Our guide for translating Vietnamese

​Vietnam is now one of the world’s fastest-growing economies with a young and robust population. The significant rising of the middle class makes Vietnam a hotspot for international brands as well as startups.

Vietnamese people, in general, are well-educated and able to use several foreign languages like English, French or Chinese but the mother tongue still holds dearly in their heart and are proudly used in all aspects of life. Therefore, if you desire to take the adventure to this new promising land, you should partner up with a professional local translation agen first and foremost.

I. The importance of Vietnamese translation

The Vietnamese language is the official language of Vietnam, with about 2 million or more Vietnamese emigrants around the world. It is not only used in its own nation, but it is also spoken in Cambodia, Australia, Europe. In the USA, Vietnamese is one of the top five most common languages in the United States with approximately 1.5 million people using it at home. There are even states that declare Vietnamese as the most popular language besides Spanish and English, including: Texas, Kansas, Oregon, Iowa, Oklahoma, Mississippi.

The Vietnamese language belongs to the Mon-Khmer branch of the Austro-Asiatic language family. The official alphabet consists of 29 letters, 12 vowels, and 17 consonants. 22 letters originated from the Roman-based alphabet. The other 7 letters (ă, â, đ, ê, ô, ơ, and ư) are modified versions of the same root.

There are three mutually intelligible dialects and choosing which depends on your target audiences:

  • Northern, Hanoi dialect accepted as the standard
  • Central, Huế dialect, or High Annamese
  • Southern, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) dialect, or Cochinchinense

II. 3 problems when translating Vietnamese

1. Sino-Vietnamese

Vietnam had been a colony of China for almost 1000 years, so we cannot deny that Chinese language and culture has a tremendous influence in this nation. As a result, there are a huge number of loanwords from Chinese, which are called Sino-Vietnamese. They often appear in medicine, philosophy, politics, science and religion and are still very commonly used.

For instance:

* quân sự (军事 junshi) – military affairs

* hành chính (行政 xingzheng) – administration

* bạch kim (白金) – platinum

Although almost all the Sino-Vietnamese words have an equivalent in the modern Vietnamese vocabulary, both of them co-exist and serve the users differently. Sino-Vietnamese words usually create a formal, poetic and nostalgic vibe to the text. In contrast, using pure Vietnamese feels more friendly and young. 

2. Classifiers

Vietnamese nouns are not number, gender, or case assigned. However, there are an enormous number of classifiers that indicate which class a noun belongs to, levels of the speaker’s preference for the object. In short, they have classifiers for everything, around 200 popular classifiers. A number of nouns can be used as classifiers.

These are some popular examples: “con” is used for animals; “cái” is the most common counter for countable objects; for people specifically, you can choose a classifier to express your opinion for them, such as “THẰNG lính” (a soldier in a disregarding manner) or “BÁC nông dân” (a farmer in a friendly, respectful manner), “NGƯỜI tài xế” (a driver in a neutral manner).

3. Pronouns 

One special thing about Vietnamese language is the rich array of pronouns to express kinship, social ranking, gender, age and so on. The pronouns also reflect the kind of conversations (political, formal, literary, poetic, etc.). 

For example, “you” can be:

  • informal, peer-to-peer: cậu, mày, bạn, em, ông, bà, cô, đằng ấy,…
  • formal, to the elder: ông, bà, anh, chị, bạn, cô, chú,…
  • in the family: anh, em, cô, chú, cậu, dì, bác, mợ, dượng, ông, bà, bố, mẹ,…

This is a big reason for less trusting the translation done by machine. Choosing the suitable pronoun requires a lot of context, culture knowledge, the dialect in use, experience and even some objective guessing from the professional translator.

When you come to us, you are assured of the best quality, at the best rates, in the shortest time because we only recruit certified Vietnamese translators who have proven themselves by delivering the best result consistently.

If you need to translate into Vietnamese, give us a call today!

Facts about Vietnamese language

  • Vietnamese is an officially recognized minority language in the Czech Republic since 2013 
  • The Vietnamese language was originally only an oral language
  • The current writing system developed by Catholic missionaries in the mid-seventeenth century was influenced by Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and French.
  • In the United States, Vietnamese is the sixth most spoken language.