Vietnamese language – why you should give it a go
Vietnamese and me go way back… all the way back to last century actually! I first went to Vietnam as a 16-year-old in 1997 and moved there after high school for a year. My parents were in Ho Chi Minh City working and my brother and I joined them for a year. He went to the international school and I was footloose and fancy-free! So what to do?? I enroled in Vietnamese language lessons at the National University of Social Sciences and Humanities.
It was a very structured (and somewhat dull) program but I loved being on campus and learning Vietnamese. I’d practice the new sounds and tones whenever I could and developed to quite a good level. I struggled (as you do with all new languages) at the beginning but once I got a handle on the pronunciation and people began to understand me, I just loved being able to speak Vietnamese.
After my year living in Vietnam, I returned to Melbourne, Australia and went to uni. I continued my Vietnamese language studies and even went onto complete my Honours year at the Australian National University in Canberra. After all of this study in Australia and after I graduated I went back to Ho Chi Minh City for another 6 months. The country and the language had really got under my skin.
This feeling didn’t last, however, and once I got into the workforce and post-graduate study, all my zest for Vietnamese seem to evaporate.
After spending much of the past 5-6 years focussed on Mandarin Chinese, I am again turning my attending to Vietnamese.
I still spruik to anyone who will listen how much I love Vietnam and the Vietnamese language. I encourage anyone to give it a go.
In fact, if you’re keen you can join us on our next Language Learning Trip to Ho Chi Minh City in November!
Come and join us for 5 days of language, travel and food in one of my favourite cities.
All the details on this upcoming trip are online at Lingo Mama.
About Vietnamese language
Vietnamese language is the official language of Vietnam and is also spoken in Laos and Cambodia, and in the Vietnamese immigrant communities in many parts of the world.
Vietnamese initially used Chinese characters together with characters developed in Vietnam for Vietnamese vocabulary and this system was widely used until the “Roman Catholic missionaries introduced a Latin-based orthography for Vietnamese”. This was called chữ quốc ngữ ‘national script’ introduced in the 17th century and with diacritics to mark 6 tones.
The original writing system called ‘chữ nôm’ and ‘chữ quốc ngữ’ were used simultaneously until 1910 when under the French occupation the ‘chữ quốc ngữ’ became the only official alphabet. During this period a lot of French words entered the vocabulary as loan-words e.g. cà-phê ‘coffee’, so-co-la ‘chocolate’, bia ‘beer’.
(reference –Comparison of Expression of Verbal Tense and Aspect in English and Vietnamese, Thu Phuong Ngoová, https://theses.cz/id/6hjhob/BP_Ngoov.pdf)
The language itself
There are 29 letters in the Vietnamese alphabet
A Ă Â B C D Đ E Ê G H I K L M N O Ô Ơ P Q R S T U Ư V X Y
It is a tonal language with 6 tones. This is probably the most difficult thing to master about Vietnamese, that and the correct pronunciation of difficult combinations such as ‘ng’.
But there are some surprisingly easy things about learning Vietnamese…
The script is written in the romanised alphabet so it’s a lot easier for English speakers to pick up
There’s no gender in Vietnamese
There are no plurals in Vietnamese
There are no articles in Vietnamese
There are no crazy verb conjugations in Vietnamese
Vietnamese tenses are pretty easy to learn
To alter the tense you just add one of these words in front of the verb you want to express, and bingo!
- đã = in the past
- vừa = in the recent past, more recently than đã
- đang = right now, at this very moment
- sẽ = in the future
For example –
tôi uống cà phê – I drink coffee
tôi đã uống cà phê – I drank coffee
tôi đang uống cà phê – I’m drinking coffee
tôi vừa uống cà phê – I just drank coffee
tôi sẽ uống cà phê – I will drink coffee
Did you know the delicious noodle soup – phở is actually pronounced as fur??
Why should you give learning Vietnamese a go?
Apart from the easy structure, lack of complex grammar and straightforward writing system, there are non-linguistic reasons to learn Vietnamese too!
- It’s a beautiful country to travel to
- There are many migrants from Vietnam living around the world
- The food is amazing
- The country is growing economically and is considered a ‘mini’ China
Are you thinking about learning Vietnamese?
Don’t forget if you’ve always wanted to visit Vietnam and learn Vietnamese, NOW is your chance!
What do you think? Have you already learnt some Vietnamese or do you think it’s worth giving a try? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
Until next time,