How Similar Are The Chinese And Vietnamese Languages?

I have studied both Mandarin Chinese and Vietnamese, so I know how similar both languages are; even though they are very different, they have similar characteristics.

Both Vietnamese and Chinese are Asian languages though they come from different language families. Vietnamese and Chinese are both tonal languages and have similar sentence structures. They are monosyllabic languages, meaning that one word has one syllable and several dialects are spoken.

Vietnamese And Chinese Are Both Asian Languages

Both Vietnamese and Chinese are Asian-based languages. China and Vietnam are neighboring countries that have a long history together.

When we talk about the Chinese dialects, we will speak about the two main dialects: Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese. Mandarin Chinese is spoken in mainland China and Taiwan. Cantonese is spoken in Hong Kong and Southern China.

Because China-controlled Vietnam for over 1,000 years, the Chinese language influenced Vietnamese just as the Chinese culture also influenced Vietnamese culture. But despite this, the Vietnamese language did not have its origin nor is it a dialect or part of the Chinese language. The Vietnamese language comes from an entirely different language family.

Here are the language families of Chinese and Vietnamese:

  • Mandarin Chinese – Is part of the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family.
  • Cantonese Chinese – is the language spoken in Southern China and is also part of the Sino-Tibetan language family.
  • Vietnamese – is part of the Austroasiatic language family and under the subgroup of Vietic.

Vietnamese And Chinese Are Both Tonal Languages

Both Vietnamese and Chinese are tonal languages. This is where the similarities for tones start and begin.

  • Mandarin Chinese has four significant tones.
  • Cantonese Chinese is said to have six tones, though some say traditionally it is nine tones.
  • Vietnamese has six tones, with five tones that are marked.

They have similar tones as even rising and falling tones, but they are very different languages, even with tonal similarities.

To speak Vietnamese or the Chinese languages, you need to be able to hear the tones of the language. I have found that the most challenging part of speaking any of these languages is in getting the tones correct.

As an example, there are times when I have spoken both Mandarin Chinese and Vietnamese, and the person listening to me will have this blank look on their face. Not because I didn’t speak the correct words but because the tones I was using for those words were completely wrong.

Vietnamese And Chinese Have Some Similar Grammar

One thing that Vietnamese and Chinese have in common is their grammar is quite similar. When I say similar, I mean compared to learning English.

That is why if you speak Chinese, you may find it easier to understand and learn Vietnamese. Just like speaking Cantonese Chinese, you may find it easier to learn Mandarin Chinese or Vietnamese. This is because you will find a lot of similarities in the grammar.

Chinese and Vietnamese languages both use a similar sentence structure. Their basic sentence structure is:

  • Subject + Verb + Object

The basic sentence structure for each language is the same except when time, location, or duration are involved.

Subject structure when time, location, or time duration is involved will change as follows for Vietnamese and Chinese:

  • The sentence structure can change when it comes to time, time duration, or location. 
    • Vietnamese– The subject structure would become Subject + Verb + Object + Time or it can also change to Time + Subject + Verb + Object.
    • Chinese – The subject structure when time is involved in Chinese becomes Subject + time + Verb + Object.
  • Sentence Structure For Time Duration
    • Vietnamese – Subject + Verb + Object + Time Duration
    • Chinese – Subject + Verb + Object + Verb + Time Duration
  • Sentence Structure For Location
    • Vietnam – Subject + Verb + Object + Location
    • Chinese – Subject + Location + Verb + Object

As you can see, even though they have a similar sentence structure, the sentence structure can change when it comes to time, time duration, or location.

Vietnamese And Chinese Are Both Monosyllabic

Vietnamese and Chinese are both monosyllabic languages. Monosyllabic language means that every word has a single syllable.

Being a monosyllabic language is very different from English, where one word in English can have two or even more syllables.

Vietnamese And Chinese Both Have Dialects That Are Spoken

Both Vietnamese and Chinese have different spoken dialects. China, in particular, can have a lot of different dialects in different parts of China. This is why you may find that when you go from the south to the north or the east to the west in China, the Chinese language does not sound the same, but maybe very different.

When I have visited northern China with some of my southern Chinese staff, they sometimes had a very difficult time understanding many of the local dialects that were being spoken by some of the people in northern China. This is one reason why the official language of China is Putonghua or Mandarin Chinese and not one of these dialects.

We can say the two primary dialects in Chinese is Putonghua or Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese.

On the other hand, Vietnam has three major dialects of Vietnamese that are spoken. They are Nothern Vietnamese (Hanoi dialect), Central Vietnamese (Hue dialect), and Southern Vietnamese (Saigon or Ho Chi Minh dialect). Within Vietnam, some of these dialects will even use different words to describe the same thing; the dialects are not just the accent but what words are used.

Despite all the similarities, a Vietnamese person cannot understand Chinese unless they have studied Chinese, and a Chinese person cannot understand Vietnamese unless they have studied Vietnamese. The languages may have some similarities, but they are not similar enough for the two countries to understand each other when speaking their native language and in their native tongue.

At A Bus On A Dusty Road, we talk about all things to do with travel, life, and ex-pat living. We are all about “Living Life As A Global Citizen.” We explore social, cultural, and economic issues and travel.

We would love to have you be part of our community. Sign up for our newsletter to keep up-to-date by clicking here. If you have any questions, you can contact me, Anita, by clicking here.

Listen to our Podcast called Dusty Roads. You can find it on all major podcast platforms. Try out to listen to one of our podcasts by clicking here.

Subscribe to our A Bus On A Dusty Road YouTube Channel filled with great videos and information by clicking here.

What Is The Official Language Of Hong Kong?

The official language of Hong Kong is Chinese and English. The residents of Hong Kong are native Cantonese Chinese speakers, so the official language is Cantonese Chinese. Many in Hong Kong can also speak Mandarin Chinese; many local Hong Kong residents prefer to speak Cantonese Chinese or English.

By clicking here, you can discover What Is The Official Language Of Hong Kong?.

How Closely Related Are The Thai And Vietnamese Languages?

Thai and Vietnamese are both Asian-based languages, but despite being Asian-based, they are from different language family groups. Both Thai and Vietnamese are tonal languages and are analytic languages. 

By clicking here, you can discover How Closely Related Are The Thai And Vietnamese Languages?.

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.

Recent Posts

How Similar Are The Chinese and Vietnamese Languages?