Foreign Languages and Understanding Other Cultures

Ha Nguyen had an interview with Tran Yen Ngoc - a foreign student at HSE Faculty of World Economics, who knows 4 languages English, Russian, Chinese, and Vietnamese.

Foreign Languages and Understanding Other Cultures

Hello, Ngoc. Could you please tell a little bit about yourself to our readers?

Good morning. My name is Yen Ngoc. I’m from Vietnam. I’m a junior at HSE at the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, majoring in World Economy. My program is mainly taught in Russian, but I still have some subjects in English.

Yen Ngoc

a student of Bachelor's Program in World Economy

Could you tell us what your native language is?

I was born and raised in Vietnam and my native language is Vietnamese.

Does your country have a second language?

Actually I don’t think there is any official second language in Vietnam. The only official language is Vietnamese. However, Vietnam is a multi-ethnic country with 54 different ethnic groups, many of which have their own languages. They have preserved their unique languages for centuries. Although many languages do not even have a written form, they are handed down by word of mouth.

Is there any language which you don’t presently speak but which you would like to learn? Why is this language interesting to you?

I don’t speak Korean now, but I really want to learn. I used to learn a bit of Korean, something like Hangul, “Hello”, “I’m from Vietnam”, “I’m a student at a university in Russia”.Then I couldn’t allocate enough time for Korean, so I gave up and forgot all of what I have gone through. I still have a passion for Korean, so I will definitely start learning it again in the near future.

When it comes to the reasons why I want to learn Korean, K-dramas are the first one. I’m a big fan of Korean movies, because they convey many meaningful messages about family, friends and society. Besides, the vibes in many Korean movies make me feel so relaxing, calm and peaceful. Another reason is that I like to learn foreign languages, and communicate with foreign friends in their native languages, which helps me get to know them easily.

What languages have you learned?

I can speak Vietnamese, which is my mother tongue, Chinese, English, and Russian. I started learning English when I was 8 years old like other primary pupils. However, before we just studied English grammar and vocabulary, I also didn’t listen to English music or watch English shows. I was bad at English, to be honest, especially at listening and speaking. Then when I arrived in Russia, at first I couldn’t speak a Russian word, so I had to study Russian and communicate with other friends in English. After some months I realized that my English had improved a lot.

Moreover, I have been learning Chinese for almost 3 years. I started learning it in September 2019, and then in October 2020, I passed HSK 5 exam, which is equivalent to C1 level.

I also can speak Russian, because I’m taking classes in Russian. But it seems that my Russian is getting worse and worse, to be honest.

Wow, you must be hardworking. Why did you choose to learn those languages?

I’ll talk about English first. As I said, I started learning English at my primary school. It was a compulsory subject. After that, during secondary school and high school, we all had to learn English. Actually when I was in secondary school, I participated in a lot of English competitions, but when I was in high school, I focused on three subjects Math, Physics, and Chemistry to prepare for the university entrance exam, so I didn't pay attention to English.

Regarding Russian, I also have to learn Russian because I chose to study in Russia, and my program is mainly in Russian. I started learning Russian in October 2018. In the beginning, it wasn't easy because Russian belongs to a completely different group of languages from Vietnamese and English. Russian grammar is also quite complicated for me. However, after studying for a while, I realized that Russian grammar is complicated but very logical, and Russian is also very beautiful.

Speaking about Chinese, majoring in World Economy, I have to choose a second foreign language besides English. At that time, I had some Chinese friends and wanted to talk to them more. Moreover, I also plan to go to China after graduation, so I chose Chinese as a second foreign language.

Can I ask in which area you are more competent in each language? I mean writing, speaking, listening or reading?

It depends on each language. I am a native in Vietnamese, so everything is ok for me. I think I'm quite good at listening and speaking English and Chinese, and I'm pretty bad at writing skills. However, for Russian, I am most confident in my reading skills.

Would you say that you have passion for learning languages?

Before I didn’t think that I had a passion for learning languages. However, after a long journey which I’ve told you before, I would say I kind of love learning languages.

What do you find the best way for you to learn a new language?

In my opinion, the best way to learn a new language is to practice using that language on a daily basis. As I said, I have some Chinese friends, but I'm not in Russia these days. So, to create a practice environment, I downloaded the Hellotalk app, got to know new Chinese friends, and use Chinese to talk to daily. By the way, this is a helpful app, and you can find native speakers of other languages, like English or Russian, not just Chinese.

Thanks for this useful advice. Can you tell us what your favorite language learning materials are?

Regarding learning materials, for me, the best materials at the beginning to the levels B1 and B2 are textbooks or some other official books, which language learners often recommend.

Do you think understanding a country's culture makes it easier for you to learn that language?

Yes, I do. For me, the language is also part of the culture. Understanding a country's culture also helps us better understand the different ways of expression of native speakers. Thus, learning the language is also somewhat easier.

Do you think it is rude to speak your own language to people who cannot understand?

I think, a bit. For example, there is a group of friends, some of whom are Vietnamese. Then Vietnamese people talk to each other in Vietnamese, and other foreign friends don't understand. I think this isn't polite.

From your experience, which language is the most difficult?

For me, among languages that I’m learning, Russian is the most difficult. Because Vietnamese and English belong to the same Latin language group, Vietnamese and Chinese have many similarities in pronunciation and grammar, but Russian belongs to a completely new language group.

Do you think knowing many foreign languages will bring advantages to your future career?

Yes, sure. English is now an international language and almost a mandatory company requirement. Therefore, learning a new foreign language has many advantages in the future.

Could you share with us your biggest positive consequence that learning foreign languages has had on your life?

The biggest benefit of learning foreign languages for me so far is that it gives me job opportunities to gain experience and make many friends from different countries.

Since you are an international student, what's the most amazing intercultural experience you’ve had because of speaking another language?

I could participate in cultural exchange events or some meetings of language clubs.

If you have to think about something, what language do you usually think in? Do you think the language affects thinking or even personality?

Before I thought about anything in English more than in Chinese or Russian, but recently because I often communicate in Chinese, I started thinking in Chinese more. Yes, I think the language affects the way of thinking and even personality. Because as I said, language is a part of culture, and culture has a big impact on your personality.

How about you? Do you feel like a different person when speaking different languages?

Yes, sure. And there are some cases when I often communicate with a friend in Russian;  when we switch to English, I feel like I am talking to another person.

I am quite curious if you dreamt in another language?

Sometimes) and mostly in Chinese.

Do you think it is possible to fall in love with someone who doesn’t speak your language?

Yes, of course. In my opinion, the most crucial factor is that two people are on the same page and can feel care, sympathy, and understanding. Therefore, language can be a significant barrier but not impossible.

Do you think that everybody in the world should speak the same language? Will the world become a better or a worse place if everybody spoke the same language?

I think we can learn foreign languages to make more friends. But, still, I hope that every country can preserve their current languages. It would make this world diversified and more “colorful”.

What’s the most important piece of advice you have for anyone who wants to learn a new language?

Just find a style that works for you. You could have heard many times that you should find native speakers and be confident to talk to them. From my experience, I don’t know why but I can do that only with Chinese. I can’t be confident to speak English and Russian in front of native speakers. Therefore, I try to talk to myself, and record what I say and consider those records as my diary. And this really works for me. So, just try and find the most suitable method for you.