Learners should start with listening and then move on to grammar, vocabulary and other skills to study English effectively, a Vietnamese language aficionado told Tuoitrenews in a recent interview.
Nguyen Hoang Khanh, who knows eight foreign languages, has just graduated from the English Faculty at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities.
Khanh, 24, told Tuoitrenews on April 3 that he is preparing for exams set for proficient users under the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages in Italian, Spanish, and French.
The young man said that he can read the news as well as watch movies in Chinese, German, Russian, and Portuguese without subtitles.
How many hours a day do you usually spend learning English?
I learn English every time I want to. For example, when I sing a song, the passion comes, and then I start to learn English. I will choose some IELTS or TOEFL tests or any kind of tests to do, or I will go online and read some newspapers and newswires like The New York Times, BBC, CNN, etc. It depends on my mood.
What were the difficulties you faced when you first started learning English?
I started learning English at the age of 11. At that time, I was like, “Wow, is there any other subject that is more difficult than that?” The language has letters, words, and combinations all different from Vietnamese. But I had one advantage over my friends: I always stayed at home because my family then lived in an apartment on the third floor. So I was like being isolated from society and my best friend at that time was an English-Vietnamese dictionary which was published before 1975 and was presented to me by my grandpa. My family did not have the Internet so I studied the foreign language mainly via books and papers.
What are your tips to learn English effectively?
In my opinions, the first and most important thing people should do is to listen to English often. You can listen to songs, movies, and the radio. My first method is to listen to the radio without understanding anything. You do not need to understand at that time, just listen to get used to the accent, how native speakers pronounce words and how their intonation is. Maybe your listening skills will improve after several months and you will probably be able to imitate some basic sentences as well.
After listening, you should focus on grammar and vocabulary. Take a dialogue and analyze the situation in which people talk to each other and how they use the tenses and the moods.
For reading, when you read a passage, I think you should summarize every paragraph and find out what it is about as well as what the main idea is, as it is necessary for your tests in the future. Then you may come across some new words but first you should try to guess their meaning before looking them up in the dictionary.
Speaking is the most difficult skill for Vietnamese people. We do not have the “native” environment to practice speaking. If you have money, you can go to English centers to speak with native speakers. If you do not, you can go to Bui Vien Street [an area crowded with foreigners in downtown Ho Chi Minh City] to talk to foreign tourists, but it may be a bit rude.
The least expected way is to speak to yourself, and that is what I did. I spoke to myself all the time. I sought a topic and then I imagined there was another me standing in the opposite direction, and I spoke to “him.”
Writing is hard, for it is somehow related to reading. The more you read, the more you will understand how native speakers use expressions and structures, and thus you can apply them to your writing.
What about the accent?
I think at first you should decide which accent you want to acquire. For me, I chose the American accent. I have at home programs like “Mastering the American Accent” and “American Accent Training,” which provide you with many tips to imitate the American accent. You should practice on such programs every day and later you may somewhat acquire the accent. And you must try to speak the language with that accent frequently, as practice makes perfect.
What do you think about the fact that Vietnamese people are not good at using English in real-life conversations?
I think it may be because they have not practiced enough. I mean the Vietnamese educational system does not focus on speaking much. Students now pay more heed to grammar, vocabulary, and how to get good points. Grammar and vocabulary are what are normally tested during exams, not speaking or listening.
So when students are thrown into a real face-to-face conversation, they will be shy for sure. Also, they are always afraid of making mistakes. That has always been a big problem because we have to make mistakes in order to be right. Moreover, they are afraid of being ashamed in front of a foreigner, then they just keep silent and speak some causal words like “Yes,” “Yes, I do,” and “No, I am not.” They should try to use some more complicated sentences, I think.
Why did you choose to learn a lot of languages at the same time?
I knew it is difficult and confusing to learn several languages at the same time. But I also thought I did not have much time to learn one by one. It takes at least one year to learn a language, so if I want to study four languages, it will take me four years or even more. For that reason, I decided to take risks. There should not be a problem if you have an appropriate method. My method was arranging time.
Is English any of help when it comes to learning other languages?
English gave me knowledge to learn other languages. For instance, when I started learning Spanish, I had to do so through documents written in English. After I built a solid foundation, I switched to learn Spanish via Spanish.
"Have a nice day" in eight languages
You have to have passion for what you learn, and that does not merely apply to language learning. Passion will give you pleasure to learn anything. When you are passionate about what you are doing, you will go a little bit faster than people who are not. I do not think I have a special gift or talent. I just have passion and an appropriate method.
Nguyen Hoang Khanh, 24