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12 tips to improve your speaking skills (in Vietnamese)

Speaking a foreign language can be a challenge, but when you overcome that it can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

How can you improve this difficult skill?

In order to improve your speaking skills in Vietnamese, you need to practice speaking. These tips and techniques will help get you started!

Tip 1: Speak more often

Speaking more often is one of the best tips for improving your speaking skills in a foreign language. The more you speak, the more confident you’ll be and the better your fluency will become.

Of course listening, reading and writing will all help you to improve your Vietnamese. But if it’s specifically speaking that you want to improve, then you need to practice speaking.

So, if you want to really improve your speaking skills, get unstuck and improve your fluency – increase the amount of time you spend speaking.

How often should you speak Vietnamese?

In my 10 years of teaching and learning languages, I’ve found speaking 1-3 times a week is good for maintaining your level.

If you want to improve your fluency, you ideally should be trying to speak Vietnamese 4+ times a week. Conversations should be long enough that you have to push yourself (ordering lunch doesn’t count), but those conversations don’t all have to be hour-long discussions.

This is one reason why it’s easier to make progress when you’re living in the country. It’s easier to have frequent conversations.

If you’re not in Vietnam, it’ll take more planning. Fear not – we’re here to help. We’ll be covering tips for speaking in the rest of this article.

Tip 2: Find a Conversation Partner

Speaking can also help you to build a deeper connection to the culture and make friends. Conversation partners are a great way to do this.

I’ve covered this topic before in an article on language exchanges as finding a conversation partner can be difficult when you are learning a new language.

First, you could try to find a meetup that is specifically focused on language learning. If you’re in a city, there’s a small chance of meeting a Vietnamese speaker. I once spoke Vietnamese at a language exchange in Bulgaria! To be honest though, I’ve had more success with language exchanges when I’m in a country where the language is spoken.

Your second option is to find a language exchange partner online. This is pretty easy if you can speak English as there is no shortage of people who want to practice with you. Again, my other post on language exchanges covers this in more detail.

Finally, once you’ve found your language partner make sure to practice your new language regularly.

Tip 3: Take Conversation Lessons

Conversation lessons will help you improve your speaking skills, and give you the opportunity to practice your new language with a native or fluent speaker.

This is a big part of my approach when I’m a beginner and low level. Though to be honest, I really like conversation lessons at any level as they’re so convenient to schedule and I can get a lot of quality practice time. It’s similar in convenience to an online exchange, but you pay for a lesson instead of using your time to help someone.

A great option for busy people.

Tip 4: Take Language Lessons

If you want to improve your overall skills in a foreign language, not just your speaking ability, then taking language lessons may be a good idea. This can help you to improve your vocabulary, spend time on learning the grammar and pronunciation of the language, and to improve your spoken fluency through practice.

One of the main differences between traditional lessons and conversation lessons is the amount of time you spend speaking. Many good teachers will use a communicative approach in normal lessons so you will get some speaking practice. But you will also spend time reading or listening, learning new words, revising grammar and so on.

In contrast, a conversation lesson is more like speaking to a friend – except they’re paid to be patient and help you say what you want to say, make sure the conversation doesn’t dry up and provide feedback.

I like both types on lessons, but I take more conversation lessons because I want to improve my speaking and conversational ability most of all.

Tip 5: Think in Vietnamese

Speaking a foreign language often enough can be difficult. One way to make practising easier is to talk to yourself. If you don’t want to talk aloud, thinking in Vietnamese is a good substitution. Being able to think quickly in Vietnamese will help your spoken fluency.

You can decide to think in Vietnamese while you do a particular activity – like walking the dog or buying groceries. Every time you do that activity you commit to thinking in Vietnamese. I often think in Vietnamese when I’m buying groceries. It’s a habit I started years ago and still keep up with. Easy practice!

My other tip is to think in Vietnamese when you’re people watching. For example, when you’re waiting for a friend in a cafe. Use that time to describe what you see around you. Beginners can make simple sentences naming objects and colours. Higher level learners can guess how strangers are feeling and what might have happened to cause that.

Tip 6: Record yourself speaking

One way to improve your speaking skills is to record yourself speaking. This can help you to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and to improve your accuracy.

You don’t need to record a video – audio is enough. However, instagram users may want to share a reel and get encouragement from other learners.

To level up, you should listen to your recording and search for strengths and weaknesses. You can add strengths to your can-do list, and then create a plan to address your weaknesses.

An added bonus of recording yourself is being able to measure your progress. When you listen again to something you recorded six months or a year ago, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Tip 7: Mimic Audio Files

If you want to improve your speaking skills in a foreign language, one effective way is to mimic audio files. By listening to recordings of native speakers, you can learn how to produce the sounds well. This can help you sound more natural when speaking and can also help you to improve your pronunciation of tones.

This technique is great if you want to improve your pronunciation, but if you mimic dialogues you can practice common questions and topics that can be useful for your own conversations.

Tip 8: Learn to sing

This is not an approach I have much experience of, but people learn differently. Benny of Fluent in 3 months is a big fan of singing and it might appeal to you too.

I did learn the words of Diễm Hương’s Who Cares several years ago, and I can still remember the chorus when I listen to the song.

Learning to sing could be a good strategy if you struggle with smooth pronunciation. My Spanish could probably benefit from this, my Vietnamese and Russian less so as my pronunciation is more natural than my Spanish pronunciation.

If you like Vietnamese music, singing is something to consider to work on your pronunciation and fluency.

Tip 9: Go somewhere the language is spoken

If you want to improve your speaking skills in a foreign language, one effective way is to travel to a country where the language is spoken. By spending time in the language environment, This will help you practice and gain fluency in the language.

Of course, that’s not always practical but you can also seek places locally. I nearly always get to speak Vietnamese when I visit an authentic Vietnamese restaurant.

Practise speaking Vietnamese when you eat Vietnamese

Tip 10: Use apps and software

If you want to improve your speaking skills in a foreign language, one effective way is to use apps and software. These tools can help you to practice speaking the language, and can also help you to improve your pronunciation.

This isn’t something I’ve explored much (other than using apps for language exchange), but if I do, I’ll update this article.

Tip 11: Listen more

It can be hard to get as much live speaking practice as you’d like. One extra thing you can do for your speaking skills is to listen more. In time, this can help you to sound more natural when speaking. Listening can give you a better understanding of the language and keep vocabulary fresh.

I find that when I’m not using a language much, it’s important to keep up with it to maintain my level. Otherwise, you’ll start to get rusty and forget words. If you practice speaking but don’t spend much time listening to native or fluent speakers, your speaking can sound more foreign or unnatural because you’re missing out on natural expressions.

Tip 12: Improve your vocabulary

Sometimes the real problem is not your speaking ability after all, but a lack of vocabulary. That’s a topic for another day! Sign up to our newsletter to get notifications of new posts, so you’ll be the first to read that article when it’s published.

Finally – Practice, Practice, Practice!

Speaking a foreign language can be difficult, but with a little practice, you can improve your skills quickly. One of the best ways to improve your speaking skills is to practice regularly. Whether you’re trying to improve your pronunciation or fluency, making time for regular practice will help you build your skills faster.

Over to you: How often do you practice Vietnamese? Which tip above are you going to add to your routine?

Improve your listening by transcribing (study technique)

Today we continue looking at listening. Last week we checked that it’s listening we’re struggling with.

Here’s a technique to help you diagnose your listening problems. The basic idea is that you watch a video or listen to some audio and write down what you hear – ie. you transcribe it.

Why should you do this?

By transcribing what you hear, you are able to compare this with the transcript and find out where you’re having problems. Doing this regularly can help you to find out what your listening problems are.

Focused, active listening is useful. Passive listening alone won’t improve your listening skills. There are many ways to listen actively, but that’s a subject for another day. If you want to use a video or podcast to learn new expressions, we have an article for that.

What you need

  • Some audio or a video that you can mostly understand. You must also have subtitles or a transcript.
  • A pen and paper.

Because this technique is focusing on your listening ability, it’s key that the content should be familiar so that you won’t come across too many new words.

Learning to deal with new words is an important listening strategy, but is only one strategy of the many you need to become a competent listener. Today we’re looking for listening problems, not vocabulary problems. It would also be really discouraging to try this when you barely understand what’s being said!

There are some suggestions for materials at the end of this article.

How to do it

1. Choose a short video or audio

Transcribing is time-consuming, even in your native language. You have to replay the video many times to allow yourself time to write and to check if what you’ve written is correct.

Choose audio under 3 minutes for sure. I recently transcribed a 3 minute audio in English for a lesson and that took me ages. So I’d recommend something shorter – 30 seconds or 1 minute can also be worthwhile.

This doesn’t mean you have to find 1 minute audio clips. Even for a short video like Annie’s, you don’t have to transcribe the whole thing. Just choose a section. For example, if they’re having a conversation, you could transcribe until they change topic.

2. Listen to the audio or video the whole way through

Start off by listening to the material the whole way through. Don’t take any notes or worry about catching every word. The aim here is to just understand the general message or conversation.

If you’re watching a video, turn off any subtitles. If your video has vocabulary that pops up on screen, either don’t watch the video or cover up that part of the video so you can’t cheat by looking at it.

No cheating!

No cheating! I covered up the right hand part of the screen where new vocabulary appears

2. Transcribe the audio or video

Replay the audio or video (still without subtitles). This time pause frequently (for example, every half sentence) so you can write down what has just been said.

A lot of the time you’ll have to replay a segment because you’ve not heard or forgotten what was just said. This is a natural part of transcribing (it’s the same for your native language).

Sometimes there will be a problem word or phrase and even after replaying it a few times you’re still unsure. Don’t worry about it. Just take a guess, write any letters or sounds you have heard. You can also just leave a space and move on. It doesn’t matter if this doesn’t make sense – just write what you hear. This will come in useful when you compare with the transcript.

If you are watching a video with pop-up vocab, you can have a look at the screen after you’ve had a guess.

I didn't know the word for diary before so I had a look.

I had a look at the pop-up vocabulary. I didn’t know the word for diary before so of course I couldn’t understand it.

When you’re finished, quickly read through your transcript looking for any spelling mistakes.

2b. optional replay

You can play the whole audio again with your transcript and check for any mistakes. Or you can focus on the gaps you have and see if you can hear them now you have a fuller picture from your transcript. You may be sick of hearing it by now though, so this step is optional!

3. Compare your transcript with the subtitles

Play the audio or video a third and final time, with Vietnamese subtitles or while reading at the transcript. Compare it with what you’ve written.

I couldn’t find my Vietnamese notebook, so here’s one in Spanish.

Check both for mistakes and words you didn’t hear. Highlight or use a different colour to make a note of these mistakes.

Comments on my problems with the Spanish transcript

In the example above I didn’t have a pencil so I highlighted the two areas I thought were wrong. The first one was actually right (I didn’t know the speakers were boyfriend-girlfriend so I thought it was weird to start the conversation with “Love”).

With the second highlighted area, it turned out to be a verb I don’t know (avisar). Of course I couldn’t understand because I’ve never seen this verb before! This is not a listening problem, but a vocabulary one. In terms of listening, I actually did ok as I had correctly heard some of the sounds.

You can also see on Line 2 some signs of listening problems. The words are squashed up as I had to listen a few times to get the words before “izquierda”. That’s OK.

I was also unsure about “me voy a” before “probar”, but I used my knowledge of Spanish grammar to help me work it out when I replayed the line. I probably should have highlighted that in a different colour because this may be a potential problem.

4. Study

Any new words should be recorded somewhere such as your study notepad or in Anki so you can learn them. If you’ve made any grammar mistakes, this is a good time to go back to your course book and revise that topic.

As for listening, once you have transcribed a few listening extracts, try to look for patterns.

  1. Is there a particular sound you are struggling with? For me, I struggle with the northern Vietnamese r. Northern gi- and d- are usually okay but the r- throws me on a regular basis.
  2. Are there words that you couldn’t separate? For example, you heard a nay (it doesn’t matter if this doesn’t make sense, or you don’t know the tones – just write what you hear) when they said anh ấy. This is a feature of speaking called connected speech and it often causes listening problems (especially in English!). We’ll look at this another time.

Once you’ve done this a few times, this is where you can start to diagnose your listening problems. Then, once you know your listening problems, you can then look at how to tackle them.

Resources

A note on choosing materials:

You can apply this technique to any material that’s relatively easy for you. Ideally when you read the transcript you should be able to understand everything (though a couple of new words is okay). If your audio is harder, use it to learn new words, not to improve your listening.

I was low intermediate when I used Annie’s video above which is for elementary learners. I was able to transcribe it pretty accurately with just a few problem areas. Similarly with the Spanish podcast, the grammar was not challenge so I was able to focus on my ability to listen and hear the sounds.

Some ideas for choosing suitable, easy materials:

  • A dialogue from a textbook that’s either a similar level or even better: a slightly lower level.
  • One of Annie Vietnamese’s diaries.
  • Any videos with subtitles that you can easily understand (but don’t look at the subtitles until you’ve finished transcribing!).
  • A podcast that comes with a transcript. Be careful if it’s a “teaching” podcast as they may have deliberately introduced new words or grammar. Natural speech is better if possible.

If you have interesting audio but there’s no transcript, you can get custom transcripts via Rhinospike.com.

Over to you: What do you do to work on your listening? What problems are you having? Have you noticed any patterns?

Instagram Language Diary Challenge

I often use instagram in my language learning. I’ve mentioned that now I often take part in the Language Diary Challenge, but what is it and how can you use it to improve your Vietnamese?

From offline to online

As you might know, when I was learning Korean I started writing a sentence a day. I’ve now moved to instagram where I post a caption instead of writing my diary on paper. I don’t manage to do it daily but sharing my pictures and captions online is more motivating than keeping a notebook, I get to learn and practice language relevant to my life and the support of other language learners is also motivating!

This support largely comes from the other participants in the #languagediarychallenge.

Organised by Joy Of Languages, the aim is to practise speaking or writing your chosen language every day for 30 days. As added motivation, there is a prize to be won each month.

How to take part?

1. Follow @joyoflanguages on instagram. (I’m there too, @morelanguages)

2. Post a picture or video and say something in Vietnamese, every day for a month.

3. Use the hashtags #languagediarychallenge and #joyoflanguages

For added benefit, follow other language learners and support each other by commenting and liking. The community is one of the things I like best about this challenge, along with how personalised it is writing about things in my life.

Over to you: Do you use instagram for language learning? How do you practice writing or speaking about your daily life?

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