Return to site

Amusing side of Vietnamese

Week 32, Episode 64

Tones and grammar are important to master when learning Vietnamese, but none of that will be needed unless you start using them in a sentence. It is time to go for the words and short simple phrases, and this journey is doomed to be fun :)

I bet you'll enjoy saying "Thank you" in Vietnamese because it sounds so close to the urging English "Come on!", just a bit tighter and more tensed—Cảm ơn—and, of course, manage the tones right. It is very easy to remember.

As respect and politness are extremely important in Vietnamese culture, there are particles you should use in your speech to convey it: thưa at the beginning of a response and at the end of a sentence—they are normally used to exchange plesantries, like greetings, requests about health, positive/negative answers to questions, etc.

So it is more polite instead of "Không" for "No" to say "Không ạ". As for "Yes", there are so many ways to say it, I don't even know where to start :)

  • polite vâng or dạ (this one is also "Yes" in Russian!) or phải more often used by a younger person talking to somebody older ;
  • simple  when agreeing with something your friends said (make it respectful by adding the famous particle ) or even ok,
  • được for "allright"đúng for "right", and  for "yep".

In the previous episode we talked about how addressing people might get quite confusing (remember all the options for saying "I love you" as in Vietnamese there is no just one common phrase for it like in English?). Same thing happens when you decide to say "Hello" (4 minutes):

Now you're ready for some heavy lifting—country names. These are the most amusing in Vietnamese, as you don't expect the long words like Australia or the United States of America to turn into 2-letter words! Here are some examples:

  • USA — Mỹ
  • AustraliaÚc
  • Japan— Nhật​
  • France — Pháp
  • Germany — Đức
  • Russia— Nga
  • Belgium— Bỉ​
  • Italy — Ý

How only Ý got left from Italy and Russia ended up being Nga? Chinese is to blame. Most of the country names come from those of the Chinese language, written in hierogliphs, which then were shortened and the result was made official for Vietnamese. But not all of them are that short. Spain, for example, has whole three words—Tây Ban Nha! And Canada even in Vietnamese looks the same, just severed—Ca na da.

To make a word for nationality for a given country, just add người (people) before its name—người Ý—and for its language, a word tiếng (language)—tiếng Ý. Works almost for all countries.

This triple-syllable way of writing country names make me think about the names people in Vietnam have, which also consist of 3 words. But beware, because their sequence differ from that you may be expecting: the family name goes first, the middle name is second and the given name is last. So if you're, say, a close friend of the Vietnamese president, Trần Đại Quang, you would call him Quang, not Trần.

Hey, how about some numbers? The most catchy song that sticks in your head (at least, the rhythm, for sure) about Vietnamese-Vietnamese-Vietnamese numbers is here (2 minutes):

Since Vietnamese words tend to be so short, no wonder that some have only one letter in them at all (like "Italy")! Take words like e ("to fear"), ô ("umbrella"), ("nest"). Pretty much Hawaiian style :)

That reminds me about this beautiful word in the Swedish language—ö meaning "island".

What is the longest Vietnamese word then? It is 7-letter nghiêng (nyen), which means "to tilt, to lean"—no competition to German, huh? :)

Lastly, I want to mention the Vietnamese word for "Fire!" that is pronounced the exact way as the Russian wor for "tea": Cháy! (Ch-eye!) I would honestly think people are offering me a hot beverage when what they really want is some actions to prevent a disaster.

On this note, let's say "Tạm biệt" to the Vietnamese language, its tones and funny short words (which I truly hope got you interested and maybe even inspired) as we move on to the next tonal language—Thai.

May mắn! (My mahn!) Good luck!

" That was fun! Please, put a like! "

Discover more about Vietnamese and other languages at!

All Posts

Almost done…

We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!

OKSubscriptions powered by Strikingly