Vietnamese: Lesson 3

ÔôđĐƠơĂă

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hai means two

because 2 is a very high number. At least, it’s a high number to count to for some people I know.

ba means three (and father)

Ba means father, but it also means 3. Maybe somebody had 3 fathers. I think of the song "Baa Baa Black Sheep, have you any wool. Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full." It’s common for Vietnamese words to have several unrelated meanings, because there’s only a limited number of letter combinations allowed in Vietnamese.

The numbers hai and ba are important in Vietnamese, because some Vietnamese people are very unimaginative about naming their children. Often Vietnamese parents give their children numbers instead of first-names. The parents are considered number 1, and the children are numbered starting from 2. So you will meet lots of Vietnamese people named Hai or Ba. Even parents who give their children proper names, still use numbers as nicknames.

You already know the number zero...

zero, no or none is không

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Nam means man (and south)

If you’re a Red Dwarf fan, you’ll notice that nam comes from the Nodnol dialect of Bulgarian. If not, just remember than nam is the word man backwards!

Don’t forget nam or you’ll never be able to go to the toilet in Vietnam!

Nam is another common unimaginative name for boys. Kind of like naming a dog, "dog".

Half the people in Vietnam have the same surname, "Nguyen". So you can’t say "Hey Mr. Nguyen" or half the people in the street will answer. Vietnamese people always call each other by their first-names, or their full names. eg. ông Nam, or ông Ba.

If your father’s name was Ba, you could call him Ba Ba.

If Mr. Nguyen’s first name is Nam...

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You don’t just use ông and with names. Normally when you talk about anyone you will use one of the family words before their name. em Ba, anh Nam, etc.

green, blue, and cyan are all called xanh

Because sunny days have bright blue sky and green trees. Don’t forget the h on the end makes it shorter so it sounds like sun (or sometimes sang). Vietnamese people consider green and blue to be two shades of the same colour.

Did you know, because Vietnam is a tropical country...

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Oranges only turn orange when the weather is cold.

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When you put a h on the end of a word ending with in, the i becomes so short it almost disappears.

xinh means cute.

xinh sounds almost like xn because the h makes the i very short.

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The sound er like in her, sir, fur, etc. has its own special letter in Vietnamese. It looks sort of like an o, but with a hook on the right side, as though it was going to cursively join to the next letter at the top (it doesn’t join to the next letter though).

Ơ ơ = er

You should have no trouble pronouncing er.

is short for butter

Butter, margarine, and avocado are all called in Vietnamese.

Speaking of -er...

hơn means -er than

like in bigger than, cuter than, more orange than, etc. If you say -er than fast enough, it almost sounds like hơn. Like -er than, it goes after the adjective and before the thing you are comparing it to.

Your (grandfather) car is bigger than my (formal) car.|Xe ông to hơn xe tôi.

(em) Ba is cuter than (em) Hai.|Em Ba xinh hơn em Hai.

ơ can be combined with i to make ơi. It sounds like ơ followed by i. ơ i, ơi.

... ơi means hey ...!

Use ơi after the name of the person. It can also sometimes mean Oh ...!

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Or more politely:

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ơi is used a lot in Vietnamese.

The letter Y is always considered a vowel in Vietnamese.

It sounds the same as the letter I, but supposedly a bit longer (ee). Vietnamese people call it "long ee". But really Vietnamese people can’t remember whether words are spelled with y or i because they sound the same.

y means medical (but isn’t used by itself)

y khoa means medicine (the study)

ly means glass or cup

Think of a glass that holds 1 litre.

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y can also be combined with other letters. ay sounds nearly the same as ai, but a tiny bit different. In ay there is a hint of the consonant y on the end. So it sounds a bit like eye-yer, but not really. Don’t worry if you can’t tell the difference. People will usually understand if you say it the same as ai.

hay means or

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ô y and ơ y don’t exist.

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Don’t forget to dot your i’s and cross your d’s.

If y is a vowel, what happens if you want to use the consonant Y sound? The consonant y is written using the letter d without a cross.

d is NOT the English letter d, đ is.

d is the English letter y!

dao (pron. yao) means knife

It is named after the sound you make when you accidentally cut yourself with the knife.

u is pronounced oo or u sort of like in pull put cook. Make sure you say it with your mouth round and small.

chu du (chew you but with the vowel closer to pull) means to travel

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u a sounds like u followed by a. u a, ua.

mua means to buy.

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Either-or questions don’t need không:

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u i sounds like u followed by i. u i, ui.

vui means happy or fun.

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BUT... u y sounds like wii or wee. It is almost the only exception to the normal rule for pronouncing vowel combinations. The Vietnamese alphabet doesn’t have the letter W, so it uses uy instead. So ui and uy sound quite different.

Huy (pronounced hwee) is a Vietnamese boy’s name meaning radiant.

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Tuy (pronounced twee) means although, even though, or despite

?I’m cute although I’m big. Tôi xinh tuy tôi to.

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au sounds like a followed by u. a u, au. Unlike ao, the a doesn’t sound like a in cat. Be careful to say the two letters clearly, and almost separately. au sounds different from ao.

đau means hurts or painful.

đau is named after the sound you make when you hurt yourself.

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If u is always pronounced like in put, how do you write the u in cut? Vietnamese created a new letter for that sound. It looks like a but with a squashed letter u on top, to indicate that it sounds like the letter U in cut.

Ă ă

The symbol above the a is called a breve and it looks like a bowl. But it is really a squashed letter U.

ăn (pronounced un) means eat

Eating an onion. ăn

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Because anh has a h to make it short, it sounds the same as ăn. Some people will say them slightly differently though. Anh ăn can be pronounced like un un or like ang un (for people who say ang) or like un ung (for people who don’t say ang).

rice is cơm (pronounced kerm)

Think cơm here and get your rice.

Because Vietnam’s stable diet is rice, and they eat rice with every meal, rice also means meal.

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Words never end with ă, and ă doesn’t normally combine with other letters.


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