Category Archives: Absolute Beginner

For absolute beginners to the Vietnamese language

ALESN Vietnamese Class – Handout 1: Introduction to Vietnamese: “You” and “I”

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In Vietnamese, there is no fixed “you” and “I.”
How you address someone else (“you” in English) and address yourself (“I”) differs in each situation, depending on the gender and the age of both people in the conversation. This often confuses new students *, but with proper explanation and some practice, you won’t have much trouble navigating through the pronouns.

Click to play audio

Click to download the PDF transcript: Introduction to Vietnamese

For example, Will and Harry are friends, but Will looks old enough to be Harry’s brother.
When talking to Harry, Will calls himself “anh” (older brother), and calls Harry “em” (younger brother/sister).
Harry calls himself “em”, and calls Will “anh.”

An example of a conversation between Will and Harry will go like this:
Will: Chào em, em có khỏe không? (hello, how are you?)
Harry: Em chào anh, dạ có ạ. Còn anh? (hello, yes. How about you?)
Will: Anh cũng khỏe. (I’m also well)

Suppose Kate is Will’s friend, and she seems to be older than Will (like an older sister), look up the table below and find out the appropriate pronouns for Kate and Will to use when they talk to each other.

Age (relative to you): that person looks… Male Female What you call yourself
Old enough to be your grandparents Ông (grandpa) (grandma) Con (Southern) / cháu (Northern)
Older than your parents Bác (older uncle) Bác (older aunt) Con / cháu
Younger than your parents Chú (young uncle) (young aunt) Con / cháu
Old enough to be your older siblings Anh (older brother) Chị (older sister) Em
Young enough to be your younger siblings Em (younger brother) Em (younger sister) Guys call themselves: Anh
Girls call themselves: Chị
Young enough to be your niece, nephew, children, grandchildren Con / cháu Con / cháu See above for appropriate pronoun

The pronouns above are the most commonly used in Vietnamese.
The relationships between the pronoun pairs (anh – em, chi – em, etc.) are -———

Some other common pronouns include:
1. Parents and children: bố / ba (dad), mẹ / má (mom), con (child)
2. Teachers and students: thầy (a male teacher), (a female teacher). Teachers are always called “thầy” or “” regardless of their age. The students call themselves “con.”
3. “Tôi”: generic “I”, most often used when speaking to a crowd or stranger)
4. “Bạn” : friends who are born within the same year (this is a strict rule: only people born between Jan 1 and Dec 31 of the same year are “bạn”). Native speakers rarely use this pronoun in conversation, even though textbooks will teach you this to get by during the first few lessons.
5. Pronouns between friends: “cậu” (you) – “tớ” (I) or “mày” (you) – “tao” (I). If someone calls you “cậu,” call yourself “tớ.” Do not mix “cậu” with “tao” and vice versa.

Northern Vietnamese is stricter than Southern Vietnamese with the pronouns.
Southern Vietnamese people may use “chú” and “” to address all the uncles and aunts, while Northern Vietnamese use “bác” to differentiate the older uncles and aunts.

With this, we conclude our brief introduction to Vietnamese pronouns.

* Just in case there is a need to gripe about Vietnamese pronouns, Korean uses the same pronoun system, with clear distinction between people of different gender and age, while Japanese uses a similar but less complicated pronoun system (compared to the Korean and Vietnamese).
Vietnamese is rated as a Category 3 * language in term of difficulty in learning by the Foreign Service Institute. Korean and Japanese are rated as Category 4.
Category 3 languages take about a year of full time, intensive immersion study to master.
Category 4 languages take about 2 year.
For comparison, Spanish is rated as a Category 1 (half a year).

Answer: Kate calls herself “chi” and calls Will “em”.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

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Eat a ton of turkey today!

For your amusement, the Vietnamese has this popular children’s song about chicken (close enough to the turkey). It’s been parodied so many times that I don’t even know the original lyrics any more.
It’ll give my soft-hearted friend a heart attack, so I’ll spare her today 🙂

Gà mà không gáy là con gà chiên.
Gà mà hay gáy là con gà điên.
Đi lang thang trong sân , bắt con gà , bỏ vô nồi.
Mua 2 lon Tiger , nhắm chân gà , nhắm chân gà.

Gà mà không gáy là con gà gay.
Gà mà không gáy là con gà toi.
Đi lang thang trong sân, bắt con gà, ướp tiêu hành,
Ăn xong lăn quay ra, chết tui rùi, cúm gia cầm.

The rooster that doesn’t roost is the fried one
The rooster that roost too often is the cuckoo one
Wander around the yard, catch a rooster, put into the pot
Buy 2 Tiger beers, eat chicken leg, eat chicken leg

The rooster that doesn’t roost is the troubled / gay one
The rooster that doesn’t roost is a goner
Wander around the yard, catch a rooster, marinate with pepper scallion
Finish eating and collapse, I’m done for, (I got) avian flu

Week 1 Audio – Hello at the Vet!

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This is the first in class listening exercise that we did in my (absolute) beginner Vietnamese class.

In the first audio clip, you can listen for how people say hello in Vietnamese, the common Viet greeting (“where are you going?”). In the second clip, listen for how to say your name in Vietnamese. The transcript and word-by-word translation are provided below. To download the files, right click on the link and choose “Save Link As…”

I cut out this clip from an YouTube comedy which is posted at the end of the lesson (no subtitle though :(). Since it’s a comedy, it will be somewhat melodramatic. Actual spoken Vietnamese is more mellow than this clip.

Hi, where are you going?

Girl: Chào anh
Guy: Chào em
Girl: Anh đi đâu giờ? – Where are you going?
Guy: À, anh đi khám bệnh – I’m going for a check up
Girl: Ủa, ở đây khám thú, chứ có khám người đâu anh? – This is the vet’s, not the doctor’s?

Anh đi đâu giờ?
You go where now?
À anh đi khám bệnh
Ah I go check disease
Ủa ở đây khám thú chứ khám người đâu anh?
here check pet but not check human you?


What is your dog’s name?

Guy: Con chó em tên gì zậy? – What is your dog name?
Girl: Nó tên là Mina. – Its name is Mina
Guy: Tên Mina
Girl: Ủa, còn anh tên gì? – How about your name?
Guy: Anh cũng tên Mina – I’m also named Mina

Con chó em tên vậy?
Dog you name what
tên Mina
It name is Mina
Ủa, còn anh tên gì?
Oh how about you name what
Anh cũng tên Mina
I also name Mina