I ran across this article on Dan Tri online news site and have been doubling over laughing.
If you don’t know enough Vietnamese yet, just Google Translate and join in on the fun.
The article is about hilarious misuses and mistakes that students make when studying Vietnamese.
The article’s title translates into something as “schadenfreude when foreigners learn Vietnamese”.
I have to say, it’s refreshing to see how inconsistent Vietnamese is as a language from the perspective of a language student. Learning a language is as much as learning its culture and there’s bound to be something that cannot be translated across different cultures and just plainly bamboozles the newcomers.
For everyone out there still struggling or feeling embarrassed when something goes wrong in Vietnamese, take it easy, have a laugh, have fun. It’s just a language. You’ll get there eventually!
The caption for this photo is “Việt Nam đã có tàu ngầm rồi! Để so sánh với các nước trên thế giới!”
(Vietnam finally has submarine! To compare with other countries in the world)
The countries being compared to are
Mỹ: United States
Trung Quốc: China
This is a comic for fans of martial arts and period drama.
I’ve been hooked on to this series for a few months now.
It’s absolutely hilarious. The story is set in a martial art temple with 2 teachers and 2 students.
The only catch? It requires advanced Vietnamese (lots of ancient vocabulary).
If you can read it, it’s totally worth a try. Ô Long Viện
If you don’t know enough Vietnamese yet, here’s an excerpt (which doesn’t have the main characters).
Click to play audio
Cloud: Này điện hạ mặt trời (hey, Your Majesty the Sun)
Sun: Gì thế, mây ngốc (What’s up, silly cloud?)
Cloud: Tôi… muốn tỉ thí với điện hạ (I… want to duel with you)
Sun: hé hé, ngươi dám…? (hehe, you dare?)
Cloud: Tối nay tôi đợi ở chỗ này, không đến coi như thua (This evening I will wait here, the one that doesn’t show up loses)
Cloud: Hẹn buổi tối nhé (Let’s meet in the evening)
Sun: Ơ…này… Ta… (er…hey… I…)
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.
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…
What you call yourself
Old enough to be your grandparents
Con (Southern) / cháu (Northern)
Older than your parents
Bác (older uncle)
Bác (older aunt)
Con / cháu
Younger than your parents
Chú (young uncle)
Cô (young aunt)
Con / cháu
Old enough to be your older siblings
Anh (older brother)
Chị (older sister)
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), cô (a female teacher). Teachers are always called “thầy” or “cô” 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 “cô” 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”.
A few things someone (you) may want to exclaim in Vietnamese:
1. buồn ngủ quá! (say this before going to bed or drinking extra large coffee) (I’m) very sleepy
2. buồn tè quá! I really want to pee. Nhà vệ sinh ở đâu? where’s the restroom?
3. đói quá! (I’m) very hungry
4. khát quá! (I’m) very thirsty
5. lạnh quá! Too cold!
6. nóng quá! Too hot!
7. mệt quá! (I’m) very tired / it’s so tiring
8. đau quá! Ouch! I’m hurt!
9. say / xỉn quá (rồi)! (you) are drunk!
10. mắc / đắt quá! Too expensive!
11. rẻ quá! So cheap!
12. ngon quá! So tasty!
13. dở quá! So bad! (food, music, clothes, person with bad personality, etc.)
14. bẩn quá! So dirty!
15. kì quá! So strange / weird / ridiculous!
On a happier note:
16. vui quá! So happy!
17. mừng quá! So happy!
18. may quá! Whew, lucky!
19. giỏi quá! Good job! Well done!
20. hay quá! Good one! Well-played!
21. tốt quá! Good one! Lucky!
Here quá means “very”, “too”, or “so”
Sometimes people add “đi” after “quá“, it means the same thing.
22. Quá đáng! You bully!
23. Quá lắm rồi đó! – that’s too much (I’m not gonna take that any more!)
(then you quit your job and walk out the door :))
1. Chúc mừng năm mới!
Happy New Year.
This is the easiest greeting.
If you remember nothing else, hold on to this one.
It works for both Jan 1 New Year and Lunar New Year (Tết), and you don’t need to know any pronouns.
2. Chúc (anh) năm mới vui vẻ!
Wish you a happy new year. Replace (anh) with the appropriate pronoun and you have your greeting.
Christmas is known as lễ Giáng Sinh or lễ Nô-en (from the French word Noel).
Chúc – to wish
Vui vẻ – happy
Chúc (you) Giáng Sinh / Nô-en vui vẻ!
As usual, use the appropriate Vietnamese pronoun for “you”.
5. Chúc mừng sinh nhật!
6. Chúc (anh) sinh nhật vui vẻ!
Wish you a happy birthday!
1. For the Lunar New Year (Tết, Tết Nguyên Đán), aside from the simple chúc mừng năm mới, there are many more elaborate Vietnamese Tết greetings here.
2. If you’re completely new and don’t know any pronouns, learn to address people properly in Vietnamese here.