April 5, 2009

Vietnam: Vietnamese 101. Lesson 1

I have learned a handful of Vietnamese words since moving here. I can order coffee, bottled water, I know my numbers, which is helpful for market shopping. I am master ordering Vietnamese sandwiches with no meet (I had this one bad meet experience so I am vegetarian when it comes to the street sandwiches), and a few other randoms that don't really have a category. It's one thing to know a word and how it's spelled but it's a whole other thing trying to say it so that people understand you. Every vowel has multiple sounds and each sound is rather unpleased to the ear.

After the vowels come the constants, which are usually another unpleasant sound. There are combinations of constants that I can't even begin to figure out how you would say them together. "Like where is the vowel?" (valley girl style). After getting a grip on the alphabet next would be the vocabulary (for me at least, sentence structure may be a lost cause). Many words have multiple meanings, however, it's how you say the word that determines the definition. For example, (and the one that seems to trouble me the most) is the word for ice. If you say it neutrally (no flux in your voice) it means "kick" but if you don't want kick in your coffee you have to raise your voice almost like you are asking a question-- it sounds easy, yes, but it's not. (!!) The word for kick and ice are spelled "da" with different marks over the "a" depending on the word you are trying to say. Now looking at that two letter word it looks like it would be an easy one. Nope, no way, not at all. The "a" does not make an "a" sound that comes naturally to us. There are also words that sound very similar but, again, are not even close to being related in meaning. For example, the words "no" and "rice." Khong- no and com- rice. Looking at those words you would think they sound nothing alike until I inform you that "ong" makes a "om" sound. Now try saying those words again. Tricky, I know. People are probably always wondering why I am talking about rice when there is no food around.

I hope you are starting to catch on... this language is hard and not being a language buff I find it rather difficult (my dad could probably come here for a month and be talking with the locals like he has lived here for years). However, we do have one thing going for us... Vietnamese has English letters (thanks France!)... hats off to those who can read Thai.

With my 1-4 new words a week I am learning at a slow pace, but a pace all the same.

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