Vietnamese: Lesson 1

In Vietnamese, the letter A is pronounced like a cross between the a sound in cat and the ar sound in far. If you can’t say it half way between, it’s perfectly OK just to say ar like in far.

Speaking of far, the Vietnamese word for far is xa (pronounced sa). It is xa away. I can’t walk that xa.


The S sound in English is written with an X in Vietnamese. The Vietnamese word for car or vehicle is pronounced se. Guess how would you spell car in Vietnamese?


Vietnamese doesn’t have a word for the. So xe can also mean the car.

?the car|xe

In Vietnamese, all adjectives, including xa, don’t need the word is. Because xa actually means is far.

So how would you say The car is far.?

?The car is far.|Xe xa.

Vietnamese doesn’t really have a word for it, so people usually just leave it out. So how would you say It is far.?

?It is far.|Xa.

Almost every language in the world uses a variation of "ma" and "pa" for mother and father, because those are the easiest words for babies to say. Vietnamese is no exception.

But Vietnamese words aren’t allowed to begin with the letter P. So in Vietnamese they say "ba" with a B for banana instead of "pa".


?Father is far.|Ba xa.

In Vietnamese, describing words always come AFTER the thing they describe. So instead of saying "the far car" you say "the car far".

?the far car|xe xa

xe xa could mean "the far car" or it could be the sentence "The car is far."

The Vietnamese word for orange is cam. It means both the colour, and the fruit. Remember orange is a very calming colour. cam.

In Vietnamese, plurals are optional. So cam can mean "oranges" or "orange".

?Oranges are orange.|Cam cam.

?The far car is orange.|Xe xa cam.

?The orange car is far.|Xe cam xa.

There is no apostrophe S ending in Vietnamese, so you can say Father’s car using the same method you used for "the far car" or "the orange car".

?father’s car|xe ba

?Father’s car is orange.|Xe ba cam.

Ba isn’t the only Vietnamese word for father. Another word you will hear for father is cha, which is easy to remember if your dad’s name is Charlie.

Using cha, how would you say "Father’s car is far."?

?Father’s car is far.|Xe cha xa.

But I’m going to use "ba" for the rest of these exercises.

go out is ra

In Vietnamese, you don’t need to say whether something happened in the past or the present or the future. So ra could mean "went out", "goes out", "is going out", or "will go out".

How would you say Father goes out?

?Father goes out.|Ba ra.

?Father is going out far.|Ba ra xa.

The nam in Viet-nam means south, because Vietnam is south from China, and China calls itself the "middle country".


Vietnamese doesn’t have a word for "to", so you always just say "go" instead of "go to".

?Father went out to the south.|Ba ra nam.

?the far south|nam xa

?Father will go out to the far south.|Ba ra nam xa.

ra can also be used after other verbs to mean out.

an (pronounced ar-n) means peace or security in Vietnamese, although it’s not normally used by itself. It comes from Chinese and is the same an in Tiananmen square which means "Gate of heavenly peace".

The central part of Vietnam used to be called Annam. What do you think Annam means?

?an-nam|peaceful south

In Vietnamese, you can make a word sound shorter by putting a H on the end. It only works on words ending with an, ac, in, or ic. An normally sounds long, like the start of aren’t. But when you add a H on the end, anh sounds like a short un.

anh (pronounced un) means older brother. It also means England.

?Older brother is going out to England.|Anh ra Anh.

There is another pronunciation of anh that you will hear some times. Some people say it like the ang in sang (with the short vowel from cat). You will hear both, depending on where in Vietnam you go.

Family words like anh, ba, and cha are extremely important in Vietnamese because Vietnamese doesn’t have pronouns like other languages. So if you are talking to a man slightly older than you, you might say "Hello older brother. How is older brother? Would older brother like a drink?", using the word "older brother" instead of "you". When the slightly older man answers, he will call himself "older brother" instead of "me", and will say "Yes, older brother would like a drink".

So if talking to a slightly older man, how would you say "You went out far."?

?You (older brother) went out far.|Anh ra xa.

"Father" is only used for "you" when talking to your own father. But "older brother" is used for talking to any man who is the same age as your older brother, for people who aren’t related to you.

sing is ca like singing a carol.

Vietnamese people like to joke that karaoke comes from the Vietnamese ca ra OK, meaning singing out is OK.


?Father is singing.|Ba ca.

see is xem (pronounced sem). It is similar to English.

?Older brother sees the orange car.|Anh xem xe cam.

Xem can also mean watch, or look.

The letter I sounds like i in it or ea in eat. At the end of a word it is the long ee, but in the middle of a word it is the shorter i.

go is đi (pronounced dee)

In Vietnamese, the letter D is always written with a line through the top:

Đ đ

Don’t forget to dot your is and cross your ds! You will need to cut and paste them.


?Older brother is going south.|Anh đi nam.

?The car went far.|Xe đi xa.

To make any command in Vietnamese, you just put the word go! on the end. So if you want to tell someone to "sing!" you say "sing go!"

?Sing!|Ca đi.

?Go out!|Ra đi.

?Go!|Đi đi.

?Go south!|Đi nam đi.

But if you want to be very polite, you can use the word xin (pronounced sin), meaning please. Literally xin means beg, so you are saying I beg you to .... Perhaps because begging is a sin.

?Please sing.|Xin ca.

?Please go south.|Xin đi nam.

?Please go out.|Xin ra.

The F sound is always written PH like in phone or photo, in Vietnamese. And Vietnamese people can’t say lm, so the Vietnamese word for film is just phim (pronounced fim).

?Father will see a film.|Ba xem phim.

?Please watch the film.|Xin xem phim.

?Look!|Xem đi.

Remember that you don’t need the word to in Vietnamese.

?Older brother went to see a film.|Anh đi xem phim.

You can combine vowel sounds together in Vietnamese. ia just sounds like i followed by a, but said quickly. Say i a, ia.

Beer is bia, it sounds the same as in English.

?Father’s beer is orange.|Bia ba cam.

On the other hand, ai sounds like a followed by i, but said quickly. Say a i, ai. It sounds like the English word eye.

who is ai


?Who went out?|Ai ra?

?Who will sing?|Ai ca?

?Who saw father sing?|Ai xem ba ca?

You say whose beer the same way you say father’s beer.

?Whose beer?|Bia ai?

I hope you sigh when you get something wrong, because the Vietnamese word for wrong or incorrect is sai.

?Who is wrong?|Ai sai?

The letter O in Vietnamese sounds like the o in top. It is the o in Saigon.

The Vietnamese word for big is to (like in top).

?The car is big.|Xe to.

?Father’s beer is big.|Bia ba to.

ao sounds like a followed by o. Say a o, ao. I think the a in ao sounds a bit more like the a in cat than it normally does. ao sounds a bit like in cow. But be careful to make sure it ends with an o sound and not a u (oo) sound, because ao and au are different sounds in Vietnamese.

Say hao nao braon cao.

How like in how big or how far is almost the same in Vietnamese, but it begins with the letter B instead. So you say bao big is it?, or bao far is it?.

?how far?|bao xa?

?how big?|bao to?

?how wrong?|bao sai?

In English, question words like "how", "what", or "where" get moved to the start of the sentence. In Vietnamese they stay at the end of the sentence where they belong.

How would you say How far is the car? (litterally, The car is how far?)

?The car is how far?|Xe bao xa?

?The car is how orange?|Xe bao cam?

?How far out did you go (older brother)?|Anh ra bao xa.

On the other hand, oa sounds like o followed by a. Sometimes it sounds a bit like wa or owa if you say it quickly.

The Vietnamese word for flower is "hoa".

?big flowers|hoa to

?big orange flowers|hoa cam to

?How big are the orange flowers?|Hoa cam bao to?

That’s the end of lesson one. I hope you didn’t get too many sai.

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