It is always a good idea to have useful Vietnamese phrases in your pocket as a foreigner. In general, the Vietnamese people will appreciate your efforts to speak their language, and most people, even those working in the service industries, do not speak English fluently. 

Learning Vietnamese opens up employment opportunities for expats who want to work not just in Vietnam but around the world. For tourists, learning at least a little Vietnamese opens the gates to immersive travel experiences rich in culture and local experiences. 

Famously, Nelson Mandela once said:

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart."

So, let’s get started with:

  • Basic Phrases
  • How to Address People 
  • General Vietnamese phrases
  • Numbers 1 to 10 and Beyond
  • Getting/Giving Directions 
  • Useful Phrases for Shopping
  • What to Say at a Restaurant/ For Take-away/ For Delivery 
  • COVID-19 Useful Words and Phrases

First, A Guide To Vietnamese Pronunciation

In order to learn the Vietnamese language, you need to know vocabulary and grammar. However, people often overlook the importance of pronunciation.

In Vietnamese, pronunciation is one of the most difficult aspects of the language because of the various tones and the unique way of using the alphabet. Here are some basic rules of producing Vietnamese:

Đ - D with a stroke is pronounced like the English 'd'.  The tip of your tongue touches behind your top front teeth.

D (with no stroke) - This is pronounced as a 'yer' sound. For example dạ - meaning 'yes' is pronounced 'ya'.

E - This is pronounced as the 'e' in bed.

G - is often pronounced like the 'g' in "good" for words like ga - chicken.

Gi - However, 'g' words coupled with 'i' are pronounced with a 'yer' sound (in the south) or 'zer' (from the North). For example: 'gi' (yee / zee) means 'what'.  

I - is pronounced like the 'i' in "hemisphere".

Ng - is pronounced like the ng in 'finger' or 'sing'.  The back of your tongue touches the back of your mouth. For words like 'Nguyen' try making the final sound of 'sing' first and then add the '-uyen' after.

Q - is often pronounced as a 'wa' sound (not like 'kew' in English

R - is pronounced with a roll like in Spanish.

X - is pronounced as a 's' sound. So in the case of motorbike - 'xe máy' this sounds like 'sair migh'.

Y - is like the English 'e'. Spaghetti in Vietnamese is 'mỳ ý' (Mee ee).

The last thing to remember is that Vietnamese pronunciation places less importance on the final sound of the word and often the final consonant is silent. For example, 'Phuc' (a person's name) is not pronounced with a final 'k' sound, but this 'k' sound is stopped just short with a closed mouth (not an open mouth like you would say in English).

1. Basic Phrases

 These useful Vietnamese phrases will come in handy no matter how much time you spend in Vietnam. Familiarise yourself with these commonly used Vietnamese words as you will find that you will be using them all the time here!

  • Hello / Xin chào (sin chow) 
  • Goodbye / Hẹn gặp lại (hen gap lie)
  • Thank you / Cảm ơn (gam urn) 
  • Sorry / Xin lỗi (sin loy) 
  • No problem / không sao (khom sow)
  • Yes / Dạ (yeah)
  • No Không (khom)
  • My name is _____ / tôi tên _____ (toy turn _____)
  • WomanPhụ nữ (fu noo)
  • Man / Nam (sounds like ‘mam’ with an ‘n’) 
Learning Vietnamese
Learning Vietnamese @ EikoTsuttiy / Getty Images

2. How to Address People 

Next up, you will be learning how to address people in Vietnamese. The Vietnamese have a complex system of how to properly address each other according to age, gender, and family structure. Of course, the Vietnamese people understand foreigners may not get the subtleties of all the addresses, and you can get away with knowing just the following:

  • I, Me / tôi (toy) 
  • You / bạn (bun)
  • When speaking to a younger person, call them ‘em’(em).
  • When speaking to an older woman, call her ‘chị’ (che).
  • When speaking to an older man, call him ‘anh’ (un).

Related article: Vietnamese Culture: Etiquette, Tips And Traditions

Learning to address people in Vietnamese is very important
Learning to address people in Vietnamese is very important @ LightFieldStudios / Getty Images

3. General Vietnamese phrases

  • This is my wife/ husband Đây là vợ / Đây là chồng 
    (day la ver / day la chong)
  • This is my boyfriend/ girlfriend / Đây là bạn trai /  Đây là bạn gái 
    (day la ban chai / day la ban guy)
  • This is my friend/ housemateĐây là bạn / Đây là bạn cùng nhà
    (day la ban / day la ban cun n-air)
  • I don't understand / Không hiểu (khom heew)
  • Call the police / Gọi cảnh sát ngay (goiy gunh sut ngay)
  • Help me / Giúp tôi với (yoop toy voy)

4. How To Say Numbers 1 to 10 and Beyond - Vietnamese Numbers Pronunciation

 Here we have numbers 1 to 10, which you may need when shopping, for phone numbers, or for addresses, etc. 

  • 1 / Một (sounds like ‘mop’ with a ‘t’)
  • 2 / Hai (hi)
  • 3 / Ba (bear)
  • 4 / Bốn (bom)
  • 5 / Năm (nam)
  • 6 / Sáu (sow)
  • 7 / Bảy (bye)
  • 8  / Tám (tem) 
  • 9 / Chín (qin) 
  • 10 / Mười
  • 100 / Một trăm (mot chum)
  • 500 / Năm trăm (nam chum)
  • 1000 / Một ngàn (mot ngh-an)
  • 5000 / Năm ngàn (nam ngh-an)
  • 10,000 / Mười ngàn (moo-ay ngh-an)
  • 100,000 / Một trăm ngàn (mot chum ngh-an)
  • 1,000,000 / Một triệu (mot chew)
  • 5,000,000 / Năm triệu (nam chew)
Numbers
Numbers @ erllre / Getty Images

Also, to say ‘cheers’, the Vietnamese will say ‘một, hai, ba, yoooo’! Remember this phrase for an easy way to make friends. 

5. Getting/ Giving Directions In Vietnamese

Whether you are asking for directions to the nearest tourist monument, directing your taxi driver, or collecting parcels or food delivery from a shipper, these Vietnamese phrases will not be out of place! 

  • Where are you? / Bạn ở đâu (bun er daw)
  • Where is the bathroom? Nhà vệ sinh ở đâu? (nah veh sin er daw)
  • Where is the _____? / _____ ở đâu? (In Vietnamese grammar, the location/noun comes first)
  • Go straight / Đi thẳng (di tang)
  • Turn right / Rẽ phải (rail-o fie)
  • Turn left / Rẽ trái (rail-o try)
  • Here / ở đây (er dye) 
  • 5 minutes / Năm phút (nam foot) 
Directions
Directions @ chaiyapruek2520 / Getty Images Pro

6. Useful Phrases For Shopping In Vietnam

Of course, there is always shopping to be done. Bargaining is an art enjoyed by the shopkeepers and it is fine to negotiate a little, keeping in mind that the vendors are trying to make a living. 

  • How much? / Bao nhiêu (bow new)
  • Too expensive / Mắc quá (mack wear)
  • Discount please / Bớt nha (boc n-air)
  • I want to buy / Tôi muốn mua (toy moon moo-ah)
Shopping  woman with shopping joy
Shopping  woman with shopping joy @nicoletaionescu / Getty Images Pro

7. What to Say at a Restaurant/ For Take-away/ For Delivery 

  • To get the attention of the waitstaff / Em oi (em oi) 
  • I would like to have this / Tôi muốn cái này (toy moon kai nai)
  • The bill pleaseTính tiền (tin tein)
  • For take-away / Mua mang đi (mua mang di)
  • Please deliver / Để giao hàng (de yao hang) 
  • I am allergic to _____ Tôi bị dị ứng với _____ (toy bi di oong voy)
  • I am vegetarian / Tôi là chay (toy la chay)
  • Rice / Cơm (gomb)
  • Rice noodles Bún (boon)
  • Chicken / Gà (gare)
  • Beef / Bò (boh)
  • PorkHeo (hell)
  • Hot / Nóng (nong)
  • Cold / Lạnh (lan)
  • No ice / Không đá (khom dar)
  • No sugar / Không đường (khom dung).

These phrases are especially helpful when travelling and living in Vienam. If you're planning to spend some time here, why not listen to a few podcasts about Vietnam to prepare?

Order food at restaurant during Covid
Order food at restaurant during Covid @ Fertographer / Getty Images Signature

8. Useful Vietnamese Words and Phrases for Health Emergencies 

These are not normal times and being understood is paramount. Here are some Vietnamese phrases you might need to explain to your employer, your building manager, the police, medical staff, etc during these tough times. We hope this helps you stay safe! 

Getting your COVID-19 test or vaccine at the hospital

  • I need to go to the hospital / Tôi cần đến bệnh viện (toy ken dun ben van)
  • I am going to get my vaccination / Tôi đang đi tiêm chủng vắc xin (toy dang di team chu-ng vak sin)
  • I am going to get a COVID-19 test / Tôi đang đi xét nghiệm COVID-19 (toy dang di set ne-erm COVID-19)
  • When will I get the results? / Khi nào sẽ có kết quả xét nghiệm của tôi? (key now saah gor cat gua set ne-erm gu toy?)
  • I have a negative test resultTôi có kết quả xét nghiệm âm tính (toy gor cat gua set ngierm arm tin)
  • I am allergic to _____Tôi bị dị ứng với _____ (toy bi zit urn-g voy...)
  • I am coming back from the hospital / Tôi sắp trở lại từ bệnh viện (toy sap choy lai too ben van)
Covid-19 test
Covid-19 test @ Lukas Bittner / Getty Images

More survival phrases

  • I am going food shopping / Tôi đang đi mua thức ăn (thực phẩm)
  • I am going to the pharmacy / Tôi đang đi đến hiệu thuốc (toy dang di dun heal too-oak)
  • I need to eat / Tôi cần ăn (toy kern ang)
  • I need water / Tôi cần nước uống (toy kern nook oong)
  • I need medication / Tôi cần thuốc (toy kern too-oak)
  • I am going home / Tôi đang về nhà (toy dang vey n-air)
  • My address is / Địa chỉ của tôi là (dia chi kua toy la)
Local get stopped by police
Local get stopped by police @ Độc Lập / Thanh Nien Newspaper

Leaving the country en route to the airport

  • I need to go to the airport / Tôi cần đến sân bay (toy kern den sern bye)
  • I need to catch a flight to my countryTôi cần lên chuyến bay để trở về quê nhà (toy kern lend chin bye de cherv vey ke-way n-air)
  • I need to go to my embassy / Tôi cần đi đến Đại sứ quán (toy kern di den dye sur k-wan)
  • I need to call my embassyTôi cần gọi Đại sứ quán của nước tôi (toy kern goy dye sur k-wan gua nook toy)
  • I am from / Tôi đến từ (toy den too...)
Airplanes at Tan Son Nhat airport
Airplanes at Tan Son Nhat airport @ VNA / Tuoi Tre Newspaper

If you're interested in Vietnamese culture and partial to a little party, then why not learn how to celebrate and say happy new year in Vietnamese.

We hope these Vietnamese survival phrases help you overcome any language barriers and your trip is as smooth as a bowl of Pho. On that note, have you seen our food pages