Speaking Vietnamese

Vietnamese Protest in Hanoi

The Vietnamese alphabet has less letters than the English alphabet, but each of their vowels has quite a few tones, which makes the language very confusing.

For example, the word ma means ghost, cheek, tomb, rice seedling, butt, or horse. It just depends on your tone.

Similarly, hii can mean two, funny, harmful, sea, or scared.

How confusing would it be to say the following sentence in Vietnamese?

“I was scared when two harmful seas converged.” In Vietnamese, it would sound like this: “I was hii when hii hii hii converged.”

Huh? It sounds like a girl’s laughter.

Or what if you said, “The horse’s ghost rubbed against the tomb?” In other words, “The ma ma rubbed against the ma.” If you had a cold, I might think you said “The butt cheek rubbed against the rice seedlings.” If people thought their rice was rubbed on butt cheeks that could cause mass starvation.

Our home stay host, Hung, whose name has a little hook over the U, told us that his name means good luck in business, while hung without the accent means bear.

“Listen to the difference,” he said. “Hung. Hung. You hear it. Hung. Hung.”

“That’s interesting that your name means good luck in business, while hung means bear,” I observed.

“Why is that interesting?” he asked.

“Back home, bear is the metaphor we use for when business is not doing so well, like bear market.”

I could tell that he did not like American metaphors.

Write your best Vietnamese sentence in the comments section using the words “ma” or “hii.” Be sure to translate your sentence into English, too.

Posted on by Noah Lederman in Lost In Translation, Or Bust

2 Responses to Speaking Vietnamese

  1. Matthew Jay, Philanthropist

    Wait, so “converged” and “rubbed” is the same in English and Vietnamese?

    • Somewhere Or Bust

      No they are not. I just didn’t take the time to learn more than three words on this trip. I just figured I’d write my sentences partly in Vietnamese and partly in English to make my point less confusing. I may have failed after reading your comment.

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