After travelling in Vietnam for a number of months, I continuously find myself needing a core set of phrases. Here, we present audio and tonal-annotations to help you learn 15 key expressions for travellers in Vietnam: from “Help!” to “Wifi password please” to “That’s too expensive!”
TIP FOR VIETNAM
Make a mobile bookmark of this page so you can play the audio recordings for Vietnamese people who can’t understand what you are saying.
These expressions also serve as great mini-lessons to learn a little Vietnamese grammar and tones: below the play button, be sure to follow the tonal-annotations to learn the words’ proper tones. We use the following key:
- – flat tone
- u up-tone (á)
- d down-tone (à)
- ub up-broken tone (ã)
- sd short-down tone (ạ)
- w “weird” tone (ả)
Read more about the Vietnamese tones here.
1) How much is it?
Bao nhiêu tiền?
Bao nhiêu tiền? lit: How much money? tones: - - d
2) I want to buy this
Tôi muốn mua cái này
Notice the similar “subject – verb – verb – object” form, as in English, for simple declarative statements. But the definite article (“this”) comes after the noun (“thing”) and not before, unlike in English.
Tôi muốn mua cái này lit: I want buy thing this tones: - u - u d
3) What is the WIFI password?
Pass WIFI là gì?
Notice that English words absorbed into Vietnamese always lose their their final consonant (like in French). The word “Password” is an extreme example of this kind of elaison, whereby the entire word is truncated to just “Pass”.
Pass WIFI là gì? lit.: Password WIFI is what? tones: - - d d
Note: if you find it strange that “gì” is pronounced like “zee” in Vietnamese, be sure to read our Audio Guide to Vietnamese Consonants.
4) Does this bus go to Hanoi?
Xe bus này đi đến Hà Nội phải không?
Notice that the word “bus” isn’t pronounced as in English; rather, the terminal-s is almost silent, resulting in a “bwe(s)” sound.
The words “phải không” convert the expression into a question; they roughly corresponds to an English “Does …?” or “Do …?”
Xe bus này đi đến Hà Nội phải không? lit.: Bus this go to Hanoi does [question]? tone: - - d - u d sd w -
5) I don’t eat meat/pork/dog
Tôi không ăn thịt/ thịt heo/ thịt chó.
Remember that the Vietnamese “th” is not pronounced like the English th (as in thick). Instead, “th” is a hard-t with an aspirated “h”. In the accompanying audio, try to listen for that “h”.
Tôi không ăn thịt lit: I no eat meat tones: - - - sd
6) Do you understand me?
Bạn hiểu ý tôi chứ?
Notice that “chứ” is like “không” in that it converts a declarative statement into a question, but it is considered more polite than không. Notice also that this kind of question is considered a “what” question, and not a “do” question.
Bạn hiểu ý tôi chứ? lit: You understand what me [question]? tones: sd w u - u
An alternative and informal way to ask “do you understand” is “hiểu không?” You could ask this among friends and family, but, assuming you are a tourist, this would be slightly rude to ask strangers.
7) I don’t understand
Tôi không hiểu
Notice that in this case, “không” means “no” or “don’t” when placed after the pronoun, and not as a question indicator, when placed at the end of the sentence.
Tôi không hiểu lit.: I no understand tones: - - w
This phrase is so important for travellers in Vietnam, we have a full post dedicated to How to say “I don’t understand” in Vietnamese.
8) Could you repeat that?
Bạn nói lại được không?
Bạn nói lại được không? lit.: You say again can/could [question] tones: sd u sd sd -
9) Where is it on the map?
Đây là đâu trên bản đồ?
Notice the d with the diacritic line through it (đ) is a hard English d. All other Vietnamese d’s are actually pronounced like a “z” sound (in the North).
Đây là đâu trên bản đồ? lit.: This is where on map? tones: - d - - w d
10) It is too expensive!
“Đắt quá” (too expensive!) is a short & sweat expression that will you definitely need to know in Vietnam if you go shopping as a foreigner. See our article on how to haggle in Vietnam for more on this topic.
đắt quá lit.: expensive too/very tones: u u
11) Help me!
Giúp tôi với!
There are two versions of this expression: “Giúp tôi với!” is for non-life-threatening situations, whereas “Cứu tôi với!” conveys more seriousness. Both will get people’s attention. Notice that the terminal “với” is a non-translatable word that imparts a degree of politeness, yet doesn’t reduce the urgency of the request.
Giúp tôi với! lit.: Save me [please]! tones: u - u
This phrase is so important to travellers in Vietnam, see our full post on How to ask for help in Vietnamese.
12) I’ve been robbed
Tôi bị cướp
Vietnamese is interesting in that there are two expressions for “I’ve been robbed!”, which differ based on on whether you know the guilty party:
- tôi bị cướp – someone robbed me, but I don’t know who did it
- tôi đã bị trấn lột – I was robbed and I know who did it
Tôi bị cướp lit.: I am/been robbed tones: - sd u
Fun fact: the word for theif is “người ăn cướp” – which makes sense if you’ve read our post on the word for người.
13) Please give me back my passport
Vui lòng trả lại hộ chiếu cho tôi
In the West, you may have been instructed to never leave your passport in someone else’s possession. In Vietnam, however, if you want to stay at a hotel, they will try to hold onto your passport in their safe-keeping during your stay (it may even be the official policy in Vietnam). With a little confidence and tact, you can use this expression to try to get your passport back and keep it.
Vui-lòng trả lại hộ-chiếu cho tôi lit.: Please give back passport for me tones: - d w sd sd u - -
The larger 3-star to 5-star hotels and resorts generally don’t do this, whereas many smaller establishes are more afraid of breaking compliance with the law. However, once they have a copy and have written down the information, they are not legally required to hold onto your passport. If they still insist, you can try offering to pay upfront for your stay.
14) I am sick
Tôi bị ốm
Tôi bị ốm lit.: I am sick tones: - sd u
15) What are you doing tonight?
Bạn sẽ làm gì tối nay?
Note that the similarity between “tối nay” and “tonight” is just a coincidence.
Bạn sẽ làm gì tối nay? lit.: you will go what to- night Tones: sd ub d d u -
BONUS: Do you speak English?
Ong/bạn có nói tiếng Anh không?
Learning how to say “Bạn có nói tiếng Anh không?” is actually not very useful, because if you do ask “Do you speak English” in English, and your Vietnamese interlocutor remains confused, then you already have your answer.
Nonetheless, there is some value in attempting to speak the proper VIetnamese expression, as a sign of respect.
Bạn có nói tiếng Anh không lit.: You can speak language-English [question]? tones: sd u u u - -
Other Helpful Vietnamese Expressions
Interested in learning more? Please see our Word Of The Day blog that provides more expressions and key cultural insights about Vietnam, through the lens of helpful words and phrases.
- Hello! – Xin Chào
- Good-bye – Tạm biệt
- How are you today? – Ăn cơm chưa?
- Please excuse me – Xin lỗi
- Thank you – Cảm ơn
- I don’t understand – Tôi không hiểu
- Yes/no in Vietnamese – Có/Không
Are there other expressions that are helpful in Vietnam? Leave us a comment below.