While many English speakers are intimidated by the strange characters and pronunciations of Asian languages, Vietnamese can, in some ways, be easier to navigate. Because it uses a Latinized alphabet, it is easier for those who don’t speak the language to read street signs, order off of menus, and more. While learning how to correctly pronounce words is more difficult, this handy guide will help you translate English to Vietnamese.
The Vietnamese Language
About 76 million people speak Vietnamese, including some four million who live abroad. The Vietnamese alphabet in use today, devised by Jesuit missionaries who came to Vietnam in the 1600s, includes 29 letters, mainly from the Latin alphabet common to English speakers. Where it starts to get interesting, however, is with the various letter combinations, various accents, and diphthongs and triphthongs.
The Vietnamese language shares roots with Khmer, or Cambodian. But it is also heavily influenced by the Chinese, who conquered the region in the 6th century and ruled for 400 years. The French added their own contributions beginning in the 17th century.
One of the hardest things about the language is that it has six different tones and vowel sounds. While you may not master these on the flight over, it is easy to learn a few key words and phrases to improve your experience while in Vietnam.
Common Vietnamese Words and Phrases
On any trip to a foreign land, there are a few key phrases that you will need to know to get by. Below are some of the most common Vietnamese phrases, along with pronunciation in parentheses when necessary.
1. Greeting and Goodbye
- Hello: Xin chào! (sin chow!)
- Goodbye: Tạm biệt (tarm byeet)
2. Terms of Courtesy
Showing gratitude is good in any language! Improve any social situation by using these basic Vietnamese words often.
- Thank you: Cảm ơn bạn (gahm un ban)
- Please: Làm ơn (lam uhhn)
- You’re welcome: Không có gì (khome co xi)
- How are you? = Bạn khỏe không? (ban kwe khome?)
- I’m fine, thank you! = Tôi khỏe, cám ơn! (thoy kwe cam on)
3. Yes and No
- Yes: Vâng (vung)
- No: Không (khome)
4. Good and Bad
- Good: Tốt (thote)
- Bad: Xấu (szoh)
5. Asking for Assistance
- Excuse me: Xin lỗi (seen loy)
- Can you help me?: Bạn có thể giúp tôi được không? (ban co teh zoop thoy duc khom?)
- I: Tôi
- You: Bạn
- Female (junior): Em
- Female (senior): Chị
- Male (junior): Em
- Male (senior): Anh
You’ll be forgiven if you make a mistake with pronouns! Plus, you can often use the “senior” versions, as in these examples of addressing wait staff:
- Excuse me (to waiter): Anh ỗi
- Excuse me (to waitress): Chị ỗi
7. How to ask if someone speaks English
Make an effort to use common Vietnamese phrases, but you can also occasionally ask if the other party knows English.
- Can you speak English?: Bạn có thể nói tiếng Anh không? (ban co teh noy thien an khom)
Use each of the following numbers on its own, or combine them into two-digit numbers.
- 1: Một (mobh)
- 2: Hai
- 3: Số ba
- 4: Bốn (Bumh)
- 5: Số năm
- 6: Sáu
- 7: Bảy
- 8: Tám
- 9: Chín
- 10: Mười
9. Terms for Transactions
Haggling is common in Vietnamese culture and knowing a few phrases can save you some money!
- I like: Tôi thích (thoy tick)
- How much?: Bao nhiêu? (baow nyew)
- Too expensive: Quá đắt (qwa dat)
- Can you reduce the price?: Bạn có thể giảm giá? (Ban co teh zam za)
10. Relative Sizes and Amounts
- Big: Lớn (lungh)
- Small: Nhỏ (N-yor)
- Medium: Vừa (vurh)
- Less: It hơn (Eet hahn)
- More: hơn (hahn)
11. Terms of Flattery
Compliments are generally well received, though more specific compliments are considered more genuine.
- You are very beautiful: Bạn rất đẹp (ban zet dep)
- You are very handsome: Bạn rất đẹp trai (ban zet dep chai)
- You look great today = hôm nay bạn trông thật tuyệt
12. Vietnamese Restaurant Terms
- May I have the menu?: Tôi có thể có thực đơn không? (thoy co teh co tuck don khome)
- I would like to have this: Tôi muốn có cái này (thoy muhon co cai nay)
- Cold: Lạnh (langh)
- Hot: Nóng bức (non boo)
- No ice: Không có đá (khom co dar)
- No sugar: Không đường (khom dueng)
13. Common Locations
- Where is the bathroom? = nhà vệ sinh ở đâu
- Go to the airport: Đi đến sân bay (di den sun bay)
- Hotel: Khách sạn (khack san)
- Coffee shop = quán cà phê
- Bar = quán ba
- Where is the ATM?: ATM ở đâu? (ATM urn dole)
14. Emergency Terms
- I am sick: Tôi bị ốm (toy bee ohm)
- I need to go to the hospital: Tôi cần đến bệnh viện (toy can den ben vien)
- Call the police = gọi cảnh sát
The Vietnamese people are generally patient and good natured toward visitors. They may find humor when you mis-pronounce a word, but your efforts will be appreciated.
Now that you know some Vietnamese basic words and phrases, remember that you’ll need a Vietnam visa. Apply for one now to save time.