Child prodigy nurtures big ambitions

Published: 20/02/2009 05:00



Do Nhat Nam is only seven years old, but he’s already passed the Foreign Trade University’s entrance exam in English.

Do Nhat Nam is an actor in the children’s programme Chuc be ngu ngon (Good night, baby) broadcast every evening on VTV3.

Do Nhat Nam is only seven years old, but he’s already passed the Foreign Trade University’s entrance exam in English.

He’s the presenter of two TV shows and has wowed the nation with his language skills – and he’s only seven years old. Meet Do Nhat Nam, one of Viet Nam’s most famous child prodigies.

I met him on a chilly winter’s evening, but the enthusiasm of the youngster soon warmed me up. “This is the first time I’ve been interviewed by a foreign language newspaper, so I want to speak to you in English,” he says.

Today the seven-year-old hosts the programme Qua chuong nho (Small Bell) and Tro chuyen cung be (Talking with babies) on Viet Nam Television Channel VTV2. He is also an actor in the children’s programme Chuc be ngu ngon (Good night, baby) telecasts by VTV3 every evening.

Nam first rose to fame two years ago when he passed the Cambridge University Started exam for the English language with a maximum score. The exam was set for kids aged between 9 to 12 years old. He was only five. At six, Nam had finished the course and was making his way up the next level, the Movers, for 12-15 year olds.

He has just finished the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) with a course-end total of 650 out of 990. TOEIC is often used as a standard for establishing workplace English writing and speaking skills.

But Nam’s most famous achievement was when he became Viet Nam’s youngest published translator with his translation from English to Vietnamese of popular science-for-kids book Sun up, sun down - The Story of day and night, by Jacqui Bailey and Matthew Lilly. The book was originally published by A&C Black publishing story (Great Britain).

Nam’s mother, Phan Thi Ho Diep, says her son was offered the chance to translate the book after he was scouted by editors visiting the Thai Ha Book Store in Ha Noi. He has since signed a contract to translate three more books sold in Thai Ha bookshop.

Early learner

Nam began learning English over a year ago. He joined the class a few months late, and had a lot of catching up to do. But in just one month, the then five-year-old rose from being the bottom of the class to the top and in eight weeks, he was allowed to move into the higher level classes.

“I was determined to get to the top,” Nam says. “I set my heart on learning English, so I spent ten hours a day reading newspapers, magazines, watching TV and surfing the net.”

It didn’t matter that his classmates were more interested in playing, reading comics, the seven-year-old says. “I spend my day watching CNN, the BBC, Discovery, Disney Channel and Australian Network and reading an international encyclopaedic dictionary in English.”

Nam says he likes the encyclopaedia because it helps him learn about the customs and politics of different countries all over the world. “I really like reading about politics in the US,” he says.

Nam’s TOEIC teacher Ta Thi Lan Huong at the London English Centre says Nam is an outstanding student in more ways than one. “I’ve never spoken with a seven-year who has such good pronunciation. He’s always been the top of the class.”

Last summer, Nam’s mother put her son’s skills to yet another test. She asked an English language lecturer at the Foreign Trade University (FTU) to supervise and mark Nam doing the university entrance exam. The then six-year-old managed the test in two-thirds of the time, and got a mark of eight out of 10.

The lecturer said the exam required knowledge from second grade to twelfth grade and then some, so she was very surprised when he found the test so easy.

Old for his years

When you have a conversation with Nam, you forget you are talking to a seven-year-old, his mother says. “Some of my neighbours joke that we should glue a beard to Nam’s chin and send him to the pensioners meeting, no one would notice!”

He may not be interested in games and toys, but Nam still nurtures childhood ambitions. “I dream of becoming a scientist who can do good things for the world, or be a diplomat or a successful businessman like Bill Gates,” he says.

“But before that I have to graduate from a really good university like Harvard.”

He’s off to a good start. Already the youngster has used his prominent position in the media to rally help and urge public donations after the tragic collapse of the Can Tho Bridge last year. He also donated all the money he earned from his book translation to the Tumour Department of the Central Paediatrics Hospital in Ha Noi.

“I was treated at that hospital, so I really empathise with the kids there. I’ve decided to give some of the patients there some free English lessons in the next few months,” he says.

“I have lots of dreams, but what I really want to do is be smart enough to earn as much money as possible to be able to thank my parents properly and help poor people and the disabled all over the world.”


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