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Thank you – Cảm ơn (pronounced like gam un)
Although Vietnamese manners are very different from Anglo-American conceptions of politeness (i.e. no saying “excuse me”; no superfluous apologies; a greater emphasis on age differences), saying thank you (cảm ơn) is one mannerism that is similar between both cultures.
It is used regardless of status differences or age diferences, and it is used liberally when concluding some sort of mutually beneficial exchange. For example, when a waiter brings you food, say cảm ơn. When a cashier gives you change, say cảm ơn, etc.
How to pronounce “cảm ơn”?
Cảm ơn sounds somewhat like gam un, including a clear articulation that separates the two words.
There are three important considerations in order to pronounce Cảm ơn correctly:
- The letter “ơ” in “ơn” has a strong uh sound, like you are being punched in the gut and exhaling “uh!”
- The Vietnamese “c” consonant actually sounds like the English g as in goat.
- The “ả” in “cảm” is a type of tone (indicated by the ̉ diacritic above the a). It affects the pitch-dynamics, but not the pronunciation. This tone sounds like a slight descent in pitch, plus it has a nasal quality. I call it the “weird tone” because it is the most difficult of all the 6 Vietnamese tones.
The ả-sound can only be learned by listening to audio and developing a music-like intuition for the sound — in other words, word-based descriptions of the ả-tone are unlikely to be helpful.
Nonetheless, the ả-tone can best be described as the following: “it starts mid-range in pitch, then descends slightly and returns to the start, with a nasal-quality to it”. To an English-ear it almost sounds like a mocking-tone meant to denigrate simpletons — an English person almost needs to unlearn their own negative-associations with the sound in order to accept it as a proper linguistic feature.
In most cases, the inability of foreigners to correctly enunciate the ả-tone can be a serious barrier to communication. Fortunately, the expression “cảm ơn” is both easy to say and easy for Vietnamese people to understand, even if you cannot perfectly pronounce it.
Learn more about Vietnamese tones here.
How to say “you’re welcome” in Vietnamese?
After someone says “Cảm ơn” to you, you should reply không có gì, which is pronounced like “hum cah zi” with a guttural “h” like the Scottish “loch“.
“Không có gì” literally means something like “its nothing” or “I have nothing”, but it serves the same purpose “you’re welcome”.
Unlike in English or Spanish, it is not necessarily rude to not follow-up with “you’re welcome” — so don’t be offended if people don’t say it to you after you thank them.
Do I need to bow when saying “thank you?” in Vietnam?
No, the Vietnamese do not bow, except in extremely formal situations or very high-end luxury services. As a tourist, if you want to convey an extra sense of politeness and gratitude, a slight nod of the head or a big smile will suffice to communicate your manners, whereas a bow may seem silly.
Historically, bowing was a part of Vietnamese culture, especially for royal persons. However, this tradition was actively discouraged during the Socialist revolution, as an attempt to cleanse the culture of traditional notions of class and hierarchy. People who bow in contemporary Vietnam are likely to be seen as “ass-kissers”.
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
- Yes/no in Vietnamese – Có/Không
- 15 Essential Travel Phrases
Are there other expressions that are helpful in Vietnam? Leave us a comment below.