Friday, January 19, 2007
Vietnamese Class Week 2: Slow Progress, Minor Breakthroughs
Week two of Vietnamese class brought much repetition of the tones we had learnt during the first session. I had spent some time practicing tones and pronunciation with Mrs. Octopus. I’m not quite sure how other Vietnamese students practice their tones: after one session in class, they could go home to diligently practice and hone the wrong tones all by themselves for a whole week. I think you have to use tapes in order to be able to match the proper tones. Strangely, our Vietnamese teacher strongly discourages us from using tapes.
We didn’t learn any big new catch phrases or expressions during our second session. We worked on a few new consonant-vowel combinations, but we weren't ready for any big leap into sentence-making, discussing our hobbies, or handy pick-up lines.
A funny thing I noticed – it happened to both my classmate and me during our session – is that it’s very easy to get thoroughly confused in class when you are not sure if the teacher is correcting your pronunciation (i.e., the pronunciation of the letters in the word) or your tone (i.e., the diacritical mark (or lack thereof) on the word).
For example, a word like duoc (which should have a tiny little dot under the o and little hooks on the u and o) should be pronounced with a short and low tone. If we pronounced or intoned the word incorrectly our teacher immediately corrects us; he doesn’t usually offer any commentary on the correction: he just repeats the word. My classmate and I would often focus on trying to pronounce the letters of the word correctly when in fact our teacher was trying to correct our intonation. We’d keep on repeating the word, trying to get the pronunciation correctly, with increasing frustration and insistence, our tones rising, as we had totally lost track of the proper intonation. I realized this when I watched my classmate get stuck in a cycle of repeating a word like eight times, trying to correct his pronunciation, never realizing that it was his tone that was off. It felt like a very deep realization, in the context of learning Vietnamese.
Perhaps after several months of this I might be able to ask for directions to the bathroom.