How to start learning Vietnamese again after a break

Pretty notepad. Too pretty.
Pretty notepad. Too pretty.

Do you like my notepad? It’s pretty. So nice that I haven’t used it yet, even though I bought it months ago. Mostly because I don’t know what to write on the first page. It should be special for a special notepad, right…

Wait, what has this got to do with language learning?

Well, the last couple of weeks I’ve gotten out of the habit of daily learning. I’m still doing flashcards (almost) every day but that’s only going to help my maintain my level. I haven’t been learning anything new, even with a pretty notebook by my side..

A new start

So I bought a new one.

Cute notepad

It’s also fairly cute, but it only cost 3000 VND (about $0.14). So cheap that I can use it as a rough notebook. A place to jot down vocab I’ve just learnt or words I want to look up later. Or to draft some writing before putting it online to get corrected. Notes and scribbles are OK because it’s only a rough book.

Still, I didn’t know what to write on the first page. So I started on the last page.

What to write

While I’ve given you suggestions for writing topics before, I find that once I get started writing in Vietnamese one paragraph usually turns into a page. Who has time for that? On the other hand, my Korean level is so low that it would take ages to sit down and write any of those things.

So keeping it simple, I’m trying to write one sentence a day in Korean and get back to posting a new Vietnamese word to Instagram. But to keep it realistic, I’m aiming for 5 sentences per week and 3 vocabulary photos. If I aim for 7 I will most likely fail, and I don’t want to fail.

A little secret…I started the Korean sentences already. I’ve managed 8 out of 12 days so far and for many of those I actually wrote more than one line.

Daily writing

Except I have another secret. Even with my ‘rough’ notepad I’ve been… Scrap …writing on scrap paper first. I do this all the time. I have notebooks and textbooks stuffed with scrap paper. Yay for the environment (recycling), not so yay for being organised.

But who cares? I’m doing something again. It might be small, it might be a bit silly to write things out multiple times but it’s something. And it’s re-creating a habit.

And Vietnamese?

Tomorrow is also a new month, so a chance to get back on track with the Instagram Language Challenge too. Maybe I’ll post a picture tomorrow, maybe I’ll start on Thursday. But I’ll do something.

How to resume your language learning

Thảo ơi, I don’t want to write or share new words. What other easy things can I do?

Underline new words

  • Follow me on Instagram and learn my words (some are also cross-posted on Facebook).
  • Practice an answer to a simple question (like Anh/Em/Chị là người nước nào?) over and over again. Repeat your answer 10 or 20 times until you can do it without thinking. Then try again later. And again tomorrow.
  • Grab a book or online article and simply highlight the words you don’t know. You can look them up now. Or later. Or tomorrow. Or next week. But highlight them now.
  • Make an outline for something you want to write. Choose a topic and think about your key points. Even if you have to use English to take notes. Again you can look words up later. Just jot down a plan now.

Stopped learning? Just do something. Anything

If even the smallest task is a struggle, look here for advice on taking tiny baby steps towards building a habit.

Over to you: Have you stopped learning? What do you do to get yourself out of a rut?

PS. I’ve been meaning to write this for a while. Or post one of the countless other articles I need to finish editing first. So I’m breaking the habit – I’m posting. Doing something. (Notice a pattern?)

14 replies on “How to start learning Vietnamese again after a break”

Who knew there could be such a thing as a too pretty notebook?!

I didn’t mean to miss that last IGLC, I was just busy then before I knew it it was 10 days in…

It’s just occurred to me now, but I wonder if there’s a way to format the monthly infographic into stages. Even if it was just marking the halfway point or calling each column Weeks 1-4. I think it might help people feel like they can start late or rejoin if they miss a week. Once you miss more than a few days it’s hard to know where to start/continue.

Unfortunately, it has been quite some time since I studied Vietnamese. My big passion is (and has been for some time) learning Spanish. However, my wife is Vietnamese, and I have always wanted to learn her language. I am so embarrassed that I cannot speak the language when I am around her family. The reasons that I have quit studying are that: 1. Vietnamese is not nearly as accessible for an English speaker as Spanish; and 2) I have never found a good program to help me learn. I have tried Pimsleur several times. While I thought that I was learning and making great progress, when I said the things that I had “learned” from Pimsleur to my wife she could never understand me. I found that very discouraging. Your post gave me an inkling of desire to do something, however small.

Chris, you’d be surprised how much the little things add up. I’ve been chipping away at Korean very very slowly and yet sometimes I’ve been reviewing vocabulary on Memrise or listening to K-Pop and I’m surprised at how much I know (which is still not a lot but it is starting to add up).

So, have you been something something small?


Thanks for the advice! What is the name of the book that’s in the picture of this post? I was trying to find graded readers in VN but I can’t find anything. I’m a heritage speaker who’s trying to find more efficient material in order to learn.

Also, it seems that Tuổi Trẻ News Expat section is down. Do you have access to bilingual articles? Or maybe even short articles with audio attached ? Have you found a way to watch VN news with VN subtitles?

Thank you so much for your help!

There aren’t many graded reader resources. Some websites have bilingual articles, often with audio (see Top Vietnamese Reading Materials). Tuoi Tre main page is down, but you can still click the direct links to articles. You might also be able to try some of the materials listed in the High Intermediate Resources.

The book in the article is not a graded reader, it’s a bilingual book of short stories (song ngữ Anh-Việt) which I find makes it easier than having to consult a dictionary all the time. It’s called ‘Người làm chứng’ and it’s published by Minh Khai.

Thanks for the reply. Yes that book of short stories is exactly what I’m looking for! I tried Googling it right now but couldn’t find anything. Did you buy it from a particular site or store?

By the way, as a fellow polyglot, your dedication to language learning is amazing 🙂 Are you going to the Polyglot Conference in NYC next month?

Great, glad that it seems suitable and you found it! Actually thank you for reminding me I had this book – after digging it out I realised I haven’t finished it.

I’m based in Vietnam for now, so the Polyglot Conference (and the Gathering in Berlin) were too far away. Have you any such plans?

Yes. I just signed up. I’m Stateside, so fairly close. It’ll be my first time. Quite excited about it! How’s your Vietnamese learning going these days?

Sounds good, I hope you enjoy it.

I’ve been more focused on other languages recently, but I’m looking forward to getting stuck back into Vietnamese this month.

So the Polyglot Conference was awesome. I got to meet a lot of interesting people. By the way, I’m going full force into learning VN these days. Reading a couple of newspaper articles a day and reading novels such as Vừa nhắm mắt, vừa mở cửa sổ and Số Đỏ and such (with the accompanying audiobook for added stimulus and exposure).

If you need some resources, let me know!

How are you finding materials overseas? Are you mostly using online resources? If there’s anything useful you’ve found that isn’t on my resources page, I’d love to add it there.

I’m intending to get some lessons myself as I’ve come to a halt with self-studying.

Edit: That was also supposed to say: I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it! What was the biggest takeaway you have from the conference?

Note to self: don’t reply via WordPress app

I am studying with Glossika, VietnamesePod101, and working with various textbooks with online tutors on italki and elsewhere. My main goal is just to understand the Vietnamese that my relatives speak (Southern Vietnamese) and maybe someday be able to read it.

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