How to celebrate your progress – the Can-do List

Sometimes when learning a language we struggle with motivation. It seems like a never-ending uphill climb. You’re so focused on where you’re going and how you’re progressing (or where you’re failing), that you forget how far you’ve already come.

Something that you once struggled with is now second nature. Because it’s second nature you don’t think about it as a skill or step you’ve mastered. Sometimes it takes an outsider to point it out.

For example last month I was killing time on a flight by writing a diary of the morning, in Vietnamese. A very normal thing for me to do. My friend peeked at what I was writing and told me my level of Vietnamese must be good if I could write freely and easily like that.

There I was cursing myself over the words I couldn’t remember the tones for, completely missing that fact that I can write spontaneously in Vietnamese. I hadn’t thought about it like that. I was looking up the mountain without noticing how far I’d travelled up the slope already.

Sometimes it's good to look back!
Sometimes, when learning Vietnamese, it’s good to look back!

So, inspired by this I decided to make a list of all the things I can do in Vietnamese. A list I can look back on when I’m struggling with motivation and can’t see what progress I’m making. A reminder of how far I’ve come and a little ego boost.

Make your own can-do list

Now it’s your turn to make a list of all the things you can do in Vietnamese. Forget about the top of the mountain for now and just focus on what you are able to do.

Some ideas for your can-do list

Grab a notepad and start with writing ‘I can’, then make a list of everything you can think of – from the little things to the bigger ones.

I’ll give you ten examples from my list to get your inspiration flowing.


  • Give directions to a xe ôm or taxi driver.
  • Name foods at the market.
  • Haggle in the market.
  • Read a menu.
  • Write about my day in Vietnamese.


  • Pick out a few words or phrases when watching a TV programme.
  • Read some comics or short stories.
  • Write a short essay on a familiar topic.
  • Pass a driving theory test.
  • Change my accent at will (primarily from the standard southern accent with v’s as v’s to an accent with v’s as y’s).

Remember to think about each of the four skills – speaking, listening, reading and writing.

Over to you: What’s your #1 Can-Do that you’re most proud of? How awesome do you feel reflecting on this?

Photo credit: misbass and H

6 replies on “How to celebrate your progress – the Can-do List”

I find it really helpful listening to music in the language I am working on at the moment. Sometimes hearing certain vocab words to a beat makes you remember them easier!

I really enjoyed this gem! Great advice. I try to do this often. The road is so long and progress so slow that it’s good to stop and acknowledge how far I’ve traveled. Thanks for the reminder!

Thanks for the great post.

My “I can” list often includes picking a word I’ve learned, ideally a more complicated one, and then asking someone to define it, give their opinion on it and use it in a couple of examples. Sometimes people will even tell you stories about the word.

Another related exercise you can do is record yourself talking over the course of a day, identify the words in your mother tongue that you rely on, then learn these in Vietnamese. Although this is not a bulletproof method, you’ll find that self-expression comes much more quickly using drills like this.

Thanks for your suggestions! The latter particularly is a great exercise to identify what common words you need to learn. Similarly I try to keep a notepad handy when Skyping so I can make a note of the words I had to talk around.

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