Blog Archives

Song of the Summer (V-Pop)

Actually this song by solo singer Tóc Tiên is probably more popular for its dance… there aren’t that many words in it really. It’s no Gangnam style, but the middle part of the song has a fun, copyable dance that’s been popular with young people in Vietnam over the last few months.

Here’s a karaoke (aka Vietnamese subtitled) version of the original video. If you just want to see the dance, start watching around 2 mins in.

If you’re looking to watch a funny video or two, there are many covers and spoofs of the dance on Youtube. Just search “Vũ Điệu Cồng Chiêng”.

Over to you: What song or songs have caught your attention this summer?

Vietnamese Music – 10 Pop Artists

Vietnamese musiciansMusic is a fun way to get in touch with Vietnamese culture and can even benefit your language learning.

But I have a confession…

When I lived in Vietnam I didn’t really listen to Vietnamese music. There are three main reasons.

  • There’s a weird phenomenon that most Vietnamese people sing with a Northern accent, no matter where they are from.
  • My teenage students were into K-Pop. That’s probably because…
  • Pop music isn’t really mainstream in Vietnam.

    The kind of songs popular with my friends were ballads and love songs, which are not my cup of tea. Vietnamese pop music is often criticised in the media for being too Western or too much like Korean pop music.

By the time I left Vietnam I only had 6 songs on my ‘Vietnamese music’ playlist. And one of those was a parody of a K-Pop song.

So I decided to investigate and see if I could find some Vietnamese pop music (aka V-Pop) which is called nhạc trẻ in Vietnamese.

10 Vietnamese Pop Musicians

Here are some of my favourite Vietnamese musicians, covering a range of styles.

Word of warning: Many of these songs have a catchy beat to them but are still quite melancholic.

Unfortunately a lot of the songs have been removed from download site Zing MP3. We’ll update this page as and when they become available.

Read on, or view all 10 as a YouTube playlist.

JustaTee

He mostly sings ballads but there are some poppier songs like this one.

Download Forever Alone from Zing MP3.

Emily

Model-turned-R&B-singer Emily is both a solo artist and regularly teams up with other singers like JustaTee.

Download Dừng Lại Nhé from Zing MP3.

FB Boiz

A fun boyband based in Saigon who describe their music style as R&B and Hip Hop.

Download Em Có Biết from Zing MP3.

Đông Nhi

A soloist who composes many of her own songs.

Download Khi Mưa from Zing MP3

Trương Qùynh Anh

She mainly sings ballads, but this is a poppier song.

Download Hãy Bước Qua Nhau from Zing MP3.

Á Đông

Their sound is very Vietnamese but accompanied by a pop or dance soundtrack.

Downloads of Vầng Trăng Tình Yêu seem unavailable outside of VN.

YunjBoo

A younger rapper. I’m not normally into rap but it’s refreshing to hear a Saigon accent!

Downloads of Hy Vọng Vô Hạn seem unavailable outside of VN

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Thái Tuyết Trâm

She sings several lovely acoustic covers of other Vietnamese songs.

Downloads of Tình Yêu Màu Nắng seem unavailable outside of VN.

Diễm Hương

She has an incredible voice. The first time I heard this song I got chills down my spine. It’s no wonder she was on Vietnam’s “The Voice”.

This is a good song to sing along to as it’s fairly slow and it’s easy to understand the basic message of the song.

Downloads of Who Cares seem unavailable outside of VN.

365 DaBand

This band have a Western or K-Pop vibe to them. They also occasionally sing in English, cover or mash-up English songs.

Downloads of 365daband songs seem unavailable outside of VN.

Resources to continue exploring Vietnamese music

  • To find Vietnamese lyrics search for [title] lời bài hát or [title] lyrics (eg. Forever Alone lời bài hát).
  • For more V-Pop recommendations go here, here or for female singers here.
  • There’s a playlist of over 20 Vietnamese songs translated into English here.
  • If you do like ballads, you’re in luck! There’s a huge range of them with English translations here.

Over to you: Do you listen to music in a foreign language? Do you like any Vietnamese musicians?

Why is kitchen ‘nhà’ bếp not ‘phòng’?

Most rooms in the house have ‘room’ (phòng) as part of their name. Phòng ngủ (bedroom), phòng khách (living room), phòng ăn (dining room) but bathroom and kitchen are a notable exception: they use nhà (house or building).

This seems weird in this day and age where houses and flats are self-contained but think back several years to when outhouses were the norm, and it starts to make sense.

Traditionally Vietnamese people also cook outside of the main house, usually in outbuildings to protect the cooking area from wind and rain.

Not really the picture I was looking for, but the building on the left could be the kitchen... Source.

Not really the picture I was looking for, but many countryside houses have outbuildings… Source.

Having outbuildings is still a really common set-up in the countryside. In cities, where space is an issue, these facilities have been taken inside yet the names remain: nhà bếp (kitchen) and nhà vệ sinh (bathroom).

Is it phòng tắm or nhà vệ sinh?

Nowadays phòng tắm (where tắm means shower or wash) is often used for an inside bathroom, like you’d find in a house or hotel room. Whereas, like in English, toilet facilities in restaurants or other public places would be nhà vệ sinh.

Vietnamese names, titles and what to call someone

Have you ever wondered what to call your Vietnamese friend? Which name to use? Or why there are so many Nguyễns?

Read on to find the answers to all these questions and more.

Vietnamese surnames

The most common Vietnamese surname is Nguyễn. About 40% of Vietnamese people have this surname, taken from the Nguyễn Emperors, the last dynasty of Vietnam. Back in those days, the surname of the Emperor was often used like a clan name. Other common surnames such as Trần and Lê have a similar origin, which is why these names are so common.

The most common Vietnamese surnames. Source.

The most common Vietnamese surnames. Source.

Vietnamese titles

However this homogeneity is not that important as in Vietnam surnames are not really used, aside from official paperwork and when filling in forms. You’d never address someone as Mr or Ms Nguyễn.

In informal situations, given names are used as expected. (Eg. You’d call me Thảo.)

In formal situations you’d call them Mr or Ms Forename. For example, Ms Thảo (chị Thảo or cô Thảo depending who’s talking) or Mr Vũ (anh Vũ).

In very formal situations you may use Ông or Bà instead, or you may include the person’s title like the late General Giáp (Đại tướng Giáp).

Full names and their order

Another difference is that names are written the opposite way round to Western names, with the surname first and the given name last. Vietnamese usually have 3 or 4 names in total.

Let’s look at an example: Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai. This common street name comes from a historical figure of that name.

  • Nguyễn is the surname and that comes first.
  • Thị is a common and traditional middle name which denotes that the person is female. The male equivalent of Thị is Văn. Many years ago almost everybody had a name like this (especially Thị). They are still used nowadays but not to the extent they were before.
  • Minh and Khai are given names. Sometimes people have one, sometimes they have two. While each name has its own meaning, certain combinations of names have special meanings.

Most Vietnamese people go by this final name – so in this case we’d usually call this person Khai (or Ms Khai). However, some people prefer to use both given names. This is often happens with very common names like Anh: people will introduce themselves with the two used names together like Vân Anh or Minh Anh.

This second given name can also be useful if there are several people with the same given name (eg. 2+ Khai’s in the same class/office), we can be specific and refer to her as Minh Khai.

A little help with pronunciation

To wrap up, here’s a video from Every Day Viet covering the pronunciation of some common given names in Vietnam.

Over to you: What do you think about Vietnamese names? Did you know the story behind Nguyễn before?

Syllables in Vietnamese

Thảo ơi, I heard that Vietnamese is monosyllabic. Is that right?

It’s true that in Vietnamese every syllable is written separately, and many words have just one syllable (such as cây, xem, vui). However Vietnamese words can still have more than one syllable. In fact the statisticians say the vast majority of words in Vietnamese do. *

Most of these are disyllabic (ie. they have two syllables). For example đồng hồ is a noun which means clock. Both syllables are needed for the meaning. It’s a word with two syllables which are written separately.

The same can be true of adjectives (eg. thông minh), verbs (eg. sắp xếp) and adverbs (eg. thỉnh thoảng).

To a lesser extent there are compound words where new words are formed by putting other words together. For example mắt trời. In these instances, knowing one of the words can give you a clue what the compound word is about (eg. if you know trời is sky, you can infer that mắt trời is something to do with the sky).

face + sky = sun (mắt trời)

face + sky = sun (mắt trời)

Tackling problems reading new words

As a Vietnamese learner it can be tricky, when reading, to figure out how these syllables combine to form words that have meaning. It can be hard to know what to look up in the dictionary.

Often when intensively reading something, you will find three or four new words all in a row. But should you be looking up four words in the dictionary? Or two pairs of syllables, or some other combination of words?

What should you be looking up out of tác phẩm hồi ký...

Should you be looking up tác phẩm hồi ký? Tác phẩm and hồi ký? Tác and phẩm hồi and ký…?

Enter google translate.

You may be thinking ‘but Google Translate doesn’t do a great job with Vietnamese’. The translations are often very unnatural to say the least.

However google translate has a built-in feature where you can hover over words to see alternative translations. But it’s not the alternative translations we’re interested in, it’s the hover feature itself.

By hovering over each of those unknown ‘words’, you can see if there are any multiple-syllable words.

Hover over the translation to figure out where the words are

Hover over the translation to figure out where the words are.

Now you know how to break down those new words (in this example tác phẩm hồi ký is in fact tác phẩm and hồi ký) so you’re able to easily look them up in the dictionary.

Over to you: Had you given any thought to syllables in Vietnamese before? How do you tackle new words when you come across a few in a row?

Image credit: Billy Frank Alexander Design

* Not everyone agrees on this.