Vietnam Country Guide


Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam. Like Thai and Mandarin, Vietnamese is a tonal language that uses a change in pitch to inflect different meanings, and this can make it difficult for Westerners to master. W
ritten Vietnamese is in the Latin alphabet but unlike English, Vietnamese phonetics are accurate at reflecting the true pronunciations, although their sounds on certain alphabets are different or don't exist in English.
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Vietnamese consists of 4 main dialects i.e. the northern dialect spoken around Hanoi, north-central dialect spoken around Vinh, central dialect spoken around Hue and southern dialect spoken around Ho Chi Minh City. While the Hanoi dialect is taken as the "standard" and widely used in broadcasting, there is no de facto standard. Northerners naturally think that southern accent is for "hai lua" (country folks) but if in Ho Chi Minh City, the main economic centre of Vietnam, the southern accent is what you hear.

Although the Vietnamese people do appreciate any effort to learn their language, most seldom experience Vietnamese spoken with a foreign accents. Foreigners learning Vietnamese may find it frustrating that no one can understand what they are trying to say. Hotel staff and kids tend to have a more tolerant ear to foreign accents and it is not unheard of for a kid to effectively help translate your 'Vietnamese' into authentic Vietnamese for adults.

Ho Chi Minh City by Bui Thụy Dao Nguyen

Other Local Languages
The more remote parts of the country are also home to many ethnic minorities who speak various languages belonging to the Mon-Khmer, Tai-Kadai and Austronesian language families.

Most Vietnamese youths learn English in school, so many young people have a basic grasp of English but proficiency is generally poor. However, most hotel and airline staff will know enough English to communicate. Directional signs are generally bilingual in both Vietnamese and English.

Other Foreign Languages
Despite Indochina's colonial history in which French was the medium of education, French is no longer widely taught in Vietnamese schools. However in recent years, there has been a revival of the language in both the government and educated elite. In the big cities, some of the big international luxury hotel chains will have staff who are able to speak French and other foreign languages such as Mandarin, Japanese or Korean.

Ho Chi Minh City is home to a sizable ethnic Chinese community, many of whom speak Cantonese.

English signs in Hanoi by Shoestring

Country Guide
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