How to celebrate your progress – the Can-do List

Sometimes when learning a language we struggle with motivation. It seems like a never-ending uphill climb. You’re so focused on where you’re going and how you’re progressing (or where you’re failing), that you forget how far you’ve already come.

Something that you once struggled with is now second nature. Because it’s second nature you don’t think about it as a skill or step you’ve mastered. Sometimes it takes an outsider to point it out.

For example last month I was killing time on a flight by writing a diary of the morning, in Vietnamese. A very normal thing for me to do. My friend peeked at what I was writing and told me my level of Vietnamese must be good if I could write freely and easily like that.

There I was cursing myself over the words I couldn’t remember the tones for, completely missing that fact that I can write spontaneously in Vietnamese. I hadn’t thought about it like that. I was looking up the mountain without noticing how far I’d travelled up the slope already.

Sometimes it's good to look back!
Sometimes, when learning Vietnamese, it’s good to look back!

So, inspired by this I decided to make a list of all the things I can do in Vietnamese. A list I can look back on when I’m struggling with motivation and can’t see what progress I’m making. A reminder of how far I’ve come and a little ego boost.

Make your own can-do list

Now it’s your turn to make a list of all the things you can do in Vietnamese. Forget about the top of the mountain for now and just focus on what you are able to do.

Some ideas for your can-do list

Grab a notepad and start with writing ‘I can’, then make a list of everything you can think of – from the little things to the bigger ones.

I’ll give you ten examples from my list to get your inspiration flowing.


  • Give directions to a xe ôm or taxi driver.
  • Name foods at the market.
  • Haggle in the market.
  • Read a menu.
  • Write about my day in Vietnamese.


  • Pick out a few words or phrases when watching a TV programme.
  • Read some comics or short stories.
  • Write a short essay on a familiar topic.
  • Pass a driving theory test.
  • Change my accent at will (primarily from the standard southern accent with v’s as v’s to an accent with v’s as y’s).

Remember to think about each of the four skills – speaking, listening, reading and writing.

Over to you: What’s your #1 Can-Do that you’re most proud of? How awesome do you feel reflecting on this?

Photo credit: misbass and H


It’s ok to forget words when learning a foreign language

Picture the scene. You’re in Vietnam, sitting down to eat with a friend and having a conversation in Vietnamese. It’s going well, your understanding is high and you’ve asked lots of questions. It’s a great feeling. Your food arrives and you bite into a piece of carrot. It’s still raw in the middle and you want to exclaim your disgust but the word has totally slipped your mind. You’ve been in Vietnam for months, you love the food and talking about food. You know this word well, but right at this moment you simply can’t remember it.

Raw.. what is the word?!
Raw.. why can’t I remember this word?!

It’s a situation we’ve all been in. How did you feel? Frustrated? Angry at yourself? Disappointed with Anki because it’s supposed to help you remember vocabulary? Doubting your ability because you can’t remember a ‘simple’ word that you ‘should’ know?

If you’re anything like me, you experience one (or several) of the above emotions and you’re pretty hard on yourself because it’s something well within your comfort zone, yet you’re drawing blanks. Often it’s not forgetting the word that disrupts the conversation, but the frustration you feel that ties you up in knots. Because actually, when it comes down to it, we forget words mid-conversation all the time. Even in our native language.

Think for a minute about conversations in your native language. How many times in the last month have you had the same pause in a conversation where you’ve had to ask the other person ‘what’s the word when…?’ and a guessing game ensues until one of you figures out what the specific word you were looking for was.

While it doesn’t usually happen on a daily basis, it is no strange occurrence. In fact, it’s common one that we’ve all faced. Remember, we’re talking about your mother tongue here! So if it’s natural to forget words in your own language, it’s more than natural to forget them in Vietnamese. Stop beating yourself up about it and accept it as it is – a natural part of communicating in any language and part of the learning process in another language.

So next time you forget a word, pause, remember it’s natural and ask your conversation partner ‘what’s what word when…?’.

Over to you: How do you react when you forget words while speaking a foreign language? Does it frustrate you or do you take it in your stride?

Photo credit: SteveFE