The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Learning Vietnamese

Absolute Beginners Guide to Learning Vietnamese Cover Photo Pixel Anime
Absolute Beginners Guide to Learning Vietnamese Cover Photo Pixel Anime


Ready to embark on an exciting language adventure? Picture this: you’ve recently moved to Vietnam, wandering through that bustling corner market you’ve been meaning to visit, enticed by a colorful display of tropical fruits. As you eye a succulent mango, you wonder, “would this be better in salad or as a shake?” Now imagine the thrill of confidently asking the fruit vendor in Vietnamese, negotiating like a local and saving some money. Small wins! That’s what we’re aiming for with this absolute beginner’s guide to learning Vietnamese (aka: Tieng Viet).

Learning Vietnamese not only grants you practical communication skills but also unveils a rich tapestry of culture and connections. Or at the very least, have a rudimentary understanding of what your neighbors are singing about at 1AM on a Wednesday. In this short yet surprisingly comprehensive guide, we’ll touch on some nuances of Vietnamese, exploring unique aspects like tones, regional variations, and its historical connection with China. Get ready to dive deep into the language and unlock the vibrant essence of Vietnam.

Pros and Cons of Learning Vietnamese

Before diving into the intricacies of the language, let’s list down a quick pros and cons list of learning Vietnamese. After all, you’ll need to know your “why”.


  1. Deeper Cultural Connection: Learning Vietnamese allows you to connect with locals on a deeper level, fostering meaningful relationships and immersing yourself in the local culture.
  2. Professional Opportunities: Proficiency in Vietnamese opens doors to various professional opportunities, particularly in sectors like tourism, hospitality, and business. It might even be a great way for you to ask for a raise or move into another industry/function.
  3. Romantic Connections: Need I say more?
  4. Travel Flexibility: By speaking Vietnamese, you can navigate Vietnam more comfortably, from ordering food at local eateries to finding your way around lesser-known destinations.
  5. Day to Day Convenience: Let’s face it, life in Vietnam is just going to be so much easier if you knew how to communicate in the local language. You can get better prices, have fewer “expat moments”, and just have a better time transacting with locals on a more personal level.


  1. Regional Variations: Different regions in Vietnam have their own dialects and vocabulary variations, which can initially pose a challenge when adapting to different linguistic styles. Once you commit to learning one version of the language, there’s a very high probability that the rest of the country wont understand you unless you also take time to learn how they say it.
  2. Limited Number of Speakers: Unlike other major world languages (Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Arabic), you’re going to be limited to just the 100 million people living in Vietnam, along with the Viet Kieu diaspora. This is a small portion of the world. It’s a difficult language, and you’ll be investing more time and effort than you otherwise would with say Spanish which has about 500 million native speakers.

Planning a Trip to Vietnam? Here’s a comprehensive FAQ List to help you on your way

Vietnam Travel FAQ List: Answered by People Who Live Here

Things to Know About the Vietnamese Language

Phonetics and Tones

While your neighbor’s midnight karaoke sessions might now be a good measure for this, one of the most captivating aspects of Vietnamese is its tonal nature. The language features six distinct tones that shape the meaning of words. For example, the word “ma” can mean “mother,” “ghost,” “tomb,” or “horse,” depending on the tone used. The difference in pronunciation may seem subtle, but it can completely alter the intended message. Imagine the challenge of learning to navigate these tonal nuances!

However, it’s worth noting that to an untrained ear, certain combinations of letters may sound identical, adding an extra layer of complexity to the language. For example, the words “cơm” (rice) and “con” (child) sound the same to the untrained ear. Don’t worry, though. With practice and perseverance, you’ll master these melodic tones and open a world of expressive communication.

Chinese Influences

Throughout its history, Vietnam has had significant cultural interactions with China. Chinese characters have greatly influenced the Vietnamese writing system, adding an intriguing layer to the language. Although modern Vietnamese primarily employs a Latin-based script, you’ll still encounter Chinese characters in formal writing, literature, and historical texts.

Additionally, Chinese vocabulary and grammar patterns have seeped into Vietnamese, making it an unexpected advantage for those already familiar with Chinese. So, if you’ve explored Mandarin or Cantonese before, you’re in for a delightful surprise! You’ll find similarities and shared vocabulary that will accelerate your language learning journey.

Regional Vocabulary

North vs. South Apart from regional accents, Vietnamese vocabulary also varies between the northern and southern regions. For example, in the north, a baguette sandwich is known as “bánh mỳ,” while in the south, it’s called “bánh mì.” Similarly, the word for “toilet” is “nhà vệ sinh” in the north, whereas in the south, it’s simply “toa lét.” In the northern region, you might come across the term “xe om” for motorbike taxis, while in the south, it’s more commonly known as “xe ba gác.”

These vocabulary differences add color to the language and provide an opportunity to adapt and connect with locals wherever you are in Vietnam. Embracing the diversity of vocabulary will undoubtedly enrich your language journey, allowing you to navigate various conversations with ease and charm.

Practical Tips for Learning Vietnamese

Now that we’ve discussed pros and cons, as well as key “features” of the language, if you’re still reading, then you’ve probably already made the decision to continue on your Vietnamese language journey, So, let’s equip you with some practical tips to enhance your learning experience. Whether you’re a beginner or have some prior knowledge of the language, these tips will guide you towards mastering Vietnamese with confidence and efficiency.

  • Take advantage of online resources, podcasts, videos, and language-learning platforms to enhance your learning experience. These digital tools can provide interactive exercises, pronunciation guidance, and opportunities to connect with fellow learners. Here are some full course material from LTL Flexi Classes, free to download and learn at your own pace:
  • Seek out language exchange partners or local language buddies to practice Vietnamese conversationally. Engaging in conversations with native speakers is an excellent way to improve your fluency and gain cultural insights.
  • Immerse yourself in cultural events, festivals, and community gatherings where you can engage with locals and practice your language skills in an authentic setting. The more you participate, the more your language abilities will flourish.
  • Pop Culture! Watch Vietnamese movies, TV shows, and listen to Vietnamese music to expose yourself to the language in a fun and engaging way. Pay attention to the language used and try to pick up on common phrases and expressions.
  • Join language courses or programs specifically designed for Vietnamese learners. Experienced instructors will guide you through the language’s nuances and provide valuable feedback to accelerate your progress.
  • Explore language-learning apps and online platforms that offer gamified exercises, flashcards, and interactive lessons. There’s Duolingo obviously, but there are other more Vietnam specific user-friendly tools are convenient for self-study and can be accessed anytime, anywhere.
  • Join online forums and language learning communities to connect with fellow enthusiasts, exchange tips, and share your language learning journey. The support and encouragement from these communities can boost your motivation and provide additional resources.

Live in Vietnam? Want more convenience? Check out more useful VN apps here

Best Apps for Expats Living in Vietnam


Embarking on a language adventure to master Vietnamese is a gateway to unlocking the vibrant essence of Vietnam. With its melodic tones, regional diversity, historical Chinese influences, and unique vocabulary variations, Vietnamese is a language full of surprises and delights. While the journey may present challenges, the rewards are immeasurable.

From confidently ordering street food to engaging in heartfelt conversations with locals, learning Vietnamese opens doors to cultural immersion and meaningful connections. So, embrace the adventure, practice those tones, and unlock the true essence of Vietnam through its captivating language. Get ready to embark on an extraordinary linguistic journey. Chúc may mắn! (Good luck!)


  1. Great Post. I find the biggest mistake learners of Vietnamese usually make is not focusing enough on tones and pronunciation. Wanting to be able to speak quickly leads to people focusing on learning a lot of sentence patterns which the student can use with the teacher and gives the student a feeling of happiness and success because a trained teacher of course still understands when someone speaks with bad tones or wrong pronunciation. The problem is normal people don’t so the student struggles to use what they learned outside the class room, is usually not understood and gets very frustrated.
    Tones and pronunciation are the key to everything in Vietnamese but they are super hard and need to be learned at the beginning. Everything afterwards is quite doable but people trying to avoid that big stumbling block at the beginning is what often leads so many people dropping the language.

    • Tones definitely important – but what about very new learners?

      Which top tips would you give for first time learners? Which other aspects of the language should they pay attention to?

    • Really glad we could provide some useful tips for people who are looking into learning the language.

      What other subject do you think would be useful for this community?

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