Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tieng Viet!

This whole time, while I haven't been blogging, I've been teaching myself Mandarin Chinese. And I've been progressing steadily, in spite of the fact that it's really really hard to teach yourself a foreign language. I just hit a point where I got it, Mandarin clicked with me, and then I was just accumulating vocabulary and sorting out the more complex grammatical rules.

I still couldn't speak it. But I could imagine a time in the near future when I could speak it. I could speak small phrases at appropriate moments.

I had no reason to doubt we'd end up in China. Whyever would I think about Vietnam? Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, and this one, unfortunately, makes us have to start over with a new language.

One of the very first things I did was complain about the frustration of starting over.  We bought some phrasebooks and found some online tutorials, and while looking at them, I noted how much I missed the familiarity of Mandarin Chinese. The first stage is always so hard - when nothing looks familiar and none of it sticks in your memory and you can't possibly imagine yourself speaking this language.

But then I resolved myself to plow ahead until I got to the second stage - when you begin to see the beginnings of patterns, when you can utter a phrase or two, and suddenly the language seems penetrable. A light turns on; a door creaks open.

One of the school staff members assured me that Vietnamese, or Tieng Viet, is similar to Chinese in certain ways, and transitioning won't be so bad.  Maybe it is similar. I've noticed a few suggestions of similarity already. But, I admit, it's been a month and I'm still discouraged.

There are some good things about Tieng Viet. It uses Roman letters, for instance. But it does not technically use the Roman alphabet. Much like Gaelic, it takes the letters we English-speakers are so accustomed to and it twists them around to its own devices. Sometimes unnecessarily so. Why does X sound like an s, but S sound like sh? In Chinese, it's the other way around. Also, why does G make a z sound? There's a Z already.

However, if I can get my brain to adapt to the similar-but-different Vietnamese alphabet, I can potentially learn to read signs and newspapers as my vocabulary grows. And I assume my vocabulary will grow, although I can't quite imagine such a thing yet. My current vocabulary is about four words, and they may or may not be understood correctly.

Also, pronouns are hard. I have not made much progress on pronouns. I don't understand the explanations the tutorials give. The Tieng Viet understanding of the purpose of pronouns is different from mine. I need a guide I can understand.

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