Zac Peterson
Zac Peterson
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The most useful Vietnamese words and phrases

After living in Vietnam for 4 months, these are the words and phrases that I think you will find the most useful during your visit. Be careful; Vietnamese is a tonal language, and if you don’t pronounce the tones correctly, almost no one will understand you. To make things even more difficult, there are different regional dialects, so depending on if you are in the North or South, letters are pronounced differently, and some words will be different. It is not a very forgiving language for new speakers.

Vietnamese accent marks tell you how to alter the pitch of your voice to correctly pronounce a syllable. For most of the 6 different accents, the direction that it is drawn is the way the pitch of your voice should change.
Here is how to pronounce the accents:

1. à: This is the huy?n accent mark, a down tone. Pronounce syllables with this accent mark starting with a low pitch, and ending even lower.
2. á: This is the s?c accent mark, an up tone. Start the syllable in a high pitch and end even higher.
3. ?: This is the h?i accent mark, a question tone. Pronounce this syllable like you’re asking a question.
4. ã: This is the ngã accent mark, a tilde/squiggle tone. In the North, pronounce this tone like the question tone, but with a short break in the middle of the tone so that the pitch goes up-down-up. In the South, pronounce this the same as the question tone.
5. ?: This is the n?ng accent mark, the dot tone. Pronounce the syllable in a low pitch, and say it faster than you normally would. The final consonant letters of syllables with this accent are often barely pronounced.
6. a: This is ngang, the absence of an accent mark. If there is no accent mark over a syllable, pronounce it with a high, flat tone.

Some letters that look like they have a tone accent on them are actually separate letters. The following is a list of how to pronounce some of the unusual Vietnamese letters and letter combinations. Luckily Vietnamese words are almost always pronounced the way they are written (particularly in the Northern dialect). Letters not included are pronounced the same as in English:


-a: Pronounced like the “a” in “father”. If you know IPA symbols, Vietnamese “a” is written /a?/.
-?: Pronounced close to the “a” in “hat” (shortened a). In IPA it is /a/.
-â: Pronounced close to the “u” in “but”. In IPA it is /?/.
-e: Pronounced like the “e” in “red”. In IPA it is /?/.
-ê: Pronounced close to the “ay” in “may”. In IPA it is /e/.
-i/y: In the North, these two letters are pronounced the same, and often incorrectly used interchangeably in spelling. The sound is the same as the “e” in “me”, which is written /i/ in IPA. However, in the South, “i” is pronounced the same as “ê”.
-o: Pronounced like the “a” in “law”. In IPA it is /?/.
-ô: Pronounced close to the “o” in “spoke”. In IPA it is /o/.
-?: Pronounced like the “u” in “mug”. In IPA it is /?:/.
-u: Pronounced like the “oo” in “boot”. In IPA it is /u/.
-?: Pronounced close to the “u” in “hurry”. In IPA it is /?/.


-c, k, q: These three letters are all pronounced like an English “k”.
-qu: In Northern and Central Vietnam, “qu” is pronounced “kw” like in English, but in the South it is pronounced like a “w”.
-ch: Pronounced close to the “ch” in “chip”, but often sounds close to an English “j” sound.
-d, gi: In the North, “d” and “gi” at the beginning of a word are pronounced as a “z”. In Central and Southern Vietnam, they are pronounced as a “y”.
-?: Unlike the letter “d“, the Vietnamese letter “?/?“ is pronounced like an English “d“.
-g, gh: Both are pronounced like the “g” in “goal”.
-kh: Pronounced like the “ch” in Scottish “loch”. In IPA it is /x/.
-ng, ngh: Both pronounced like the “ng” at the end of “sing”.
-nh: Pronounced like the “ny” in “canyon”. In IPA it is /?/.
-ph: Pronounced like “f”.
-r: Pronounced like a “z” in the North. In the South, pronounced like “r”, or like the “s” in “pleasure”.
-s: In the North, “s” is pronounced like an English “s”, but in Central and Southern Vietnam, it is pronounced like “sh”.
-th: Pronounced close to the “t” in “time”. In IPA it is /t?/.
-tr: Pronounced kind of like “tch”. In IPA is it /??/.
-x: Pronounced like an “s”.

Other combinations:

-uy: Pronounced like the “wi” in “win”.
-ao, au: Both pronounced similarly to the “ow” in “now”.
-anh: Like the “ang” in “gang”
-inh: Like the “ing” in “sing”
-ênh: Like the “ain” in “main”

———-Basic communication———-


-Thank you:
C?m ?n.
“Xin c?m ?n” is even more polite.

-Hello (formal):
Xin chào.
This is the safest way to say “hello”. It is used by native Vietnamese speakers when greeting someone who is older or admired, but non-native speakers can use this phrasing as a polite way to say “hello” to anyone. Cha?o means “Hello”, but it is not often used by itself. It is almost always followed by a pronoun based on age, gender, and familiarity.

-Hello (familiar/same age):
Chào b?n.
B?n is the informal way to say “you”. Don’t used this phrase with elders, or people to whom you should show respect, but it is appropriate for both males and females who you are friendly with, of all ages. Think of it as saying “hello friend”.

-Hello (to an older man):
Chào anh.
This is the way to say “hello” to a man who is older than you, or your superior. Anh is the pronoun that means “older brother”. If the man is much older than you, use “Chào ông” instead. If they are a very old person, use “Chào c? ?”.

-Hello (to an older woman):
Chào ch?.
This is the way to say “hello” to a woman who is older than you, or your superior. Chi means “older sister”. If they are much older, use “Chào bà” instead. If they are elderly, use “Chào c? ?”.

-Hello (to a child):
Chào em.
This is the way to say “hello” to someone noticeably younger than you, either a girl or a boy. Em means “younger brother/sister”

-Hello [name]:
Chào [age/gender pronoun] [first name].
If you know someone’s name, you should use it in the greeting. Unless someone is the same age as you, you need to include the proper gender/age word between chào and the person’s given name. Example: Hello (to a man named Xuyên who is older than you) = Chào anh Xuyên (Hello older brother Xuyên). Only do this with someone’s given name. To make things confusing, Vietnamese people write their family name first, and their given name last.

-Hello (phone call):
This is how you say “Hello” when answering the phone, pronounced like “áh-loh”. Only use this when answering the phone.

-My name is…
Tôi là….

-How are you?:
[Age/gender pronoun] kh?e không?
Literally, this means “healthy or not?”. If you use this, people will be pretty impressed. 95% of people don’t get beyond c?m ?n and xin chào.

-I’m healthy, thanks. And you?:
“Kho?, c?m ?n. [Age/gender pronoun] thì sao?”
Again, this is way more advanced than most non-native speakers get.

-No thank you:
Không nh? [age/gender pronoun]

-Yes, please:
Vâng, làm ?n

[age/gender pronoun] ?i!
?i is a great word, used to get someone’s attention, such as a friend or waiter.

-Hey (person much younger than you)!
Cháu ?i!
Cháu is the way to refer to a niece/nephew/son/daughter/grandchild

-Hey (person slightly younger than you)!
Em ?i!
Em means little brother/sister.

-Hey (person the same age as you)!
B?n ?i!

-Hey (person old enough to be your older sibling)!
Anh ?i (Hey older brother!), Ch? ?i (Hey older sister!)

-Hey (person slightly younger than your parents)!
Chú ?i (Hey uncle!), Cô ?i (Hey aunt!)

-Hey (person between the age of your parents and grandparents)!
Bác ?i!

-Hey (person the age of your grandparents)
Ông ?i (Hey grandfather!), Bà ?i (Hey grandmother!)

———-Numbers and money———-

Numbers in Vietnamese are very simple. Once you know 1 through 10, you can add the words together to create 11 to 99. The only number words that are altered when making larger numbers are 5 and 10. The currency in Vietnam is the ??ng (1 USD ~ 22,500 ??ng). Since currency numbers are so high (there are no coins, and no bills smaller than 500 ??ng), when talking about how much things cost, the prices will often be written without the last 3 zeros. The largest currency increment is the 500,000 ??ng bill, which is worth ~22 USD.

How much? – Bao nhiêu?
Too expensive! – ??t quá!

Good – T?t
Bad – Không t?t

0 – không
1 – m?t
2 – hai
3 – ba
4 – b?n
5 – n?m (changes to l?m when at the end of a number)
6 – sáu
7 – b?y
8 – tám
9 – chín
10 – m??i (when not at the begging of a number, the accent changes and it becomes m??i)

11 – m??i m?t (literally “ten one”)
12 – m??i hai
13 – m??i ba
14 – m??i b?n
15 – m??i l?m (notice that it’s “m??i l?m” and not “m??i n?m”)
16 – m??i sáu
17 – m??i b?y
18 – m??i tám
19 – m??i chín

20 – hai m??i (Literally “two ten”. Notice the accent change of “m??i” to “m??i”)
21 – hai m??i m?t (Literally “two ten one”. Informally, the “m??i” can be dropped in numbers between 21 and 99.)
23 – hai m??i ba (informally can be shortened to “hai ba”)
25 – hai m??i l?m (notice that it’s “hai m??i l?m”, not “hai m??i n?m”)
30 – ba m??i
50 – n?m m??i (it’s “n?m m??i”, not “l?m m??i”, because the 5 is at the beginning of the number)
55 – n?m m??i l?m (you can see here how the word for 5 gets changed depending on its place)

100 – tr?m
207 – hai tr?m b?y
360 – ba tr?m sáu m??i
555 – n?m tr?m n?m m??i l?m
1,000 – nghìn/ngàn (“nghìn” is most common, but “ngàn” is often used in the South)
5,000 – n?m nghìn/ngàn
10,010 – m??i nghìn/ngàn, m??i
20,030 – hai m??i nghìn/ngàn, ba m??i
200,000 – hai tr?m nghìn/ngàn
2,000,000 – hai tri?u
8,765,432 – Tám tri?u, b?y tr?m sáu m??i l?m nghìn, b?n tr?m ba m??i hai


Rice – C?m (this is also a word for a plate of food in general)

Fried rice – C?m rang/chien

Popular rice meal – C?m bình dân (rice with side dishes)

Meat (pork, beef, chicken, etc.) – Th?t

Beef – Bò (th?t bò)

Fish – Cá

Chicken – Gà

Duck – V?t

Pork – Heo (Southern Vietnamese dialect), L?n (Northern Vietnamese dialect)

Buffalo meat – Th?t trâu

Dog meat – Th?t chó (watch out for this one)

Congealed blood – Ti?t canh (also watch out for this one)

Hard-boiled duck fetus (balut) – H?t v?t l?n (another unappetizing menu item)

Minced meat – Thi?t b?m

Egg – Tr?ng

Tofu – ??u ph?

Vegetables, greens, or herbs – Rau

Tomato – Cà chua

Pan fried- Xào, Chiên, Rán

Grilled – N??ng

Steamed – H?p

Boiled – Luô?c (ex: boiled vegetables = Rau luô?c)

Stir-fried Water Spinach – Rau mu?ng xào

Bun/dumpling/noodle – Bánh

Baguett/sandwich – Ba?nh mi? (ex: Egg sandwich = Ba?nh mi? tr?ng)

Soup – Canh, Súp, Cháo

Breakfast noodle soup – Ph? (ex: with beef = Ph? bò)

Rice vermicelli noodles – Bún

Rice noodles with pieces of pork sausage – Bún ch?

Rice noodle salad with mint, sauce, and beef – Bún bò

Steamed rice flour rolled around chopped pork & mushrooms – Bánh cu?n (this is one of my favorites)

Vietnamese steak & eggs – Bò Né (another of my favorites)

Summer roll/salad roll – G?i cu?n

Fried spring roll – Ch? giò

Vietnamese Hot Pot – L?u

H’Mong meat stew served on market day in the North – Th?ng c?

Savory stuffed rice crepe – Bánh xèo

Ice cream – Kem

Chocolate – Sô cô la

Fruit – Trái cây
Mango – xoài
Pineapple – d?a
(Water)melon – D?a (h?u)
Coconut (milk) – D?a (t??i)

And – Và (mango and pineapple = xoài và d?a)


Water – N??c

Beer – Bia
Draft beer – Bia h?i

Tea – Trà

Frappe/milkshake/smoothie – Sinh t?

Vietnamese coffee – Cà phê (it also means “Café”, a place to buy coffee)

Milk – S?a (The Vietnamese don’t often use liquid milk, so if you ask for s?a in your coffee, they will add condensed milk. If you don’t want condensed milk, ask for fresh milk, S?a t??i, or ask for a glass of milk, C?c s?a)

Coffee with condensed milk – Cà phê s?a

Black coffee – Cà phê ?en (?en means black)

Iced coffee – Cà phê ?á
Hot coffee – Cà phê nong

Hot – Nong
Cold – L?nh

Sugarcane juice – N??c miá

Happy water (corn wine) – R??u ngô

———-Places and Travel———-

Where is [place/thing]? – [Place/thing] ? ?âu?

Hotel – Khách s?n

Cheap hotel, Guest house – Nhà ngh?

Restaurant – Nhà hàng, C?m

Hospital – B?nh vi?n

Bank – Ngân hàng

Airport – Sân bay

Vehicle – Xe

Taxi – Xe t??c xi, Xe taxi

Motobike taxi – Xe ôm

Motorbike – Xe máy

Bus station – B?n Xe

North – B?c
South – Nam
East – ?ông
West – Tây

Left – Trái
Right – Ph?i

Mountain – Núi
Lake – H?
River – Sông
Waterfall – Thác
Cave – Hang

Temple/pagoda – Chùa

Market – Ch?

Street – ???ng ph?
Road – ???ng

Provincial road – T?nh L? (TL) or ???ng T?nh (?T)

National road – Qu?c L? (QL)

Hamlet (sub-unit of a village) – Thôn

Village – B?n

Commune – Xã (a collection of villages)

Town – Th? tr?n (used to describe the capital town of a district, abbreviated Tt.)

District – Huy?n

City – Tha?nh phô? (used to describe the capital city of a province, abbreviated Tp.)

Province – T?nh

Hopefully this list helps you out!

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