Although it is possible to get around Hanoi and daily life using facial expressions and hand signals as well as Google Translate, after a while of living in Vietnam you will inevitably want to know a little more about the language – even if it is only to be able to say hello, goodbye and thank you and be able to ask and understand prices.
Vietnamese is a difficult language as there is a strong reliance on tones that change the meaning of a word – however, it is worth persevering so that at least there is something in your vocabulary to amaze your friends, colleagues, and the people in the street who really appreciate you making the effort to learn something about this amazing language.
In this guide, we will explore the different types of ways you can learn Vietnamese, the primary differences between Northern and Southern Vietnamese, where to buy workbooks and textbooks, and how to enjoy free Vietnamese sessions!
There are two main ways that you can learn Vietnamese – on an intensive or a longer-term basis.
The most comprehensive full-time course is available at the University of Languages and International Studies. This is a full-time course which is available for 1,400 dollars per semester. The University is able to sort out all aspects of living with this course – from accommodation ( with there being two main options – a dormitory style accommodation which you can have for a mere forty dollars per month or a single room for two hundred and fifty dollars per month ) to the study visa and insurance etc.
This course is for those who are really dedicated to learning Vietnamese and aim to have more than a splattering but aim to actually understand the theory behind it all and use it with a certain level of fluency.
Group classes provide structured learning environments and opportunities to practice with fellow learners – which can also include a lot of laughs as you explore how to manipulate your mouth and voice to make new sounds.
There are various places for the weekly lessons, with the majority taking place at English language schools (as there is not enough demand to have centres which are dedicated only to the teaching of Vietnamese)
In order to find one you simply Google your local area and start from there – everyone at your workplace will also have an opinion on which place is the best. The courses do vary tremendously – with some being specifically targeted at travellers ( which inevitably means that they are more expensive ) whilst others are more geared at people who live in the country and really want to know more.
If you prefer a more personalized approach to learning Vietnamese, individual lessons with a private tutor might be your preferred option.
To find a Vietnamese tutor you can look on :
Facebook Groups – Hanoi has numerous expatriate-focused Facebook groups where you can post your request for a Vietnamese tutor – there may even be some adverts already up of Vietnamese tutors looking for clients. The most popular ex-pat groups are “Hanoi Expats” and “Hanoi Massive” and you will be pretty sure to get an answer and recommendations from a variety of people which can be a great starting point.
Bulletin Boards – Many language centres have bulletin boards where tutors and students can post advertisements. If you have the time then this is a good place to search for a tutor and you can then find out more about the person by inquiring at the place where the advert is posted.
Language Centers – Some language centres in Hanoi offer individual lessons alongside their group classes although these will probably be of a higher cost than a private individual. The language centre will typically offer classes in the language centre facility.
If you feel you don’t have the funds ( or time ) for the set Vietnamese classes – or if you have a basic level of Vietnamese and want to polish up on your skills then you may like to consider ways to have free Vietnamese language time.
Free Vietnamese lessons through language exchanges
Language exchanges are an effective way to practice Vietnamese for free while helping a Vietnamese native speaker improve their English or another language.
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These events are always being advertised on Facebook and you can even join one of the Facebook groups dedicated to language exchanges – the most popular are the Language Exchange Group Hanoi / Bla Bla Hanoi Language Exchange and Hanoi – Expat and Language Exchange
Coffee Shops and Social Spaces
Many locals in Hanoi are eager to practice English or other languages. Visiting local coffee shops, parks, or cultural events can lead to informal language exchange opportunities – you will be surprised at the number of people who come up to you and start talking simply to practice their English – so they will be thrilled to find someone interested!
Northern vs. Southern Vietnamese
It is very important to note that there is a distinct difference between the Vietnamese of the North and the South. As a result, make sure that you are learning the correct version rather than simply assuming. In addition, there are variations between the city and the countryside so be aware of these factors when choosing a tutor!
There are three main differences between the North and South :
Northern Vietnamese – In Hanoi and the surrounding areas, there is the pronunciation of “r” as a glottal stop, similar to a soft “g” sound. Additionally, the Northern dialect employs a slightly different tone system compared to Southern Vietnamese.
Southern Vietnamese – In the South, accents tend to be more melodic, with a clear “r” sound. There are distinct pronunciations of certain consonants and vowels, contributing to the musicality of the Southern dialect.
Some words and phrases are unique to the Northern dialect.
While tones remain consistent throughout Vietnamese, the pronunciation of specific tones can vary.
It’s important to note that despite these regional differences, most Vietnamese speakers are accustomed to hearing various accents and can understand both Northern and Southern Vietnamese.
Buying books to learn Vietnamese
To help you learn Vietnamese there are several books written, which will offer translations as well as step-by-step guides to grammar and pronunciation.
Bookshops and Stationery Shops
The larger and more established chain of bookshops often have sections dedicated to language learning materials such as Fahasa, and Nha Sach Phuong Nam.
In addition, you can often find new or second-hand textbooks and workbooks in bookshops that are geared toward the ex-pat community – such as Bookworm as well as small shops in the Old Quarter and the Hoan Kiem District.
Online Retailers and E-Books
If you like online reading then there is a wide selection of materials to be found on Amazon, Book Depository, etc. with these books having perhaps a more comprehensive layout and structure than the books written locally which are often written from a Vietnamese perspective rather than an expat perspective.
Vietnamese e-commerce websites like Shopee (shopee.vn) and Lazada (lazada.vn) often have a variety of language-learning books, including those for learning Vietnamese.
In conclusion, Vietnamese is a beautiful and complex language – it is common courtesy to at least some of the basic greetings, and people in Vietnam greatly appreciate the effort you have made to develop your communication skills – so take the plunge and start your Vietnamese learning experience today!