Saturday, January 7, 2017

"Cám ơn cô"

Today I learned Vietnamese.

Yes, Vietnamese. My "target language" (the one I'm going to be using in Nigeria) is Hausa, but my "practice language" here at Mission Training International is Vietnamese.

We've spent all week in phonetics. This is what it's sounded like most of the week:
ba ba ba ba
da da da da
ŋe ŋe ŋe ŋe 
ᵽu ᵽu ᵽu ᵽu
tha tha tha tha

Did you know that th (aspirated T) sounds different than t (unaspirated T) or that a voiced t sounds like a d sound? Do you know what a "fricative" is? Or that English doesn't have any words that begin with ŋ (ng sound like in "sing"), but other languages do? Or that if a word is phonetically spelled with Mm  that you should puff out through your nose as you say it? Or that the word "nosy" is phonetically written as Nnozi?

I do. And that's what I've spent all week working on!

Today, my little group of 6 adults and a Vietnamese language helper spent 3 hours together. We started off by pointing to drawings of four different buildings (home, church, hospital, market) as she said the words. Then she said the word and we pointed. Then she said the word, we pointed to the building and mimicked the word. Then we learned "you went to" and put that together with the building.

Then we learned airplane, bicycle, and car. Again, she said the word and we pointed. Then listened, pointed, and mimicked. Then combined it with the building so we could comprehend "you took the bicycle to the church." Then we learned "true" and "false" so she could ask us questions like "did you take the airplane to the church?"

Then it was time for pronouns. We had cards which stood for I/me, she/her, they, we. Again starting off by identifying the card, then listening to our helper and pointing. Then mimicking as we pointed. Then combined it to sentences like "they rode the airplane to the church." That got a laugh as soon as she said the Vietnamese sentence--I understood a joke in another language in less than an hour of work! Y'all, that's a big deal!

After a short break to let our brains rest. We jumped back in with the next activity. The steps were the same, (Point and listen. Listen and do. Listen and do and mimic. Listen and do and answer questions.) but we used objects, colors, simple prepositions, and numbers. By the end of it she could say "Pick up three red pens. Put three red pens under the table." I got lost somewhere in the prepositions as I tried to listen to the tonality of Vietnamese, but I was able to follow the progression of the language acquisition activity.

What a morning! I was a bit wary of trying to "learn" another language that is nowhere close to Hausa, but I learned a couple of things today.
1) Listen first, and don't feel pressure to mimic until I'm ready
2) Language is best learned when the learner directs the helper as to what she/he wants to learn
3) As soon as possible, put words into simple sentences. Don't just learn vocabulary.
4) Although I may not be able to recall any of the Vietnamese language tomorrow, I will likely have retained much of today's lesson.
5) Do not write ANYTHING down until I can do so phonetically. Don't think "that Vietnamese sound is like the English word ___."
6) It's going to take some time, but it can be done!

My brain was so tired by the time it came to lunchtime! I was definitely ready to say "Cám ơn cô" ("Thank you teacher (female).")

We'll see how well our language learning activities session 2 goes next week. Meanwhile, I'm off to a coffeeshop with one of the other girls, then to make plans to enjoy the weekend! (Oh, and do a bit of homework too!)

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