Student learns Vietnamese from classmates
After returning to the Hill from a semester abroad in Vietnam, Molly Bennett ’11 has taken her education into her own hands. With the help of fellow students Khoa Nguyen ’11 and Hieu Phan ’14, Bennett has undertaken an independent study in Vietnamese.
Bennett’s time in Vietnam piqued her interest in its native language. She spent the fall semester of her junior year studying the language and living with multiple host families. “I got lucky; it was an incredible place to study abroad, and it’s really safe,” Bennett said. “To be honest, [my decision to go there] was pretty random.” Bennett studied French during her first few years on the Hill, but when the time came to study abroad, she decided that Europe wasn’t the place for her. “I never really enjoyed [learning] French, but I’ve really enjoyed learning a tonal language,” Bennett said.
Bennett’s application to study Vietnamese was part of the ML111 program, which allows students at the College to independently study languages that are not offered by its academic departments. The administration readily accepted Bennett’s request. “There’s some good infrastructure in place [that allows students] to study languages not [already] offered here,” she said. Bennett approached the Registrar with Nguyen and Phan, who had already offered her their assistance.
“[Nguyen and I] have two breakfasts a week and one night class a week,” Bennett said. The course, for which Bennett will earn two credits, will culminate in a written and spoken evaluation created by Nguyen and Phan. “[Nguyen] was like, ‘Of course I’ll grade your Vietnamese, people have been grading my English my whole life,’” Bennett said.
Nguyen hails from southern Vietnam, and Phan is from the northern part of the country. Bennett suggested that the students’ different accents have helped her become more proficient in oral comprehension. “It’s definitely harder to listen than to speak,” she said. Bennett and Nguyen have recently been focusing on pronunciation by studying Vietnamese folk songs and learning vocabulary as they go.
“Even though I make lots and lots of mistakes, I feel like it’s more of an exchange than an evaluative setting,” Bennett said. Working with another student has had its benefits, and Bennett has learned slang and generation-specific language that is useful in everyday conversation but wouldn’t be taught in a normal classroom. “In class, you learn language [that allows you to make] commercial interactions [and] buy things,” Bennett said. “Khoa and I get to talk about far more interesting things.”
Phan commented on Bennett’s progress thus far, saying that “she’s doing great; her accent and pronunciation are really good.” Phan’s own English studies have made him sympathetic to Bennett’s hard work. “I know how hard you have to try because I had to learn English,” he said.
Bennett noted that having a personal investment in the subject makes her more driven to learn it: “It’s the kind of mental exercise that I’ve never worked hard enough on before…I love being so excited about it.” One of Bennett’s favorite parts about Vietnamese is her newfound ability to have impromptu conversations around campus with Vietnamese speakers (even if her vocabulary isn’t perfect). “I accidentally told [Nguyen] that I studied culture and young men between the ages of 20 and 30 instead of saying I studied culture and English, just because I forgot a modifier,” Bennett said.
Bennett is hoping to return to Vietnam after she graduates from the College. “It’s a really exciting place to be right now, everything is changing so fast,” she said.