Language & Culture

Why choosing between Northern and Southern Vietnamese is important

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!

How you order this depends on where you are...
How you order this depends on where you are…

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.

If you want to dig deeper into these differences, there’s an Android app (or a reference list here).

Over to you: Which form of Vietnamese did you choose to learn? Have you found it makes a difference?

Photo credit: lioneltitu

3 replies on “Why choosing between Northern and Southern Vietnamese is important”

I’m trying to find out how I can learn Southern Vietnamese. Rosetta Stone teaches Northern. Anyone have any ideas? Thank You.

Hi Rolland, if you give me some more information about your learning situation I could give you a more informed answer.

If you’re an absolute beginner, start here. If you’re not in Vietnam but looking for a digital course, my resource list includes information on accents. The FSI course (link on the resource page) is outdated but it is a southern accent so you may want to start there.

If you’re in Vietnam, there are more options available to you!

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