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.

Here’s how I levelled up my Vietnamese.

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 in Vietnamese.

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 vocabulary 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. 😉

9 replies on “How I pushed myself to learn more Vietnamese before leaving Vietnam”

I’d say ‘break’ was more accurate than ‘holiday’. Returning is still up in the air, but it’s safe to say there are a few reasons to go back to Vietnam one day.

Indeed. I don’t know what your reasons are, but… my original “Plan” was to hang out here for at most a year. Uh, it’s now been nearly 2 years and I don’t foresee leaving permanently any time soon.

In short, this country, these people surely grow on you, no? 😉

So where are you headed for your “break”?

Likewise, my plan was “6 months” but that turned out to be 2 years. Ah, Việt Nam!

I’ll be teaching a camp in the UK while musing where to continue my Asia-break.

Wow! Congrats on the license, it’s amazing you passed it with such high marks in Vietnamese!

And I’m really curious about your experience learning Korean for a month, too!

By the way, what made you leave Vietnam? Are you planning to return there in the future?


Thank you, it was such a good note to leave on. After 2 years in an Asian metropolis though, I was ready for a break!

With Korean, I didn’t get far in a month (of grammar focused classes) but enough to whet my appetite. The words some for countries are so similar to Vietnamese – Korea in Vietnamese is Hàn Quốc, China is Trung Quốc… I’d love to learn more when I get the chance! A Vietnamese friend who lives there said informal Korean is quite easy but formal Korean is complicated.

I think learning languages is simply something that many of us have an interest in pursuing. People believe they can succeed learning Korean by listening to music. A lot of people don’t have time for enrolling in courses. Thus there’s interest in ways to immerse passively. All of this is extremely helpful.

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