14 Vietnamese Phrases for The Clueless Foreigner in Saigon
Not long ago, we published an article with 15 Vietnamese phrases for the English monolingual (read: “clueless”). However, there were some common, basic phrases we missed, so here’s another 14 useful phrases for those in Saigon who want to ask for the bill or greet others like a local.
With the help of some of our Saigonese colleagues , we’ve made a list of phrases and their translations to help get you by in Saigon, even if it’s the only Vietnamese you know. The list is also numbered in English and Vietnamese, so you can learn how to count at the same time!
Một (1) - Anh/em (salutations) - ơi
In Vietnam, when you are referring to another person, you use either anh-ơi or em-ơi. The general rule is say anh for an older person and em for a younger one. The use of ơi is meant to emphasise this call. However, in flirting, if you’re a guy, a girl is always called em, regardless her age.
When addressing an older lady advanced in age, you refer to her as Chị-ơi.
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Hai (2) - Dừng lại đây (“Stop here”)
If you’re in a taxi or on a motorbike and you want your driver to stop,you can point to the specific location and tell the driver, “Dừng lại chỗ này”.
Ba (3) - Chỗ đó ở bên trái/phải (“keep left” or “bear right”)
If the driver is on the right-most lane but your destination is on the left, y can say, “Chỗ đó ở bên trái”, or “chỗ đó ở bên phải” if it’s on the right.
If your destination is on the other side of a two-way street, you can say, “Bên kia đường”.
Bốn (4) - Tính tiền/Bao nhiêu tiền? (“The bill, please” and “How much is it?”)
After a hearty meal at a restaurant, you can call for the bill by saying, “tính tiền”.
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The unit of measurements for money in Vietnam are as follows: trăm (hundred),
ngàn/nghìn (thousand), triệu (million) and tỷ (billion).
For example, VND30,000 is read as ba mươi (ngàn/nghìn) đồng and VND100,000 is một trăm (ngàn/nghìn) đồng. Some locals would prefer to shorten it by saying just một trăm, which technically means a hundred. The “thousand” is implied.
VND1 million is một triệu and VND1.5 million is usually shortened to một triệu rưỡi.
Năm (5) - Đồ ăn (food)
Here are some basics to help you in a restaurant which only has a Vietnamese menu. Rice is cơm, bread is bánh mì and rice porridge is cháo.
Noodles are a little complicated, as there are many types of noodles from bún (rice vermicelli noodles), mì (egg noodles), bánh canh (tapioca noodles) and phở (rice noodles and broth, though the word can be used for each one alone).
Sáu (6) - Cà phê (coffee)
There are plenty of coffee shops across the country, but not all of them will have English-speaking staff. So how do you ensure you get your preferred drink?
Black coffee is called cà phê đen, black coffee with ice—which is common in Saigon—is cà phê đen đá or cà phê đá.
If you like your coffee with condensed milk, ask for cà phê sữa, or if you want it with ice, cà phê sữa đá. If you want your milk coffee with less coffee in it, just say bạc xỉu.
Bảy (7) - Đi nhậu không? (“Want a drink?”)
Planning to ask someone out for (alcoholic) drinks? The general term for alcohol in Vietnamese is nhậu. If you want to be more specific, beer is known as bia, wine is rượu and if you’re looking for local rice wine, it’s called rượu đế.
Just make sure you don’t turn into a bợm nhậu (alcoholic).
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Tám (8) - Mấy giờ rồi? (“What time is it?”)
Forgot to bring your watch or your phone out and you’re in a rush and really need to know the time? Just approach someone and ask, “Mấy giờ rồi?”
Now that you’ve asked this question in Vietnamese, prepare for an answer in Vietnamese. If it’s 10:15 p.m., he will most likely say, “Mười giờ mười lăm tối”.
If it’s 10:15 a.m., it will be mười giờ mười lăm sáng.
To break it down, mười giờ is 10 hours, mười lăm is 15, tối is p.m. and sáng is a.m.
So just remember, giờ is hour, so 10 o’clock is mười giờ, and any number mentioned after that is referring to the specific minute. If you know how to count to at least 59 in Vietnamese, then all it takes is some practice and you’ll be able to tell the time like a local.
A commonly used shortcut for “half-past” is rưỡi. So for example, 10:30 p.m. is also known as mười giờ rưỡi.
Although very uncommon and only used in academic writing, minute is referred to as phút. So 10:15 is mười giờ mười lăm phút.
Chín (9) - Hôm nay là thứ mấy? (“What day is today?”)
If your time-machine stuttered a little and you’re not sure if it actually worked, you can head out and ask, “Hôm nay là thứ mấy?” to ask the day of the week. Or, if you want to know the date, just say “Hôm nay là ngày mấy?”
In Vietnamese, the days in a week are: thứ hai (Monday), thứ ba (Tuesday), thứ tư (Wednesday), thứ năm (Thursday), thứ sáu (Friday), thứ bảy (Saturday) and chủ nhật (Sunday).
The date is ngày and the day of the week is thứ.”Week” is as tuần, “month” is tháng and “year” is năm.
So if today’s date is 16 October 2017, you say ngày 16 tháng 10 năm 2017
Mười (10) - Em chào (Greeting a teacher)
This is for a classroom setting. If you’re a student greeting a teacher, you say, “Em chào thầy” if the teacher is male, and “Em chào cô” if the teacher is female.
If you’re a teacher, you say, “thầy/cô chào em,” depending on your gender.
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Mười Một (11) - Màu (colour)
Obviously, it will take an entire article on its own to translate all the colours in Vietnamese so we chose the six colours of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers instead.
Also these are the most commonly used colours.
Each word is preceded with màu, so it’s màu xanh dương (blue), màu Đỏ (red), màu Đen (black), màu xanh lá (green), màu trắng (white) and màu vàng (yellow).
Mười Hai (12) - Cẩn thận! (“Be careful!”)
This is useful if you spot a poisonous creature nearby and want to warn others. If you hear someone yelling this, you might want to run.
Cẩn thận means “be careful”. Rắn is snake and rắn độc is poisonous snake. Other creatures include bọ cạp (scorpion) and rết (centipede).
Mười Ba (13) - Quần áo (clothes)
Looking for new clothes? If you’re going to a local shop or tailor then it’s useful to know the Vietnamese names for the articles of clothing.
Áo sơ mi is shirt, áo thun is t-shirt, quần refers to pants and for shoes, just say giày.
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Mười Bốn (14) - Hôm nay trời thế nào? (“How’s the weather?”)
If you’re indoors and would like to know what the weather is like, you can use the sentence above—the typical response you would get is, “Trời đang mưa” (it’s raining). Other words to take note off are nóng (hot), lạnh (cold), gió (windy) and bão (storm).
If it’s really hot and you need a conversation starter, you can say nóng quá to your partner while furiously wiping sweat off your forehead.
Keep This Handy
Feel free to print this list, or show it to someone from your phone screen if the person you’re speaking to still doesn’t get it. Vietnamese is a tonal language and some words may sound similar, but a shift in tone could change the entire meaning, leading to confusion.
Enjoy Vietnam and don’t be afraid to use some of your newly learned Vietnamese, bằng ơi (friend)!
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