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Learning Vietnamese from Scratch October 2, 2007

Posted by Edwin in Learning Tips, Vietnamese.

Not me. Well, perhaps in the future.

Stuart is tackling a new language again. This time he is learning Vietnamese from scratch.

I have not checked out Stuart’s blog for months, due to his lack of updates. Today, I just hit it for no particular reason, and here he is, describing his first 5 days learning Vietnamese.

I am not going to comment on his methodology here, though I highly recommend readers to read his post. One thing I like about Stuart is his attitude. You know how serious he is just by watching his YouTube clips or reading his posts. His approach is not radical, but very down-to-earth. All you need is enthusiasm and hard work.

Yes, hard work. This is the element that many language learners seem to be lacking these days. There are actually people out there who are proclaiming that learning language is easy. There is no need to put in any effort, or at least the effort is minimal. One of my personal favourites is the idea of sleep learning. I don’t think you can get more effortless than that!

But then this ‘minimal effort’ philosophy might come in more subtle forms. I will probably discuss some of them in my future posts.



1. chris(mandarin_student) - October 5, 2007

I am pretty much on effortless learning learning now but that is just because the things I can do to learn are fun. You have to put time in, lots of it, whether that is hard effort or work or fun or a hobby or a mission is up to you.

What makes me annoyed are those that apply a sort of inverse snobbery to the process “ohh of course you have made so much progress, because you work so hard (implying too hard)” almost as if taking it seriously wasn’t playing fair. “I just do this for fun because I have a fulfilling life and if I don’t feel like studying for a while I don’t etc etc.”

Yeah you guessed it I have serious issues with these sorts.. I don’t mind people just have a little play at learning a language but sometimes I wish they would shut up and let those who take it seriously have a bit of space.

2. Edwin - October 5, 2007

I don’t believe you are in the ‘effortless’ mode. I guess you are just being humble. Well, perhaps you are relaxing right now, but certainly not in the past. I remember you said this a few months ago:

“I believe that to learn a language you have to be prepared to work hard, either at a certain level all the time or occasionally in concerted bursts. If most people (there may be exceptional minds to which this does not apply) don’t do this then they will only ever achieve a superficial grasp of the language, no matter what the timescale.”

It is ok to be ‘effortless’. But one has to be realistic that he won’t be getting very far. In fact, this is true for all learnings.

3. chris(mandarin_student) - October 6, 2007

Edwin I probably didn’t explain properly (I usually don’t).
As I said you have to put in time. But once I got to a certain point recently I realised it wasn’t work it was fun 🙂 So I don’t know whether that can be described as effort or not?

So if you watch a movie to relax, that is natural. If the movie happens to be in Chinese (and you pick up a bit more language etc.) and still enjoyable and relaxing, does that count as effort?

If you chat with a friend you bump into that is fun and relaxing. If that chat occurs in a foreign language (and you pick up a bit more of it) is that an effort?

The real hard slog seems to be at the beggining to get to point where you can learn the target language in the target language. That required a huge amount of work. Enjoying the language to progress further (and of course I am constantly attentive because I want to improve) no longer feels like work 🙂

Does that make sense???

4. chris(mandarin_student) - October 8, 2007

okay, sprawling and full of mistakes but this brain dump of a few days in the life of, is the only way to explain my view of effortless learning.

I never stop learning Mandarin in one way or another, I doubt if a single day will go by for years when I don’t learn something in it, but that is not a burden.

By effortless I don’t mean instant or thoughtless, just that eventually anything you enjoy doing isn’t really effort. And in line with Epicuris (who believed in the lifelong pursuit of pleasure but was smart enough to understand deferred pleasure and the dangers of unbridled desire) the first parts of learning a language were not so enjoyable and felt like an effort. But I knew (actually hoped) It was just deferred pleasure.

5. Edwin - October 9, 2007

I think you can still put in effort and yet feel the whole thing enjoyable. So whether the process is enjoyable or not does not give a good indication of the amount of effort you have put in.

But I believe in ‘no pain, no gain’. Still, it can still be enjoyable. People go to fitness centres and sweat themselves out. They enjoy doing it very much.

If you have been spending a lot of time on language learning, chances are that you are putting in effort. But if you don’t feel any ‘pain’, it could mean that you are not putting enough effort in it.

For example, you could be listening to some podcasts which are too trivial or making simple conversations from time to time. You enjoy them and don’t feel any ‘pain’. Then you might not be making a lot of progress.

But if you are listening to podcasts in which you only understand, say 80% of the content, and you are determined to work on understanding the other 20%, or if you are challenging yourself into using new vocabulary and sentences while you converse, then you are putting in some effort, and you should be expecting progress.

In summary, only you as the first person would know if you are really putting in effort.

6. Xie Xie, Mr Prime Minister « Tower of Confusion - November 26, 2007

[…] Mr. Rudd mentioned how he worked hard on his Mandarin while at the university. Once again, this testimony refutes the theory of “minimal effort language acquisition“. […]

7. language hack - February 4, 2008

I think it’s pretty hard to learn a language if you don’t try or make any actual effort. Yes, you could hang out with people who speak the language or watch TV in that language and you pick up a little bit but mostly you’ll be confused. I think you have to make consistent effort in the beginning to find out the meanings of a lot of words before you can learn by “osmosis”.

8. richard - August 20, 2008

I am fascinated with learning Mandarin, the characters are so very interesting. Yes, its all down to applied effort over a long time. I hope to be doing it all my life. So many kids these days seem incapable of almost any form of effort or that dreaded word……work.

In my opinion/preference its the characters that hold the key. With the way my brain works I must see a character in my minds eye for the sound to have any importance/relevance.

9. Jobi - October 31, 2008

I thing especially with Asian Languages there is always first a pretty tough time until you understand the concept of the language, its tones and its basic grammatical structure -I call it the Language Logic.
Then, once you are behind that and master basic conversations, the learning becomes much more fun and if you have the chance to live in the foreign environment you will continue to lean automatically.

I have learned a couple of Asian languages, mostly with the help of language learning software. I like the multimedia approach that some of the software has -especially because I am an audio-visual learner. I have used products from Rosetta Stone, Transparent and most recently from L-Ceps. I like the latter product most because the focus only on Asian Languages (Mandarin, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean etc.) and have strong multimedia features and very good audio recordings. You can have a look at their website http://www.l-ceps.com for a free trial.

10. Max - December 13, 2009

Hi Edwin.

I am the developer of a free web based application to learn Vietnamese. It has 40 lessons and runs in your browser.

We have been already featured in some blogs. I invite you to have a look at our site and feel free to write about it if you like.


We are also looking for a lot of feedback from user to develop the application further.

You can also contact me if you have questions.

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