Vietnamese: Lesson 2

Vietnamese has two different O sounds: the o in the word saigon and the oh sound in Ho Chi Minh.

You already know the O in saigon, which is written with the normal letter o, and is pronounced like in top. It is used in the word to meaning big.


But the O in Ho Chi Minh is written as an O with a hat, like this:

Ô ô

Hô Chi Minh

Unfortunately, in Vietnamese, the ô in Hô Chi Minh is actually halfway between the sound in "oh no" and the sound "or". It is an orh nor sound. If you have trouble saying it halfway between "oh" and "or", just choose one and say it that way. It sounds more like an "or" at the end of a syllable, and more like an "oh" in the middle. But it never, ever sounds like the o in top.

If you are an American, you may have trouble distinguishing these two sounds, since America merged half a dozen of English’s different vowel sounds into a single vowel sound. Other English speaking countries don’t have that problem.


aunt is (pronounced core, but a bit like the prefix co-)

?Aunt went to England.|Cô đi Anh.

Aunt is also used to mean "miss".

?Miss Smith is singing.|Cô Smith ca.

Aunt also means "you" when talking to a young or middle-aged woman.

?You (aunt) are watching a film.|Cô xem phim.

grandfather is ông.

?Grandfather went out to the south.|ông ra nam.

Grandfather also means "Mr."

?Mr Smith is singing.|ông Smith ca.

Grandfather also means "you" when talking to a man.

?You (grandfather) are watching a film.|ông xem phim.

Some Vietnamese words begin with kh. There are two ways you can choose to pronounce kh. You can either say it like a k sound followed by a h sound, or you can choose to say it like the german/arabic/scottish/dutch ch sound. Both ways are correct, so just choose whichever is easier for you.


no, not, don’t and didn’t are không

?Grandfather didn’t see the car.|ông không xem xe.

?It is not far.|Không xa.

To make any sentence a question, you just put no on the end. To ask "Is it far?", you say "It is far, no?". To ask "Are you watching a film?" you say "you are watching a film, no?"

?Is it far?|Xa không?

?No, it’s not far.|Không, không xa.

?Do you (aunt) see the car.|Cô xem xe không?

?Are you (uncle) going out?|ông ra không?

?Is it wrong?|Sai không?

The normal way to answer "yes", is to just say the adjective or the verb.

?Yes (it is wrong).|Sai.

?Yes (it is far).|Xa.

Do you remember the other kind of question?

?Who is going south?|Ai đi nam?

Ai normally means who. But if you use it in a yes/no question, then it means "anybody".

?Is anybody going south?|Ai đi nam không?

?Did anyone see the film?|Ai xem phim không?

If you use who in a negative statement, it means nobody or not anybody.

?Nobody is singing.|Ai không ca.

?No, no-one saw the film.|Không, ai không xem phim.

?Did you (grandfather) see Mr. Smith?|ông xem ông Smith không?

If someone calls you grandfather, you can answer by calling yourself grandfather instead of "I".

?No, I (grandfather) didn’t see anyone.|Không, ông không xem ai.

?Did anyone see Mr. Smith?|Ai xem ông Smith không?

?No, nobody saw anyone.|Không, ai không xem ai.

I estimate 95% of people in Vietnam go everywhere by motorbike.

Motorbike is shortened to mô tô in Vietnamese, but with the word for vehicle in front of it.


?motorbike|xe mô tô

?Who saw the Motorbike?|Ai xem xe mô tô?

People normally leave out the word "by" when they say "go by motorbike".

?Are you (aunt) going by motorbike?|Cô đi xe mô tô không?

?No, I (aunt) am not going by motorbike.|Không, cô không đi xe mô tô.

?The motorbike is not orange.|Xe mô tô không cam.

ôi sounds like ô followed by i. ô i, ôi.

Vietnamese does have one or two real pronouns.

I or me is tôi. Like "I am a toy". tôi

?I don’t sing.|Tôi không ca.

?I am going out.|Tôi ra.

?You (aunt) see me.|Cô xem tôi.

Tôi is a little bit formal. You can’t use tôi with your boyfriend or girlfriend or family, or they will get angry. They will be insulted that you didn’t call yourself "sister" or "brother" or "child".

If you are talking to your girlfriend, you are expected to call yourself "older brother". How would you say to your girlfriend "I am going out"?

?I am going out.|Anh ra.

younger sibling is em. It’s the word me backwards.

How would you say to your younger brother or sister, "I see you"?

?I see you.|Anh xem em.

How would you say to your older brother, "I see you"?

?Em xem anh.

When a woman talks to her boyfriend, she will call herself "em" and her boyfriend "anh", and vice-versa.

But if you were talking to a woman you don’t know, what do you think you would say?

?I see you.|Tôi xem cô.

Be careful about calling women "em", even if they are younger. It sounds like you are hitting on them.

to go past is qua.

?I (formal) am going past.|Tôi qua.

How would you say to an older man "You went past me."?

?You went past me.|ông qua tôi.

Yesterday is the day that past, hôm qua.

?Yesterday, I went past.|Hôm qua, tôi qua.

?Yesterday, Miss Smith went to see a film.|Hôm qua, cô Smith đi xem phim.

?Yesterday, did you (younger sister) go by motorbike?|Hôm qua, em đi xe mô tô không?

?I (formal) am singing.|Tôi ca.

Tôi ca can mean "I sing", "I sang", "I am singing", or "I will sing". If you want to make it clear that you are right now in the process of singing, you need to add the Vietnamese word "doing".

doing is đang. Nearly the same as in English. doing, đang

So "I am singing" would be "I am doing singing."

?I am (doing) singing.|Tôi đang ca.

?I am (doing) going.|Tôi đang đi.

?I am (doing) seeing a movie.|Tôi đang xem phim.

?I am (doing) going past.|Tôi đang qua.

?I am not (doing) going out far.|Tôi không đang ra xa.

?Are you (younger brother) (doing) going?|Em đang đi không?

?No, I (younger brother) went yesterday.|Không, tôi đi hôm qua.

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