With around 75 million native speakers around the world, Vietnamese is a language not just in Vietnam, but also throughout the world in places such as China (in particular the border regions between Vietnam and China), Australia and the United States. Interestingly, it’s estimated there are around 3 million native Vietnamese speakers outside of Vietnam.
The Vietnamese language was actually created as a by-product of French colonial rule from 1862 to 1945. French was the ‘official’ language of Vietnam and was used in all official and commercial correspondence. The Romanisation of the Vietnamese language is attributed to the French Jesuit missionary named Alexandre de Rhodes back in the 17th Century.
In Vietnam, there are three dialects of Vietnamese that are used within the country:
Northern dialect - spoken by people in Hanoi (the country’s capital city) as well as all of northern Vietnam. The northern dialect is regarded as the standard version of the language;
Central dialect - as you might have guessed, this is spoken through the middle provinces of Vietnam:
Southern dialect - this is primarily spoken in Ho Chi Minh City (the city formerly known as Saigon), as well as the Mekong Delta region and other southern parts of the country.
One of the biggest complaints from both locals and foreigners is that there are often further language barriers caused by the three different dialects in use.
Despite this, people from different parts of Vietnam can still communicate without looking bewildered or confused, as they are fairly quick to translate into local dialects on the fly.
Do the Vietnamese speak any other languages?
You are likely to find people working in the travel and hospitality industries speak English fairly well, with many also able to speak French, although the number of French speakers is declining. The luxury hotels in Vietnam will have a high level of English speaking staff, but it is always respectful to learn some phrases in their native tongue.
If you travel to the north of the country, you are likely to come across increasing numbers of Russian-speakers. This is due to the number of Vietnamese working or studying in this part of the world. Although many also speak Chinese and Japanese, the main foreign language is English.
Should I learn some Vietnamese before visiting Vietnam?
The Vietnamese are a proud people with a culture based on mutual respect and although many understand English you will find by attempting to speak the native tongue to will command greater respect, get better deals and even make friends. Below are some basic key phrases to help you communicate when you’re there. Here are some we think are worth learning:
- “Hello” - “xin chào”, pronounced “seen chow”;
- “How are you?” - “khỏe không?”, pronounced “kweh kohng?”;
- “Fine, thank you” - “khoẻ, cảm ơn”, pronounced “kweh, kuhm uhhn”;
- “My name is…” - “tôi tên là”, pronounced “toy ten la”;
- “Please” - “làm ơn”, pronounced “lam uhhn”;
- “Thank you” - “cảm ơn”, pronounced “kuhm uhhn”;
- “You're welcome” - “không sao đâu”, pronounced “kohng sao doh”;
- “Yes” - “đúng”, pronounced “doong”;
- “No” - “không”, pronounced “kohng”;
- “Goodbye” - “tạm biệt”, pronounced “tam byet”