2 ways of translating words that aren’t in the dictionary

Sometimes you come across a word that you can’t find in the dictionary. Perhaps you’ve tried explaining to a native speaker but you’re not able to describe the exact word you’re aiming for.

What to do?

1. Use Wikipedia

For example, I wanted to know what the skin condition ‘eczema’ was in Vietnamese. I brought up the English Wikipedia page for eczema, then scrolled down to the Languages section of the side bar and selected Vietnamese. This brought up the equivalent page and there it is: viêm da (though actually this seems to be skin conditions in general).

2. Find a picture, then ask a native

Sadly, the Vietnamese Wikipedia is lacking a few articles. Another method I’ve used is pulling up a google image of what I want to describe or drawing a sketch, then showing it to a native speaker and asking what it was.

crochet is đan móc

Crochet is đan móc

Over to you: What do you do when you can’t find a word in the dictionary?

Drinking beer in Vietnam

Whether attending a wedding or eating snails, the Vietnamese are fond of a beer. Here’s some vocab that might come in handy if you find yourself drinking beer in Vietnam.

Drinking beer in Vietnam

Every time you take a sip of your beer, you must clink glasses with your companions.

Sometimes you just clink and drink, but often you’ll hear one of the following.

How to toast in Southern Vietnam:

một, hai, ba, vô! (always pronounce vô as /yo/)
= 1, 2, 3, cheers!

Northerners have adapted this toast into their own:

một, hai, ba, /zo/! (often written as dô)
hai, ba, /zo/
hai, ba, uống
= 1, 2, 3, cheers!
2, 3, cheers
2, 3, drink!

Somebody may well clink glasses (cạn ly) with you and say:

một trăm phần trăm
= 100% (they want you to down the glass)

You may be able to get away with:

năm mười phần trăm (= năm mười)
= 50% (they want you to drink half of your glass)

If you can’t or don’t want to drink:

[Anh/Chị/Em/…] không uống bia được.
= I can’t drink beer.

Eating goes hand in hand with food and snacks vary from peanuts to seafood. You’ll be encouraged to eat, or you can invite others’ to eat with:

ăn đi!
= eat!, please eat

Or if you spend too much time eating, you may be told to: uống đi!

Edited 8/3/14

Over to you: Have you ever drunk beer with Vietnamese people? Share your experiences in the comments!

Photo credit: dantri website

Taking a Vietnamese Language Proficiency Test in Vietnam

Chứng Chỉ A tiếng ViệtIf you want to take a test to prove your level or check your progress, look no further than the Vietnamese Language Proficiency Test run by the Vietnamese Department of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City.

Before I took the level A test (Chứng Chỉ A) in February 2013, I searched the internet for information but didn’t find anything. Now I’ve taken the test, here is my lowdown.

Read more »

The ‘no’ tone is actually…

You might think that the so-called ‘no’ tone (known as ngang) is the easiest of Vietnamese’s 6 (or 5) tones, however I was having problems with it until a fellow learner gave me a gem of information…

The ‘no’ tone is flat, but it’s high.

If you look at this graph plotting the sound of the six Northern tones from Wikipedia, you’ll see that the ‘no’ tone starts higher than any of the other tones, but stays more or less flat.

Tone Chart

Well, there we are! Try taking words with this tone up a scale but keeping them flat. For example, đi.

Now try a sentence, keeping each word high but flat: Em đi ăn cơm. In natural speech the tones aren’t so defined but it’s good to get your voice used to making this high, flat sound.

Over to you: Have you had problems with the ‘no’ tone? Have you tried our suggestion and noticed a difference?

Using lang-8.com to get your writing corrected

Writing is a good way to practice your Vietnamese. Whether you keep a diary or write topical short essays, it’s important to get your writing corrected by a native so you can learn and improve.

You might not want your friends or your teacher to correct everything you write. Especially if you write quite often! If so, that’s where a website like lang-8.com can help. You can write something of any length, any title, any topic and native speakers will be able to read and correct it. They often also include explanations for their corrections or provide alternative ways of saying something.

Example of a correction at lang-8

In return you should read and correct journal entries written by other people learning your native tongue.

My experience

I always get corrections quickly, within 24 or 48 hours. I usually get a lot of corrections on my essays because there are many more native Vietnamese users than there are people like me learning Vietnamese.

If you get so many corrections that you find it hard to go through them all, consider making your journal entries only viewable to your friends.

Friends-only journal setting

If you’re not sure what to write about, we’ve got plenty of ideas.

Over to you: Do you get your writing corrected? Have you used lang-8? Tell us in the comments!