Vietnamese Language Primer for the Traveler

I have attempted to compile here some of my notes written as I struggle to learn Vietnamese. They are only a PHONETIC representation of what the phrase or word sounds like TO ME and I cannot guarantee that it sounds the same to everyone. The actual written Vietnamese word, with the special characters, is way beyond me at this point. Even at that, what I write here might be pronounced differently by different readers. So beware.

WARNING: Vietnamese is a highly tonal, inflected language. With just the right (or wrong) rising or lowering of the vocal tone and emphasis, a word can drastically alter it's meaning. And with such an alteration, the entire context of a statement can shift from a polite greeting to a crude statement about someone's genitals! This is not an exaggeration. Therefore, be forewarned that things are not always as easy as they appear.

And, don't forget - I DO NOT know how to speak Vietnamese.... Otherwise I wouldn't have needed to write these notes for myself. I present them here only as some sort of quick reference aid for the totally lost traveler who find themselves in need of such, as I often do. So far, my western-devil tongue has been forgiven for most of its transgressions as I use this phonetic approach to blundering through a new language.

Also, I apologize for any embarrassment or insult I might cause to those who "really know" the language. Like I say, this is just the way I hear it. I suspect I'll hear promptly from anyone with such a problem.

With that brief introduction, let me share with you some of the useful words and phrases that I've run into.

Vietnamese Primer

Before we get started into the actual vocabulary part, I've been cautioned by some friends that I should spend time up-front with the concepts of addressing others. That's exactly correct, but is *almost* a separate topic unto its own. (Many thanks to John Eyres, Arizona State for letting me quote his examples.)

[Other sites for learning Vietnamese include here , run by Viet Tran; or
a great site by

Here are a few pointers:
- You choose the form of addressing someone based (mainly) on age;
- You need to be pretty accurate in your estimates of age;
- Failure to get this correct can be a cause of embarrassment for both you and the party you are talking to.

Here are a few simplified rules for general guidance (again, these are phonetic pronunciations) :
- The term "em" is used for anyone of either sex who is significantly younger than you;
- If you addressed a woman as old as or older than you as "em" it would be really offensive;
- A woman your age should be addressed as "chi" (chee) and an older or a married woman as "ba".
- "ang" should only be used for men your age or younger;
- "Owng" is the better way to address older men. Using "anh" would be like saying "hey you" to your grandfather.

I toy
we chung-ta
you dependent on age (em, ang, chee, ba, owng).
Hello (generic) Sin chow
Goodbye Tom bee it
I'll see you again hen gawp lie
Thank you Caam uhrn
Thank you very much Caam uhrn neow
Don't mention it (You're welcome) Kong kawchi
Excuse me. Sin loi
Please sin
Yes Caw /or/ Za
No Kung
What is your name? Em ten zee (to female)
What is your name? Ang ten zee (to male)
My name is _____ Toy ten _____
How are you? Em coh quay kong (to female)
How are you? Ang coh quay kong (to male)
Thank you. I am fine. Caam urhn. Toy quay.
I am happy toy zet voo-ey
I am happy to see you (male/female/etc) toy zet voo-ey gawp lie (ang/em/etc)
I am happy to meet you (male/female/etc) toy zet voo-ey gawp (ang/em/etc)
I am happy to have a conversation together with you toy zet voo-ey noy chwit voy (ang/em)
....... to have the opportunity.... doo-awk
What time is it? Myza
What time do we leave? Myza chung ta dee
When do we arrive? Myza chung ta den
Where do we go now? Beza chung ta dee dow
Where are we? Chung ta uuh dao
I don't understand Toy kung hey-oh
I don't know the Vietnam Language Toy kung bee-it tieng viet
I have to piss. Toy dee die
I have to shit Toy dee ee'ah
I am hungry Toy doy
I am thirsty Toy caht
Stop! (harsh command=Halt!) Zung Lie
I need a doctor Toy khan baak' see
I am sick. Toy kung quay
I feel tired toy med
Oh! Dear me! Choy oy
I want toy moo-un
I need toy kaan
I would like toy tick
I must toy fie
What is this? Die zee day
What is that? Die zee kee-ah
I want to take a picture. Toy chop eye'ng
How much does this cost? Bow neuw tee-en
I want to buy this Toy nooun moo-ah guy nie
I don't want to buy this Toy kung moo-ah
I need to change money Toy khan doy tee-en
this one guy nie
go to buy goods dee moo-ah han wah
go to buy something dee moo-ah doe
Go away quickly Sin my dee dee
I don't like this. Toy kung tick
Go Home! dee vay
Go to school! dee hop
It is raining Choy mur
It is sunny Choy nang
Waiter. My bill. (if younger) Em oy. Tin tee-en
with ice (if younger) co dah
without sugar kung dung
A little bit mote chute
bread buyg-mee
water nook
water (spring water=drinking water) nook su-way
egg trung
bird chim
eat aahn
This food is very delicious come zut nawn
please bring me ______ sin doo-ah toy______
very cold oop liegh
hot nong
Friend Baan
Sir Ong (if older)
Madam Ba (if older)
I am crazy Toy din-din kung-kung
I work at the office Toy lam vick a van fahng
walk (go by walking) dee bow
today hom nie
one mote
two high
three baa
four bone
five nam
six sal
seven by
eight tom
nine chin
ten moe-ooy