Absolute Beginner: How & Where to start learning Vietnamese

If you don’t know a word of Vietnamese, where should you start?

I don’t know about you but I find it tricky to learn the first few words of any language. It sounds totally different or even strange. A sentence might sound really fast or a word seems really long. This is normal.

I like to start off slowly. I find audio courses or textbooks are overload to start with. They’re simply too much to take in at once. When you first start learning, even short sentences can be really difficult to remember. I started by learning just a few words at a time.

An Introduction to Vietnamese

If you have a burning question about Vietnamese like what alphabet does Vietnamese use or what are all those accent marks, head to the Frequently Asked Questions.

For a general introduction to Vietnamese, this video by Rusty Compass is the best.

Where to learn a few basic words

In general, the most important thing is just to start learning today, with whatever you have. You can fine tune what you learn later.

Essential vocabulary

Although the way we speak is in sentences, you do need to build your vocabulary sooner or later. Here are 120 common words with audio.

Travel & Expat phrases

If you’re in Vietnam already or soon heading there, there is some essential vocab and phrases you’ll use on a daily basis.

So if you’re planning to travel to Vietnam soon, start with these traveller vocabulary videos.

If you’re going to be living in Vietnam, here are some common phrases useful for expats.

A Beginner Series

If you want to learn some basic vocabulary like colours or hobbies (eg. before starting a course or using a textbook), the video series produced by EverydayViet.com is my favourite. Start here with learning to say thank you.

You can follow up on this video series by practising the vocabulary on Memrise.com. There are courses where you can practice vocabulary by multiple choice or by typing the answer.


If you want to get used to the sound and rhythm of Vietnamese, you could listen to music or even watch videos with Vietnamese subtitles.

Learning to read

The Vietnamese alphabet is really phonetic (ie. letters are always pronounced the same way), you just need to learn what letters match up to what sounds. Then you can start to pick up new vocabulary when you see it written down, or be able to correctly read out the items on a menu.

Then what?

Once you’re familiar with some basics, you can choose which accent to study and start with a course, textbook or tutor.

Over to you: Are you just starting to learn Vietnamese? Why are you learning and what are you using? More experienced learners, what are your favourite beginner resources?

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