Vietnam’s official language is Vietnamese, a tonal language spoken as a mother tongue by 90% the country’s population. Vietnamese is written using a 29 letter alphabetical system. However, the accent of Vietnamese varies from province to province. Besides Vietnamese, around 50 other languages are spoken by ethnic minorities. English is a popular foreign language and is used in most offices, restaurants… in big cities or tourism places. French, Russian, Chinese, Japanese… are also popular and can be found in tourist places.
Vietnamese: Vietnamese belongs to the Austro-Asiatic language group. It is mother tongue to nearly 85% of the country’s population and an additional 3 million Vietnamese living abroad and is the 17th most spoken language in the world (Ethnologue estimate 2005).
The language is most closely related to Khmer but is heavily influenced by Chinese and somewhat influenced by French. It is a mono syllabic language.
Tones: Vietnamese seems complicated to foreigners because it is mono syllabic and has six different tones. Hence, sounds that are slightly different will have totally different meaning. The 6 tones of Vietnamese are:
Level: ba (three/dad)
High rising: bá (to hug)
Low falling: bà (grandmother)
Dipping- rising: bả (poison)
High rising glottalized: bã (trash)
Low glottalized: bạ (random)
Dialects: Vietnamese is spoken differently depending on geographic location. Each region and province has its distinct dialect. Even though grammatical differences are negligible, Vietnamese varies greatly in tone, accents and even vocabulary. For example, “ch” and “tr” sounds are distinct in the South but are merged by Northerners. The Hanoi accent is considered the “standard” Vietnamese.
Writing: Many find it surprising that Vietnamese is written by Latin letters. Vietnamese used to be written based on a complicated Siniform script that was based heavily on Chinese; hence was not popular.
During the 17th century, Roman Catholic missionaries introduced a Latin-based orthography for Vietnamese, Quốc Ngữ (national language) with 29 letters and is now used widely and officially.
Other minority languages:
Vietnam has 53 other ethnic groups besides Viet (making up nearly 10% of the population, many living in mountainous areas), each with their own languages. 24 even have a written form. A few popular languages besides Vietnamese are:
It is not necessary to know these languages when visiting places with ethnic minorities, as Vietnamese is a common language used between groups.
Languages you speak:
English is the most popular foreign language in Vietnam and is taught is school. Many people speak English and information in English can be found easily in big cities such as Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh; and growing tourist places such as Da Nang or Nha Trang. Guides in English are usually offered.
French and Russian are fairly popular, especially in Northern Vietnam.
Japanese, Korean and Chinese are also growing in popularity. Tours in these languages are also possible depending on location and agency.
Vietnam Weather - Climate
Vietnam’s weather varies from the sub-tropics in the North to the tropics in the South. The humidity is high, with average ranging around 84% a year. Moderated by two monsoons, the average temperature (from 22 to 27) is lower than other countries also in the equatorial regions. The weather varies greatly from North to South, depending on elevation and type of landscape.
Northern Vietnam (from Hue up North) has four seasons with a cold winter and hot summer. The temperature ranges from 5-6C in winter to up to 35C in summer. The further North it is, the colder it gets. In mountainous regions in the far North (such as Sapa) the temperature some times drops below zero. Rainy months are August, October, November. February and March have persistent, light, drizzling rain.
Temperatures are high all year round. The temperature tends to be warmer and more humid than the South in the middle of the year and cooler during the dry season from November to April. Flooding may occur from October to December.
Has a distinct dry season (from November to April) and wet season (from May to October). Average temperature ranges from 25-30C. During wet months, heavy and short downpours may occur in mid-afternoons.
Vietnam weather by month: Categorizing Vietnam weathe by month with information on what to expect for each month in Vietnam.