Can Vietnamese Speak Chinese?

China controlled Vietnam for over 1,000 years. Walking around many parts of Vietnam, particularly in north Vietnam, you can find many Chinese written characters on old buildings.

Chinese and Vietnamese are not the same languages. A Vietnamese person cannot automatically understand Chinese, and a Chinese person can not understand Vietnamese. Even though the languages have some similarities, they are also very different. It is estimated that under 2% of the Vietnamese population can speak fluent Mandarin Chinese.

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Other popular second languages in Vietnam include English and French. English education is now compulsory in the Vietnamese school system; many children learn English.

Chinese And Vietnamese Are Two Different Languages

Chinese and Vietnamese are two completely different languages. I have studied Chinese and Vietnamese and can tell you they have similarities and many differences.

People in Vietnam speak Chinese, not because the languages are similar but usually because they have studied it.

The Vietnamese I have found who can speak Chinese are usually for a few reasons such as:

  • They Studied Chinese – One of the main reasons a person in Vietnam would speak Chinese is because they have purposely studied Chinese. Usually, they will do this as part of their University or college courses. Many people will learn Chinese as they hope to work for a Chinese company.
  • They Grew Up Near The Border – In some border areas of Vietnam, the people there speak Chinese. I have had staff who speak decent Chinese because they grew up near the Chinese-Vietnamese border area.
  • They Work At The Border – Many Vietnamese who work at the border speak Chinese. A thriving border trade is going on between Vietnam and China. Many people who work at the border need to speak Chinese to do their job, including customs officials, truck drivers, freight and shipping companies.
  • Lived In Chinese Speaking Country – Many Vietnamese have lived and worked in a Chinese-speaking country. I have known people who have lived, worked and studied in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. For many of them to be able to live, work, or look in these countries, they need to show that they can speak Chinese before they can obtain a visa.
  • One Of Their Parents Is Chinese – In some instances, one of their parents speaks Chinese or Chinese, so they speak some Chinese at home. 
  • Grew Up In Cholon (near Saigon) – Cholon is Vietnam’s largest Chinatown, where the people living there usually identify themselves as Chinese-Vietnam. Some people there may speak Mandarin Chinese, but many talks about a dialect of Chinese.

As you can see from this list, the people who can speak Chinese usually had to study it or be raised near the border where they learned both languages or raised in an area of Vietnam that was Chinese speaking as Cholon.

The majority of Vietnamese not speak, read or write Chinese. Even though the languages have some similarities, they are different enough that a Chinese person cannot understand Vietnamese, and a Vietnamese person cannot understand Chinese.

Chinese Is Not The Most Widely Spoken Second Language In Vietnam

Even though Vietnam borders China, not many Vietnamese speak Chinese. Under 2% of the Vietnamese speak Mandarin Chinese.

This is surprising, especially when you realize that China is Vietnam’s largest trading partner; Vietnam borders China. But learning and speaking Chinese is not very popular.

Learning English is now compulsory in Vietnamese schools. Many young children are growing up in a school system where they are starting to learn English from a very young age.

If you go out into the Vietnamese countryside, you will find the students in the villages learning English in the schools; this shows how important English education is now in Vietnam.

Another popular second language in Vietnam is French. For 100 years, the Vietnamese were under French rule, so many older Vietnamese may have grown up in the French system and schools. Many Vietnamese also go to France to study university-level courses.

Other languages I have heard of people learning are Japanese and German; these seem to be quite popular second languages.

Vietnamese And Chinese Relationship

Vietnam and China have long had a tense relationship, similar to two relatives who get along but sometimes fight. For 1,000 years, China-controlled Vietnam.

But at the same time, China also gave Vietnam a lot of things that are now part of Vietnamese culture. The two countries have long had a trading and diplomatic relationship.

China and Vietnam remain important trading partners, and many Chinese factories have set up a factory in Vietnam. But despite this, the Chinese and Vietnamese have not always had a friendly relationship.

I have seen Vietnamese protests outside the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi and outside Chinese-owned factories. I have also heard Vietnamese tell me they dislike the Chinese.

But at the same time, there are a lot of similarities between the Chinese and Vietnamese cultures, that I see them more like cousins who seem to complain and dislike each other even though they may not always like each other.

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Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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