135 Hours of Intensive Vietnamese

Written by Sharon Phu (Yale University) Student Correspondent CET Vietnam, Spring 2018

I’m bad at gauging how quickly or slowly time can pass, which is why I thought nothing of signing up to take intensive Vietnamese with CET Vietnam. The syllabus says 135 hours in the classroom, which is the equivalent of 2-3 semesters (dependent on the way your school calculates foreign language credit) worth of class contact hours. This is significantly more than the 45 hours offered in the regular Vietnamese class option.

The intensive language option was actually the main reason I chose CET over other study abroad programs in Vietnam. I have an uncle who speaks no English, just Vietnamese. I wanted to learn as much Vietnamese as I could in a short period not just so I could start to communicate with him, but also because I knew from previous study abroad experiences that one’s study abroad experience becomes more exciting and more nuanced when one takes the time to learn the language and speak it as much as possible.

I mentioned in a previous post that I was placed in Intensive Elementary High Vietnamese. The semester before, I had audited beginner Vietnamese at Yale. At the time, I could survive on the streets, but my Vietnamese was very halting, inelegant, and my pronunciation was all over the place. Now I can say things like “in the future, I want a job where my responsibilities are constantly changing so that I don’t get bored” smoothly and with fairly good pronunciation. Woooot! Thanks VLS (short for Vietnamese Language School, which is where we CET students go for our language lessons).

Snapshot of the whiteboard in my Vietnamese class. My teacher and I were reviewing for my final exam.

I’m not saying 135 contact hours is for everyone. It’s definitely a big commitment. I have no regrets whatsoever though. 135 contact hours has allowed me to learn the back stories of some of the people I buy food and drinks from, to be more confident when I’m out and about without my Vietnamese roommate Linh or fellow CET-er Victoria, and to connect more deeply with close friends I’ve made here.

If you’re curious about class structure, read on! If not, read on anyway. 😉

All 3 of us in the CET fam chose to take Intensive Vietnamese (someone in the CET Vietnam staff told me that this isn’t typical, which surprised me). We were each put in different levels, so we all ended up each having our own teacher in a one-on-one class.

I’ve had a total of 3 teachers. However, Julia and Victoria both have had the same teacher for the entire semester, so I think it’s dependent on numerous factors (e.g. staffing, student’s progress, etc.).

With my first teacher, Cô Mai, we didn’t stick to a single textbook. She pulled worksheets from a variety of textbooks and oftentimes, she would start out the lesson just talking with me in order to figure out where the gaps in my language skills were. She focused on filling in those gaps so that I would be ready to tackle the Year 2 textbook that was listed in my actual syllabus. I worked with Cô Mai for about a month before I switched teachers. The official justification was that each teacher has their strengths and weaknesses in language instruction, so it’s good to change teachers at some point so that one can get a more well-rounded experience in class.

Anyway, I still miss Cô Mai. My next 2 teachers were also great though.

By April, I had 2 teachers I worked with every class session. Cô Thảo would come in the morning from 8:30-10 AM. We focused on conversation. She would choose a topic beforehand (e.g. what I did during traveling seminars/ independent travel, novels and movies, hobbies, plans for the future, etc.) and we would just talk. There are always a lot of words that I don’t know, and Cô Thảo always ended up writing them on the board for me. These new words would then make their way into a google doc I was constantly updating.

For our Visualizing Southeast Asia class fieldtrip, we headed over to the Binh Thanh District of Ho Chi Minh City with photographer Cuong Tran. One of the residents we spoke with told us this boat is actually a house, and the man who lives in there is actually quite wealthy.

From 10:10-12 PM, I had class with Thầy Duy. I learned from lessons out of the Year 2 textbook, and did activities that honed my listening, reading, and writing skills. Thầy Duy also noticed that I really liked to sing, so he decided to incorporate learning 2 Vietnamese songs into the curriculum. It was a good decision, haha; I showed off my skills at a VLS party at Cô Bình’s house.

With all 3 teachers, there were often days when a class exercise required me to step out of the classroom and interview other VLS staff. These were my favorite kind of exercise because it forced me to speak with more people, use the new words and grammar structures that I had just learned, and take a break from the normal classroom environment.

VLS also incorporates 1 field trip as a class lesson. With Thầy Duy, I ended up going to the Fito Museum, which is a museum of traditional Vietnamese medicine and pharmacy. Definitely check it out if you’re ever in Saigon.

Overall, VLS was great. My only suggestion is that I think quizzes should have been given on a more consistent basis so that I would have been forced to review all the new vocabulary regularly. It would have helped me better retain everything. To be honest though, I’m sure if I’d have brought it up earlier, my teachers would have happily integrated more quizzes into the curriculum.

Lastly, here’s a list of all of the vocabulary I’ve learned. That’s not actually all of it. I have some handouts and hand-written lists that aren’t in the google document. I guess it looks like a lot but remember that the student has a lot of influence over the pace of the class.