First Impressions of Vietnamese:


One week into my Vietnamese study.  So far it has been a lot of fun although I haven’t attempted to speak with anyone yet (excluding myself, of course!).  I would say from my brief foray into this exotic tongue that Vietnamese is at least as difficult as Mandarin.  Sharp, monosyllables are shot at you like a machine-gun in Vietnamese and the six tones are really tough for me to recognize at this point.  At least I have that Latin script to fall back on.

I mentioned before about the two main dialects of Vietnamese.  While there are certainly differences in vocabulary between them, the main differences seem to be in pronunciation.  The Northern dialect (the one in my Assimil course) uses a “z” sound for the letters gi and r whereas the Southern dialect uses a “y” sound. So, in the North one would say “Ông, tên là gì (What is your name?) ?” “ung ten ZEE” but in the South it would sound like “ung tenYII” . “Bây giờ mấy giờ rồi (what time is it now)? would be “bayzuh, mayzuh zoi” in the North and “bayyuh mayyuh roi” in the South.  I am trying to get some exposure to both dialects so I’m not totally lost if I come into contact with a Tiếng Nam (southern) speaker.  I have been listening to some podcasts to try and pick out which dialect the speaker is using.  Interestingly, the news podcasts I downloaded are all tiếng-Bắc (northern), even VOA’s!  The Southern California online stations, however are all Tiếng Nam; go figure!


The dialects are tricky but when it comes to forms of address, I’m completely lost! In English, we have “you” and if one wants to split hairs I suppose we also have “thou”.  In Vietnamese there are dozens of ways to address someone depending on the relationships between the speaker and addressee.  This is a partial list of potential ways to address another in Vietnamese that I took from Wikipedia’s Vietnamese Grammar page:

Term Reciprocal Literal meaning Non-kinship usage Note
cha con father a priest Many other terms are used, depending on the dialect: babốtíathầy
mẹ con mother   mẹ is the Northern form,  is used in the South. Many other terms are used, depending on the dialect: u,bầmmạ
anh em older brother an older man of the same generation; the man in a romantic relationship; a man (formal use) Can be used to address any male regardless of status. e.g. By military personnel to those of lower ranks.
chị em older sister an older woman of the same generation; a woman (formal use)  
em anh or chị younger sibling or cousin of the same generation a younger person of the same generation; a child; the woman in a romantic relationship  
con cha, mẹ, bà, etc. one’s child a young child; a person at least one generation younger  
cháu ông, bà, bác, chú, etc. grandchild; niece; nephew; cousin of junior generations a young child; a person at least one generation younger  
ông cháu or con grandfather a middle-aged man paternal and maternal grandfathers are differentiated as ông nội (“internal grandfather”) and ông ngoại(“external grandfather”), respectively
cháu or con grandmother a middle-aged (married) woman paternal and maternal grandmothers are differentiated as bà nội (“internal grandmother”) and bà ngoại(“external grandmother”), respectively
cháu father’s sister a female teacher, an older woman as old as one’s father, a young (usually unmarried) woman (formal) in some dialects, literal meaning is restricted to father’s younger sister
chú cháu father’s younger brother an older man as old as one’s father, a slightly younger man (formal) in some dialects, literal meaning is restricted to father’s younger brother
thím cháu chú’s wife    
bác cháu a parent’s older sibling a person older than one’s parents in some dialects, can also refer to father’s elder brother or sister as well as mother’s elder brother or sister
cháu mother’s sister, stepmother a woman as old as one’s mother, in some dialects, literal meaning is restricted to mother’s younger sister
cậu cháu mother’s brother a man as old as one’s mother, a close friend (Northern variety) in some dialects, literal meaning is restricted to mother’s younger brother
mợ cháu cậu’s wife   in some dialects, used by the husband to refer to his wife, children to refer to mother, or parents-in-law to refer to a daughter-in-law
dượng cháu the husband of  or , stepfather    
cụ/cố cháu great-grandparent a very old person  
cháu great-great-grandparent    
họ   clan they third person plural for a group of people
Using the correct pronoun is extremely important as using the wrong one apparently can cause serious offense!  Hopefully they cut foreigners a little slack!I am on Unit 6 of Assimil and so far this is what I can say so far in Vietnamese:
Do you know her?
of course I know her!
Who is she?
She is my friend’s older sister.
Who is your friend?
My friend is Mr. Ho, husband of Mrs. Hoa.
What is her name?
Her name is Lan.
She is young and very pretty!

Ong có biết chị ấy không?
Tôi biết chu!
Cô ấy là ai?
Cô là chị gái của bạn tôi.
Ong bạn là ai?
Bạn tôi là ông Hồ, chồng bà Hòa.
Tên chị là gì?
Chị ấy tên là Lan.
chị ấy trẻ và đẹp qua!

Mr. What is your name?
My name is Ho.
What is your family- name?
My surname is Pham.
What is your work?
I am a journalist.
What about that woman? What is her name?
Her name is Tran Thin Lan.
She is also a journalist, isn’t she?
No She is a teacher.  

Ông tên là gì?
Tên tôi là Hồ.
Ông họ là gì?
Họ là Phạm.
Ông việc của là gì?
Tôi là nhà báo.
Ve cô ấy ? Tên cô ấy là gì?
Tên cô ấy là Trần Thìn Lan.
Cô cũng là nhà báo, không phải?
Không ,cô ấy là giáo viên.



One thought on “First Impressions of Vietnamese:

  1. All of the sudden, I find out your website.
    Vietnamese is very hard. It’s very hard to get good grade in Literature (vietnamese) although I’m vietnamese. I can recommend you some wedsite you can find tiếng Nam (oh, I don’t how to describe tiếng Nam in english). I don’t know whether you see this comment or not. But hey, you can contact with me through my email:

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