Three students from the Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities (USSH) under the Vietnam National University-Ho Chi Minh City (VNU-HCM) impressed the audience and experts at the second Asian Arabic Debating Championship in Oman in January and February.
The championship took place in Muscat, Oman, with 165 debaters representing 42 teams from 18 countries competing for five days from January 29 to February 2.
USSH students Nguyen Thi Cam Huong, Thai Nha Tho, and Nguyen Thi Van Anh competed in the Non-Native Speaker category of the contest.
Huong, Tho, and Anh, all of whom major in Arabic studies, secured two surprising victories during the competition, defeating a team from the National University of Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country where Arabic is popular, and another from Azerbaijan’s Baku State University.
The Vietnamese delegation’s only loss in the competition came against a team from host Oman, where Arabic is the official language.
In the end, the Vietnamese team’s total score fell short of what they needed to bring home a prize, but their efforts were considered a great success considering they marked the first-ever victories of USSH students at a continental Arabic speaking contest.
Like most Vietnamese students in Arabic at university level, Huong started from scratch.
Many people have difficulty understanding the Arabic writing system because so many words look alike, said Huong.
“But for me, that wasn’t the hardest thing,” she said.
“The letters in Arabic have very specific pronunciations and very strange accents.
“It took me two months of practice to grasp basic pronunciation rules.
“I always have a sore throat after pronunciation practice sessions.”
Huong added that her family was surprised when she told them she was learning Arabic, which is a shock given that most people in her hometown of Ben Tre – a province in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta – have little knowledge of Arabic culture.
Huong also explained that her family was worried when she first received a year-long exchange scholarship to study at Kuwait University.
“I told them about the beauty and the safety in the Middle East to ease their worries,” Huong said.
For Tho, learning Arabic was a constant struggle.
During her four years of study, Tho saw many of her classmates switch to different majors, pursue new languages, or even quit school.
“But a strange attraction helped me stick to this language,” Tho said.
“I think it is because in my program I learn about the language as well as the culture, countries, and people of the Middle East.”
In addition to passion, Tho’s willingness to accept new challenges has helped her on her language learning journey.
“While an English, French, Japanese, or Korean learner can easily find native speakers to practice the language in Ho Chi Minh City, it is more difficult for Arabic speakers,” she said.
“We have to actively learn through books and the Internet, as well as connect with international friends to find opportunities to speak Arabic, especially in different dialects of the language.”
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