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Is it worth watching Vietnamese films and TV shows when you’re a beginner?

If you watch a Vietnamese film or TV show when you’re a beginner, you’re obviously not going to understand it all. But is it still worth watching?

To be honest, I wasn’t convinced there was any value until recently. But then that all changed…

A short case study

I started learning Vietnamese as I arrived in Vietnam, so I’d never really thought about listening practice as a beginner because Vietnamese has been all around me from Day 1.

However, since the spring I’ve taken up Korean (again). I’m not surrounded by Korean, I don’t have any Korean friends and the only real listening practice I get is the one or two lessons I listen to each week at Talk To Me In Korean (TTMIK).

I do from time to time watch Korean dramas though. I’d watched them before I started learning Korean (simply because I enjoy them). As a total newbie I didn’t learn any vocabulary from watching them or understand anything at all. I was completely dependent on the translated subtitles and honestly, the dialogue was just background noise.

But last month something changed. It was the first time I watched a drama since finished TTMIK Level 1 and found myself able to pick out some words.

wait

기드리… wait? waiting? waited? He definitely said something about waiting.

Now, this doesn’t sound revolutionary but bear in mind that young children spend years listening to their native language before they start speaking. Gradually all that ‘noise’ they hear turns into words… Sound familiar?

Anyway, back to learning Vietnamese.

Will watching films teach me Vietnamese?

No, watching Vietnamese programmes (with foreign subtitles) as a beginner isn’t going to teach you to speak Vietnamese. But if you pay attention to the dialogue, you can start to pick out familiar words.

Singling out key or familiar words in a sentence is a skill you’ll use all the time when having conversations in Vietnamese. People will say things to you and you’ll miss or not understand half of what they say. Being able to use the words you heard to guess the meaning of the sentence is an vital skill that you’ll use over and over again as you have conversations in Vietnamese.

So…?

I watch Korean dramas because I like them. It’s an added benefit that I’m training my ear in a language I’m a beginner in.

However, watching dramas is not an efficient way to learn. If you only have an hour of free time, you’d be better off using that time to watch a Vietnamese lesson on Youtube and then practise what you just learnt.

But… if you’re going to watch a movie anyway, make it a Vietnamese one (occasionally at least). 😉

Over to you: Do you watch any Vietnamese TV shows or films? Do you find it useful listening practice?

How I pushed myself to learn more Vietnamese before leaving Vietnam

Pushing myself as time was running outAs my time in Vietnam started running out, I felt an urgency to learn as much Vietnamese as I could. I decided simply attending my regular classes wasn’t enough (especially as the pace was too slow) and I’d been letting myself get stuck in a routine that wasn’t helping me learn or practice beyond my comfort zone. It was time to shake things up.

1. Getting a motorbike licence

For quite some time I’d been toying with the idea of taking the full A1 motorbike test in Vietnam. Most expats get their home car licence translated which exempts them from taking the theory test, so only the practical test is needed to get a Vietnamese motorbike licence. However this kind of licence comes with an expiration date.

I saw it as an opportunity to set and achieve a goal: study for and pass the theory test.

I got a copy of the booklet of questions but left it on the shelf for a while. Sensing I needed a date to work towards to push me to study, I registered to take the test and started working through the booklet with a friend, picking out the vocab I needed to understand the questions. As I do in fact have a UK car licence, I found most of the questions quite straightforward once I understood them, then just memorised the rest.

Two days before the test itself, I went along to the second practice session (I missed the first the day before) which involved taking a practice test on paper then another on the computer. I scraped a pass both times. Confidence now high I was left to worry about the tricky “number 8” on the practical test.

To cut a long story short, I not only passed the theory test but I got 15/15. I’m not sure who was more amazed – myself or the guy who printed out my score sheet.

My Vietnamese motorbike licence

My licence which lasts forever

2. Attending a Korean class…in Vietnamese

Not content with one goal that took less than a week to accomplish, I also attended Korean classes for a month. I was the only non-Vietnamese person in the classroom, teacher included. I certainly didn’t understand everything and I took longer to pick up new structures, but with a bit of effort and preparing for class, I made enough progress.

While I didn’t have a SMART goal for this one, aside from learning some basic Korean the aim was mostly just to stretch myself. To put myself in a unfamiliar, challenging environment using Vietnamese and prove I could step up to it. I struggled, but it was an interesting experience.

3. Stop using ‘Vietglish’

This is embarrassing to admit, but with a couple of my closet friends we don’t actually speak proper Vietnamese. Nor could it be called English. We switch between the two, even in the middle of a sentence. Sometimes it is down to efficiency (even my friend will sometimes say ‘she’ as it’s quicker than choosing ‘cô ấy’, ‘bà ấy’). Often there is no real reason for it, it’s just become habit. But a lot of the time, it is because I don’t know (or don’t want to pause to remember) a word. Uh-oh.

Surprisingly, this has not become a problem when I’m talking to anyone else. Still, it’s a bad habit and I decided it was time to start kicking it.

So I armed myself with a notepad and wrote down every English word I used in a Vietnamese sentence. I went through my list with a friend, and got example sentences for each new word. I’ve put these new words in my Anki deck and I’m learning them. I’m trying not to speak Vietglish with my friends, but I’m aware it’s going to take time to totally stop.

Even after these three steps, I’ve still got quite a way to go to improve my Vietnamese but it was nice to leave on a high, with motivation to keep on learning. After all, I’ll have to come back to Vietnam to make use of that licence. 😉