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How To Sound More Polite & Respectful In Vietnamese

Updated: Mar 25, 2019


A lot of people who learn Vietnamese have the habit of saying "làm ơn" when speaking (because it's the direct translation of "please"). When we tell them that native people do not usually say "làm ơn", their reactions are like "Really?! So how to I say please then? I feel like I'm sounding disrespectful without saying please". If you're like them then don't worry there, we got your back!

If you're learning Vietnamese, you probably know that Vietnamese is, first of all, a tonal language, and second of all, has pretty complicated pronoun system. We use family based pronouns like anh (older brother), chị (older sister), em (younger sibling), cô (auntie), chú (uncle) etc to address people of different age groups and genders and we use neutral pronouns like tôi/mình/tớ (I) and bạn/cậu (you) when talking to friends of roughly the same age. You know that right? You do? Ok, great!

Did you know then, that in spoken Vietnamese, we also use those pronouns at the end of sentences in order to show respect to the people we talk to? I'll give you a real example of some text messages between one of our students and his teacher:

Student: Em có nhớ ngày mai mình sẽ học tiếng Việt lúc 7 giờ không?

Teacher: Em nhớ anh.

Student: What? You miss me??

As you see here, the student asks "Do you remember we will learn Vietnamese at 7 tomorrow?". (Nhớ means to remember.) And the teacher replies: "I remember, you". Well, she forgot to put the magic comma there to separate "you" from the rest of her sentence, which made the student translate her text as "I miss you" (nhớ also means to miss). Ha! No wonder why our teacher had a good laugh at herself.

Even though it's confusing sometimes when people keeping adding 'you' at the end of their sentences, once you learn how to use it, your Vietnamese will sound much more natural. Keep this tip in mind: start adding 'you' at the end of one sentence in every few minutes when you speak Vietnamese. 'You' can be anh/chị/em/cô/chú etc depending on who you're talking to. Remember to pronounce that 'you' softer and after a very quick pause. Let's practice:

Em ơi, em có muốn đi ăn kem không ,em?

Anh đang làm gì ,anh?

- "Chú cám ơn cháu" - "Không có gì ,chú"

Got it? Excellent!

Apart from ending a sentence with 'you', there's another way to sound respectful when speaking Vietnamese. We call this "The Magic Word Ạ". Lan explains the usage of this just-one-letter word very well in the video below.

Learn how to pronounce and use this word in daily speaking and your Vietnamese will be guaranteed to sound much more natural.


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