Guide to Use Basic Vietnamese for Travelers

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When navigating a foreign country and culture, it’s always useful to have some phrases ready in the native language. These simple bits of Vietnamese should come in handy as travelers explore and interact with the locals.

A Look into Vietnamese Language History

In the very early day, the Vietnamese adopted Han characters as a result of Chinese pervasion. Not until the 13th century did the Vietnamese start developing their own written language, namely Nom, as a way to affirm their cultural identity. In the 17th century, as missionaries entered the country, the Vietnamese language underwent the most important phase of transformation. It was turned into Romanized form, Quoc Ngu. And the most special thing about Vietnamese is that it has six different tones created by diacritics. Nowadays, due to Vietnam’s huge population and emigration, there are millions of Vietnamese speakers living all over the world.

Before coming to essential phrases you need to know, you should learn six tones in Vietnamese

a – flat, mid level

à – starts low then dips and rises

ả – starts above mid level, dips slightly then rises sharply

ã – starts higher than ả, dips slightly then rises sharply

á – starts high and rises sharply

ạ – starts low, falls and then stops

Daily Conversation

Vietnamese people are very hospitable and would love to talk to foreigners despite whatever you’re saying. Remember to be polite and give them a friendly smile. Chances are, you will make some great new friends. Below are the most basic phrases and sentences you may encounter in everyday life.

Travelling & Directions

Local streets are maze-like, and taxis or motorbike taxis are definitely indispensable for first-time visitors when it comes to getting around. But the problem here is that most drivers know only a little bit of English, so equipping yourself with some travelling vocab is a safer bet – you’re much better prepared to deal with the complexities of traveling within Vietnam. It will minimize your chances of getting lost, ensure your safety and many other advantages.

However, it’s always a good idea to bring a map and write down the address you’re going to on a piece of paper, just in case.

Shopping

Flea market bargain hunters and shopaholics would love Vietnam as this country is truly a shopping paradise. You’ll fall in love with the wide variety of commodities and insanely tempting prices. With a few Vietnamese words, your shopping sprees should be smooth and trouble free.

Dining & Ordering Food

Vietnamese culinary culture is undeniably one of the country’s highlights. Insanely cheap and unimaginably flavorful, a food adventure deserves a high place on your to-do list. Therefore, let’s learn a few common phrases so you can be assured that you don’t find yourself in awkward and embarrassing situations when eating out.

Numbers, Dates & Times

It’s crucial to know how to pronounce numbers, dates and times in Vietnamese as they are used intensively in everyday conversation. Vietnamese numbers are quite easy to follow once you learn the rules of how they’re structured. Higher numbers use the same words as the lower ones, which means if you master how to count from one to ten, the rest should fall into place.

Days of The Week

This is even easier once you got the hang of numbers in Vietnamese because the days are named after numbers in ascending order starting from number 2 (hai). Except for Sunday though.

Time

Regularly Used Terms

Some extra vocab to surprise your Vietnamese friends.

If you’re REALLY serious about learning Vietnamese, here are a few tips: 

Practice Makes Perfect – Either you practice with local friends or you practice with people online, there is no better way than to learn a language than by interacting with native speakers. Listen to their diction and pronunciation and don’t be afraid to ask them questions. Most of them would be more than happy that you are taking the time to actually learn their language.

Get a teacher or enrol yourself in a program – Vietnamese isn’t as easy as English as certain words can look exactly alike but mean two different things depending on how it is pronounced. There are loads of online courses which offer you basic lessons, walking you through the proper pronunciation and grammatical lessons while still being very affordable.

Don’t be Afraid to look like a fool – Learning a language is supposed to be a way for you to speak and understand more about another culture so don’t be too self conscious. Chances are, they will laugh with you and not at you!