What I have (mis)learnt about Vietnamese

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The more Vietnamese I learn the more confused and enlightened I become in equal measure.

Having lived in Vietnam on and off for almost two years I like to think I have absorbed a little of the language in that time. So here are some of my observations on what I have picked up so far. Hopefully you may find them useful. I am no teacher though. There is a strong chance my insights are completely wide of the mark. Let me know, and if you can add to this blog post please feel free to share in the comments. I may well update this post over time.

For the sake of clarity, anything appearing in italics is what I think/hear. The hyperlinks go to Google Translate so you can click on the speaker icon and hear what I am talking about.

What I hear/read versus what I think
Ha Long Bay                     Ha Lum Seven
Sửa chữa / Sửa chữa      Yoghurt / Yoghurt (never repairs)
Thứ tư                               Tutu (Wednesday). What a ballerina wears, not Archbishop Desmond.
Con voi                              Convoy (elephant). Interestingly the Vietnamese for whale is ‘ca voi’ which could be interpreted as meaning elephant that lives in the water.

Lamps in Hoi An


I once was listening to a group of young Vietnamese people talking and was convinced somebody said ‘stupid fucka’.  By the time I could interrupt the moment had gone and nobody could recall what could have sounded like that. I have never heard it since or been able to discover what was said.

Twat – Thoát, meaning escape. Sounds a little like a drawn out twat.

Bang me now –  Bicycle cake seller runs through his menu and then ends his spiel with “Bánh mỳ nào!”

Sounds same same
These five Vietnamese words are a challenge: Mười, mũi, muối, muỗi, mùi (ten, nose, salt, mosquito, smell.)
The chances of getting all five in the same sentences are thankfully remote I would like to hope.

Actually are same same
Vietnamese and English share the words, guitar, accordion, piano, violin, harmonica, saxophone, cello, clarinet and keyboard. Xe oto (auto), too, but that may be stretching the point slightly.

I didn’t know that
The words for zero and no are the same, không. Makes sense.

Umbrella is ô. Curiously, it applies to both use against rain and sun. Parasol ( Dù che nắng ) is a both of a mouthful that nobody uses except in the south. And even then it is shortened.

Cửa sổ and cửa kính means windows in a house and windows in a vehicle. But cửa can also mean door. Maybe opening is a better translation.

Google Translate used to render Charlene as Thái Trác Nghiên. They have fixed that now, but only after me spending at least half an hour unsuccessfully trying to find other English names it would translate into Vietnamese.

In Vietnam dogs say gâu gâu (gow, gow); cats say meo, the same as their name; pigs go éc éc (eck, eck); cows bò ò; and the rooster that wakes you up at 6am, ò ó o (awe awe a’)

There’s no word in Vietnamese for walnut. Instead it’s known as dog brain.

Rhymes that help
Wind is gió, pronounced zaw. In my mind, I go wind/blaw/zaw. Only works if you are Scottish.

Big is to (taw) which rhymes with nhỏ (nyaw) which means small.

And, finally, if you are not sure throw in a ‘noy’, ‘zoy’ or ‘moy’ and there’s a good possibility you will be right. It’s the Vietnamese  language equivalent of the pub quiz ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ answer to any question about Royal Family history.

In the interests of fairness, here are some words Vietnamese people have difficulty with:
Peeza = pizza. Presumably, the Italian city of Pisa becomes Pissa
Litten = little
Faeboop = Facebook
Twister = Twitter
Difficunt = Difficult, but ‘difficunt’ really should be a word that means an annoying person who is extremely awkward.

And my personal favourite is the erroneous, but highly appropriate, Vietnamese pronunciation of Donald Trump. The US president will be less than impressed to learn that he is known locally as ‘Donal’ Chump’.


2 thoughts on “What I have (mis)learnt about Vietnamese

  1. In term of names, the translation is originated from Chinese. For example, Chinese translates Charlene into their language, and Vietnamsese, without acknowedging the original name, translate from Chinese to Vietnamsese. There will be more names come up if you ask some Vietnameses 🙂 anw, entertaining piece of writing, look forward to read more ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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