Vietnamese, known as tiếng việt (㗂越), originates as the native language of the Kinh people and today has about 90 million speakers around the globe. Mainly spoken in Vietnam, Guangxi Province in southern China, Cambodia, and Laos; it also has a significant presence in England, France, Australia, the USA, and the Czech Republic.
Vietnamese is beautifully melodic and incredibly daunting. The difficulty of Vietnam's official language is a point of national pride. Locals gleefully tease you with “tiếng Việt khó!” ("Vietnamese is hard!").
Like the majority of South East and East Asian languages, Vietnamese is a tonal language. Meaning that for each syllable there are six different tones that can change the meaning of a word. Pronounce "ma" with a sharp, high rising vowel "má" you're talking about your mother, say it again with a high breaking rise "mã" you're talking about your horse.
Depending on how you pronounce "la" you could be explaining to someone that you are exhausted or unclean. "Ba" is the word for three but say it with a bit of a lift as you would when asking a question and you've got some poison coming your way. Tiếng Việt Khó indeed!
But if you can get past all the crazy tones, every other aspect of the language is extremely easy –
far easier than what you might expect, especially compared to most European languages. The grammar is straightforward, there are no genders, it dispenses with "a" and "the", and there are no plurals. A modified version of the Roman alphabet is used, making it easy to read signs and addresses when travelling around.
The Vietnamese language, as well as it's architecture and cuisine, embraces influences of Latin, Chinese, French, and English. Words like càphê (café - coffee), ápphích (affiche - poster), internet and e-mail are easy on the Western eyes and ears.
The other easy factor is that Vietnamese vocabulary is perfectly logical. The local name for Vietnam’s ubiquitous motorbike taxis, xe ôm, translates literally into “hug vehicle.”
A huge percentage of Vietnamese vocabulary is formed by just combining two words in a logical manner, whereas in English you'd have to learn an entirely new third word that sounds completely different. If I told you that máy means “machine” and bay means “flying”, could you guess what máy bay means?
Pronunciation: Depp (like Johnny Depp)
The simple act of saying đẹp while showing a local their photo and seeing their faces light up is utterly gratifying. My guide explained that it was a useful word to say when taking photos because it's often the case that locals might not have ever had their photo taken. They are often wary of a camera because they are unaware of their own beauty.
em thật đẹp You are beautiful
Duyên expresses how I view Vietnam and it's people: charming and elegant. Just as Grace is used as a popular name for girls in the west, Duyên is a popular name for girls in Vietnam.
An additional meaning translates to "the predestined tie that is believed to have people meet one another".
A little word with a big purpose.
Hữu duyên thiên lý năng tương ngộ, vô duyên đối diện bất tương phùng?
If it is fated, we can meet even if we are separated by a thousand miles; but if it not be fated, we shall not encounter each other even if we are face-to-face.
Vietnamese will define this word as meaning "more than love". In English, we tend to be limited in vocabulary options when it comes to expressing love. We are inclined to think of romantic love but of course, in reality there are so many different forms of love that enter into our lives.
Thương is tender, soft, long-lasting and is usually developed after a long relationship. This one word expresses a tender kind of love which you would sacrifice yourself for your loved ones; going beyond basic romantic love.
It's that feeling of endless warmth you had when you were little and your grandmother says that she loves you.
Pronunciation: Key Zey-oh
It covers that sense of wonder and magic when you share the little moments in your life with loved ones, learn something absolutely brilliant, or make new discoveries. The tones of both syllables are low, light, and flow softly down the tongue.
My time in Vietnam was kỳ diệu.