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Learning Vietnamese

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

Learning Vietnamese is doable but typically takes in the order of years. Depending on your motivation, whether it's to go on holiday there regularly, you have a Vietnamese partner (like me) or even to move there, it is worthwhile. I use the app called Duolingo, which supports many languages, depending on your first language. The grammar is quite logical, arguably more so than English, and the accents on the letters make sense when you consider it precisely describes the sound of each letter in every word. What I find hardest is pronunciation and memorising more and more words. Duolingo attempts to make this as easy as possible and for me, does quite a good job of it.


Duolingo is an app that attempts to make learning a language as easy as possible. One of the ways it does it is by gamifying. You complete units in a linear fashion until you finish the course.

Duolingo Progress Summary View

Learning is by a flashcard system, where you normally get hints that almost give away the answer (but not always!). Attempt to guess before pressing on the hints. You learn Experience Points (XP) as you progress, which accordingly ranks you on a leaderboard (shield icon).


You can attempt to learn the grammar by simply completing the flashcard exercises, but to save yourself from tearing your hair out I highly recommend this guide. After all, if you make too many mistakes in the free version, you have to 'practice' to earn more hearts and/or watch more ads (press on the heart when in the progress summary view).

The grammar structure is quite similar to English, except words are not modified - 'qualifiers' are used instead and placed before the word. For example, if you are referring to a specific cat as in the below example, you use the animal qualifier 'con'.

Example of a flashcard exercise, where you arrange the translated words

What is beyond the scope of Duolingo is the fairly important aspect of being polite. In Vietnamese culture, you refer to the other person and yourself depending on your gender, their gender, your age, their age and other factors. Fortunately, if you are a foreigner you are often forgiven for making mistakes (but corrected!).

Memorising Words

The trick I find with memorising words is to not force it and simply follow the process. If blockages come up, it is worth eliminating the blockages through meditation. What can also help is to use the words in conversation or simply share with your Vietnamese friend.

AI generated image.


This is the hard part. Fortunately, Vietnamese is a phonetic language so it helps immensely to learn the accent marks. Vietnamese has additional letters, some with a hat on top like â or with a horn like ă. This makes logical sense when you think about it. In English the same letter can produce different sounds. Not so much with Vietnamese. See this guide for all the Vietnamese letters.

Pronunciation is important for being understood by native Vietnamese people. AI generated image.

Unlike English, the tone with which you pronounce changes the meaning of the word. With English tone is used to convey emotion or ask a question. Check out this guide for all the tone marks.

Once you have mastered all the letters and the tone marks, practicing pronunciation becomes much easier. And Vietnamese people will appreciate you having a go!

I hope you enjoyed my blog and found it useful, thanks to Canva's Text to Image generator for the two AI generated images.

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