Tips to Conquer the Language Barrier in Vietnam

Posted by SE Vietnam - Student Exchange Vietnam

Xin chao! So you have carefully planned your internship in Vietnam and are both excited and nervous about it, we know what your concerns are. One of the most dreadful things about coming to a foreign country to live is, certainly, the language barrier. And people who got through that deserve a pat in the back for their efforts. Although there is really not a way to get around the intimidating language barrier (no I don’t want all four of those mangos, I meant ONE), good news is there are many ways to make it easier for you as you navigate your life in Vietnam.

Let’s get you started!

1. Learn basic Vietnamese phrases, strategically

Since you most likely will not have that generous amount of time to learn from the basics of Vietnamese, you need to be strategic and selective in what you want to learn. Ask yourself what you will mainly do during your time there or what you would like to do and finally, under which circumstances will you need to speak Vietnamese (correctly) for. This will reflect the type of language and phrases you want to learn before you come. For example, are you a person who likes to stick to big brands when it comes to eating out and shopping or you are more open to the idea of visiting the local markets and eat out at colorful street food stalls?

internship in vietnam food

Colorful street food stalls in Vietnam will make you drool. Photo:

If you intend to do the latter one, then you will need these basic phrases:

  •  Cái này bao nhiêu tiền? How much is this?

An important tip while eating out at street food stalls in Vietnam is to ask for the price of the dish beforehand, although it does not really happen at big cities in Vietnam that often anymore, since street vendors do not have a permanent menu, sometimes they might charge you more than you expected to pay for. Point to the dish you want to have and ask for the price before you decide to stay.

internship in vietnam money

Vietnamese major notes. Photo:

  • Mắc quá (too expensive – Southern speech) / Đắt quá (too expensive – Northern speech). Bớt đi (Reduce the price please!)

These phrases are the go-to when you want to bargain the price of a product. But it usually is not as easy as saying these words, so go ahead and leearn all the tricks and skills of haggling in Vietnam here.

  • Số đếm / Numbers

Một (1)

Hai (2)

Ba (3)

Bốn (4)

Năm (5)

Sáu (6)

Bảy (7)

Tám (8)

Chín (9)

Mười (10)

Watch this fun video below to lighten up your day and learn Vietnamese number fast!

For more basic Vietnamese lessons, click here.

2. Utilize language learning apps like Duolingo

Aside from picking out the necessary items of vocabulary you want to bring with you to the Vietnam, you will also need to step up on your pronunciation game, and this is seriously no joke (you can mistakenly be saying you want 10 bowls of Pho while you only want 1). Luckily, there are several great options to practice listening and pronunciation from the basics at home before taking off. One of the easiest of these is available at the tap of a finger. That’s right, if you open the app store in your phone and search for language learning apps, it heeds hundreds of results. The most popular is Duolingo. Duolingo offers a fun, friendly, and free approach to learning your choice of 23 available languages. The app tracks daily progress, and advances your level as you go. This is a free, easy and fun way of learning any language.

3. Fail once

We know that the fear of saying something wrong in a foreign language and make a fool out of yourself is a legitimate one because we have been there ourselves. You are all proud and happy of your language achievement on Duolinguo and with your practice partners, you are confident that you will conquer your trip with smooth flow of Vietnamese anywhere you go. Then it comes to that time when you have to actually speak the language, with a local, at first thi can feel very intimidating and you can be tempted to revert to English. However, know that the first fail is the start of a success, the second fail guarantees faster learning and you will be speaking the language well in no time if you choose not to let your fear get in the way.

4. Learn From the Locals

Once you’ve arrived and tried out the “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me,” you prepared for from home, it’s likely you’ll want to continue expanding your vocabulary in order to get more comfortable in the new culture that is all around you. That’s great! While language apps and other digital resources are still a good resource to utilize, don’t be afraid to take advantage of the unique opportunity you have to learn from the ones who really know what they’re talking about, the locals.

internship in Vietnam

Face your fear and start talking to locals in Vietnamese.

Learning from a native speaker allows you to hear the language in its true form, begin to adjust to hearing the accent of your area, and learn some of the nuances and funny little things which can be difficult to appreciate from afar. When the course finishes, if you’re still hungry to learn more, try setting up a regular language exchange with a local. This can be an awesome, and free, way to continue learning while building relationships in your new community. Look for facebook groups or meetups targeted towards these types of interactions. Lucky for you, English practice is in high demand in Vietnam and you can find limitless potential friends to exchange languages with. We suggest you go to these spots (23/9 park, Le Van Tam park, Tao Dan park) to meet young Vietnamese students who are willing to have a friendly chat with you in both English and Vietnamese. If you are looking for something more serious like language learning classes, check out ‘I love Vietnamese’ project that provides affordable Vietnamese lessons with private tutors for foreigners.


Find the article useful? Follow us here for updated news about Vietnam.

If you are interested in a semester abroad or an internship in Vietnam, check out our programs, promotions

Or visit our Reviews page for more sharing from alumni about their internship in Vietnam!

Most viewed articles
Ask me