Let’s take a look at the Vietnamese language – tiếng Việt as it’s called in Vietnamese – and answer some of the common questions you may have.
Who speaks Vietnamese?
Vietnamese is spoken by around 75 million Kinh people in Vietnam and a further 3 million overseas. Many of the ethnic minorities in Vietnam speak Vietnamese as a second language.
Does Vietnamese use characters like Chinese and Japanese?
No. Vietnamese is written with the Latin alphabet. In the middle ages there were characters, but they’ve not been in public use for a long time.
Does Vietnamese have tones?
Yes. There are six tones and a few accents to denote different vowel sounds.
What is northern and southern Vietnamese?
It’s the same language, most of the words are the same and speakers can usually understand each other. People argue over whether there are dialects in Vietnam. There are definitely very different regional accents, with different pronunciation and some differing vocabulary. The two main pronunciations are the northern one and the southern one. They have totally different sounds for letters such as gi-/d- which in the northern accent is like /z/ and in the southern one like /y/.
Which accent you should decide on depends on a few factors. We wrote a guide to help you choose.
Vietnamese has a lot of pronouns, right?
They say Vietnamese is the language where it’s impossible to say ‘I love you’. Actually, that’s a bit misleading… How you say it depends on who you are and who you’re talking to. In Vietnamese the words for ‘you’ and ‘I’ are all relative.
Our grammar resources page links to some guides that cover this in more detail.