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Vietnamese, known as tiếng việt (㗂越), is the native language of the Kinh people and after the revolution that ended French colonization, it became the official language of the many ethnic minorities who call Vietnam home. As part of the Austo-Asiatic language family, Vietnamese is also spoken throughout the world in communities sprinkled across Asia as well as in the United States, England, and Australia. Vietnamese is an officially recognized minority language in the Czech Republic, where a large community of Vietnamese immigrants resides. Vietnamese has about 90 million speakers around the world who speak it as a first or second language.
There are many things about Vietnamese that makes it attractive to language learners. Not only does it use the same Latin alphabet as English with some additional diacritic marks to guide pronunciation, but Vietnamese grammar is simple and straightforward. As much as 30% of Vietnamese vocabulary, referred to as Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary, borrows from Chinese, and linguists estimate as much as 60% of formal texts are also based on Chinese words and characters. Vietnamese is a tonal language, meaning that the pitch used can change the meaning of the words. There are three distinct regional dialects of Vietnamese: Northern or Hanoi, which is considered standard Vietnamese, Central or Huế dialect, and Southern or Saigon dialect.
Rosetta Stone believes that the key to learning Vietnamese is to get confident speaking the language, not just memorizing words and phrases. That’s why each Vietnamese lessons focuses on speaking the language out loud, with contextualized lessons that reflect the everyday situations in which you might speak Vietnamese. From the grocery store to taking a taxi, Rosetta Stone wants you to feel confident you can understand and be understood in Vietnamese.
Learning the Vietnamese Language for Beginners
One of the very first things you’ll need to learn about Vietnamese is the importance of tones. This is part of what makes Vietnamese such a melodic, beautiful language but it can be a challenge for English speakers. There are six tones in Vietnamese, and each one can change the meaning of a word. For example, there is a story about a foreigner living in Vietnam who was taking a cab to his office. The address of his office was No. 38 To Hien Thanh Street, but instead of saying ba tám To Hien Thanh Street to the cab driver, he used the wrong tone and said “bà tắm.” The cab driver looked at him strangely and explained to the foreigner he’d just said, “Grandmother is taking a shower on To Hien Thanh Street.” It’s presumed they both had a good chuckle over the mistake, but it’s a story that proves how fundamental tones are to the Vietnamese language.
Another nuance of the Vietnamese language that is quite important is the demonstration of respect for tradition, specifically when it comes to elders. The Vietnamese language reflects this deference to cultural values in their usage of “I” and “you.” The language has more than a dozen ways to address “I” and “you” that depends upon the formality of the setting, age, gender, mood, and relationship.
As you begin to learn Vietnamese, you’ll start not only with tones but also by learning the sounds of the Vietnamese alphabet. Vietnamese is a vowel-rich language with 11 simple vowels and a variety of sounds made by combining two or three vowels within the same syllable. While you’ll notice many similarities to the Latin alphabet, the letters f, j, w, and z are not part of the Vietnamese alphabet and are used only in foreign names and loanwords.
Rosetta Stone strives to create immersive environments where language learners can hear and speak Vietnamese using contextualized situations rich with cues that stimulate deeper connections and better recall. Our Vietnamese lessons use this Dynamic Immersion® method to get beyond memorization and scale towards speaking Vietnamese with confidence in real-world conversations.
Learn Vietnamese Pronunciation
You might assume that after learning a few sounds and getting the hang of Vietnamese tones, you’ll be ready to start acquiring mountains of vocabulary words, but that shouldn’t be the next step in your language learning journey. In addition to learning Vietnamese in context, a successful language-learning program should provide plenty of practice for pronunciation. After all, what good is knowing the words if you can’t understand the language in conversations with native speakers?
As previously mentioned, Vietnamese tones and pitch are quite important, and the pronunciation and inflection of words determines meaning. The six tones (flat tone, down tone, up tone, dot tone, question tone, and squiggle tone) reflect variations in pitch, length, contour, and intensity in how you constrict your vocal cords. While Vietnamese is a tonal language, it is not stress-timed, and most diacritic marks that guide pronunciation are represented by symbols that closely match the sound. Language learners will find Vietnamese phonetic spelling refreshingly consistent, and most Vietnamese words follow the consonant-vowel-consonant structure.
One of the real struggles of online language learning is the lack of feedback, specifically when it comes to pronunciation. Rosetta Stone addresses that need in every lesson with a patented speech recognition engine called TruAccent® that compares your accent to that of native and non-native Vietnamese speakers and provides feedback in real time. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to hone your pronunciation embedded into every exercise.
Learn Vietnamese Words
Experts agree language learning doesn’t have any shortcuts. Your ability to succeed in learning Vietnamese, or any other language, will be a factor of how much time you devote to practicing daily and the quality of your language-learning program. However, there are some ways to complement your language lessons with tactics that will accelerate your confidence speaking Vietnamese.
Here are a few tips to help you avoid getting lost in translations.
1. Learn Vietnamese words in context
Because tone and cultural values are so important to the Vietnamese language, learning the words in context is vital. That’s why Rosetta Stone teaches Vietnamese vocabulary in the context of the situations in which these words occur, using audio and visual cues to connect and stimulate deeper learning. Your Vietnamese lessons will scale gradually, taking the words you’ve already learned and layering them with the foundational concepts that will help you reach the next level of your language learning journey.
2. Don’t get hung up on Vietnamese dialects
There are many dialects in the Vietnamese language, which means that one word can be pronounced differently by people from different regions of Vietnam. Fortunately, there is a standard dialect of Vietnamese, derived from the northern region, that uses Hanoi dialect. Rosetta Stone embeds TruAccent® into every Vietnamese lesson so you can work to adjust your pronunciation and feel confident no matter where you find yourself, you’ll sound amazing.
3. Focus on the consistency of Vietnamese
As much as there are some aspects of Vietnamese, like tones, that can be tricky at first, Vietnamese is a remarkably consistent language. Take advantage of things like subject-verb-object word order or unambiguous and phonetic spellings to quickly spot patterns and get a feel for the language. For instance, one of the other assets of Vietnamese grammar is that there are no genders or plurals, so nouns are simple and straightforward.
4. Use Vietnamese borrowed vocabulary to your advantage
As with any language, you should leverage the words you already know to help you progress more quickly through your language learning program. A good portion of Vietnamese vocabulary is borrowed from Chinese, so those who know Chinese will have a natural advantage in learning Vietnamese. Vietnam also adopted many French words as a result of colonization, and you’ll even find some modern English words about technology or other trends incorporated into common usage.
Below are a few common Vietnamese words and phrases you should learn:
Hello xin chào
Goodbye tạm biệt
Thank you cám ơn
Yes dạ (South Vietnam), vâng (North Vietnam)
5. Vietnamese tenses are straightforward
In many languages, it’s the complicated verb tenses that will trip up beginning language learners. In Vietnamese, the simple verb tenses make it easy to conjugate. For the majority of verbs, you simply stick one of the following words describing when the action takes place in front of any root verb.
đã = in the past
mới = in the recent past, more recently than đã
đang = right now, at this very moment
sắp = soon, in the near future
sẽ = in the future
For example, here is how you might conjugate “I eat rice.”
Tôi ăn cơm = I eat rice
Tôi đã ăn cơm = I ate rice
Tôi mới ăn cơm = I just ate rice, I recently ate ricev Tôi đang ăn cơm = I am eating rice (right now)
Tôi sắp ăn cơm = I am going to eat rice, I am about to eat rice
Tôi sẽ ăn cơm = I will eat rice.
Immerse Yourself in Vietnamese
While Vietnamese isn’t one of the top ten most widely spoken languages in the world, it’s influence has grown steadily within the last few decades. It’s easier than ever to find ways to immerse yourself in the Vietnamese language and get a better grasp not only on speaking Vietnamese but also the culture and traditions that are so essential to understanding the Vietnamese people.
Watch Vietnamese videos and TV
YouTube is a treasure trove of Vietnamese videos, but you can also get access to a few national or streaming TV channels in Vietnamese. Vietnamese game shows are also quite popular even outside of Asia and VTV4go is one of the most prominent Vietnamese sources of news, TV, and movies.
Listen to Vietnamese music
Vietnamese music is an eclectic mix of pop, electronic dance, and more traditional music that you can find either on YouTube or via music streaming services like Spotify. Music competitions are a favorite in Vietnam, and they have their own version of “The Voice” that has become famous with both fans and critics.
Enjoy Vietnamese cuisine
When you think Vietnamese cuisine, you probably come up with the two most popular dishes—phở (fuh), a rice noodle soup, and bánh mì (bahn mee), a baguette sandwich packed with meat and pickled veggies. However, Vietnamese food is about much more than these two dishes. The cuisine of Vietnam focuses on engaging the senses through food, where fragrant herbs and sauces take center stage. Immerse yourself in Vietnamese cooking through shopping at the local Asian supermarket, watch cooking shows on YouTube, or tackle recipes in the original language
Why You Should Learn the Vietnamese Language
The Vietnamese people are very friendly and hospitable, and language learners report they make the effort to learn Vietnamese well worth it. Learning Vietnamese can make you feel a part of a tight-knit community that honors your effort to learn their language with patience and kindness.
Here are a few other reasons to learn Vietnamese, the native language of the Kinh people.
The Vietnamese language shares lots of similarities with Chinese
If you already speak Chinese, it will provide a natural advantage to learning Vietnamese because of the volume of borrowed words and grammatical similarities. Vietnamese vocabulary was originally written with Chinese characters until they were changed to the Latin alphabet in the early 20th century and you can see many leftovers of this practice in the modern language today.
Learning Vietnamese can be good for business
Vietnam’s economy is strong, and investors predict good growth in the coming years, which will drive a surge of development in industries like the automotive and electronics sectors. Knowing how to speak Vietnamese will be an asset to those who plan to take advantage of this economic boom and do business in Vietnam.
Speaking Vietnamese makes travel easier
If your travel plans include Vietnam, especially if you’ll visit any rural regions beyond the big cities like Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi, learning Vietnamese will be essential. Away from urban areas, the number of Vietnamese who can speak English as a second language plummets and your ability to communicate with locals will be vital.
You’ll learn a lot about the Vietnamese people
Vietnam has a rich heritage and a fascinating history that speaking the language will help you to connect with and learn from. As a country that struggled with war several decades ago, the Vietnamese people have proudly held onto traditions and continued to invest in preserving their language as a way of honoring their ancestors and the past.
Try Our Award-Winning App
Surround yourself with Vietnamese whenever, wherever with the Rosetta Stone app.
Download a unit and knock it out on the train or a flight. Select a 5-10 minute lesson and sneak it in while you wait in line or for your ride to show up. And explore dynamic features, like Seek and Speak, where you can point at an object in the real world and get a translation.
The best part? You don’t have to choose between app or desktop. Both come with your subscription and sync, so you can switch between devices seamlessly.