Thinking of visiting Vietnam? Knowing just a few basic expressions in the local language will enhance your trip, not only by making some interactions go more smoothly; preparing to travel in a foreign country by making the effort to learn the language shows respect for the Vietnamese people and culture.
Vietnamese can be difficult to learn. 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 to make a proper greeting!
Even basic greetings, like “hello,” can be baffling for English speakers trying to learn Vietnamese. This is 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.
How to Say Hello in Vietnam
The most basic default greeting in Vietnamese is xin chao, which is pronounced, “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 “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.” 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
Showing Additional Respect with Honorifics
In the Vietnamese language, anh means older brother and chi means older sister.
You can expand upon your greeting of xin to people who are older than you by adding either anh, pronounced “ahn” for men or chi, pronounced, “chee” for women. Adding someone’s name to the end is optional.
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.
In the Vietnamese language, anh means older brother and chi means older sister. You can expand upon your greeting of xin to people who are older than you by adding either anh, pronounced “ahn” for men or chi, pronounced, “chee” for women. Adding someone’s name to the end is optional.
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 (“chow boy song”).
- Good afternoon: chao buoi chieu (“chow boy cheeoh”).
- Good evening: chao buoi toi (“chow boy toi”).
Saying Goodbye in Vietnamese
To say goodbye in Vietnamese, use tam biet (“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.” 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 people may say bye huy as a slang goodbye, but you should stick to tam biet in formal settings.
Bowing in Vietnam
You’ll rarely need to bow in Vietnam; however, you can bow when greeting elders.
Unlike the complex protocol of bowing in Japan, a simple bow to acknowledge their experience and show extra respect will suffice.