Last night my new daughter-in-law asked me, my son and wife to attend one of her relatives places for a chat. We had already had dinner at Uncle Ing's place, where I learned why many of us in Australia are fat and obese and few Vietnamese are not. But that's a story for another day.
I had the most fascinating experience with a six year old girl called Hung. She looked as cute as ever in her school uniform, her long, jet black hair, smooth brown skin and brown eyes. She approached me and, probably never having seen an aging Australian with different eye shape, skin colour etc, addressed me in Vietnamese. I said hello to her in Vietnamese, one of a growing handful of words I know and then spoke a few words in English. She suddenly began speaking to me in English that was comprehensible, but slightly out of tone. She began counting to me and as I watched her searching for the next number, she reached 20 before she decided that was enough.
I told her she was very good at counting in English. We sat down and I began to point to parts of her body and say the English word. She responded, "nose", "eyes", "chin", "fingers" in her cute little voice and when the intonation was incorrect, I would tell her, "no, it's n-o-s-e" and as quick as a flash she would repeat it. Several times she had successive attempts, but eventually got it as close to 100 percent as anyone could expect from a six year old.
What I found quite remarkable is that she remembered every word we had spoken and got the correct intonation in several repeat sessions. Then she decided to teach me Vietnamese. She would say a word and then open her hands out in front of me to say, "well, say the word". If I got it incorrect as I did many, she would gesticulate in the way Vietnamese do to say "khong" ... "no" and redisplay her tiny hands to suggest I repeat the sound.
I couldn't believe it. There I was, a 65 year old man being taught Vietnamese by a six year old girl. And she was doing a great job of it. We had about a 3/4 h session, but I'm sad to say I'm not as efficient a learner as Hung.
It was an amazing experience and suggests to me that this young lady is brilliant. Truly an example of what is known in education as the "blank slate", the slate that has plenty of room for learning and absorbs everything quickly.
If I was staying here for an extended period, I'd ask her parents if I could have a few one hour sessions with her each week from which we could both benefit. I enjoyed our interaction very much despite our vast age difference and the absence of a considerable language barrier.