Thursday, August 14, 2008

Vietnamese Language

So I haven't written too much about the Vietnamese language yet - Tieng Viet. For starters, it has a romanized alphabet - courtesy of the French colonization and particularly a Jesuit named Alexandre de Rhodes. For someone like me, that's a godsend, because it means that once I get pronunciation down, I'll be able to sound out words. This in comparison to my friends out there learning Thai or Chinese, where the letters/characters are unfamiliar - that's a whole different challenge! So I'm lucky in that regard.

To give you an idea of what it looks like, here's the Blogger menu in Vietnamese:

Sorry if that's really hard to see.

Anyway, what does make life tricky is that the langauge is tonal - with six tones to be exact - not to mention a bunch of extra vowel sounds we don't have in English. Because you can say the exact same set of letters with a different tone and have it be a different word, getting the tones down is really important if you want to be understood and not make massive mistakes. For example, a coworker of mine - the graphic design guy, to be exact - is named Hiep. Well, if you pronounce that with a rising or falling tone, the meaning changes from his very common first name to the word for "to rape." I am positive that on occasion I have accidentally said "Hey Rape, how are you today?"


So my efforts to really break into Vietnamese are stalling while I try to get the tones down. I think I've learned how to say 1 to 10, yoghurt, yes, no, thank you, beef, dog meat (self-defense), reciept (for expense accounting taxis), how much is that?, and...that's about it.

I do have my first official Vietnamese lesson on Monday night, which I'm very excited about. I wanted to upload an .mp3 of how to count in Vietnamese, but I don't see a way to do that easily on blogger. While I try to figure that out (and please post hints if you already know), you'll just have to wait in suspense.

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