Vietnam is a beautiful country with an equally beautiful language. Vietnamese is also a tone language and uses midlevel, low falling, high rising, low, rising after an initial dip, high broken and low broken. The Vietnamese language is made up of six tones, with 12 vowels and 27 consonants. This may be a little daunting for international travellers but with a little bit of practice it is easily picked up.
Thanks to Alexander-de-Rhodes, the Vietnamese language uses the Roman alphabet, which is a major sigh of relief for English speakers. Because of this, Vietnamese words are pronounced the way they sound and street signs are immediately identifiable, making your journey around this beautiful country much easier.
The difficulty is the different tones they use and the meaning can be different. Many words are spelt and spoken the same way but the meaning of the words is different and you can get unexpected surprises. You can compare it with the Chinese language; a same word can have different meanings. Vietnamese people will have difficulties to understand you because your sentences are not correct. For example, the word “ma” has 6 different meanings dependent on the tone you use. Ma means ghost, mother, that, tomb, horse or burgeon and if you don’t use the right tone your sentence is not correct.
A few basic words and phrases are worth knowing. Outside of Hanoi, Saigon, Hoi An and other major tourist destinations you will need to know a few phrases. More than this, the Vietnamese people themselves will be delighted with foreigners learning their language. Try to learn some Vietnamese key phrases before you travel to Vietnam. It is always useful to speak a few Vietnamese sentences; they will appreciate this.
Key phrases in Vietnamese that travelers should know