn new words and phrases from videos

Passively listening to music or watching TV isn’t going to make you speak Vietnamese overnight but by actively engaging with the content, both music and movies can be a useful learning tool.

Today we’re going to look at one way of using films or TV shows to improve your vocabulary.

The basic premise of this technique is that you use the video to find authentic, interesting phrases or words that you want to learn. After watching the show you use Anki to learn (or ‘internalise’) those new expressions.

What’s needed?

You need a video or film with Vietnamese subtitles.

I tend to prefer TV series over full-length films because of the continued storyline and repetitive vocabulary. Also because they’re shorter than full length films. It’s much easier to find time to occasionally watch a 30-60 episode of something or a 5 minute short story like Qùa Tặng Cuộc Sống.

Step 1: Find new words

You watch the video on your computer, with subtitles. When a new word or interesting phrase you want to learn comes up, pause and take a screencap. I usually quickly look it up in a dictionary or online to get approximate understanding of the meaning, then hit play and continue watching.

Work on your question form by learning phrases from a film.

Work on your question form by learning phrases from a film.

Top tip: Don’t spend too much time looking up words while you’re watching or you’ll spend 2h+ watching an 1 hour long show (or give up part way through). I usually have google translate open on my phone to get the gist of new vocab and take a screencap so I can look into it in detail later.

Step 2: Fully understand the new words

After the whole show, I go through my screencaps with a dictionary to accurately understand the meaning. Even if you think you know what it means, it’s really important to check so you’re certain.

For example, when using this method with French I assumed sans doute meant without a doubt but actually it’s more like maybe (sans aucun doute is without a doubt). That’s a big, fundamental difference!

Step 3: Make your flashcards

Put the sentences and screencaps into Anki or another customisable flashcard program.

An example recall flashcard

A recall flashcard for the video method

The flashcard contains the sentence translated loosely into English and this is what prompts me to recall the sentence.

Top tip: I usually do this in batches to break up Step 2. While working through the phrases with a dictionary I take a break every 5-10 minutes and put the cards into Anki.


How to Learn Spanish have a detailed video showing how this method works. It’s 90% what I do, though I differ from Andrew in that I keep the information displayed on my cards to a minimum and I use both Learn and Recall cards in Anki.

Advantages and disadvantages of this method

The advantages of this method are that it’s really enjoyable because you’re watching something you’re interested in and it’s authentic because you’re learning words and phrases in natural spoken contexts.

The context is very strong because you have visual and audio to go with the new vocabulary. You don’t just learn new vocab, you feel it. Often when prompted to recall a card, I imagine the scene where the line was said which helps me to remember it.

Disadvantages are that it can be hard to find enjoyable subtitled materials, the language can be very informal or even vulgar (a good dictionary should alert you of this) and you have to be careful when looking up and translating new words you learn this way. If you make a mistake and learn the wrong use of a word, it will be hard to relearn.

This last potential problem is one reason why I recommend this for intermediate learners or above, because at that stage you have a better feel for the language, you’re able to discern things about the language and better judge what is and isn’t useful to learn. Alternatively you could go through your sentences with a tutor or bilingual friend to ensure you’re correct.

However if there are also subtitles in your native language, you can use them to make your cards.

Over to you: Have you ever tried to ‘study’ a film or TV programme?

Top Vietnamese reading materials for learners (online)

Vietnamese reading materials

Read to improve your Vietnamese.

Vietnamese articles and stories provide natural models of the language in an interesting and engaging context that help you deepen your knowledge and increase your knowledge of Vietnamese.

In language learning it’s important to read articles that are at the right level. If it’s too hard you’ll want to give up. If the material is easy, that can be great for extensive reading (aka reading for pleasure) and deepening your knowledge of words and structures you already know.

But you should also try to balance that with some intensive reading of materials that are challenging but not so much that you get discouraged. With this kind of reading the focus is on understanding the text and it is this ‘studying’ while you read that will help increase your knowledge.

For a long time I didn’t know of any materials with graded language for Vietnamese language learners. Children’s books and comics can be helpful, but they are not the same thing as graded readers.

After digging around, I’ve uncovered some real gems online!

1. Learning Vietnamese Network

Level: elementary, low intermediate.

The site provides bilingual articles, with both northern and southern audio of the Vietnamese text. Some articles are about common textbook topics such as family or education and some are more topical, news-style.

Get started:

2. Study Vietnamese

Level: high elementary, low intermediate.

A language school provides bilingual articles – mostly short stories that are cultural, have morals or are funny.

Get started:

3. VinaVille

Level: elementary, intermediate.

Articles on VinaVille highlight new or difficult vocabulary and provide translations of these words in English, French and Japanese. There’s also an English translation of the article.

Get started:

4. Vietnamese for expats (Tuoi Tre)

Level: high elementary to intermediate.

At the lower level there’s a ‘My Story’ section of articles by learners about their time in Vietnam. Another feature of this site is the ‘Bilingual Library’ – Tuoi Tre newspaper articles with both a Vietnamese and English version (not a literal translation).

Both types of articles highlight new or difficult vocabulary and provide a key with English translations.

Get started:

5. VietFun Truyện

Level: intermediate, high intermediate.

Moving on to more natural material, I like this huge collection of short stories and legends.

Get started:

Read more

These are my favourite places to find interesting Vietnamese reading materials that I can actually read. You can find more, especially for higher levels, on our resources page.

Over to you: Do you have any favourite Vietnamese reading materials?

Photo credit: lusi