Is it normal to make mistakes speaking Vietnamese?

You might think that mistakes and errors are the same thing, but when it comes to language learning there’s a subtle difference. What is this difference and how does it affect your language studies?

What’s the difference between an error and a mistake?

An error is when a learner says or writes something that is incorrect but you cannot correct it because it’s something you haven’t learnt yet.

A mistake is when a learner says or writes something that is incorrect but you have the capacity to self-correct. Sometimes you notice immediately you’ve made a mistake, other times you can be alerted by someone else that you’ve made a mistake and consequently you are able to think about it and correct the problem yourself.

To clarify, here are a few examples of mistakes and errors.

  • If you haven’t learnt the past tense yet, of course you’re going to omit the word đã because you don’t know it. If it’s a sentence where you need to say đã but you haven’t, this would be an error.
  • One time in my Vietnamese class we were talking about trade and I mentioned exporting rice. I said cơm when I should have said gạo. I know both these words well, so that was a mistake.
  • If you’d been calling a waiter a similar age to you em ơi, before I told you that you should be using ‘anh/chị ơi’ in this situation, that would have been an error. However, now that you know when to use anh ơi, if you keep on calling them em ơi that’s a mistake.

Not only can you make errors and mistakes with vocabulary and grammar, you can also make them with pronunciation. If you know a word starts with ng- but you say n-, this too is a mistake. (If you haven’t learnt to pronounce ng- yet, this would be an error.)

How this affects you as a learner

That might sound a little complicated. I’ll admit, this is a subtle difference that not even all language teachers know about, so why should it concern you?

Well, you should be getting corrections in some way, shape or form as part of your language studies. This can be through tutor, from getting your writing corrected online by native speakers or from a language partner that you’ve asked to correct you (or all of these!).

Get your writing corrected to help improve your Vietnamese.
Get your writing corrected to help improve your Vietnamese.

Ideally you should try to minimise the amount of makes mistakes and errors you make by getting good input and copying it.

But you shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes.

When they occur, they can be a good learning opportunity if you’re made aware of them and what the correction is so that you can try to get it right next time.

If you’re not making mistakes, maybe the language your using is very simple and you should try to experiment more.

How much attention you should pay to your errors depends on what kind of error or mistake it is. Not every correction you get needs to be acted on immediately.

What to do about errors

In general, you don’t need to worry about errors that are beyond your level. If you’re making them it’s because you haven’t learnt any different yet.

For example, if someone corrects your writing and adds the structure thì…thì… which you haven’t learnt yet, you should accept their correction but you don’t need to dwell on it. If you want to look into it now, you can. But if you’re following a course, sooner or later you will learn that structure so you can leave it until then if you want.

However, ignoring errors entirely can lead to systematic mistakes (problems that are ingrained) which can become difficult to correct later on. Think of the intermediate English learner who still says ‘she have’ instead of ‘she has’ or ‘very like’ instead of ‘really like’.

Innocent errors can be made that are quick and easy to fix – such as errors you’ve made from experimenting (often influenced by your native language). These should be taken on board so you don’t keep on making this error.

For example, once I replied to someone on lang-8 saying cảm ơn cho… when it should be cảm ơn vì…. This was an innocent error but it’s something that’s quick and simple to learn.

Pronunciation errors

Pronunciation errors in particular should be corrected as soon as possible. It’s important to get feedback that you’re making an error and to work on the problem until you can correctly pronounce it.

What to do about mistakes

Referring back to the definition of a mistake, the key difference with errors is that the learner should be able to correct a mistake themselves.

As I said before, sometimes you can hear yourself making mistakes as you say them aloud and correct them instantly (aloud or mentally).

Often when you read through your writing you can spot simple mistakes. Just correct it and try to remember it next time.

It’s worth pointing out that we often make mistakes like this in our native tongue too.

However there are many times that we don’t catch our own mistakes. We know the rule or the right word or sound but we make a mistake for whatever reason, and we don’t spot it ourselves.

This is where a good teacher or language partner can be helpful. Instead of telling you the correction themselves, they should allow you to think about the mistake and correct it yourself.

How to help your language partner with errors

It’s useful to think about this distinction between errors and mistakes if you take part in a language exchange where you help a learner of your native language.

Techniques to help your partner correct themselves

There are many ways of doing this that I often used as a teacher and still use in language exchanges.

Generally, non-verbal clues are best as they don’t interrupt the conversation. Verbal hints should be given after the person stops speaking. I’ve used examples from English to illustrate each point.

  • Give a non-verbal clue such as a questioning look or tipping your head to one side.
  • Ask a question that indicates where the problem is. (‘How do we say see in the past simple?’ → saw)
  • Repeat the learner’s error back to them, in a questioning way. (‘He like?’ → likes)

If your tutor or language partner does something like this, it’s a golden opportunity to learn from your mistake by correcting it yourself. This increases your chances of getting it right next time.

What to correct?

If your partner wants feedback or if you correct other people’s essays, then it’s worth being aware of their level and what kind of things they should know and what things they may not know yet.

If a beginner isn’t using advanced grammar in English, they’re making that error because they haven’t learned those structures yet. Don’t give them a hard time over it. As long as you can understand, let them continue with the conversation without derailing them.

If there’s an error in a message they’ve written, just make an quick correction and move on.

On the other hand, if they have a systematic error they know about and want to eradicate or if they’re making mistakes you think they should know, help them to correct themselves. You can indicate it to them using one of the ideas in the previous section so they have the chance to correct it.

Over to you: What’s your experience of mistakes and errors in language learning and helping other learners?

Photo credit: nkzs


The most important ability for speaking a foreign language

Being a good conversationalist is much more complex than being able to speak a language. Everyone can have a conversation but some people bore you half to death while others are fascinating and fun to talk to.

A conversation works two ways, give and take, listen and respond. 

Speaking can be hard without this top tip…

It can be hard to keep up a conversation in a foreign language. You might lack vocabulary, confidence or just spend too much time thinking before you speak.

But with a bit of preparation, you can put yourself in the position of a good listener. And a good listener is an important part of being a great conversationalist.

The key to keeping up a conversation is being able to ask questions.

Improve your Vietnamese conversation ability by asking more questions

Top speaking tip: Ask people about themselves

Everyone likes talking about themselves or sharing their opinion. Even if your language is limited, with a few of the right questions up your sleeve, you could have a long conversation.

Some people are generally talkative. You can ask them anything and they’ll talk and talk. For other people, you have to hit the right topic. Find what interests them – their passion – and ask them about it.

Quiet man - until you ask him the right questions
Ask him about the right topic and he’ll light right up

It’s a skill finding the topic that makes someone’s eyes light up. But the great thing about skills is that they can be practised.

How to ask more questions the next time you speak Vietnamese

Listening to someone talk, sending the right signals with your reactions and asking good questions on what they’re telling you about, will leave them with a very positive impression of you and they’ll be willing to talk to you again and again.

A little homework for you this week.

  1. If you struggle asking questions, make a list of 5-10 questions you could ask someone the next time conversation runs dry.
  2. When you watch films or TV or listen to conversations this week, take note of how they ask questions. Try to pick up on natural ways to ask questions in Vietnamese – eg. something new to you or something you rarely say.

Over to you: Do you ask a lot of questions when you speak Vietnamese?


Are you practising or improving your listening? What’s the difference?

Can you pick up a language just by listening?

I’ve written before that I don’t think it’s very helpful for beginners to start watching Vietnamese TV, hoping to magically pick up the language.

If you think about it, babies listen for a long time before they start speaking.

I’m not saying that listening is not important. In fact, I think it’s the most important skill to be able to have a genuine conversation. But there’s a difference between listening for fun and focused listening to improve your listening ability.

What are listening skills?

Vietnamese listening skills can be defined as your ability to comprehend, respond and communicate in Vietnamese. This is essential for a good conversation!

What do you mean by “practising listening”?

Practising Vietnamese listening is fun listening activities – watching movies, listening to music, chatting to friends. We do these things because we enjoy them, and they also help to attune our ears to the sounds of Vietnamese.

To be able to understand Vietnamese of course you have to listen a lot to get used to the sounds of a language. However, you often “hear” what you want to hear, you skip over words you don’t know or you’re having a conversation and your main focus is thinking about what you’ll say next!

Think of song lyrics in your native language – sometimes you mishear certain words (like Taylor Swift’s “star-crossed lovers” sounds like “starbucks lovers”).

Listening for fun is great, but simply listening may not result in increased comprehension.

What do you mean by “improving your Vietnamese listening skills”?

If you struggle with listening, you need to figure out why.

Read: What exactly is your problem with listening?

Only then can you make a targetted plan to improve your listening.

#1 common listening problem – lack of vocabulary

Often you’ll find vocabulary is your main problem, so you can turn to podcasts for learners like VPod101* or YouTube mini lessons. Beginners can try an audio course like Pimsleur*.

These learning materials tend to contain a dialogue and then explain new vocabulary before you listen to the conversation a second time. You can use these materials to study.

#2 common listening problem – recognising words you know

Sometimes it’s accents or the speed of natural speech that’s a problem. In that case you can slow down audio or use subtitles. This is a temporary measure to help attune your ear.

How to improve your listening with active listening techniques

Improving your Vietnamese listening skills will help you to better understand what people are saying and to pick up on important details. It will also help you become more comfortable speaking Vietnamese, as you will be able to understand more of what people are saying

To be able to improve your listening skills, you need to pay attention to everything that is being said. For this reason it’s important to choose materials suitable for your level and not materials that are too difficult.

Step 1: Choose suitable materials

Useful materials for improving your listening may include:

To be able to focus on improving your listening, you want to understand 90% or more of the words. If you can’t understand most of the words, you’ll be practising listening while you try to figure out the vocabulary.

Step 2: Use active listening techniques

Just listening is fine when you’re listening for pleasure. To improve your Vietnamese listening skills you can:

When you improve your listening, you will be able to better understand the people around you. You will be able to make more meaningful connections with native speakers and build a foundation for future learning.

I suggest a mixture of practising listening (listening for pleasure) and focused tasks to improve your listening in Vietnamese.

Language & Culture

Vietnamese zodiac – introducing the 12 animals of lunar calendar

Each lunar new year in Vietnam is themed with an animal, one of the 12 Vietnamese zodiac animals. Why is this and how does the Vietnamese zodiac system work?

Why your birth year is important in Vietnam

In Vietnam astrology is based on the year of your birth (according to the lunar calendar), unlike the West where star signs are based on the birth month.

It’s said that the year of our birth, and the animal associate with that year, tells us things about ourselves and our lives.

Your Vietnamese zodiac year affects how you give your age. Rather than being asked how old you are or the year of your birth, you may be asked which animal sign you were born under. From which people can work out your relative age and know how to address you correctly, as well as assuming some personality traits based on your lunar zodiac animal.

Is the Vietnamese zodiac the same as Chinese?

The Vietnamese zodiac follows similar principles to the Chinese zodiac, with a different animal for each lunar year.

The main difference lies in the actual animals associated with the year. Most of the animals are the same with the exception of the Vietnamese cat (Chinese rabbit) and water buffalo (Chinese ox). These two creatures are thought to represent Vietnamese culture better than their Chinese counterparts.

What is my Vietnamese zodiac sign?

First of all remember that the signs follow the lunar new year, not the Western calendar year.

If you were born in January or early February, you may need to double check whether you were born before or after the lunar new year.

The 12 Vietnamese zodiac animals (con giáp)

The lunar year that’s currently ending is the year of the tiger and the new lunar year starting on 22 January 2023 is the year of the cat in Vietnam.

Here’s a list of the Vietnamese zodiac animals and the years they’ve occurred or will next occur:

Year of the Rat (con tý / chuột) 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020
Year of the Water Buffalo (con trâu) 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021
Year of the Tiger (con hổ) 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022
Year of the Cat (con mèo) 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023
Year of the Dragon (con rồng) 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024
Year of the Snake (con rắn) 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025
Year of the Horse (con ngựa / ngọ) 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026
Year of the Goat (con mùi / dê) 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027
Year of the Monkey (con thân / khỉ) 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028
Year of the Rooster (con dậu / gà) 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029
Year of the Dog (con tuất / chó) 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030
Year of the Pig (con lợn, heo) 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031

Some years have two names as the northern and southern words for that animal differ.

How to ask and answer about zodiac signs

If you want to know someone’s animal sign you can ask: Con giáp của bạn là gì?

You’d answer like: Mình tuổi con mèo. (I was born in the year of the cat. Literally said as “I’m cat age”.)

Over to you: What’s your Vietnamese zodiac animal sign?


Learn Vietnamese with audio – how to use podcasts to learn Vietnamese

Audio and podcasts are a great way to learn Vietnamese as you don’t have to be sat at a desk or a computer to learn. Unlike video you can listen in the car, while out for a walk or when doing tasks around the home.

I’m a big fan of podcasts for language learners. Podcasts have been one of the main materials I used to learn Russian. I wish there had been more podcasts around when I started learning Vietnamese a decade ago!

In this post, we’re going to discuss the benefits of podcasts and some ways to use audio to learn Vietnamese.

What are the benefits of learning Vietnamese through audio?

There are a number of benefits to learning Vietnamese through audio, and in particular, podcasts.

  • Podcasts are informative. The hosts will often discuss topics related to Vietnamese culture, history and modern life in Vietnam. This is a great way to learn about the language and the country.
  • Podcasts are easy to listen to on the go or at home while you cook or do housework. All you need is a phone and an internet connection (or download an episode to listen to offline).
  • Vietnamese learning podcasts are great to learn or brush up on vocabulary or grammar. Many podcasts are designed for beginner and intermediate learners of the language. This makes them understandable.
  • Podcast episodes are short and the material is easy to follow. They’re conversations or a monologue on a particular topic or theme.
  • Podcasts are affordable. Some are free, and learner podcasts tend to have low cost monthly subscriptions.

How To Use Podcasts To Learn Vietnamese

How do you choose the right Vietnamese audio to listen to?

There are a couple of things that you need to consider when choosing Vietnamese podcasts to listen to. These include:

1. The level of difficulty of the audio

If you’re listening for pleasure you’ll want the content to be easy and enjoyable. If you’re looking for learning materials, you’ll want to choose something for your level.

2. The format and type of content on the podcast

With learning podcasts, you tend to hear a conversation between two people in Vietnamese followed by some explanations of the vocabulary and grammar used in the conversation. These can be in Vietnamese or in English. At a lower level, it might be helpful to hear some English. As your level improves, you’ll probably prefer your podcasts to be 100% in Vietnamese.

3. The accents of the speakers

As with all Vietnamese materials, you may have a preference for a Northern or Southern accent and vocabulary.

3 Vietnamese podcasts

Vietnamese podcasts for learners

1. VietnamesePod101 (multiple levels) (Northern)

The longest-established Vietnamese podcast for learners.

Podcasts are grouped in themes and functions. The lessons are well-organized and easy to follow. There is also plenty of helpful content included in each episode so you can practice your skills on a real-world context.

You can start with a completely free 7 day trial. After that there’s a monthly subscription, starting from $1, which gives you access to podcasts on a range of topics and from beginner to high intermediate.

There are extra features like flashcards or, if you choose Premium Plus, support from a tutor. The company also make podcasts in other languages.

2. Your Vietnamese Tutor (Elementary/Low Intermediate) (Northern)

There are a handful of free podcast episodes and for $29 you can get 30 podcast conversations in Vietnamese, which come with the Vietnamese transcript and English translation.

3. Learn Vietnamese with Annie (multiple levels) (Southern)

You probably already know about Learn Vietnamese with Annie from Youtube.

She also has a podcast. There are several free sample episodes and over 600 subscription episodes available on a $10 monthly subscription.

How can I use audio and podcasts to learn Vietnamese?

Here are some ways to use audio and podcasts to learn Vietnamese:

1. Use Vietnamese audio to practice listening.

Listen with a purpose. When listening to any type of audio content – including Vietnamese podcasts – it’s important to have a purpose in mind. This means that you should try not only listen actively but also take notes or make flashcards while listening so that you can review the material later on in more detail.

You can use active listening techniques link transcribing to improve your listening ability.

2. Use Vietnamese audio to practice pronunciation and fluency.

You can practice your pronunciation by repeating lines from the dialogue. You can pause and repeat after the speaker to work on pronunciation.

For fluency, you can use the transcript and read it out at the same time as the speaker.

3. Use Vietnamese audio to learn vocabulary and grammar.

Vietnamese audio and many podcasts are designed for learners of the language, with a good balance of vocabulary you already know and new vocabulary and structures. Jot down and learn new words and phrases from the podcast to enrich your vocabulary. Other episodes may focus on a particular grammar structure.

These podcasts can be used as bitesize lessons.

4. Use a Vietnamese podcast to supplement your textbook.

One option is to look for podcasts on the same topic as you’ve been studying. This can provide you with extra listening practice as well as extra vocabulary on the topic.

Once you have a good foundation in the language, you can then start listening to Vietnamese podcast episodes that focus on specific topics or vocabulary items that interest you. Published materials can cover a narrow range of themes. The beauty of extra materials like podcasts is the wide range of topics available. You can pick and choose episodes that you’re interested in.

How can I use Vietnamese audio and podcasts to practice my conversation skills?

One of the great things about Vietnamese language podcasts is that they are usually based on a dialogue. They are full of common question and answers. You can use this useful language to prepare your own responses and then practice with a language partner or teacher. Tell them the topic of the podcast episode you listened to and ask them to discuss the topic with you

How To Use Podcasts To Learn Vietnamese

Podcasts are a great way to supplement your Vietnamese learning. In this post, we’ve covered the benefits of using podcasts to learn Vietnamese, as well as how to choose the right Vietnamese podcasts to listen to and how to listen to them. By exploring these podcasts, not only will you be learning interesting vocabulary but also gaining an understanding of the cultural context surrounding Vietnam.