How long to learn Vietnamese and tips to learn it fast

Learning a language takes some serious dedication. And that’s why you find yourself asking this question of “how long does it take to be fluent in Vietnamese?”.

In this post, I’ll tell you how long it will take you to learn Vietnamese according to the language experts and how you can shorten that process.

How long does it take to learn Vietnamese?

According to the US's Foreign Service Institute (FSI), for a native English speaker to be proficient in Vietnamese, it would take approximately 1,110 class hours.

This means that if you dedicate 1 hour every day, 7 days a week to learn Vietnamese, you will be proficient after 40 months (~3 years).

Many people have different opinions about this number. However, most of us are not aiming for being proficient but being fluent, or at least, being able to carry everyday conversations.

How long does it take to learn Vietnamese

What does fluency mean?

When I learn a new language, my aim is to be able to communicate in that language comfortably, mainly in speaking.

If you are a beginner, I would also encourage you to focus more on spoken Vietnamese and always seek for natural phrases that natives use.

Having taught many people Vietnamese, I can see that most of my students can carry basic conversations after 4-6 months and may become fluent after 1 to 1.5 years of learning.

That’s like half the amount of hours estimated by the FSI!

Yes! You can definitely speed up your learning process by doing it smartly.

Here are 5 actions that you as a learner can take to shorten the amount of time to reach your learning goal:

1. Have a clear learning goal

Why do you need a learning goal?

Setting clear goals helps you stay focus and give you the means to overcome procrastination when learning doesn’t seem that “exciting” anymore.

However, many of us often skipped setting goals as we think we know it off the top of our head, simply “to become fluent in Vietnamese”.

But if you want to speed up your learning process by staying on track, and be able to stick with it till the end, that 1-phrase goal setting is just not enough.

If you attach yourself to the goal “to be fluent”, when it takes too long or seems too hard to achieve it, you would feel like a failure and eventually give up on learning.

Therefore, goal setting is more about process planning.

Focus on the process of how you can grow every day to eventually achieve your goal.

To help you define your goal and process, I’ve prepared a few questions for you. Simply prepare a piece of paper and answer the following:

  1. Why do you want to learn Vietnamese?
  2. What will you do when you’re able to speak Vietnamese comfortably?
  3. After doing so, how will it make you feel?
  4. What is one thing that you can start doing right now?
  5. How many hours can you put aside every day to learn Vietnamese?
  6. What are 3-5 things that you can do consistently every day without fail to achieve your goal?

Key Takeaways: Whenever you feel unmotivated, remember why you’re learning Vietnamese, how it would make you feel, what you’ll do with it, and the 3-5 things that you know if you do them every day, you will reach your goals.

40 Common Vietnamese Verbs That You Must Know (Part 1)

2. Use the 80/20 principle when creating your learning path

What is the 80/20 principle?

If you have not heard about the 80/20 principle, also known as the Pareto principle, it states that "roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes".

So how is this related to your Vietnamese learning?

If you apply this principle in learning, it will help you to learn smarter by investing 20% of your time and effort in learning the 80% of the language that you need for you to communicate in Vietnamese comfortably.

What are the 80% essentials of the Vietnamese language?

Below are my suggestions for an effective learning path that you can follow to achieve 80% of the Vietnamese language.

  • Step 1 - Familiarize yourself with the language: Know the similarity and differences between your target language and your mother tongue. Having a clear overview of the language right from the start gives you a better idea about the language moving forward.

  • Step 2 - Learn the pronunciations: As you may know, Vietnamese is the tonal language. You would not be able to understand and be understood by others if you don’t invest your time in learning the pronunciations right from the beginning. This should only take you 3-4 hours with the right materials. After that, you can continue improving your pronunciation through listening and speaking. Here's a course to help learn Vietnamese pronunciation.

  • Step 3 - Learn the key basic grammar and sentence patterns: This serves as a foundation for building up your knowledge. If you have a strong foundation, you will be able to understand more advanced topics quicker. Here's another free course that introduces basic Vietnamese grammar that you must know.

  • Step 4 - Learn the core vocabulary: Not just any vocabulary, but the essential ones. Applying the 80/20 principle again, you should be selecting and learning the most commonly used verbs, adjectives, conjunctions, and transition words first. Here's the most basic Vietnamese verbs list to help you get started.

  • Step 5 - Use the new language in your daily life: You will forget most of the things that you've learned if you don’t actually use it. Therefore, keep repeating and finding the opportunities to use new words and phrases in your daily life situations. I’ll show you some of my personal tips on my next point.

Top 10 Most Common Vietnamese Questions Asked by the Locals

3. Apply the new language in daily life

I’ve tried learning Chinese and Italian using mobile applications such as Duolingo.

Though it helps my learning more engaging and fun, it doesn’t give me many practical words and phrases that I can use in my daily life.

And since I don’t have the opportunity to practice those words, I slowly forget most of them.

What is the better way to learn and use the new language?

The best way to learn new words and practice them at the same time is to use it in your daily routines. You can do it by:

  • Making grocery list in Vietnamese
  • Making to-do list and reminders in Vietnamese
  • Texting someone in Vietnamese
  • Writing your diary in Vietnamese

Here’s an example of writing your to-do list in Vietnamese:

How long to learn Vietnamese

4. Listen a lot and focus on the context

Why listening is so important?

Not only because it’s necessary for communications but also helps you to learn natural languages effectively with less effort.

Through listening to a lot to native speakers, you’ll come to recognize the sentence patterns and commonly used words, expressions without forcing yourself to memorize the grammar and vocabulary.

You will also be able to catch some phrases and expressions that are used by the native speakers, copy and use them confidently when creating your own sentences.

You should have some basic knowledge first before practicing your listening. It does not matter if you’re able to understand everything that you hear at first, just try to guess the meaning in the context.

Vietnamese language partner

5. Finding a language partner/tutor

Many language learners started learning on their own, traveled to Vietnam, attempted to make conversations, just to find themselves not being understood at all by the locals.

This happened to many language learners and certainly happened to me when I first went abroad.

The main reason for this is that your pronunciations are probably inaccurate. Your speech may also sound unnatural to the locals' ears since most of the materials teach you written Vietnamese, not spoken Vietnamese.

This is why you may need a language partner who would correct your mistakes from the start.

With a great language partner, you can feel more confident in speaking and be able to have the environment in which you can put everything that you’ve learned into practice.

So what to look for in a language partner?

Your language partner needs to:

  • Know how to use simple and natural phrases to communicate with you
  • Encourage you to speak without too constantly correcting you
  • Be patient and not judgmental when you make mistakes

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