5 Vietnamese Dialects

January 31, 2021

When learning the Vietnamese language (Tiếng Việt), you may hear that there are different Vietnamese dialects. The dialects are spoken in different regions in Vietnam. So, what are the dialects of Vietnamese, and which one should you learn? In this article, I am going to give you more details about that with specific examples.

Five Main Dialects In Vietnamese

There are 3 (three) main Vietnamese dialects that are widely mentioned in articles: Northern, Central, and Southern. However, some resources such as Wikipedia say that there should be 5 (five) major dialects:

  • Northern Vietnamese
  • North-Central Vietnamese
  • Mid-Central Vietnamese
  • South-Central Vietnamese
  • Southern Vietnamese

You may already guess where these dialects are spoken just by their name. These dialects differ mostly in their sound system and sometimes in vocabulary and grammar.

Kindly note that each main dialect is also spoken differently in different provinces or cities. For example, people who were born in Quang Nam province have a bit different pronunciation than people born in Danang city do, but they all belong to the South-Central Vietnamese.

 

Northern Vietnamese

The Northern Vietnamese accent is used in the Red River Delta region including Hanoi (the capital), Haiphong, and the cities or provinces in the Northeast and Northwest of the Red River Delta.

The Northern dialect, especially the Hanoi accent is used extensively in the national TV news. It has been considered as the standard Vietnamese language but some people from the South of Vietnam may argue about that.

In the Northern accent, six tones are pronounced clearly, especially the low rising tone (thanh Hỏi) and the high broken tone (thanh Ngã).

Following consonants in the Vietnamese language are pronounced quite similarly in the Northern accent:

  • D, GI, R are pronounced as /dz/ in 'jingle' or 'Jack'.
  • S, X are pronounced as /s/ in 'six' or 'single'.
  • TR, CH are pronounced as /ch/ in 'church' or 'channel'.

The vocabulary used in the Northern accent, especially in Hanoi, is considered the official language and used in formal documents.

North-Central Vietnamese

The North-Central Vietnamese (Northern Central) dialect is spoken in Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, and Ha Tinh provinces. The Thanh Hoa dialect is closer to the Northern Vietnamese dialect while the Nghe An - Ha Tinh dialect is somewhat closer to the Mid-Central Vietnamese language.

In Thanh Hoa, they speak in 5 tones as the high broken tone (thanh Ngã) is pronounced the same way with the low rising tone (thanh Hỏi). For example, 'Đà Nẵng' is spoken as 'Đà Nẳng'.

The dialect in Nghe An and Ha Tinh is known as difficult to understand, even for people from the North and the South of Vietnam. This is because the tones in this dialect are mixed up and they use many different vocabularies such as 'mi' (you), 'mần' (do), 'chi' (what), 'răng' (why). The words are also used in Thanh Hoa.

Mid-Central Vietnamese

People in Quang Binh, Quang Tri, and Hue provinces speak the Mid-Central Vietnamese dialect. In this dialect, people speak clearly the consonants that are merged in the Northern Vietnamese dialect: tr/ch, s/x, d/gi/r.

There are five tones used in these areas. The tones are pronounced differently from how they are pronounced in the Northern dialect. For example, they don't differentiate the low rising tone (thanh Hỏi) and the high broken tone (thanh Ngã). These tones are pronounced similar to the heavy tone (thanh Nặng) in the Northern Vietnamese language.

Some vowels are changed in their pronunciation even the spelling is still the same. For example, 'oi' is pronounced as 'oai', 'anh' is pronounced as 'ăn' or 'ân'.

People in these provinces use the same vocabulary as the North-Central Vietnamese dialect.

South-Central Vietnamese

The South-Central Vietnamese accent is used in Da Nang, Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh, Phu Yen, and Nha Trang.

This dialect doesn't have the phrases in the Northern Central or Mid-Central dialects. People here use common words spoken in the Northern and Southern Vietnamese.

In terms of pronunciation, the low rising tone (thanh Hỏi) and the high broken tone (thanh Ngã) are similar. Consonant 'v' and 'd' are pronounced the same. A lot of vowels are changed in their pronunciation such as 'ă' pronounced as 'â', 'ô' pronounced as 'ơ'.

In general, the South-Central Vietnamese dialect is close to the Southern Vietnamese.

Southern Vietnamese

The Southern Vietnamese accent is widely spoken in the South of Vietnamese including Ba Ria - Vung Tau, Ho Chi Minh City, Lam Dong, and provinces in the Mekong Delta.

As same as the dialects in the Central Vietnam, the Southern dialect also has 5 tones. Some consonants are pronounced the same: 'v/d', 'r/g', 's/x', 'd/gi/r', 'tr/ch'. Following vowels are pronounced in the same way: 'inh/in', 'ich/it', 'uc/ut', 'ung/un'.

The sound of people from Ho Chi Minh City is considered the easiest to understand with the Northern and the Central Vietnamese people. There are many TV gameshows in Vietnam spoken in this dialect.

The people who speak the Southern dialect use different words from the ones who speaks the Northern dialect.

Different Vocabulary In Vietnamese Accents

Northern Vietnamese Vs. Southern Vietnamese And South-Central Vietnamese

There are many different words between the Northern and the Southern dialects. Here are just some examples:

  • Fat: béo (Northern), mập (Southern)
  • Thin: gầy (Northern), ốm (Southern)
  • Pig: con lợn (Northern), con heo (Southern)
  • Fall off: ngã (Northern), té (Southern)
  • Hat: mũ (Northern), nón (Southern)
  • Socks: tất (Northern), vớ (Southern)
  • MSG: mì chính (Northern), bột ngọt (Southern)
  • Pineapple: quả dứa (Northern), trái thơm (Southern)
  • Cucumber: quả dưa chuột (Northern), trái dưa leo (Southern)
  • Blanket: cái chăn (Northern), cái mền (Southern)
  • Peanut: củ lạc (Northern), đậu phộng (Southern)
  • Expensive: đắt (Northern), mắc (Southern)

It seems that the Southern Vietnamese phrases are also known by many people from the North of Vietnam, so they can still understand the Southern accent spoken in TV gameshows.

Northern Vietnamese Vs. North-Central Vietnamese And Mid-Central Vietnamese

  • You (informal): mi (Central), mày (Northern)
  • I (informal): tau (Central), tao (Northern)
  • We (informal): choa (Central), chúng tao (Northern)
  • You guys (informal): (bọn) bây (Central), các bạn (Northern)
  • Where: mô (Central), đâu (Northern)
  • Ending question: rứa (Central), thế (Northern)
  • Why: răng (Central), sao (Northern)
  • This: ni (Central), này (Northern)
  • That: nớ (Central), kia (Northern)
  • Aunt (Dad's younger sister): o (Central), cô (Northern)
  • What: chi (Central), gì (Northern)

Which Vietnamese Dialect Should You Learn?

It depends on where you want to go visit in Vietnam and which one you prefer to learn. All dialects of Vietnamese are beautiful and need your effort to learn. Although there is a number of phrases in different dialects, the dialects in the North and the South seem to be widely understood by almost all Vietnamese people. The Central Vietnamese accents seem to be the hardest ones to learn and to understand.

The Northern accent seems to be a bit challenging to foreigners whose first language is not a tonal language such as French, English, or German. For people such as Chinese, Cantonese, and Thai, learning the Northern dialect is not a hard thing to do.

The Southern accent is favored by foreigners who are living in the South of Vietnam. When many consonants and vowels are pronounced the same as mentioned earlier, this dialect seems to be easier for Westerners to learn.

However, if you travel to the North or many regions in Vietnam, the Northern dialect is highly recommended as it is considered the standard language and understood by people from the Central and the South areas as well.

If you want to learn the Northern accent, check out our Ling App to learn with fun games and check your pronunciation with the sample from native speakers. If you want to learn the Southern Vietnamese dialect, you may be interested in our Simply Learn phrasebook app.

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