Spoken as the mother tongue of more than 86% of the country’s population, Vietnamese is the official/national language in Vietnam.
Though much effort has been paid to trace the origin of Vietnamese language, so-far findings remain debatable. It is, however, unquestionable that it does emerge from the aspirations of its people to have something speak for their own cultural identity (in both oral and written ways). After a long time borrowing Chinese characters, in 14th century, Vietnamese people created their own scripts called “chu Nom” to set down their language. In 17th century, with huge joint effort of Western missionaries, notably Alexandre de Rhodes, it was transcribed again into Romanised scripts which later became the national language characters (chu Quoc Ngu).
Vietnamese, albeit written with Latin letters, somewhat sounds complicated for foreigners to pronounce. It is a tonal language with six different tones. Specifically, the meaning of a word is determined by the pitch at which it is delivered. The word ba, for example, can mean:
- three with the mid-level tone (ba)
- grandmother with the low falling tone (bà)
- poisoned food with the low rising tone (b?)
- aunt with the high rising tone (bá)
- waste with the high broken tone (bã)
- or random with the low broken tone (b?).
Thus, learning how to say a Vietnamese word is much easier with asking locals for sample pronunciation in advance.
There are at least three dialects in Vietnam: northern, central and southern. Even with standardized grammar, the accents do vary significantly among these regions. The accent of Hanoians is considered the “standard” Vietnamese.
In all, Vietnamese people do take great pride in their beautiful language with abundance of vocabulary, rhythm as well as emotional and literary creation power. It is absolutely possible for you to grasp a little of this Vietnameseness. Also, this is fun and heartily encouraged with local smiles of welcome.
Vietnamese ethnic language
Vietnamese cultural fabric is woven by not only Viet/King people but also 53 other ethnic groups, each with its own language. Twenty four of these minorities even have their own writing scripts. The rest live in oral societies with no less rich traditional literature. As some of these languages are now in danger of extinction, Vietnam government is striving hard to sustain and develop them while at the same time popularizing Vietnamese language as a lingua franca of the whole nation.
Coming to Vietnam now, you should relax yourself out of language obstruction since more and more foreign languages are increasingly popular. English is compulsorily taught at almost every school. French and Russian are mostly common in the North. Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Spanish are also rising in popularity. Most tours will be provided with efficient English speaking guides. You can, of course, ask for a guide of your language though this chance may depend much on the travel agents and locations you are dealing with.