Basic Vietnamese phrases for Foreign Tourists
Vietnam is a beautiful Southeast Asian country that attracts millions of international tourists every year. With its stunning natural landscapes, delicious cuisine, rich cultural heritage and friendly locals, it’s no wonder Vietnam has become such a popular travel destination.
However, the language barrier can make traveling in Vietnam difficult for those who don’t speak Vietnamese. While English is spoken in major cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, it’s not as commonly used in rural areas. Learning just a few basic Vietnamese phrases before your trip can help you get around more easily, interact with locals, order food and have a much richer cultural experience. Here are some of the most essential Vietnamese words and phrases to know as a foreign tourist in Vietnam.
What you should know about Vietnamese?
Vietnam’s official language
Vietnamese is the sole official and national language of Vietnam. It is the native language of the Vietnamese people, who constitute 90% of Vietnam’s population of over 100 million.
Vietnamese is the main language used in education, government, media and all aspects of public life in Vietnam. It belongs to the Vietic branch of the Austroasiatic language family.
With about 90 million native speakers, Vietnamese is the world’s 12th most natively spoken language. It’s also the 3rd most spoken Austroasiatic language after Khmer and Mon.
The modern form of Vietnamese emerged in the early 20th century as Quốc Ngữ or the National Language, which uses the Latin alphabet instead of Chinese characters. This made literacy much more widespread as Vietnamese people no longer had to learn Chinese characters to read.
Today, the standard form of spoken Vietnamese is based on the Northern dialect, originated in Hanoi, while the standard written form is based on the Southern dialect, centered on Ho Chi Minh City. This difference sometimes leads to confusion when pronouncing written Vietnamese.
The formation of the modern Vietnamese
In the early 17th century, Spanish missionaries created a system of Romanized writing called Chữ Quốc Ngữ or National Language Script to spread Catholicism. It was the first writing system to represent Vietnamese phonetically instead of using Chinese characters.
For centuries afterwards, elites still used Chinese scripts while the emerging middle class began using the National Language Script for non-official writing purposes like poetry and fictional literature.
By the early 20th century, the National Language Script was promoted by Vietnamese nationalists and intellectuals who wanted to combat French control and increase literacy among ordinary Vietnamese people.
In 1910, the colonial French administration in Indochina decreed National Language Script as the official writing system for administrative documents. By the late 1920s, major publications had switched their primary typeface to National Language Script.
By 1945, the year Vietnam declared independence from French rule, National Language Script had become the predominant writing system used nationwide. The government adopted it as the official script for the Vietnamese language and began a literacy campaign to spread its use.
Today, National Language Script has evolved slightly through some spelling reforms into what is now known as Quốc Ngữ or National Language – the primary script system of the modern Vietnamese language.
Basic Vietnamese phrases for foreign tourists
Here are some of the most useful Vietnamese words and phrases to know when traveling in Vietnam.
Basic words to address people
- I = tôi /toy/
- You = bạn /ban/
- Female (junior) = em
- Female (senior) = chị /ji/
- Male (junior) = em
- Male (senior) = anh
- Mr – Ông
- Mrs – Bà
- Miss – Cô
Basic Vietnamese phrases for greetings
- Hello (politely) = Xin chào (Sin chow/ Ciao)
- Good morning = Chao buoi sang (Chow bwoi sang)
- Good afternoon = Chao buoi chieu (Chow bwoi chiew)
- Good evening = Chao buoi toi (Chow bwoi toi)
- How are you? = Bạn khoẻ không? (Ban Kwe Khom)
- I’m fine, thanks = Toi khoe, cam on
- Thank you = Cảm on (kahm uhn)
- Sorry = Xin lỗi (Sin Loy)
- No Problem = Không có gì (Khong koh zi)
- Goodbye = Tạm biệt (Tarm Byeet)
- No, Thank You! = Không! Cảm ơn (Khom, kahm uhn)
- Can you speak English? = Bạn nói Tiếng anh được không? (Banh noi thien an durkh khom)
- How old are you? = Bạn bao nhiêu tuổi (Ban ban nyew twoi)
- I am __ years old = Tôi ___ tuổi (toy ___ doyy)
- What is your name? = Tên bạn là gì? (Ten bang la zi)
- My name is ___ = Tên tôi là ___ (Ten toy la ___)
Basic Vietnamese phrases for direction and transportations
- I want to go to … = Toi muon den (Toy mwon den)
- Where? = Ở đâu (uh dow?)
- Where is the taxi rank? = Taxi ở đâu? (Taxis are dauh?)
- Where is the ATM? = Máy ATM ở đâu? (May ATM urn dole)
- Where is the exit? = Loi ra or dau? (Loi ra or daw)
- Where is the entrance? = Loi vao o dau? (Loi vao o daw)
- Go Straight = Đi thẳng ( Di Thaang)
- Go Left = Rẽ trái (Se chai)
- Go Right = Rẽ phảo (Se fih)
- Stop = Dừng lại ( Duhng laai)
- Go to the airport = Đi sân bay (Di sun bay)
- Can I have a map? = Cho tôi một cái bản đồ ( chor toi mot cai ban dor)
- How far is it = Bao xa (Bao seh)
- Far = Xa (seh)
- Close = Gần (Gunh)
- Downtown = Trung tâm thành phố (Trumh tam tan fo)
- District = Quận (Wung)
- Station = Ga
- Bus stop = Trạm xe bus (Tram seh butt)
- Wait 5 minutes = Chờ năm phút (Churhn nam foot)
Basic Vietnamese phrases for shopping
- I like = Tôi thich (thoy tick)
- How much is this? = Bao nhiêu? (Baow nyew)
- Too expensive = Đắt quá (dat qwa )
- Can you reduce the price? = Giảm giá cho tôi. (Zam za cho toy)
- Do you want to sell? = Có bán không? ( cor ban kohm?)
- I would like to buy = Tôi muốn mua (Toi mu-on mua)
- One size larger = Lớn hơn một size (Lon hon moht size)
- One size smaller = Nhỏ hơn một size (Nho hon Moht size)
Basic Vietnamese phrases for restaurants or coffee shops
- Excuse me (to waitress) = Em ơi (for younger lady); Chi oi (for a senior)
- Excuse me (to waiter) = Anh ơi
- I am hungry = Tôi đói bụng (Toy doi bung wa)
- What is it? = Cái gì vậy? (kai zi vai)
- The bill please = Tính tiền (Ting tien)
- May I have the menu = Cho tôi cái menu được không (cho toy khai menu duuc khom)
- I am allergic to peanut = Tôi dị ứng với đậu phộng (Doi yi ung voy dau fong)
- I can not eat pork = Tôi không ăn được thịt heo (Toi khom an duo tit hehll)
- I am vegetarian = Tôi ăn chay (Toi an chayh)
- I would like to have this = Cho tôi cái này (Cho toy kah nai)
- Chicken = Gà (Gar)
- Rice = Cơm (Gurm)
- Rice Noodle = Bún (Bumg)
- Egg noodle = Mì (Mee)
- Pork = Heo (Heyoh)
- Beer = Bia
- Beef = Bò (boh)
- Cold = Lạnh (Langh)
- Hot = Nóng (noong)
- No Ice = Không đá (Khom dar)
- No sugar = Không đường (Khom dueng)
- Not spicy = Không cay (Khom kay)
- 1 more = Thêm một cái (tem mop kai)
Basic Vietnamese numbers
- 1 = Một (moht)
- 2 = Hai (hai)
- 3 = Ba (ba)
- 4 = Bốn (bohen
- 5 = Năm (nahm)
- 6 = Sáu (shao)
- 7 = Bảy (bait)
- 8 = Tám (tahm)
- 9 = Chín (chin)
- 10 = Mười (muoy)
- Ten = Mươi (muoy)
- Hundred = Trăm (chahm)
- 100 = Một trăm (moht chahm)
- 200 = Hai trăm (hai chahm)
- 500 = Năm trăm (nahm chahm)
- Thousand = Nghìn (ngin)
- 1000 = Một nghìn (moht ngin)
- 100,000 = Một trăm nghìn (moht chahm ngin)
- Currency (Đồng) = dong
Basic sizes & colors
- Red = Đỏ (Dorh)
- Blue = Xanh dương (San yoong)
- Yellow = Vàng
- Big = Lớn (lungh)
- Small = Nhỏ (N-yor)
- Medium = Vừa (vurh)
- Less = Ít (Eet)
- More = Thêm (temh)
- Long = Dài (yai)
- Short = Ngắn (nhang)
Basic Vietnamese phrases for emergency
- Help me = Cứu tôi với (Coo toy vuyh)
- I was robbed = Tôi bị cướp (Toi bee cuoop)
- Call the police = Gọi cảnh sát (Goi gang sack)
- I need to see a doctor = Tôi cần gặp bác sĩ (toy can gap back szi)
- I am sick = Tôi bị bệnh (Toy bee benh)
- I need to go to the hospital = Tôi cần đi bệnh viện (Toy can di ben vien)
- I had food poisoning = Tôi bị ngộ độc thức ăn (Toy bee nyo doc thuch an)
Learning basic Vietnamese: Interesting and useful
Learning some common Vietnamese phrases and vocabulary can really enrich your experience visiting Vietnam. Here are some reasons why it’s worth the effort:
Connect with locals
Vietnamese people really appreciate when foreigners take the time to learn even just a few words in their language. Using basic Vietnamese phrases shows you’re making an effort and opens doors to more genuine interactions.
Handle basic tasks
You’ll be able to take care of simple tasks like ordering food, asking directions, going shopping and arranging transport without relying completely on English or translators. Knowing numbers is also very helpful.
Gain insight into culture
When you learn a language, you gain direct insight into the local history, values, thinking patterns and sense of humor. Vietnamese is full of expressions, idioms and sayings that reveal deeper cultural perspectives.
Being able to navigate and communicate in an unfamiliar country feels incredibly empowering. Plus, you gain priceless non-verbal communication skills like tone, facial expressions and gestures.
Making local friends is one of the most rewarding parts of travel. There’s no better way to bond across cultures than trying to communicate in their native tongue.
Have more fun!
You’ll get a lot more out of experiences by understanding what’s being said around you. Knowing Vietnamese makes everyday interactions more lively and amusing.
Build a foundation
Even just learning conversational Vietnamese will give you a headstart if you ever want to become truly fluent. The more vocabulary and grammar you pick up, the easier it becomes.
Vietnamese has a reputation for being extremely difficult for English speakers to master, but learning just basic phrases is quite manageable. By memorizing a few essential words and sentences before your trip, you’ll be well equipped to make the most of your time in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s dizzying pace of growth and change in recent decades has opened the country up to foreign visitors on an unprecedented scale. As Vietnam continues modernizing, English usage is increasing in large cities and tourist areas. But heading off the beaten path still requires some basic Vietnamese language skills.
Mastering just a few key phrases can help you interact with locals, discover cultural insights, navigate your trip and have a more authentic experience. Focus on learning essential expressions for greeting people, directions, transactions, food, emergencies and gratitude. Building this Vietnamese foundation will serve you well on your travels and leave you wanting to learn more.