Basic Vietnamese phrases that are useful for travellers
Even though English is a popular language in Vietnam, especially in big cities such as Saigon and Hanoi, not everyone speaks English. From buying coffee to making payments at a mall to talking with a police officer, Vietnamese is still the most widely spoken language here in everyday life.
The Vietnamese language can be difficult, but you only need to know some essential Vietnamese phrases to get through daily situations. Here are some common Vietnamese phrases that you should get familiar with during your stay here.
Common Vietnamese phrases and greetings
While the Vietnamese language is spoken with six tones, don’t worry if you haven’t mastered them yet – we’ll sum them up below. Even if you mess up your tones, follow the pronunciation guides in brackets and people will understand you based on context.
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The six tones of the Vietnamese language are: neutral, falling, falling-rising, high-rising, rising, and low-constricted. While pronunciations vary by region, you can ask a speaker living in your area to say the words below for you, and follow along with them.
It’s not easy to master these tones, but you can improve slowly by communicating regularly with local people in everyday situations with these Vietnamese phrases below, and imitate their pronunciation.
1. Xin chào (Sin chow) – Hello
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“Xin chào” is probably the first phrase you’ll hear when arriving in the country, and is the most simple and common way to say hello to someone.
2. Cho tôi hỏi (Cho toy hoi) – Excuse me/May I ask
Image adapted from: Pikrepo
“Cho tôi hỏi” means “Excuse me” or “May I ask”, and is a phrase you add before putting out a question. It makes you sound more polite and helps to get the other person’s attention.
You can add this phrase to the beginning of some of the questions we’ll teach you below.
3. Dạ/Không (Dza/Kong) – Yes/No
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In the south of Vietnam, the way to say yes is “Dạ”, while people in the north use “Vâng”.
“Không”, which is “No” in English, is pronounced the same everywhere.
4. Cảm ơn (cam on) – Thank you
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Vietnamese people use this phrase very often. It’s also a magic phrase to help you win more warm glances from locals.
Try to say “Cảm ơn” more to the people who provide you with services, or to your landlords. People are more willing to go the extra mile to help people who say this phrase often – so who knows, you might end up getting discounts or extra benefits.
5. Không, cảm ơn (Kong, cam on) – No, thank you!
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When you’re offered something, be it in a restaurant or on the streets, and you don’t want to take it, just say “Không, cảm ơn”. There won’t be any hard feelings.
6. Xin lỗi (Xin loy) – I’m sorry
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Vietnamese are very nice and don’t hold grudges against small things. But if you accidentally step on their feet or rear-end them on a busy street, just say “Xin lỗi” and they’ll let it go quickly.
7. Bạn khỏe không? (Ban kwae kong) – How are you?
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You can ask the question “Bạn khỏe không?” when you want to know about the other person’s well-being or reconnect with that person after a long time of no contact.
Unlike in the US or other English-speaking countries where “how are you” can be a daily greeting, in Vietnam, this is not something you say to someone you meet every day, such as your colleague or your neighbor. For them, a simple “Xin chào” will do.
8. Tôi khỏe, cảm ơn. (Toy kware, cam on) – I’m fine, thank you.
“Tôi khỏe, cảm ơn” is how you answer the “How are you” question in Vietnamese.
9. Tạm biệt (Tam biet) – Goodbye
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There are many ways to say goodbye in Vietnamese, but the most simple one that applies everywhere and in most common situations is “Tạm biệt”.
10. Giữ gìn sức khỏe! (Ju jin sook kwae) – Take care!
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“Giữ gìn sức khỏe!” is a phrase you can add right after saying “Goodbye”. But this should only be said when you’re parting ways with someone whom you won’t be seeing for a long time.
Vietnamese phrases to introduce yourself with
11. Bạn tên là gì? (Ban tain la gi) – What is your name?
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“Bạn tên là gì?” is a popular way to start a conversation with someone.
12. Tôi là….(Toy lah)- I am/My name is….
“Tôi là…” or “I am…” is the most simple and common way to introduce yourself, your name, your nationality, and your job.
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1. I am Jet Lee.
Tôi là Jet Lee.
2. I am Canadian.
Tôi là người Canada.
Fun fact: during the COVID-19 outbreak in April, Vietnamese netizens shared their “Tôi là…” personal slogans to encourage each other to practice social responsibility to beat the pandemic.
13. Tôi đến từ… (Toy dain too…) – I am from…
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You can tell the other person where you come from by adding the name of the place after “tôi đến từ”.
1. I am from Canada.
Tôi đến từ Canada.
14. Bạn bao nhiêu tuổi? (Ban bao new two-oy?) – How old are you?
You can ask the question “Bạn bao nhiêu tuổi?” to people much younger or much older than you, especially children. But take our word for it – you should not ask a woman in their 20s-50s this question in case she would prefer not to answer.
15. Tôi không hiểu (Toy kong hew) – I don’t understand
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This phrase, “Tôi không hiểu”, comes in handy when you don’t understand something. It’s also a subtle way of indicating that you don’t want to continue the conversation with the person speaking to you.
How to shop and make payments in Vietnamese
16. Xin cho tôi một ___ (Sin cho toy mot) – Can I get one ____ ?
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To ask for something, just say “Xin cho tôi….” (Can I get…), followed by a number, then followed by a noun – the thing you want to buy or order – after the number.
1. Can I get one iced coffee?
Cho tôi một cà phê sữa đá.
2. Can I get two banh mi to go?
Cho tôi hai bánh mì mang về.
17. How to count from 1 to 10 in Vietnamese
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You’ll need to know these if you want to buy things in Vietnam without resorting to gestures, finger-counting, or typing out numbers awkwardly on a calculator.
- One – Một (Mout)
- Two – Hai (Hai)
- Three – Ba (Ba)
- Four – Bốn (Bone)
- Five – Năm (Num)
- Six – Sáu (Sow)
- Seven – Bảy (Bay)
- Eight – Tám (Tam)
- Nine – Chín (Chin)
- Ten – Mười (Mu-oi)
18. Bao nhiêu tiền? (Bao new tian?) – How much?
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“Bao nhiêu tiền?” will come in handy when you eat food from stalls on the streets when there is no fixed price stated in the menu, or buy commodities without price tags on them.
19. Tôi không có tiền lẻ (Toy kong kor tian lae)- I don’t have smaller notes
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When you’re making a purchase from a street vendor or mall, and don’t have smaller notes to pay the seller, they’ll normally ask you, “Có tiền lẻ không?” (“Do you have smaller notes?”) That’s probably the most frequently asked question by cashiers in malls or street vendors in Vietnam.
For example, if you offer a VND100,000 (~USD4.34) note for an item that costs only VND20,000(~USD0.87), a cashier or vendor will usually ask you if you have smaller notes because most don’t have enough small change at any given time.
Even if you don’t understand how they say it exactly, you can still tell what they mean when they hold the note in front of you for a while instead of giving you a small change immediately. Simply reply apologetically, “Tôi không có tiền lẻ” (I don’t have smaller notes).
20. Rẻ hơn chút được không? (Rare hen choot duoc kong) – Can you give me a discount?
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You can say “Rẻ hơn chút được không?” when you want to make a bargain.
However, you should only say this when you know your Vietnamese language is good enough to continue the bargain with the vendor. Those who are really keen for a bargain even when your Vietnamese language is shaky can use a calculator and pass it back and forth with the seller.
21. Tôi không mang tiền (Toy ko mang tian) – I don’t have cash
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This phrase is useful when you’re in a situation in which you are obliged to pay cash for something, such as paying traffic penalties or other small items that need to be paid in cash.
Thankfully, more and more places in Vietnam are accepting cashless payments – such as Chợ Rẫy Hospital.
22. Tôi muốn cà thẻ (Toy muon ka the) – I want to pay by card
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When you make a payment and don’t want to pay by cash, you can let the other person know you want to pay by credit card by simply saying “Tôi muốn cà thẻ”.
Most marts and malls and shops in Vietnam let you pay using a credit card or ATM card. But don’t try this in a mum-and-pop store or street stalls because they only take cash there.
How to ask for directions or find your way around in Vietnamese
23. …. nằm ở đâu? (…num er dou)/ Where is…?
To ask for directions to a certain place, say the name of the place, then say, “…nằm ở đâu?”.
To get the person’s attention or and sound polite, you might want to add “Cho tôi hỏi” (Excuse me/May I ask) before asking the question.
1. Where is the Central Post Office?
Bưu điện trung tâm nằm ở đâu?
2. Excuse me, how do I get to the Central Post Office? (This is more polite.)
Cho tôi hỏi, bưu điện trung tâm nằm ở đâu?
24. Xin cho tôi tới….? (Sin cho toy ter-ee) – I would like to go to…
This is how you let your driver know where you’re trying to go – by adding the name of the place after “Xin cho tôi tới…”.
1. I would like to go to Ben Thanh Market.
Xin cho tôi tới chợ Bến Thành.
Basic Vietnamese phrases for foreigners to learn
Learning popular Vietnamese phrases or words is one of the first things you should definitely do if you plan to visit the country or stay here for a few months. Your Vietnamese vocabulary, though limited, can help you impress your local friends and help you adapt to the way of life here faster.
For those who are new to the city, please check out our pick of the best things to do in Saigon or Hanoi for each month. Or to get an authentic taste of Saigon, here is a list of street food to whet your appetite.
Also check out:
- 9 Vietnamese idioms you’ve been getting wrong your whole life
- Hue Festival will take place in August and September this year
- Top street food in Saigon to check out
- 8 beaches and islands near Saigon
- Check out VinWonder Phu Quoc – Vietnam’s largest theme park
- 10 Italian restaurants in Saigon to get your pasta and pizza fix
- Top online grocery shopping services in Saigon
Cover image adapted from: @tnvtuan