We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The Tripadvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

How hard is it to learn Vietnamese?

Isle of Man, United...
Level Contributor
206 posts
How hard is it to learn Vietnamese?

Hi......probably a questions geared towards all the expats here!

I am planning to spend a little while in Vietnam next year and have picked up a phrasebook (one of those lonely planet ones) but am finding it very tough to learn without the help of a Vietnamese to help pronounce the words/tones! I learnt quite a lot of Thai whilst i was there and found this a lot easier, e.g the words are pronounced the way the word is written but it seems a lot harder to learn Vietnamese as the words are often spoken a lot different to how they look on paper! I'm not sure i'm going to be able to get to grips with this! It looks pretty damn hard! :(

Lincoln, United...
Level Contributor
11,069 posts
53 reviews
58 helpful votes
1. Re: How hard is it to learn Vietnamese?

It is hard! Not impossible though but tones are everything. And unless you can get to grips with them, nearly everything else falls by the wayside. i was in a cafe the other day and a Vietnamese man who had a very sore throat was bemoaning, in perfectly understandable English that no one around could understand him if he spoke Vietnamese. Try going to http://www.everydayviet.com to get a flavour. Good luck.

Orange Park, Florida
Level Contributor
4,212 posts
18 reviews
11 helpful votes
2. Re: How hard is it to learn Vietnamese?

I agree 110% with 69bertie

. It also depends on where you are in the country. If you are trying to speak common vietnamese or upper class vietnamese. Just changing the sound a slight bit can change the meaning. My wife is vietnamese and I have tried several CDs for different companies to really learn ont just find my way around, and each of the companies have sent North Vietnamese CDs. They talk different there than in the South. Kind of like a Northerner trying to understand the Southerner in America with :Ya All" and "we be goin to the store for some POP" Like stated it can be done and the Vietnamese will like it that you are trying.

Nha Trang, Vietnam
Level Contributor
7,604 posts
19 reviews
11 helpful votes
3. Re: How hard is it to learn Vietnamese?

It is the hardest thing I have ever done. After 2 years of practice I can still only talk like a child. The problem is that the tones do not come natural as they do in Chinese. They are forced sounds, and the tone is so important that a slight miss pronunciation will just leave them gazing at you slack jawed. I think I might have almost mistakenly got Bertie married with my accent ;)

Owee

http://www.owee58.com

Melrose...
Level Contributor
337 posts
54 reviews
34 helpful votes
4. Re: How hard is it to learn Vietnamese?

jax, I'm curious to know what you mean by "upper class" vs "common class" vietnamese.

Thanks.

Orange Park, Florida
Level Contributor
4,212 posts
18 reviews
11 helpful votes
5. Re: How hard is it to learn Vietnamese?

4.12:36 pm by molly2004

jax, I'm curious to know what you mean by "upper class" vs "common class" vietnamese.

Molly2004 You are from Boston, so I know you will understand this. If you get a bunch of the wealthy educated folks from the great state of Mass in a room and some others from the hills of Georgia (nothing wrong with them) in the same room they have a hard time communicating. A word like PROMT to the Mass folks means quick, swift, timely or hasty; to the Georgia folks they might not be sure of what you mean. In Vietnam you have the folks that have been to college, some here in the USA attending collages and then you have your villagers and farmers that may be able to read and write or not. The way they talk and pronounce the words they use are different. I can play a tape recording of a northerner Vietnamese Doctor in Vietnam, to a Central Vietnamese and most of the central “common” folks cannot understand what is being said. It is a cultural and economic difference. Just like in the USA.

Edited: 13 years ago
Portland, Oregon
Level Contributor
17,419 posts
84 reviews
71 helpful votes
6. Re: How hard is it to learn Vietnamese?

Basically, it's near impossible to learn it without total immersion once inside this country - even if you know proper words and accent symbols, the pronunciation is the real difficult part. The only thing waiters understand of my Vietnamese is "ca fe sua da" - iced coffee!

Westminster...
Level Contributor
351 posts
1 review
7. Re: How hard is it to learn Vietnamese?

No wonder I am having such a hard time to teach my Japanese American how to greet my relatives in VN for our up coming trip :), especially one supposed to greet each person differently according to rank/title/gender etc...

:)

Lincoln, United...
Level Contributor
11,069 posts
53 reviews
58 helpful votes
8. Re: How hard is it to learn Vietnamese?

And of course just a slight alteration in the tone can impart a totally different meaning to the word. It would help if the letters of the alphabet were pronounced the same as in the west (or vice versa) ....but they're not. I was told that even living here it might take 5 years to get to grips with it.

And even if you do know Vietnamese, because you're a foreigner, the locals are sometimes taken aback and go into he didn't really speak Vietnamese to me mode. Having heard Owee with his Vietnamese, I take my hat off to him for it. I always like to see the expression on the local faces when he replies to them. It's like their mask is stripped away with nowhere to hide.

Ho Chi Minh City...
Level Contributor
4,434 posts
4 reviews
7 helpful votes
9. Re: How hard is it to learn Vietnamese?

VERY difficult. I've been here nearly 8 years but am little more than a beginner. The biggest problem isn't the language itself, which is actually very simple as languages go, but the reactions of the locals when foreigners try to speak it - generally they laugh. Not maliciously it has to be said, but it is very discouraging for foreign learners. For example if I go into a shop and ask for something in Vietnamese, say for example fresh water ("mot chai nuoc suoi"), the reaction will often be to repeat what I've said to any other locals there, and they all laugh. Very annoying.

Also, as Bertie said, if you get the intonation even slightly wrong, people make no effort to work out what you're trying to say from the context. "Ga" can mean "chicken" or "railway station", depending on the intonation. Get in a taxi & say "ga Saigon", and if you pronounce it wrong, the driver will still not twig from the context (bloke with suitcase/backpack getting into taxi) that you want to go to the station.

I've tried my hardest to learn the language but the way the locals respond to me has put me off taking it further. I can get by for sure but doubt I'll ever be able to do more.

Also I learned to speak French fluently by living in France and watching French TV every day. Unfortunately Vietnamese TV is so terrible that isn't an option here :)

Australia
Level Contributor
19 posts
7 reviews
13 helpful votes
10. Re: How hard is it to learn Vietnamese?

Vietnamese is a lot easier than English in that there are no grammars and verbs. If you bought a hat yesterday, you just say you buy hat yesterday. The key to pronouncing the words correctly are the tones. The symbols used with the Vietnamese language indicate how you should pronounce them. So a / on top of a word will mean that you should pronounce that word from a lower tone to a higher tone and vice versa for \

A . under a word means you should deepen your voice while pronouncing the word.

A ~ over a word means start low, go high then go low again.

If you can't master these accent symbols, you will not make sense as one word can mean 5 other things depending on the symbols used.

Hope that helped a little.

Edited: 13 years ago
© 2024 Tripadvisor LLC All rights reserved.

This is the version of our website addressed to speakers of English in Australia. If you are a resident of another country or region, please select the appropriate version of Tripadvisor for your country or region in the drop-down menu.