My language learning in 2021

Tết 2022 is fast approaching – Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!

What a year 2021 was again. Through it all I’ve still been learning and practising my languages. This post is my annual round-up of how I spent my language learning time in 2021 and what differed in my approach and study habits this past year.

Previous yearly reviews are available: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017 and 2016.


Practised in occasional random conversations, but otherwise barely maintaining

As has been the case for the last few years, I occasionally get to speak Vietnamese in a restaurant or other chance encounters with Vietnamese people. While I’m a bit rusty, I am still able to speak the language. Twice in December I was called “fluent” (though the truth is my level is low intermediate).

It’s hard to keep up with learning more than one language – it’s rare that I read Vietnamese online although I still very occasionally think to myself in Vietnamese.


January – June

This language was again the main focus of my learning in much of 2021 – reaching 3 years since I started learning the language. I still feel that my level is low intermediate and I have good days and bad days.

As 3 years was the amount of time I spent in Vietnam, I wrote a comparison of spending 3 years on each language.

What’s the same?

  • As usual I’ve had variable periods of taking italki lessons regularly and having breaks. I took 9 Russian lessons on italki in 2021.
  • To help all this sink in, I still love Anki but I haven’t been using it for Russian since the summer.
  • I’ve used duolingo for a bit, in particular when commuting.
  • I still did a few face-to-face language exchanges and used Russian in my daily life and travel.

What’s different?

  • I did not have group lessons.
  • I didn’t use a lot of learner podcasts.
  • I haven’t been using instagram since I came back to the UK.


July – December

I started learning Spanish in 2017, reaching level A2 quickly. But in 2018 found I couldn’t keep it up and learn Russian at the same time. I’ve long been waiting for my Russian to get good enough that I could return to Spanish.

What I’ve done:

  • Half a course on FutureLearn (I got bored)
  • 4 lessons on italki* – three introduction lessons and one lesson using pictures to talk about a holiday
  • Duolingo almost daily for 6 months
  • Exchanged messages on HelloTalk for about a month
  • Tried a few other apps but none of them wow-ed me


2021 was a 50-50 split between Russian and Spanish with six months focused on each. Having left Russia, I feel my Russian is getting rusty. I’m forgetting words already. Losing your level can really happen quickly! On the other hand, my understanding of Spanish has come back quickly. Speaking is harder as I’ve forgotten a lot of vocabulary.

2022 learning plans

I’m busy with some other projects at the moment so for the next three months, I’m going to keep spending 2-3 hours a week learning Spanish and 1-2 hours maintaining my Russian. I might even get to squeeze in some Vietnamese.

I hope to change that up later in the year but we’ll see how things go.

Over to you: How was your language learning in 2021? What are you language learning plans for 2022?


Comparing 3 years of Vietnamese v 3 years of Russian – which is harder?

In 2011 I arrived in Vietnam ready to teach English after a couple of months backpacking and ready to learn the language. In total I spent 3.5 years in Vietnam between 2011 and 2016. Some of the time I was actively learning, other times I was just maintaining the language by using it.

10 years later, I’ve had my 3-year anniversary with Russian (actually 3 years, 4 months) and also left the country. What a coincidence that I spent between 3 to 3.5 years learning each language in-country. Of course, it’s natural to compare.


Vietnamese Russian
Learning environment and motivation Living in Vietnam (I also had a one-year break in the middle, so perhaps it’s technically 4.5 years not 3.5)

Motivation: to manage daily life, travels and speak to people around me. I fell in love with the Vietnamese language, culture and people.

Living in Russia

Motivation: to manage daily life, travels and speak to people around me.

I can’t imagine living in a country and not getting to at least A2 level!

Overall ability after 3 years (self-assessed) strong B1

I’ve written before about how I got to an intermediate level in Vietnamese: Part 1 and Part 2. I’d say my Vietnamese was probably a strong B1 or B1+ at its best.

I feel like I know well that level and below – I don’t have huge gaps and would be comfortable helping/teaching a lower level learner.

low B1

I don’t always feel like B1, but looking at the can-do statements for this level it seems to be correct.

My skills abilities Good at all four skills – listening, speaking, reading, writing.

I called myself conversationally fluent – being able to go about my life in Vietnam, hold conversations with friends and strangers, and deal with problems that came up (like taking my motorbike to the mechanic) although I didn’t know all the words, I could find a way to explain the problem. I spoke without much hesitation but I didn’t quite have a big enough vocabulary, and the ability to talk about abstract topics, to be considered B2.

Received many compliments how ‘natural’ my Vietnamese sounds. I spoke without having to think a lot (I felt fluent). I expect the most common mistakes were mis-pronunciations of tones.

Listening is by far my strongest skill, followed by speaking. I can understand the main points of webinars about teaching and doctors appointments, though I still miss some details.

I have good speaking days, average ones and poor ones. Most often average and poor ones, but some days I feel like I can explain what I need even if I don’t know the exact words I can get the job done (ie.feeling fluent).

Received many compliments on how well I can understand, even when people are speaking at normal speed. I received some compliments on my speaking and even on my grammar.

My weaknesses Lack of vocabulary to understand and discuss complex subjects (eg. lectures, politics).


Lack of vocabulary to understand and discuss complex subjects (eg. lectures, politics).

Reading and writing aren’t priorities so I haven’t developed them. I read slowly in Cyrillic and my spelling is pretty bad. However, I’ve never worked on it as I don’t need to write Russian by hand so I’m happy to rely on autocorrect. I can easily message people on Whatsapp, including booking appointments, so my level is sufficient for everyday life but not a strength.

Grammatical accuracy – I don’t think I could help/teach anyone, even a beginner, because I while I’m developing a good feel for the language, I’m rarely 100% certain I’ve produced an accurate sentence even when I have.

How I learnt the language I started learning by myself, from a phrase and later from friends.

I joined high Elementary classes and studied 3 x 80 hour courses to low Intermediate. There was good input but little speaking practice, but I spoke a lot outside of lessons anyway.

I then maintained the language by myself, still speaking to friends and tried to find interesting resources (that’s when I started this blog). I may have improved a bit, but I felt like I was at an intermediate plateau.

Read more in ‘How I learnt Vietnamese Parts 1 and 2‘.

I started with small group lessons once a week when I arrived in the country, however I had an advantage because I already spoke A2 level Bulgarian. For example, numbers and days of the week are similar in both languages (with some exceptions). These lessons continued for the best part of two years (estimate: 100 hours).

Over the last two years I also have taken about 70 speaking lessons (of 30 minutes or 45 minutes) on italki to supplement these classes – sometimes regularly, sometimes I’d have a break for a few months. I’ve also done some language exchanges.

My main input has been from the book Russian Souvenir 2 and self-study with RussianPodcast.EU dialogues.

Difficulties for learners Initial difficulties included pronunciation, problems with spelling and the fact there are very few words that are similar in European languages (cognates) so you really have to learn every word.

Accents: northern and southern Vietnamese are very different. Also there are all kinds of regional accents. Vietnamese people don’t always fully understand people from other regions.

There’s no denying the learning curve at the beginning is steep. But once you get through that, there are a lot of beautifully simple things about Vietnamese. I personally don’t consider it a hard language.

The biggest difficulty has been and remains the grammar. It’s the most grammatical language I’ve ever studied and it can be demotivating. Even Russians have to study Russian grammar in school, and many people say it’s their least favourite subject.

Spelling is not phonetic although there are various rules that can make it easier – I guess this is something else Russians learn in school.

Easier aspects for learners The language is very phonetic – how it’s spelt is how it’s pronounced.

The grammar is not particularly complex and easy to get your head around.

There are words that are similar to European languages (cognates). This is one reason I’m able to listen to webinars about teaching – often there are words I’ve never heard before but I can understand because they’re similar to a word in English or sometimes when speaking I can make an English word sound Russian and that’s correct.

Accents are minimal – they exist but there aren’t huge differences that make it difficult for people to understand each other. This also applies to other countries where Russian is an official or second language.

Overall, I reached a roughly similar level in each language however my Vietnamese after 3 years is better than my Russian both in terms of ability and confidence (with the exception of listening which is slightly better in Russian).

I attribute this to:

  • my time in Vietnamese group lessons (even though the teaching wasn’t great, the input was useful, as was the consistency)
  • Vietnamese grammar being easier than Russian, so you can focus more on vocabulary
  • greater motivation – I fell in love with Vietnamese but I never fell in love with the Russian language or culture

On the other hand, Russian is the 6th language I’ve started as an adult so my learning techniques are a bit more developed than when I was learning Vietnamese (my 2nd). Plus I had a head start because I already knew some Bulgarian (a fellow Slavic language). I didn’t know a lot about self-study when I was learning Vietnamese. However, the difficulty of Russian has held me back – I had enough motivation to keep chipping away at the language but not enough motivation to put in a lot of time.

In both languages, it takes a lot of effort to amass a big enough vocabulary to get to B2. It’s not something I personally managed in 3 years. That’s not to say it’s impossible. Personally much of my learning is what I’d call ‘social’ – speaking with others, practising in group lessons and I do not read or listen to a lot of the language. This exposure is a key factor in getting to a high level. B2 level (also called upper intermediate) is a good level of fluency where you can easily cope with daily level and discuss both simple and more complex topics, read and listen to general news and so on. This has never particularly been my goal (my aim has always been to speak to people around me) but I do see it as an important level to get to if you want to keep your language ability and not forget the language as soon as you stop learning/using it.

My Vietnamese was a strong B1 or B1+ at its best which is why I haven’t forgotten it, although I’m getting rusty and it’s hard to maintain the language when I can’t understand TV well (which B2 level can). When I last travelled to Vietnam, I quickly remembered a lot and was able to use the language to get around and talk to people (including an hour-long conversation with an old friend). I’d say my level when I was in Vietnam 18 months ago around low B1 once I’d brushed back up and was using it daily. I’ve been trying to get my Russian to a higher B1+ level like my Vietnamese used to be so that, while it may get a bit rusty, I can maintain the ability to speak Russian for life.

Over to you: Have you learnt a language (or two) for 3 years? How does your progress compare to mine?


My language learning in 2020

We’re a couple of months into 2021 and Tết has recently passed – Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!

In this post I’ll be reflecting on my language learning in 2020, updating you on what study habits I’ve kept up with and what I’ve changed about my language learning routine.


Practised in January 2020, but otherwise barely maintaining

I actually spent 9 days in Vietnam last January, just weekend before world plunged into Covid-chaos.

I felt like Vietnamese came back to me quite quickly. Apparently in the airport I spoke a mixture of Vietnamese and Russian, but as I continued speaking it felt more and more comfortable to speak Vietnamese. I was a bit rusty and had to search for alternatives to words I’d forgotten but that improved throughout the trip.

I used my language skills to hitchhike, negotiate bike rental, buy bus tickets over the phone, and catch up with a friend. Although my level was lower than it was when I left Vietnam in 2016, it was nice to have my language ability come in handy!

Other than that period in Vietnam, I occasionally read a little Vietnamese on Instagram and occasionally think to myself in Vietnamese. I’m glad I had a chance to visit Vietnam in 2020 and refresh my skills a bit.


This was again the sole focus of my language learning. It’s been another year in the low intermediate levels, where it’s hard to feel or notice progress although others have commented that I have made progress.

What’s the same?

  • For input, I used dialogues for learners to learn new vocabulary.
  • As usual I’ve had variable periods of taking italki lessons regularly and having breaks. I took about 36 lessons on italki in 2020.
  • I had face-to-face group lessons until March (for obvious reasons).
  • To help all this sink in, I still love Anki.
  • I used duolingo for a bit, but uninstalled it a few months ago when I needed to free up space on my phone.
  • Over the summer I started doing face-to-face language exchanges again, but less often in the autumn.

What’s different?

  • This year I haven’t been as active on instagram (what with much of the year being spent indoors), although I still posted 29 times.
  • Started using authentic listening materials (ie. select TV shows). I hope to write more about this topic in then near future.
  • Tried various online ‘Russian Speaking Clubs’ that involved not very much speaking (only when nominated by the teacher, and no discussion between learners.)

Reading & Writing

These skills are just not a priority. Of course I use written Russian a bit: to book appointments via Whatsapp, message friends, read notices put up in our block of flats or at work. I also sometimes read short articles for discussion in my italki lessons, and I flipped through a copy of Cosmopolitan an old flatmate left behind. But overall my main reason to learn Russian is to communicate while living in Russia – hence the focus being on vocabulary, listening and speaking.

Other languages

  • Spanish (2017) – nothing this year. I’d like to pick this up again in 2021 or more likely 2022, once my Russian is a solid intermediate level (B1+).

2020 was again focused on one language – Russian. I’ve continued to make slow but steady progress. I don’t feel like there’s much to report compared with the end of 2019 and I feel like 2021 will be much the same – continuing to learn bit by bit, slowly edging towards B1+. Maybe I need to do something to push myself, like I did with Vietnamese?

Over to you: How was your language learning in 2020? What are you language learning plans for 2021?


My language learning 2019

2019 has come to a close, and Tet is round the corner. In this post I’ll be reflecting on 2019, updating you on what study habits I’ve kept up with and what I’ve changed about my language learning routine.

I’ve started with a general status update of my languages, then moved into a month-by-month breakdown of how I’ve been studying in 2019.


Barely maintaining

It’s such a long time since I’ve been in Vietnam. However, I went to a Vietnamese food festival this year and spoke Vietnamese for the first time in ages!

I still read a little Vietnamese on Instagram and occasionally think to myself in Vietnamese. I am definitely rustier than I used to be, but the language is still there.

Other languages

Russian: Main language

Living in a country where I hear Russian every day, this language has been my only priority in 2019. Focusing is a good thing! I’ve made huge improvements over the last 12 months. I think I’m still working towards B1 level, but in the autumn both a native and non-native have told me they think I’m there already. Nice to hear!

Dropped/Not maintaining:

  • Spanish (2017) – I’d like to pick this up again in 2020 or 2021, once my Russian is a solid intermediate level.
  • Bulgarian (from 2016 and 2017) – Russian messes with this due to similarities (it’s like French and Spanish – totally different languages but similar in some ways). I don’t think I can speak Bulgarian now.
  • Korean – nothing, although I can still read Hangul and remember random words.
  • Esperanto – I rarely message a friend or two in Esperanto. When I do, I tend to understand their messages, but I have to translate when I want to reply.

So, onto my year of language learning…

January to May

Studying Russian – elementary/pre-intermediate level

  • Group lessons
  • Italki lessons
  • Anki study

June to August

Russian Challenge: RFA summer

Anna of Russian for Americans ran a 3-month challenge for the summer. I wasn’t aiming to win, but the fact I was logging my study and posting my log on instagram weekly meant that I got in more study than I would have done otherwise, and was more aware of what skills I was/wasn’t practising.

I’m glad I took part!

September to November

Studying Russian – pre-intermediate level

  • Group lessons
  • Italki lessons
  • Anki study


Studying Russian – upgrading my speaking

I wrote about this in December.

2019 was focused on one language – Russian. I’ve made solid progress this year. I’m able to hold conversations with okay fluency and I can manage daily life (including doctor’s appointments if I have to) but not very accurately. I still have a way to go until I feel comfortable – where I can speak the language without thinking too much. The way I could speak Vietnamese by 2014!

Over to you: How was your language learning in 2019? What are you language learning plans for 2020?


Goal: upgrading my fluency in one month

My language studies are ticking along nicely but my speaking ability has hit a bit of a plateau. I can manage daily interactions like ordering in a restaurant or buying tickets. I can have a conversation with a native speaker, but it is not easy. Some days I have a ‘good Russian’ day, but more often I have a ‘not very good Russian day’. I remember going through the same phase in Vietnamese.

The problem: To be honest other than simple transactions like shopping and arranging appointments, I don’t actually speak Russian very often. At work, some colleagues speak to me in Russian but my work-related vocabulary is limited so I have the habit of replying in English. And due to my busy autumn, I’d been slacking on language exchanges.

This means that when I speak, I can’t always remember the words I want to use and I make lots of mistakes. I’m sure you know this feeling!

The goal: Improve my fluency by having conversations in Russian for 30-60 minutes, 4 times a week for the whole of December

The weekly plan to get there:

  • 2 conversation lessons on italki.
  • 1-2 one-on-one language exchanges.
  • And/or 1 language exchange event.


  • Have more short 5-15 minute interactions in my daily life. Aim: 2 per week.
  • Record myself speaking 1-2 times a week. Replay the audio and improve it.

Of course I’m also going to keep up my Anki flashcards, my weekly Russian lesson and try to fit in 1-2 podcasts to continue building my vocabulary.

Over to you: What are you doing this month to improve your Vietnamese (or other language you’re learning)?

You may be interested in: 12 tips to improve your speaking skills in Vietnamese