So why learn to say hello in Vietnamese? Even knowing just a few basic expressions in the local language will enhance your trip. Showing an interest in the local culture will not only land you a few smiles along the way, you may get slightly better treatment than the average tourist who just blasts through without bothering to learn.
Saying “hello” in Vietnamese can be baffling for English speakers because of all the honorific variants based upon gender, sex, and scenario.
You can, however, learn some simple greetings and then expand upon them in different ways to show more respect in formal situations.
The Vietnamese language spoken in northern places such as Hanoi has six tones, while other dialects have only five. Mastering the tones could take years, however, the 75 million native speakers of Vietnamese will still understand and appreciate your efforts for a proper greeting!
How to Say Hello in Vietnam
The most basic default greeting in Vietnamese is xin chao (pronounced like: “zeen chow”). You can probably get away with using only xin chao as a greeting in most instances. In very informal settings such as when greeting close friends, you can simply say chao [their first name] -- yes, it sounds very similar to the Italian ciao!
When answering the telephone, many Vietnamese people simply say a-lo (pronounced like: “ah-lo”).
Tip: If you know someone’s name, always use the first name when addressing them -- even in formal settings. Unlike in the West where we refer to people as “Mr./Mrs./Ms. So-and-so” to show extra respect, the first name is always used in Vietnam. If you don’t know someone’s name, just use xin chao for hello.
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Showing Additional Respect with Honorifics
You can expand upon your greeting of xin to people who are older than you by adding either anh (pronounced like: “ahn”) for men or chi (pronounced like: “chee”) for women. Adding someone’s name to the end is optional. In the Vietnamese language, anh is an older brother and chi is an older sister.
The Vietnamese system of honorifics is quite complex, and there are many caveats based upon the situation, social status, relation, and age. Vietnamese commonly refer to someone as “brother” or “grandfather” even if the relation isn’t paternal. Here are the two simplest examples:
- For men who are older than you: chao anh [first name].
- For women who are older than you: chao chi [first name].
People who are younger or of lower standing receive the honorific em at the end of greetings. For people much older, ong (grandfather) is used for men and ba (grandmother) is used for women.
Greetings Based Upon Time of Day
Unlike in Malaysia and Indonesia where greetings are always based upon the time of day, Vietnamese speakers usually stick to simpler ways to say hello. But if you want to show off a little, you can learn how to say “good morning” and “good afternoon” in Vietnamese.
- Good morning: chao buoi sang (pronounced like: “chow boy song”).
- Good afternoon: chao buoi chieu (pronounced like: “chow boy cheeoh”).
- Good evening: chao buoi toi (pronounced like: “chow boy toi”).
Saying Goodbye in Vietnamese
To say goodbye in Vietnamese, use tam biet (pronounced like: “tam bee-et”) as a generic farewell. You can add nhe to the end to make it a “goodbye for now” -- in other words, “see you later.” Believe it or not, but xin chao -- the same expression used for hello -- can also be used for “goodbye” in Vietnamese. You would normally include the person’s first name or title of respect after tam biet or xin chao.
Younger Vietnamese may say bye huy as a slang goodbye, but you should stick to tam biet in formal settings.
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Bowing in Vietnam
You’ll rarely need to bow in Vietnam, however, you can when greeting elders.
Unlike the complex protocol of bowing in Japan, a simple bow to acknowledge their experience and show extra respect will suffice.