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.


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.


How conversation lessons can boost your speaking skills

Do you get enough speaking practice? I’m guessing not.

I’ve mentioned several times that I use conversation lessons when learning foreign languages. But what exactly is a conversation lesson and what are the factors that make a good conversation lesson?

You may have had bad experiences with lessons in the past. I’ve also had the misfortune to attend language lessons that involved way too little speaking and almost no conversation. But conversation lessons are different from other lessons. This article will look at how conversation lessons can help you to boost your Vietnamese speaking skills.

Conversation lessons face-to-face

Why have conversational lessons?

Conversation classes can be a great way to learn and practice Vietnamese. There are several reasons to take conversation lessons:

  • Help you overcome your fear of speaking – having a supportive and kind teacher can improve your confidence.
  • Get speaking practice – for example, if you’re self-studying or taking traditional classes where you don’t get enough practice speaking. Conversation lessons are also good for maintaining your level by keeping the language fresh.
  • Engage in a wider range of conversations – daily life can consist of the same conversations over and over again. This makes them useful if you want to reach a higher level.
  • Because you don’t have friends who you only speak to in Vietnamese.
  • Because you’re busy – time is money and you’d rather pay someone to speak to you than sacrifice your time doing a 50-50 language exchange.

What makes a good conversation lesson?

As a teacher and student, I’ve had over 100 conversation classes over the years. That experience has taught me that there are some common things you should look for in a good conversation lesson.

First thing to note, it’s possible to have one-on-one conversation lessons and also group conversation lessons (more often called conversation clubs or speaking clubs). Although this article focuses on 1-2-1 lessons, the same principles apply to both.

1. Student(s) speak more than the teacher.

In a good conversation lesson, you should spend much more time speaking than your teacher does. Of course, they will speak during the class but you should be the one speaking about 65-85% of the time.

2. The teacher is a facilitator, helping you to speak more.

They prepare some conversation starters to get things going. They let the speech flow naturally but they also guide the conversation – for example, asking follow-up questions.

The teacher has extra materials for when the conversation dries up and needs to take a new direction. For example, images or infographics which can give you new points to talk about.

How to have a conversation lesson online

Conversation lessons online

Step 1a: Find a conversation tutor and choose the length of your lessons

How to choose a teacher

I think it was Kerstin’s blog where I first came across the idea that it’s important that either the teacher should be experienced or the student should be experienced.


Obviously it helps if someone knows what they’re doing.

I’ve had good lessons with both experienced and inexperienced teachers. I’ve sometimes had problems with experienced tutors who have a fixed way of teaching or approach which doesn’t match up with my preferences. If you have a clear idea of how you want the lesson to be, a less-experienced teacher may be more flexible and accommodating to your needs.

That said – my favourite Russian teacher to take conversation lessons with is both a Professional Teacher and Community Tutor on italki*. She usually selects a theme that I’m capable of discussing, but it’s challenging. She finds a good prompt to stimulate discussion. And because she doesn’t have to spend a lot of time preparing, her speaking lessons are a bit cheaper than her professional lessons.** Win-win.

Interact beforehand

Before booking a lesson, you can view the teacher’s profile, their introduction video and read reviews. It’s also worth noting how many loyal students they have. If they have repeat students, they must be doing something right.

You can also send them a message before you book. I like to specify what kind of lesson I’m looking for so the tutor can see if that matches with their teaching style.

Overall, it can be trial and error to find a tutor who’s a good fit. It’s partly just finding someone you click with.

**Professional Teachers v Community Tutors on italki

Typical language lessons are more structured than conversation classes. The teacher spends time preparing and creates a lesson generally focused on learning. There may be games, pronunciation activities and so on.

Step 2: How long should a conversation lesson be?

It’s generally more effective and efficient to speak a language more often – ie. two 30 minute lessons per week is generally better than a 60 minute lesson once a week.

Again it comes down to personal preference. If you’re able to speak Vietnamese, you’re chatty and you have the time, you could take a 60 minute lesson.

Personally I like 30 minute or 45 minute lessons best. While I could easily talk for 60 minutes in Vietnamese and Russian, the notes I make during the lesson would get really long. I know I’ll never follow up and put everything in Anki. That extra 15 minutes feels unnecessary to me. Plus, depending on the topic, my energy levels that day, I sometimes feel a bit tired after a long one-on-one conversation on a difficult topic. So slightly shorter lessons work for me.

Note that not all tutors on italki offer 30 minute or 45 minute sessions, so make sure you check their profile carefully.

Group conversation classes are usually longer – 60 or 90 minutes – and that’s fine. You want the class to be long enough that you get enough chance to speak.

What about beginner conversation lessons?

When I’m a beginner or low-level, I choose 30 minute lessons. You may think even 30 minutes is impossible, but I assure you it’s doable. I’ll soon have a new article covering exactly how. Sign up to the newsletter to get notified when it’s published.


Step 3: Choose a topic and prepare for your conversation class

This helps you to make the most of your precious time with your tutor.

I like to know the theme of the topic in advance so I can prepare. I’ll think about some things the teacher may ask, look up and try to memorise some new vocabulary that I may be able to try out in the lesson. I might read a blog post.

Another option for one-on-one lessons is to read a text or watch a video before the lesson (ie. homework) and then start the lesson by discussing the text/video. If you want to practice speaking (as opposed to improving your vocabulary), it’s best if this material is kind of easy. Ideally there shouldn’t be much new vocabulary if the aim of the lesson is to practice speaking. Otherwise, you’ll spend too much time understanding and less time practising your speaking skill.

Likewise, if your tutor tends to share a document or infographic to discuss in class, you can ask to receive it beforehand so you can prepare. Again, you can think about what you may say and secondly, look up words you don’t know to avoid wasting time asking questions about vocabulary when you could be practising using it.

Step 3: Take notes and ask questions

It’s helpful to take notes during a conversation lesson in order to improve. You might want to write interesting phrases you heard your tutor say, and ask them to write down new expressions in the chat box.

It is also important to ask questions in order to check you’ve understood or clarify something you’re not sure about.

One top tip to really boost your learning is to make a note of things you wanted to say but didn’t know the right words. During the conversation, don’t worry about this. To improve your fluency, it’s important to find alternative ways to say what you mean to keep up the conversation. However, to improve your overall language ability it’s good to find out what to say for next time.

You can ask your tutor at the end of the lesson for help translating or rephrasing what you wanted to say. Or if you prefer to do it yourself (there can be benefits to this), read step 4 below.

By taking notes and asking questions, you will be able to improve your Vietnamese language skills.

Step 4: Follow up after your lesson

After your Vietnamese conversation lesson, it is important to follow up if you want to improve.

Sometimes you might just be taking lessons to maintain your level. In those situations, this fourth step is optional.

But if you really want to boost your learning, what happens after the lesson could be considered as important as during!

Personally I like to save my list of “things I wanted to say but couldn’t” for after the lesson. I’ll sit down with a good dictionary and even google translate and take time to rethink and research how to say those things. Often I’ll find a word I’d forgotten, or just by taking the time to think I’ll realise a better way to say something. Other times it involves new phrases or constructions and I’ll often ask a friend or language partner to check it’s correct, or else ask my tutor at the start of the next lesson.

Once I’ve got these new or better phrases, I’ll put them in Anki, add audio and spend the next few weeks learning them.

The great thing about this technique is that the language is personal and useful to you. Chances are, you might have a similar conversation with someone else in the future and you’ll be able to use these phrases.

If you have two tutors (see below), you can deliberately do this in order to practice.

Finally, it can be also helpful to review your conversation lesson notes again before your next class. This will help you to revise new phrases and to improve your speaking ability. Don’t forget to book your next lesson!

Tips for taking conversation lessons

Why I like to have two regular tutors

Firstly, from time to time your tutor will be temporarily unavailable due to holidays or sickness. We all have lives. 🙂 By having a second tutor, you can avoid having a break by just continuing (or increasing) lessons with your second tutor.

Sometimes, tutors leave italki* or change their hours and they’re no longer convenient for you. Again, having a second tutor means you’re not back to square one if that happens as it can take a few sessions to find a new tutor. (You can try to minimise the risk of losing your tutor by choosing a tutor who teaches on italki full-time and has been doing for a long time.)

The other main advantage of having two tutors is that you can repeat a topic and try to do better the second time. This is ideal for beginners, but can also be useful at higher levels to push yourself to use a wider range and richer language the second time. Recycling language is a key aspect of acquiring it.

Improve your speaking by taking action

If you’re serious about improving your speaking skills in Vietnamese, conversation lessons are a great way to get good quality speaking practice. Sites like itaki* let you find tutors from the comfort of your own home.

You can use conversation classes for speaking practice to help you maintain your level, or you can take it a bit further and spend time before and after class boosting your vocabulary as well. Both are good options, depending what your goals and priorities are.

If you can’t spare the money for lessons, we have plenty more tips for improving your speaking.

Over to you: Any more burning questions about conversation lessons? Or have you taken conversation lessons and got some tips to add?

Top Tips For Vietnamese Conversation Lessons