Learning English

August 06, 2018


Dad Pham and Mum Pham spoke more English than most other immigrant parents I knew growing up. I wouldn't say they were good English speakers but they had enough language to get by until Big Brother Pham was old enough to be The Phamly's interface with the real world.

Both my parents are intelligent people but in different ways. Mum was book smart and studious - her languages she learned through education. Even into her later years, Mum used to come across English words she didn't understand and would look them up in a dictionary, then write notes about the word in a notebook. Then she'd learn the words by rewriting them into yet another notebook. I am the same. I remember things by writing them down. If I type them, I forget but something about writing the words on paper stows it into my memory.

Dad Pham - well, he hated to study and says Vietnamese teachers couldn't pronounce English words properly, let alone teach others. The giant Vietnamese-English dictionary he had was inaccurate and useless when he tried to point at definitions to help communicate with English speakers. Dad's real English skills came from working and/or living with Americans in Vietnam, and a slim English-Vietnamese dictionary he remembers one of them giving him.

I'm always amazed by people who know multiple languages. My parents both knew Vietnamese, English, German and Mum Pham knew some French and understood Chinese because it's half her heritage. Then I remember my trip to Europe where it was the norm that everyone knew at least 2-3 languages, and I am an unworldly Australian ignoramus who by birth inherited Vietnamese but otherwise would have no language skills other than English.


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