Vietnamese and learning Vietnamese
Along with architecture, laws and cuisine, the modern Vietnamese language reflects the influence of people who settled, invaded and colonized Vietnam over the past two thousand years. Because of their regional domination for many centuries, the Chinese had a particularly powerful impact on the Vietnamese language, and many words are of Chinese origin. For several centuries, a Chinese alphabet was used by scholars and aristocrats.
Modern Vietnamese is a monosyllabic language, meaning that all words are only one syllable long. Like Thai, Vietnamese is tonal, meaning that a rising or falling tone changes the meaning of the word. Since most Western languages use tone to emphasize an underlying meaning, interpretation, or emotion (e.g., angry, doubtful, sarcastic, flamboyant, flirtatious, hesitant, etc.) tonal languages like Vietnamese are particularly difficult for Westerners to learn. Beside Vietnamese, the official language of Vietnam, there are various dialects spoken by hill tribe people in remote areas.
Since English is taught in all Vietnamese schools, you will have fewer communications problems than you might expect. Your high school French may also come in handy. Failing that, there’s always charades. You will find most Vietnamese patient, tolerant, and willing to do what they can to communicate with you.
If you plan a long tour or to live in Vietnam, we recommend a 7-day self-study course. This is a series of short conversations for tourists that should be useful in getting around Vietnam and talking to the Vietnamese. The conversations are organized as if you were to spend a week in Vietnam, with a total of seven lessons dealing with seven topics that would involve a typical tourist. The top priority is to teach you how to be polite to your hosts so that you can return from your trip with good memories. Being polite is a good way to get help when you are in need and to make friends along the way as you travel. You can show politeness with a smile and gentle tone of voice, as well as with words used to excuse yourself, to show thanks, and to compliment your hosts. The Vietnamese, like most Asians do not respond well to loud and angry talk and confrontations.
If you want to join a class, here are some Vietnamese Language Centers in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, recommended by the Timeout Guide:
Vietnamese Language Center (in Hanoi)
1. No. 1, Pham Ngu Lao St., Tel: 8262468
2. No. 20 Lang Ha St., Tel: 7761123
Lassho Vietnamese Language School for Foreigners (in Ho Chi Minh City)
No. 8, Mac Dinh Chi Str., Dist 1, Tel: 8233816
Saigon Vietnamese Language School (in Ho Chi Minh City)
No. 41 Dinh Tien Hoang Str., Ben Nghe ward, District 1, HCMC
Tel: 84-8-8251027 - Email: firstname.lastname@example.org