As the national and official language of Vietnam, Vietnamese is widely spoken throughout the country. The Vietnamese language is an incredible reflection of the history of the nation. Much of the language has been transformed by the cultural influences of other countries who have occupied Vietnam throughout its history.
Vietnamese belongs to the Austro-Asiatic language family, and derived much of its vocabulary from the Chinese language. China occupied much of Vietnam for hundreds of years beginning in 111 BC. When the Vietnamese language was first being written in the 13th century, it was portrayed using Chinese characters. As early as the mid-1500’s, the Portuguese Catholic missionaries in Vietnam began using the Latin alphabet to transcribe the language. This has led to the use of the Latin alphabet in modern Vietnamese. Due to France’s occupation throughout the late 1800’s and much of the 1900’s, there is also a strong presence of French. Many modern words are borrowed from the French language, or sound very similar to the French pronunciation (i.e. the Vietnamese word for coffee is cà phê, from the French café).
Much like Chinese, Vietnamese is a tonal language and when spoken has a sing-song effect. The same word can be pronounced with different tones to reflect a different meaning. For example, the word ma carries different connotations depending on the tone used to express the word: ghost, cheek, which, tomb or horse! Get a jump-start on your Vietnamese with a few words and phrases to help you along in your travels:
Vietnamese: Xin chào! (Sin chow!)
Vietnamese: Tạm biệt (Tam bee-ET)
English: Thank You.
Vietnamese: Xin cảm ơn (Sin gahm un)
English: Excuse Me/ Sorry
Vietnamese: Xin lổi (Sin loy)
English: How much
Vietnamese: Bao nhiêu (Bow nyew)
English: What is this?
Vietnamese: Cái nay la gì (Guy nai la zee)
English: I don’t understand.
Vietnamese: Tôi không hiểu. (Thoy kohng hee-oh.)
English: Is there someone here who speaks English?
Vietnamese: Có ai đây biết nói tiếng Anh không? (GAW ai dey bee-IT noh-Y thee-IHNG ayng kohng?)
Practice your Vietnamese while volunteering in Ho Chi Minh City with World Endeavors! Find more information about our programs at www.worldendeavors.com/programs/Vietnam