2. Hiding out in Hidden Hanoi
One of the main reasons for my trip was to take a “full immersion” course in Vietnamese, my 11th spoken language, at a wonderful school called “Hidden Hanoi, Language, Cultural and Culinary Centre.” The school is run by a nice, competent and very energetic Vietnamese woman called Nikita Walford who arranged all the logistics for my course with meticulous care. As you can see, they teach Vietnamese cooking and of course offer language lessons.
My hope was to break through the “Intermediate Barrier,” one of the most difficult stages in language learning. I was truly blessed to have four great teachers, all charming young ladies, with whom I studied intensely every morning and every afternoon for several hours for ten days, and on some days I continued practicing in the evenings too.
They all did an outstanding job. I really enjoyed the lessons, though they were often exhausting, and made some real progress, but I still have a looooooong way to go to achieve good listening comprehension, by far the biggest challenge for me. We concentrated mostly on conversation and listening, and recorded the lessons in my notebook, on tape, and on video. Focusing on grammar, translation, and drilling — the staples of the traditional “grammar-translation method,” — would have been, to put it mildly, counterproductive.
Actually, though in some ways Vietnamese is “a hard language,” there are many reasons to consider it “an easy language” as well. I wrote a detailed article about this, a summary of which can be found here. It gives insights on language learning in general and should be of interest.
The school is named “Hidden Hanoi,” but my experience there was “hidden” in more ways than one. For the first few days I stayed with a Vietnamese family that does not speak a word of English, whose house is “hidden” away in one of the incredibly narrow back alleys, known as ngo (ngõ), that are a hallmark of traditional Hanoi. Some ngo are so narrow that you can’t even ride a motorbike through them, not to mention drive a car. It reminds me of the hutong (胡同) in Beijing, the narrow alleys that I am so fond of roaming around in (yes I speak Chinese too).
Here are pictures of some super-narrow ngo.