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Learn some Vietnamese words and phrases

Chatting with local people in Hanoi

Learning to speak a few words of local language while on your trip is always fun and greatly improve your experience. Let’s learn some words/phrases of Vietnamese while preparing your trip and you will have chance to talk/chat, make friends – however briefly – with the majority of locals who might not know your language and also give you a far greater appreciation of the Vietnamese culture. Below are some easy and popular phrases which I think will enhance your enjoyment, if you are interested to know a little more about our language, you can download here the phrasebook to sharpen your skills.

Simple Phrases

At the very minimum it is important to at least know how to say ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank you’ – it takes moments to learn yet can make a big impression, as you will already know more than 90% of travelers arriving in Vietnam.

Hello. Xin chào. (sin chow)
Hi. Chào. (chow)
How are you? Khỏe không? (kweh kohng?)
Fine, thank you. Khoẻ, cảm ơn. (kweh, gauhm uhhn)
What is your name? Bạn tên là gì? (ban ten la zee)?
My name is ______ . Tôi tên là ______ . (Toy ten la _____ .)
Please. Làm ơn. (lam uhhn)
Thank you. Cảm ơn. (gauhm uhhn)
You’re welcome. Không sao đâu. (kohng sao dwoh)
Yes (affirmative). Vâng (vuhng)
Yes (affirmative, respectful). Dạ (Northern : zah, Southern : yah)
Yes (correct). Đúng (doong)
No. Không. (kaumng)
I’m sorry. Xin lỗi. (sin loy)
Goodbye. Tạm biệt (tam byet)
I can’t speak Vietnamese [well]. Tôi không biết nói tiếng Việt [giỏi lắm]. (thoy kohng byet noy tyeng vyet [zoy luhm])
Do you speak English? Bạn biết nói tiếng Anh không? (ban byet noy tyeng ang kaumng)
Is there someone here who speaks English? Có ai đây biết nói tiếng Anh không? (GAW eye day byet noy tyeng ang kaumng)
Help! Cứu (tôi) với! (gih-OO (thoy) vuh-y!)
Look out! Cẩn thận! (guhn tuh’n!)
Good night (to sleep). Chúc ngủ ngon. (chook ngoo ngawn)
I don’t understand. Tôi không hiểu. (toy kohng hugh)
Where is the toilet? (formal and common): Nhà vệ sinh/wc ở đâu?
Be back soon. Sẽ quay lại sớm (se-ay kway lie-ay sohm)

Addressing people

For Vietnamese people it is important to use the correct form of address than signifies your age and relationship to the person you are speaking to. In general, when talking to someone younger than you you may call them ‘Em’, or if you think you are younger than them you may call yourself ‘Em’ and use a range of pronouns based on the other person’s gender and age.

As a traveller however it is acceptable to ‘cheat’ and use a generic ‘Tôi’ for ‘I’ and ‘Ban’ for ‘Friend’, rather than finding the correct form of address – this is not disrespectful and will help you make yourself understood.

Pronunciation

Like the majority of South East and East Asian languages, Vietnam is a tonal language. This means that for each syllable there are six different tones that can change the meaning of a phrase.

Tones

Description Sample word Meaning
High rising Mother
Low falling That
Start in a low tone, go down, and gently back up (I tend to imagine a bored butler – ‘Ye-es M’lud?’ ) Mả Tomb
Start high, bring voice down, cut off and go back up* Horse
Bring voice down and cut off abruptly (imagine a parent firmly saying ‘No.’) Mạ Rice Shoots
Mid range voice, go flat and level Ma Ghost

*This tone is very strong in the North around Hanoi where there is a perceptible ‘cut’ in the sound. In the South around Saigon people tend to speak in a more ‘smooth’ manner, and many would say this tone becomes almost identical to the low, rising tone above it (‘Ye-es, M’lud”)

Vietnamese Alphabet

Although the Vietnamese use the same alphabet as Latin languages such as English and French, some of the sounds are fairly different to their English equivalent. There are a few similarities with French, however.

Consonants

d Like ‘z‘ as in zero
đ Like ‘d‘ in English as do
g,gh Like ‘g‘ in go
gi Like ‘y‘ in yes
kh Like ‘Karen’
nh Like ‘n’ in Cognac
ng, ngh Like Singer
ph Like ‘f‘ in forest
r Normal R in English
s Normal S in English
t As in Tan
th As in Thump
tr As in Train
v As in Violet

Vowels

One rule to pronouncing vowels in Vietnam that is very useful to remember is that whenever you get two vowels together – for example ‘ui’ – the first vowel should have much more emphasis than the second – ‘ui’

a As in father
ă like ‘a’ in “father”, except said very quickly
â As a in black
ai I
ao Loud
au Ow
âu As in go
ay As in day
ây As in David
e Like in America
eo Like meow-cat’s noise
ê Like in café
i Like in see
ia Like in idia
ie Like in yes
o Like in door
oa Like in Oasis
oai Like in Why
oay Like in Uruguay
e Where
oi Coin
ô Joseph
ôi Like in toy
ơ Like in Burger
u Like in Sue
ua Like Ecuador
Like in ‘Question’
ui Like oo-ee
uy Like ‘oui’ in French
uya As French ‘Culture
uyen When
y Like letter ‘e
yeu Like in few

More useful phrases

You can now pronounce most of the words, remember these useful phrases below.

At the restaurant

Restaurant Nhà Hàng
Menu Thực đơn
Food Thức ăn
Drink (n) Đồ uống
A pair of chopsticks Đôi đũa
I am a vegetarian Tôi ăn chay
Not too spicy Không quá cay
No chilli please Không ớt
No fish sauce Không nướn mắm
Can I have the bill please? Tính tiền
Delicious Ngon quá
I am full Tôi no rồi
Medium Vừa
Rare Tái
Well-done Chín
Without Không có
A little Ít
Sugar Đường

 

One more Thêm một
One more beer Thêm một bia
Meat Tht
Seafood Hải sản
Chicken
Beef
Pork (South / North) (Thit) Heo / Lợn
Fish
Squid Mực
Prawns Tôm
Crab Cua
Soft shell crab Cua lột
Fried / Deep Fried Chiên
Stir fried Xào
Grilled Nướng
Steamed Hấp
Stewed Kho
With Với
Fish sauce Nước mắm
Stir fried chicken Gà xào
Grilled chicken Gà nướng
Morning glory Rau muống
Water Nước
Ice Đá
Red wine Rượu đỏ
White wine Rượu trắng
Can I have the menu please? Có thực đơn không?
Can I have chicken sate please Tôi muốn gà sa tế
Can I have a glass of red wine please? Tôi muốn một ly rượu đỏ

Getting Around

Do you use the meter? Bạn có chạy theo đồng hồ không?
I like to go the cinema, please Tôi muốn đi rạp chiếu phim
Motorbike Driver Xe Ôm
Bicycle Rickshaw (Cyclo) Xích Lô
Bus Station Trạm Xe Buýt
Train Station Ga Xe Lửa
Airport Sân Bay
How much is it to go from here to Russian Market? Đi chợ Nga bao nhiêu tiền?
That’s expensive, I pay 30,000 VND ? Mắc quá, tôi trả ba mươi ngàn?
I’m in a hurry Tôi đang vội
Please slow down! Đi chậm lại!
I don’t want to die Tôi không muốn chết!

Numbers, times + dates

Vietnamese numbers are quite easy to follow, as higher numbers use the same words as lower – for example, twenty five would be expressed as ‘Two Ten Five’, or 365 as ‘Three Hundred Six Ten Five’. This means that once you have learnt to count from one to ten other numbers are pretty easy.

There is one irregularity with numbers: since the word for 5 (Nam) is the same as for year(s) (Nam) it changes to ‘Lam’ avoid confusion, for example:

5 – Năm

20 years – Hai Mươi Năm

25 – Hai Mươi Lăm

55 – Năm Mươi Lăm

55 years – Năm Mươi Lăm Năm

0 Không
1 Một
2 Hai
3 Ba
4 Bốn
5 Năm
6 Sáu
7 Bảy
8 Tám
9 Chín
10 Mười
11 Mười một
12 Mười hai
13 Mười ba
14 Mười bốn
15 Mười lăm
16 Mười sáu
17 Mười bảy
18 Mười tám
19 Mười chín
20 Hai Mươi
21 Hai Mươi Mốt
30 Ba Mươi
32 Ba Mươi Hai
100 Một Trăm
1,000 Một Nghìn
100,000 Một Trăm Nghìn
1,000,000 Một Triệu
1 bn Mot Tỷ / Tỉ

Money

Since money in Vietnam is demarcated in thousands it is acceptable to skip the ‘thousand dong’ when negotiating prices, or to use slang. Do note though that ‘Chuc’ is used more in the south and may not be recognised in the north.

1 $ Một đô
1 £ Một bảng
1,000 Dong Một Nghìn Đồng
50,000 Dong Năm Mươi (Nghìn đồng)
20, 000 / Twenty bucks (slang) Hai Chục
50,000 / 50 bucks (slang) Năm Chục

Units of Time

Minute Phút
Hour Giờ
Day Ngày
Week Tuần
Month Tháng
Year Năm

Days of the week

Monday Thứ Hai (Day 2)
Tuesday Thứ Ba (Day 3)
Wednesday Thứ Tư (day 4)
Thursday Thứ Năm (day 5)
Friday Thứ Sáu (day 6)
Saturday Thứ Bảy (day 7)
Sunday Chủ Nhật (God’s day)

Shopping

A favourite activity for many travellers to Vietnam is shopping. With a huge range of unique crafts available Vietnam is a great place to find souvenirs, and thanks to cheap prices and very talented tailors it is also a popular place to have clothes made. By sprinkling some Vietnamese into your shopping not only will it be easier to get things you want but you may even get some better bargains too. Don’t forget to take a look at our section on dates, numbers and money too.

Where Ở đâu
Where is Ben Thanh market? Chợ Bến Thành ở đâu?
Where can I buy sun cream? Tôi có thể mua kem chống nắng ở đâu?
How much is it? Bao nhiêu tiền?
It is too expensive Mắc quá
Do you have something cheaper? Bạn có cái nào rẻ hơn không?
Can I pay by card? Tôi có thể trả bằng thẻ tín dụng không?
Can I pick it up later? Tôi có thể lấy nó sau được không?
Can you ship it overseas? Bạn có gởi hàng ra nước ngoài không?
Can I have a receipt please? Tôi muốn hóa đơn
Can I try it? Tôi có thể thử nó được không?
It doesn’t fit Nó không vừa
Do you have a bigger one? Bạn có cái lớn hơn không?
Do you have a smaller one? Bạn có cái nhỏ hơn không?
It’s perfect Rất tốt

 

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