I learned to speak passable Vietnamese in my 2 years in Viet Nam, especially the local dialect. However, when the 2 children of a Vietnamese friend asked me to read to them, they busted out laughing. Part of it was a sad story. I asked Chony why they were laughing. She said, “You speak nice Vietnamese, but you read numbah 10!” It’s all those accent marks I just didn’t get down right.
My tailor and her husband are Vietnamese immigrants (“Richard” was a pilot in the S. Vietnamese Air Force) and they were impressed the first time I spoke to them in Vietnamese.
My dental hygienist was born in Viet Nam (Cholon area of old Saigon), but learned English here. The first time she cleaned my teeth I said, “Cam on nhieu,” she had a look of surprise. She asked me where I learned my Vietnamese. I told her on Phu Quoc Island and at Cat Lo at the mouth of the Mekong River where I worked with contracted Vietnamese.
Besides Viet Nam, I’ve been stationed in 2 other countries (Japan and Sardinia) where I picked up the local language (and dialects) quite easily. I’ve also visited 27 other countries and when I spoke the local language I found I was better accepted than if I hadn’t. The only exception was in France (Toulon, Villefranche, Nice) where my bad French was met with “Je ne comprends pas.” I had to speak Italian in those places. However, my French was understood in Tunisia and Mauritius.