While I’ve already put together a guide about whether you should choose to learn Northern or Southern Vietnamese, I didn’t explain why it’s important.
Firstly there are pronunciation differences. But as long as you have a fairly standard Southern or Northern accent, you can probably get by with speaking that in most places. Your ears will probably always prefer one accent over the other, but with a little effort you should be able to get used to listening to either standard accent.
However where huge problems can, and most often, arise are the different words used for a lot of practical or tangible items. From street (đường/phố) to bowl (tô/bát) to a thousand (ngàn/nghìn), use the wrong word in the wrong region and you might not be understood!
Food words are probably what differs most from region to region. If you want two pineapples in Saigon you’d ask for hai trái thơm but in Hanoi it’d be hai quả dứa. In Saigon chén is the small bowl you eat rice from, whereas in Hanoi chén is a small glass to drink rice wine!
If you’re going to be in Vietnam, you definitely need to know the right words for the region you’re in. One time I was with a native speaker who spent several minutes trying to order an extra portion of plain rice while in Huế. Because in Saigon we’d say cơm trắng (white rice) whereas in Huế they say cơm không. Interestingly that’s how you order a plain baguette (as opposed to a sandwich) in Saigon: bánh mì không.
Over to you: Which form of Vietnamese did you choose to learn? Have you found it makes a difference?
Photo credit: lioneltitu