My Vietnamese learning journal.
I decided to learn Vietnamese. In 3 Months.
I had heard this was one of the most challenging languages to learn — I decided to take up the challenge.
So Xin Chao and let’s get started.
Language learning goals within 3 months:
- To be able to read Vietnamese texts.
- To be able to have conversations in Vietnamese.
That’s my two-fold 3 month challenge and it covers almost everything you can do with the language.
If I can read texts, I should also be able to write texts in Vietnamese.
This sounds a lot given the time duration of 3 months. But that’s what makes it challenging.
This journal will be a way for me to track everything I learn + a future reference for me.
It can also help you in your journey to learning Vietnamese though that’s not the primary goal of this journal.
P.S. If you’re Vietnamese, please feel free to comment or add a note for anything I’ve mentioned in this blog that can be improvised to help me speak or read better.
I started learning Vietnamese on 26.01.2018, also the Indian Republic Day. No connection whatsoever.
So, Let’s start with some quick motivation..
CHAPTER 0: Why Vietnamese is Easy
Some motivation before we start
Why it’s easy to learn Vietnamese
My first task was to ignore everyone when they say how hard it is to learn Vietnamese.
Honestly, I don’t know if it’s hard or not. But everything seems difficult before you learn it. So I’m just going to skip the general opinion that Vietnamese is difficult to learn.
I think it’s easy. And I’ll let my brain feed in more evidence that is actually is.
Like these reasons I found on fluentin3months.com on why it’s easy to learn Vietnamese:
(These act as motivators for me)
Vietnamese has no concept of “masculine” or “feminine” words
2.No articles “a” and “the”
It’s usually obvious from the context which one you mean.
In Vietnamese, everything is like a sheep. chó” is “dog” or “dogs”, “bàn” is “table” or “tables”, and so on.
4.No Confusing Verb Endings
Unlike Spanish (I hablo, you hablas, he habla, we hablamos) or English (speak, speaks, speaking, spoken, spoke), Vietnamese is a completely non-inflective language — no word ever changes its form in any context.
5.Very Easy Tenses
Just take the original verb, e.g. “ăn” (to eat), and stick one of the following 5 words in front of it: đã = in the past, mới = in the recent past, đang = right now, sắp = soon, in the near future, and sẽ = in the future.
All you have to do is learn a bunch of accent marks (technically “diacritics”), which are mostly used to denote tone, and you’ll be reading Vietnamese in no time.
7.Highly Consistent Spellings
Unlike English, In Vietnamese, the same letter is always pronounced the same way no matter what the word or context.
8.Almost No Grammar
Most of the time, you can just say the minimum amount of words needed to get your point across and the result is grammatically correct.
9. Logical Vocab (Unlike English)
Xe ôm, the motorbike taxi translates literally as “hug vehicle”. Vietnamese vocabulary is formed by just combining two words in a logical manner.
Accepting what’s difficult
While it’s good to motivate yourself by finding what’s easy. It’s also important to identify what’s difficult so you can devote more time focusing on it.
The obvious answer is THE TONES — the most difficult thing about learning Vietnamese.
So I decided to spend a lot of time learning tones initially. And practice them everyday.
Let’s begin the journey.
CHAPTER 1: Vocabulary Starter’s Kit
Let’s start learning
I’m going to write this journal every day so I can be consistent with it and also make sure I’m learning each day.
My current Vietnamese Vocabulary
I do have some very basic Vietnamese vocabulary from my past visits to Vietnam. They’re mostly limited to travel phrases without much attention to the tones. But I do want to review it here just to know how many things I already know :)
I’ve cleaned this up and added some new vocab on the first day to put this list together:
(I don’t remember all of these and need to practice them daily starting today)
Hello xin chào
Goodbye tạm biệt
Please làm ơn
Thank you cám ơn
Excuse me / Sorry xin lỗi
Yes Vâng / dạ
How are you bạn khoẻ không
I'm fine tôi khỏe
I'm fine, thank you tôi khỏe, cảm ơn
No, thank you Không cám ơn
Hello (to a younger boy or girl) Chào Em
Hello (to a man) Chào Anh
Hello (to a woman) Chào Chị
NOTE: I’ve used the pronunciation hints to get started but eventually, I want to learn how to read the tones and pronounce them so I don’t need those hints anymore. It’s not a long-term solution to rely on hints. It’s more important to pronounce the alphabets and the tones.
11-19 (10+x), lam when x=5
20-99 (y + mươi + x) or just y+x
100-999 (y + trăm + xx)
1000-9999 (y + nghìn + xxx)
10000 mười nghìn
100,000 một trăm nghìn
1,000,000 (y + triệu + the rest)
3. FOOD & BEVERAGE
Eat vegan (Or just vegan) ăn chay
I eat vegan (I am vegan) tôi ăn chay
Addressing younger girl or boy em ơi
Addressing a man anh ơi
Addressing a woman chị ơi
Iced Coffee with Milk cà phê sữa đá
Iced Coffee with Milk - Long Glass cà phê sữa đá Sài Gòn
Juice nước ép
Restaurant quán ăn
Yellow noodles Mì
Vegetarian Rice Cơm Chay
Fried Rice Cơm Chiên
Rice Noodles Bún
Tapioca Noodles Bánh Canh
Vietnamese Noodle Soup Phở
Baguette bread Bánh Mì
The first day I reviewed all these words and phrases.
P.S. I’m going to be updating these on a Google Sheet and will keep updating them daily. Would be happy to share the sheet with you if you want.
I also browsed through some YouTube videos and online Vietnamese lessons. All of this was okay but I needed a more structured approach to learning Vietnamese than just increasing the vocab and ‘TRYING TO’ say it right.
So the next thing I decided to do was this:
- Learn the alphabet
- Understand the tones
- Practice combinations of alphabets + tones using different words
This, I thought, was the key to learning Vietnamese.
Let’s repeat that:
Learn the alphabet -> Understand the tones -> Practice pronunciation
So that’s the plan for the coming days.
CHAPTER 2: Alphabets, Tones, and Tenses
Start with the basics
As promised to myself, I learnt the alphabet and the tones on the second day.
The building blocks for everything else
Vietnamese Alphabet Hint
ă आ + high
e e in em
k c in cat
ng ng in singer
ngh ng in singer
ơ u in fur
qu qu as in queue
r z in zoo (n), r in ring (s)
s s in sore (n), s in sure (s)
tr ch in church (n), 'tr' in tree (s)
u oo in boot
ư oo in boot
v v in van
While trying to say all the alphabets correctly, the biggest challenge for me for the letter ‘ng’ because that sound didn’t exist in my current brain databases of English and Hindi.
The idea is to practice this sound more and keep reviewing the alphabet (and this entire blog) every day.
The 6 tones to master to really speak Vietnamese
Example Tone Name Hint
--------- ----------- ---------------
la ngang high flat
là huyền low down
lá sắc high up
lạ nặng short low
lả hỏi question
lã ngã down>break>up
The 6 tones are the #1 focus for me.
Once I master these, everything else will happen.
So, the alphabets and tones together make up words. And words make up sentences. The sentence formation in Vietnamese is easy so as long as I know the alphabets and tones, I can keep expanding my vocab slowly and make new sentences easily.
Alphabet + Tones = Words (Vocab) => Sentences
Let’s have some fun and make sentences using the tenses, alphabets, tones, and basic vocab.
Just 5 keywords to master tenses
TENSES KEYWORDSđã = past
mới = recent past
đang = now
sắp = soon (near future)
sẽ = future
Let’s use this to make sentences.
BASIC SENTENCESTôi ăn cơm - I eat rice
Tôi đã ăn cơm - I ate rice
Tôi mới ăn cơm - I just ate rice
Tôi đang ăn cơm - I am eating rice
Tôi sắp ăn cơm - I am about to eat rice
Tôi sẽ ăn cơm - I will eat rice
Let’s drink some tea.
DRINKING TEATôi uống trà - I drink tea
Tôi đã uống trà - I drank tea
Tôi mới uống trà - I just drank tea
Tôi đang uống trà - I am drinking tea
Tôi sắp uống trà - I am about to drink tea
Tôi sẽ uống trà - I will drink tea
And on eating..
EATING MEALSăn - eat / food
sáng - morning
trưa - midday
tối - nightăn sáng - breakfast
ăn trưa - lunch
ăn tối - dinnerTôi đã ăn sáng - I had breakfast
Tôi đang ăn trưa - I am eating lunch
Tôi sẽ ăn tối - I will eat dinner
So many sentences already :)
With a small vocab and the tenses, I am able to make so many new sentences. Keep practicing this and the pronunciations again and again.
That’s all for Day 2.
CHAPTER 3: Reading Session
Let’s read a kid’s book
Children learn languages with ease. And one of my language learning hacks was to try and read children’s Vietnamese books.
So I headed to a cafe-library in Da Nang and picked up a book with simple Vietnamese and English sentences.
The cafe staff was excited too and they helped me pick the book :)
The idea was to try to understand each statement in context, identify tenses, tones, and expand my vocabulary.
Here's what I learnt:
VOCABchuột - mouse
bành quy - cookie
gương - mirror
nhà - house
phòng - room
nước - water
nóng - hot
khát nước - thirsty
bức tranh - picture
cho - for
cây bút - pen
sách - book
sổ tay - notebookVERBSsoi - look
cầu - ask
cắt tỉa - cut
nghe - listen
đọc - read
xem - see
nhin - look
vẽ - draw
giúp - help
hiểu - understand
biết - know
có - have
có thể - canMAKING SENSE OF SENTENCESbành quy cho chuột
> cookie-for-mousechuột sẽ xin thêm một ly sũa
> mouse-will-please/ask-a-glass-milkkhi chuột uống hết sũa
> when-mouse-drink-finish-milkkhi soi gương
> when-look-mirrorkhi chuột đã tự cắt tỉa xong
> when-mouse-has-cutkhi chuột nhin vao nhũng bức tranh
> when-mouse-look-pictureschuột sẽ vẽ một bức tranh
> mouse-will-draw-one-picturevi vậy, chuột sẽ xin thêm một ly sũa
> so-mouse-will-ask-one-glass-milkchuột sẽ muốn có một cái bành quy đê ăn cùng
The idea of the story is the mouse is going to want a cookie with his glass of milk.
And the idea of this lesson is for me to start learning how to make sense of sentences in Vietnamese.
With just a basic vocab, I could understand almost the entire story.
Today, I figured it’s (for me) easier to read and understand Vietnamese. I need to work more on the pronunciation and practice the tones and grammar more when it comes to speaking.
It was a really successful experiment and I'm going to do more of these books.
What I’ll need: More children books with pictures and text in both English and Vietnamese.
CHAPTER 4: Days and Months
Learn to calendar in Vietnamese
One of the commonly used words in conversations are the days and months.
I decided to decode these because this would help me make sense of conversations overall.
7 ngày of the week
Monday - thứ hai
Tuesday - thứ ba
Wednesday - thứ tư
Thursday - thứ năm
Friday - thứ sáu
Saturday - thứ bảy
Sunday - chủ nhật
Sunday is a free day and hence has to have a different name. Makes sense.
The others are quite easy starting with Monday (Day 2) to Saturday (Day 7).
12 tháng of the year
January - tháng một
February - tháng hai
March - tháng ba
April - tháng tư
May - tháng năm
June - tháng sáu
July - tháng bảy
August - tháng tám
September - tháng chín
October - tháng mười
November - tháng mười một
December - tháng mười hai
Nothing to learn here except the word tháng and just suffix by the month’s serial number starting from Jan (1) to Dec (12).
More on Days and Months:
today - hôm nay
tomorrow - ngày mai
yesterday - hôm qua
tháng này - this month
hôm nay là thứ năm - today is thursday
And so on.
There were many conversations I could have with the days and months because most locals don’t use the english month and day names.
CHAPTER 5: Common Verbs
Get to the action
I decided to learn the common verbs as they help me understand the context of a sentence and I can answer accordingly.
I used a set of flashcards for these:
eat - ăn
drink - uống
go - đi
watch - xem
listen - nghe
say - nói
read - đọc
write - viết
work - làm việc
call - gọi
sleep - ngủ
wake up - ngủ dậy
understand - hiểu
think - suy nghĩ
know - biết
ask - hỏi
help - giúp
play - chỏi
sit - ngồi
walk - đi bộ
pay - trả
learn - học
teach - dạy
buy - mua
sell - bán
sing - hát
exercise - tập thế dục
have - có
take - lấy
drive - lái xe
With these verbs, you can have conversations like I think..,I understand, etc. Alternatively, by adding không, you can say I don’t drink..,I don’t buy, etc.
More verbs will be added to this chapter.
CHAPTER 6: How to Answer Yes and No
The 3 types of questions
Saying yes is way easier in English but much more fun in Vietnamese!
There are 3 types of questions people can ask and the word you use for Yes or No depends on the question:
Type 1: No presumption
Identifier: End with không (…no?)
Response: có (yes) or không (no)Q. Anh ăn cơm không?
A. khôngEm thích Việt Nam không?
Type 2: Presumption or check information
Identifier: ends with phải không or à (…isn’t it?)
Responses: ừ / vâng or khôngừ — same age or younger
vâng — olderQ. Anh sống ở Việt Nam à?
A. khôngQ. Em thích ăn cơm Việt phải không?
A. vângQ. Anh thích ăn cơm Việt phải không?
Type 3: Present perfect tense
Identifier: ends with chưa (…yet?)
Responses: rồi or chưarồi — already
chưa — not yetQ. Anh ăn tối chưa?
A. rồiQ. Em đến Sa Pa chưa?
With that, you’ll be able to answer all the questions you’ve been asked with the correct response.
But to understand what I’m being asked, I decided to learn the top most commonly asked questions in Vietnam to foreigners.
Further, I could always expand my vocab further to understand all possible types of questions.
Here’s the video I used for this chapter:
CHAPTER 7: Common Questions
The most commonly asked questions in Vietnam
These are the top 12 most common questions I was asked by locals in small talk or friendly conversations over beer, meals, or family celebrations.
1. What is your name?
Em tên là gì?2. How old are you?
Bạn bao nhiêu tuôi?3. Where are you from?
Em đến từ đâu?4. Are you married yet?
Anh lấy vợ chưa?5. Would you like a Vietnamese wife?
Anh thích vợ Việt Nam?6. Do you live in Vietnam?
Bạn có sống ở Việt Nam không?7. Do you work in Vietnam?
Anh làm việc ở Việt Nam à?8. How long have you been in Vietnam?
Mày ở Việt Nam bao lâư?9. Do you like Vietnam?
Em thích Việt Nam không?10. How long did you learn Vietnamese for?
Bạn học Tiếng Việt trong bao lâư?11. What is your work?
Bạn làm nghề gì?
Công việc của anh là gì?12. Do you travel alone?
Mày du lịch một mình à?
CHAPTER 8: How to Address People
You and Me
Unlike English, In Vietnamese, you just don’t say you.
You say you based on the age of the person you’re talking you or your relation with them.
Here are the most common you-me relationships:
You <> MeAnh <> EmChị <> EmTao <> MàyTôi <> BạnChào <> BạnÔng/Bà <> Cháu Bố <> ConMẹ <> Con
I like the video below which explains the titles with a fun song:
CHAPTER 9: Reading Session
Hoang Dã — Wild
Không ai nhớ cô bé đến khu rừng như thế nào
nhưng tất cả biết rằng đó là điều tôtEnglish:không ai (no one) nhớ (remember) cô bé (baby) đến (to/go/come) khu rừng (forest) như thế nào (how)
nhưng (but) tất cả (all/everyone) biết (know) rằng đó (that) là điều (it is) tôt (right/good)cả khu rừng đón nhận cô bé như là thứ thuộc về riêng mìnhEnglish:cả (all/entire/whole) khu rừng (forest) đón nhận (receive/took) cô bé (baby) như là (as) thứ (thing) thuộc về (belong) riêng mình (own)chim dạy cô bé cách chuyện trò
gấu dạy cô bé cách ăn uống
cáo dạy cô bé cách vui chơi English:Chim (bird) dạy (teach) cô bé (baby) cách (how) chuyện trò (speak)
Gấu (bear) dạy (teach) cô bé (baby) cách (how) ăn uống (eat)
Cáo (fox) dạy (teach) cô bé (baby) cách (how) vui chơi (play)Một ngày nọ...
cô bé gặp vài động vật mới trong khu rừng English:Một ngày nọ... (one day...)
cô bé (baby) gặp (meet) vài (some/several) động vật (animals) mới (new) trong (in) khu rừng (forest)In this case, referring to humans. And the humans take the baby.Họ thấy cô bé thật khác lạ
Và cô bé cũng thấy họ thật kì dịEnglish:Họ (they) thấy (find) cô bé (baby) thật (very) khác lạ (strange)
Và cô bé cũng thấy họ thật (very) kì dị (strange)Họ chuyện trò sai
Họ ăn uống sai
Họ vui chơi saiEnglish:Họ (they) chuyện trò (speak) sai (wrong)
Họ (they) ăn uống (eat) sai (wrong)
Họ (they) vui chơi (play) sai (wrong)Cô bé chẳng hiểu gì
Và cô bé không hạnh phúc
Quá đủ rồi!English:Cô bé (baby) chẳng (not/no) hiểu gì (understand)
Và (and) cô bé (baby) không (not) hạnh phúc (happy)
Quá đủ rồi! (Enough was enough)Ai cũng nhớ cô bé ra đi như thế nào
và tất cả biết rằng đó là điều tôtEnglish:Ai cũng (everyone) nhớ (remembered) cô bé (baby) ra đi (left/go) như thế nào (how)
và (and) tất cả (all/everyone) biết (know) rằng đó (that) là điều tôt (it is right)Bởi vì bạn không thể thuần hóa
thú gì hoang dã và hạnh phúcEnglish:Bởi vì (because) bạn (you) không thể (cannot) thuần hóa (tame)
thú gì (something) hoang dã (wild) và (and) hạnh phúc (happy).
Because you cannot tame something so happily wild. — Hoang Dã
Location: East West Library & Cafe, Hanoi.
CHAPTER 10: Types of Questions
And how to answer them
This chapter is dedicated to asking and answering questions in Vietnamese. Questions are the key to having conversations and I was managing until now by guessing what was being asked.
But not anymore..
What - Gì
(goes at the end of the sentence)Q: Tên bạn là gì?
Tieng Anh: What is your name?
A: Tôi tên là DevQ: Bạn thích ăn gì?
Tieng Anh: What do you like to eat?
A: Tôi thích ăn chay
Q: Bạn cần gì?
Tieng Anh: What do you need?(cần - need)Q: Em đang làm gì?
Tieng Anh: What are you doing?---Which - NàoQ: Cô gái nào?
Tieng Anh: Which girl?---Where - Ở đâu?Q: Bạn ở đâu?
Tieng Anh: Where are you?---Who - Ai?Q: Đây là ai?
Tieng Anh: Who is this?
A: Đây là mẹ của em(của - of)---When - Khi nào / Bao giờ / Lúc nàoQ: Khi nào em về nhà? / Q: Bao giờ em về nhà?
Tieng Anh: When will you go back home?Lúc nào is slightly different as it translates to 'Which moment?'Bạn ăn lúc nào?
Tieng Anh: When did you eat food?Lúc nào bạn muốn ăn?
Tieng Anh: When do you wish to eat food?Note that Lúc nào comes at the end of the sentence when it's a past action and at the beginning of the sentence when it's a future action. The same rule applies for Khi nào / Bao giờ.---Why - tại sao / vì saoQ: tại sao
A: tại sao không
Tieng Anh: Why not :)---How much / How many - Bao nhiêuQ: Em bao nhiêu tuổi?
Tieng Anh: How old are you?---Do you? / Are you? - không
(at the end of the sentence)Q: Ngon không?
Tieng Anh: Is it tasty?---May / Can you ?Q: Bạn có thể ăn thịt được không?
Tieng Anh: Can you eat meat?(có thể - can, không thể - cannot)
This makes life in Vietnam a lot easier!