Altogether, I visited North, South, and Central Vietnam a combined five times for a total of 14 months. Along the way, I learned a handful of Vietnamese words and phrases. Thanks for letting me teach you a bit today!
Before we begin, two important notes:
- Pronunciation is crucial with Vietnamese, more-so than in most languages. To learn how to correctly pronounce the words or phrases below, copy and paste them into Google Translate, then click the little speaker button. Google Translate will demonstrate how to pronounce the words correctly.
- There are many accents in Vietnam. The most common are: Northern, Southern, and Central. Google Translate will give you the Northern accent. If locals are having a little trouble understanding you, it might be because your accent is a bit off. Keep this in mind as you travel Vietnam and test your skills!
Even if you’re only going to spend a week or two in Vietnam, these are the top, must-learn Vietnamese words and phrases.
- alo / hế lô = hi / hello (informal, used with friends,)
- xin chào / chào = hello (formal)
- cảm ơn = thank you
- không có chi = you’re welcome
- hẹn gặp lại = see you later
- vâng = yes
- không = no
Counting is easy!
- 1 = một
- 2 = hai
- 3 = ba
- 4 = bốn
- 5 = năm
- 6 = sáu
- 7 = bảy
- 8 = tám
- 9 = chín
- 10 = mười
After you learn 1-10, counting is so simple! Here are a few quick examples:
- 11 = mười một (“ten” “one”)
- 30 = ba mươi (“three” “ten”)
- 47 = bốn mươi bảy (“four” “ten” “seven”)
Alternatively, you could just say the numbers individually. So, 47 would be “bốn bảy” (“four seven”).
- After and including the number 15, “five” is usually pronounced “lăm”, not “năm”. For example, 65 would be “sáu lăm”.
- After 19, “mười” is changed to “mươi”. Notice the slight change in the accent over the “o”.
- hundred = trăm
- thousand = ngàn or nghìn
Food & Drinks
When you’re looking at a menu that’s written in a language you’re not familiar with, it can be frustrating. But you don’t have to learn all the food and drinks, just learn a few basics to get started!
- thịt = meat
- bò = beef
- heo = pork (more common in Central and Southern Vietnam)
- lợn = pork (more common in Northern Vietnam)
- cá = fish
- mực = squid
- tôm = shrimp
- ếch = frog
- gà = chicken
- trứng = egg
- xào = fried
- cơm = rice
- mì = noodles
- phở = beef or chicken noodle soup
- bánh mì = a cheap street food sandwich
- đá = ice
- nóng = hot
- trà = tea
- trà đá= iced tea
- sữa = milk
- trà sữa= milk tea
- trà đào = peach tea
- chai = bottle
- nước = beverage/drink/liquid
- nước suối = bottled water
- phở khô = dry noodles with beef
- ngon = delicious
- thanh long = dragon fruit
- Discover a lot more about Vietnamese food here.
BONUS: Vietnamese love sugar, especially in their coffee! If you don’t specify, the milk will almost certainly be thick, sugary condensed milk instead of creamer or regular milk. On top of that, they’ll add a scoop or two of sugar! If that sounds like too much sugar to you, this would be a good phrase to learn:
- cà phê đen, không đường, không sữa. = black coffee, no sugar, no milk.
Understanding greetings & properly addressing people
When I first heard about this, I was a little intimidated. But it’s actually pretty easy to understand. Depending on who you’re talking to, you should use “em”, “chị”, or “anh”. For example:
- em ơi = my dear / excuse me (to get the attention of somebody younger than you are, or somebody who’s below you at work.)
- chị ơi = my dear / excuse me (to get the attention of a woman older than you are, or a woman who’s above you at work.)
- anh ơi = my dear / excuse me (to get the attention of a man older than you are, or a man who’s above you at work.
One of the first questions Vietnamese ask you is “how old are you?” They might be just trying to get to know you better, or they might also be trying to make sure they know how to properly address you.
There are other times when “em”, “chị”, and “anh” can be used. Here’s one more example:
- chào em / chào chị / chào anh = good morning (informal)
Extra Vietnamese words and phrases
Hungry for more? If you learn these, you’ll really impress the locals!
- chào buổi sáng = good morning
- chúc ngủ ngon = goodnight (formal)
- ngủ ngon = goodnight (informal)
- chúc buổi tối vui vẻ = have a nice evening
- đi = let’s go
- rất = very
- đẹp trai = handsome man
- đẹp gái = beautiful girl
- xinh gái = pretty girl
- đẹp vái = slang that basically translates to “the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen!”
- đáng yêu = adorable
- tính tiền = check, please
- bao nhiêu? = how much? (related to price)
- Mỹ = America
- cho thue nha = for rent (related to an apartment)
- đi = let’s go (or “pass” when you’re playing cards)
- mèo = cat (yes, it’s pronounced “meow”! Pretty cool, huh?)
- chó = dog (This is an important word for most of us to learn. Watch out for “thịt chó”, which means “dog meat”. It’s not as common today as it used to be, but you might see it in the north or middle of Vietnam.)
- xe buýt = bus
- xe máy = motorcycle
- sửa chữa = repair (context: you’ll see this on a sign outside various businesses like “motorcycle repair”, “watch repair”, “shoe repair”, etc.)
The most important phrases of all!
Vietnamese men drink beer… a lot of cheap beer! I’m not going to lie, these were some of the first words and phrases I learned. As you can see, learning these drinking phrases first will help you learn your numbers and, of course, you’ll impress the locals when you drink with them!
- một, hai, ba, zo/yo! = one, two, three, drink! [“zo” is more common in Northern Vietnam, while “yo” is more common in Central and Southern Vietnam]
- Or, you can keep it short and sweet and just stay “yo!” or “zo!”.
- Please note: “yo” and “zo” don’t exactly translate into English as “drink”. It’s just what they say before they drink. Also, “zo” is actually spelled “do”, but in English, we’d pronounce it “zo”.
However, if you want to prove you’re a classy, sophisticated gentlemen:
- chúc sức khỏe = to your health
Wanna be the king of the party? Learn this! This drinking chant is from the North. Most Southern and Central Vietnamese have never even heard of it. So, if you can learn this, you can literally teach a Vietnamese drinking chant to a Vietnamese!
- Một, hai, ba, zo! [repeat] Một, hai, ba, uống! Uống thế nào?! Uống hết!
Which translates to:
- One, two, three, zo! [repeat] One, two, three, zo! How do you drink it? You drink it all!
Two important notes about this chant: say it loud and drink it all!
- Everybody at the table will stand up, raise their drinks, and shout the chant as loud as they possibly can!
- You must finish the whole drink, no matter how much is in your glass. I can assure you, if you don’t finish your entire drink, everybody at the table will keep insisting until you finish your entire drink!
What happens next? They refill your glass and you keep drinking!
Are you going to Malaysia or Indonesia, too?
Now, you know some basic Vietnamese words and phrases! Bookmark this post and use it when you visit Vietnam.
If you plan on visiting Malaysia, be sure to check out one of my other posts, 70+ of the most important words I learned in Malay & Indonesian.
No matter where you go, I hope you have fun, travel safely, and talk to the locals as much as you can!
PS: If you want to learn English for free, and/or make money translating English, you can start here!