Learning a new language

April 1, 2016 | minutes read

I studied Spanish in high school for four years and 10 years later, I’m embarrassed that I can’t form a comprehensible or grammatically correct sentence.

I traveled throughout Europe last Christmas and was impressed by the number of bilinguals. Most people fluently spoke a combination of English, French and German. My second language, Vietnamese, however, is barely conversational.

My Vietnamese stagnated 15 years ago. In elementary school, I was immersed in an after school program where I learned how to read, write, and speak Vietnamese. The majority of my friends spoke the language too, which was conducive to learning the language. But now, I rarely practice and have forgotten the majority of it.

I was motivated to improve my Vietnamese after traveling to Vietnam last year. I was disheartened by the inability to communicate with my 9 year old nephew; my weak vocabulary limited the dialoge. My cousins taught me new words but by the end of the trip, I couldn’t remember any of them.

Learning French

In order to improve my Vietnamese, I started learning French. I figured that if I could learn a lanuage from stratch, I could use the same principles and apply it to learning Vietnamese.

I searched online for the best methods to learn a new language. I purposely avoided any articles/books that promised short term success (e.g “Perfect French in 30 days”). After reading reviews on Amazon, I ordered Fluent Forever.

With the books help, I built my curriculum. It cosists of:
  • Learn the international phonetic alphabet (IPA)
  • Train my ears with minimal pair trainers
  • Daily practice with Anki
  • Learn grammar

Reflecting back at the last 3 months, I’m proud of my progress. I’ve ritualized learning French into a daily habit. I failed in the past due to inconsistency – it was never a habit.

First French Translation

Here’s my first translation from the book “French, A grammar based approach“.

La salle à manger is petite. Il y a quatre chaises et une table dans la salle à manger. Sur la table est une nappe. Elle est vert. Il y a aussi des assiettes, des couteux, des cuillers et des fourchettes.

Est-ce qu’il y a une tasse sur la table? Oui, il y ya trois tasses et un verre. Les tasses sont petites.

Qu’est-ce qu’il y a dans les tasses? Il y ya du café dans les tasses. Qu’est-ce qu’il y a sont les verres? Il y ya du vin. Le café est noir et le lait est blanc. Il y ya aussi de la viande sur une plat, et il y ya légumes sur une plat.

Qu’est qu’il y ya des fleures? Oui, il y ya des fleures dans un vase. Comment est le vasse? Il est joli; il est vert et brun. De quelle couleur sont les fleures? Il y ya rouge et blanc.

Change in mindset

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.”

—John Maxwell

I’ve reframed my expectations. Instead of expecting fluency – both Vietnamese and French – in a short period, I’m building up my vocabulary and grammar; I’m immersing myself with people, books, and videos.

I look forward to learning more about the people, new and existing, especially my nephew.

I’m Matt Chung. I’m a software engineer, seasoned technology leader, and father currently based in Seattle and London. I love to share what I know. I write about topic developing scalable & fail-safe software running in the AWS cloud, digital organization as a mechanism for unlocking your creativity, and maximizing our full potentials with personal development habits.

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