Friday, June 21, 2013

Learning Vietnamese

It feels like a long time since I've slammed face-first into the language barrier, being spoiled by the ESL Philippines and hanging around exclusively touristy areas of Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand after a couple of months in Australia where they spoke something that sounded kind of like English. I just nodded and didn't take the beer tinnie out of my mouth.

So on arrival in Vietnam, I really wasn't prepared for people not being able to speak my language fluently. Even though I've been to this country before and experienced this firsthand through several confusing, open-ended conversations with the staff on night buses, I just forgot language was an issue. I guess I've got really lazy since getting an English-speaking girlfriend and only learning a few choice Bisaya phrases so we can converse discreetly around foreigners. Those conversations are none of your business.

I brushed up on a couple of essential Vietnamese phrases I found scrawled in my notebook from my previous visit, which I'm doubtless pronouncing wrong as no one understands even when I attempt to say the names of major cities, and I always keep a sweaty page of food vocabulary to hand so we don't accidentally eat non-kosher animals like pigs and prawns or non-sane animals like doggies.

I also learned numbers one to ten using a handy memory aid. That's right, long-time followers - that shiver running down your spine and death rattle escaping your throat can only mean one thing. It's the long-dreaded return of my mental mental images. The system bloody works! Almost certainly for me alone.

Vietnamese numbers 1-10

1 một
2 hai

Mr. Mot, the Bolian barber from Star Trek: The Next Generation (as if you need me to tell you that), is waving (i.e. 'hi'). Looking at that rising and falling accent, it probably isn't even pronounced 'mot,' is it? Best not to worry about these critical details now I've already done the bloody picture.

3 ba
4 bốn

Mr. Mot is cutting the hair of a baboon, which sounds similar to how those two numbers probably don't.

5 năm
6 sáu
7 bảy

A Viet Nam sorbet. See previous note on pronunciation. How do I remember it's a sorbet and not a cocktail or something? I just do.

8 tám
9 chín
10 mười

This is where it breaks down (sorry to break this to you Dave...) We've got a Tim Tam with a chin getting kicked by some guy doing Muay Thai boxing. Oh well, it's strong up to seven at least (...), but I'm not going to remember number ten after today. This is like Greek all over again - octo, Enya, whatnow?

As long as they're teaching Vietnamese children to be similarly astoundingly bad at English, it's all fair

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