Do Some Vietnamese People Speak Chinese?

Do Some Vietnamese People Speak Chinese?

I’ve had the privilege of residing in China and Vietnam, allowing me to delve into Chinese and Vietnamese languages. Contrary to what some might believe, these languages are distinct.

Most Vietnamese I encountered did not speak Chinese, except those who resided near the China-Vietnam border or had formally studied the language. Similarly, the Chinese I met did not understand Vietnamese. It’s crucial to understand that these are two separate languages with their intricacies. Read on as we explore more about the Vietnamese and Chinese languages.

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Do Some Vietnamese People Speak Chinese? A Closer Look

Vietnam and China, two neighboring countries, share a rich tapestry of history, culture, and trade. Given the proximity and historical ties, one might wonder: Do Vietnamese people speak Chinese? The simple answer is some do, but the majority do not. Let’s delve deeper.

The Border Residents Who May Speak Chinese

It is reasonable to assume that those living near international borders may pick up the neighboring country’s language due to trade, intermarriages, or daily interactions. The same holds for some Vietnamese living close to the China-Vietnam border. Due to these interactions, they might have a basic understanding or even fluency in Chinese.

 Vietnamese People

In my office, we had a maid who lived near the Chinese border and spoke fluent Mandarin Chinese. Even though she was not educated and had never attended university, her spoken Chinese was excellent.

I was able to communicate with her daily in Mandarin Chinese. She told me she picked up Mandarin Chinese while living and working near the Chinese-Vietnamese border.

Some Vietnamese May Study Chinese

In the era of globalization, many Vietnamese see the value in learning multiple languages. Some Vietnamese study Chinese for trade, business, or academic reasons, thus acquiring varying proficiency.

However, it’s crucial to understand that this is a fraction of the Vietnamese population. Most Vietnamese people do not speak or understand Chinese, mainly because Vietnamese and Chinese are two distinctly different languages.

Additionally, historical tensions exist between Vietnam and China, stemming from China’s 1,000-year rule over Vietnam. Furthermore, the 1979 border conflict between the two nations, which resulted in significant Vietnamese casualties, remains a sad memory for many.

15 Ways Vietnamese And Chinese Are Two Very Different Languages

At a cursory glance, someone unfamiliar with Asian languages might assume similarities between Vietnamese and Chinese. However, the two languages have evolved separately and have distinct features.

Here are 15 ways Vietnamese and Chinese differ:


Vietnamese is an Austroasiatic language, while Chinese belongs to the Sino-Tibetan family. This means their roots and evolution have been largely separate.

Writing System:

Chinese uses a logographic writing system called Han characters or Hànzì. In contrast, the Vietnamese, after centuries of using a modified set of Chinese characters called Chữ Nôm, transitioned to the Latin-based script called Quốc Ngữ in the 20th century.


Both languages are tonal, but they differ in the number and nature of tones. Standard Mandarin Chinese has four primary tones. Meanwhile, the northern dialect of Vietnamese (e.g., Hanoi) has six tones.


The sounds (phonemes) in Vietnamese and Chinese vary. For instance, certain sounds present in Chinese are absent in Vietnamese and vice versa.


Despite some loanwords from Chinese due to historical interactions, Vietnamese vocabulary fundamentally differs from Chinese.


Vietnamese grammar is more akin to other Austroasiatic languages and significantly differs from Chinese grammar. For example, Vietnamese uses particles to indicate tense, whereas Chinese often uses word order and additional words.

Plural Forms:

Vietnamese generally don’t change the noun form to indicate plurals, whereas Chinese might use quantifiers or repetition.


The way numbers are pronounced and sometimes even structured can be very different between the two.


In Vietnamese, pronouns often indicate not just gender and number social status, and the relationship between the speaker and the listener. Chinese pronouns are more straightforward in comparison.


In Vietnamese, adjectives can function as verbs, which is not the case in Chinese.

Measure Words:

While both languages use measure words (words used with nouns to indicate the count of something), the actual words and the contexts in which they are used can differ widely.

Verb Forms:

Vietnamese verbs do not conjugate. Chinese verbs also don’t conjugate in the way many Western languages do, but the usage and placement of verbs in sentences can differ considerably.


Modern Vietnamese have borrowed words from the French, thanks to colonial history. Chinese, meanwhile, has its set of modern loanwords, often from English.

Idiomatic Expressions:

As with all languages, idioms often don’t translate directly. Vietnamese and Chinese idiomatic expressions are rooted in their respective cultures and histories.

Cultural Context:

Language is more than just words and grammar; it’s also about cultural context. The stories, traditions, and values embedded in Vietnamese differ from those in Chinese.

While some Vietnamese individuals can speak and understand Chinese, especially those near the border or those who’ve studied the language, it’s essential to recognize that most Vietnamese do not know Chinese.

Despite their historical interactions, the languages are vastly different in multiple ways. Knowledge of one does not equate to understanding the other.

Understanding these nuances becomes vital for effective communication and cultural respect as our world grows increasingly interconnected.

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