Why don't Vietnamese understand Vietnamese spoken by a foreigner?

HyperHowie :

R u ok w/ that"

No, Howard!  :dumbom:

My experience ids that they just don't expect Vietnamese got come out of you gob and they are just blown away by it.

On another subject, I was in Metro today, or MM as its called now and went to a check out marked "Priority for for disabled people, pregnant women, elderly people"

There was no one else there so I started loading the conveyor. Excuse me said the checkout girl (in perfect English) but this is a priority lane, please use another lane.
Oh sez I, but it says here that its for disabled, elderly, pregnant ...And 'Im nearly 70 years old.

Oh, she says, you don't look it.



I thought Sao.....  :D

Sharp AND witty.  You are truly bilingual!

Does anyone know the meaning of "nên" ? I thought it meant "should"...thanks

It does mean "should" but it's a word that is so short and indistinct the sound never quite makes it to a Vietnamese person's brain even when used in context. I have tried perfecting the pronunciation of this word for years and to this day not one Vietnamese translates the spoken word to comprehension.

panda7 :

Does anyone know the meaning of "nên" ? I thought it meant "should"...thanks

Yes, "nên" mean "should"

Perhaps Vietnamese barely hear this word nên because it is more a marker of condition rather than a stand alone word with full meaning.  Even in US English people frequently verbally contract should to "sh'd" or even just "sh".

Lyn-sunflower :
panda7 :

Does anyone know the meaning of "nên" ? I thought it meant "should"...thanks

Yes, "nên" mean "should"

Em iu nên viết "means" ;-)

PS: I hope you like my "iu" slang ;-)

panda7 :

Does anyone know the meaning of "nên" ? I thought it meant "should"...thanks

Hi,

It's difficult to understand a word without its context.

"Nên" means " Should" --> example: Con nên đến trường đúng giờ ( You should go to the school on time)

Other cases, " Nên" means " so" --> example: Bởi vì cậu bé đó đẹp trai, nên có nhiều bạn gái thích cậu ta ( Because that boy is handsome, so there are many girls like him)

WillyBaldy :
Lyn-sunflower :
panda7 :

Does anyone know the meaning of "nên" ? I thought it meant "should"...thanks

Yes, "nên" mean "should"

Em iu nên viết "means" ;-)

PS: I hope you like my "iu" slang ;-)

Thanks Willy, yes, means :)

Lyn-sunflower :
panda7 :

Does anyone know the meaning of "nên" ? I thought it meant "should"...thanks

Hi,

It's difficult to understand a word without its context.

"Nên" means " Should" --> example: Con nên đến trường đúng giờ ( You should go to the school on time)

Other cases, " Nên" means " so" --> example: Bởi vì cậu bé đó đẹp trai, nên có nhiều bạn gái thích cậu ta ( Because that boy is handsome, so there are many girls like him)

Complimentary English lesson:

Because that boy is handsome, there are many girls who like him.

If I may expound on Lyn's explanation: 

Very often you hear "nên" being used with other words to convey completely different meanings.  The most common one is "trở nên" (to become).  You may also hear "dựng nên", "làm nên", "tạo nên" (to make, build, or create), or "không nên" (to avoid, mostly used while giving advice).

Nên is often used in an expression which I like quite a bit: "nói chẳng nên lời" or speechless.  You can use that saying -- as is -- as an observation, or with subject as a statement:  Tôi nói chẳng nên lời (I'm speechless.)

eodmatt :

I thought Sao.....  :D

It's proven that when one thinks in a foreign language, one is conversationally fluent in that language.

Likely for the same reason that Vietnamese frequently have a problem understanding other Vietnamese. There are many different Vietnamese dialects and sub dialects that are more or less comprehensible with each other.

i've often wondered that as Vietnamese is a language that tends to use existing words to make new words and combinations of existing words can make a new word or meaning. For eg the sun is called mặt trời (literally face sky) :) So Vietnamese is easier to learn from this sense compared to English imo.

One of the things I find interesting about Asian people and it is prolly one of the reasons why they are so clever, is that they have to think in more than three dimensions. By that I mean there is: 1. Normal human logic; 2 Normal logic tempered with what Grandma says; 3. Normal logic complicated by having to continually translate between western and Chinese calendars; 4; Karma has to be taken into account; 5. Rituals have to be observed (there are devils inhabiting some places that need to be placated); 6. Superstition is deeply rooted in the Asian culture, so some colours have to be avoided at certain times, certain days are unlucky and etc.; 7. God has to be told what is going on before anything can be undertaken - and God usually has to be told things via intermediaries, that might be old blokes with beards or even monkeys.

Like I say Asian life is very complex, no wonder they excel at almost anything they attempt.

A well-disguised satirical observation.  I like it.  :one

Ciambella :

If I may expound on Lyn's explanation: 

Very often you hear "nên" being used with other words to convey completely different meanings.  The most common one is "trở nên" (to become).  You may also hear "dựng nên", "làm nên", "tạo nên" (to make, build, or create), or "không nên" (to avoid, mostly used while giving advice).

Nên is often used in an expression which I like quite a bit: "nói chẳng nên lời" or speechless.  You can use that saying -- as is -- as an observation, or with subject as a statement:  Tôi nói chẳng nên lời (I'm speechless.)

Hi Ciambella,

You understand Vietnamese so well, you should open a class to share your experience  with other expats :)

Lyn

Ciambella :

A well-disguised satirical observation.  I like it.  :one

;)  I'm here all week, try the spring rolls stuffed with pork and cabbage!

Now I have been in Vietnam 10 years but don't feel that my Vietnamese has improved much in the last few years. I rarely speak English and get by with what I have.  I still get frustrated when I am not understood but still enjoy trying to figure out the language. Perhaps some time I will have an epiphany and understand all.

It has been a puzzle to me, having learnt a little Japanese and now tieng viet as to the process in the brain that computes all that speaking another language involves, until a friend said, when she speaks English she just thinks English, don't try to analyze it

MarkinNam :

...... until a friend said, when she speaks English she just thinks English, don't try to analyze it

I recall my wife returning from downtown Saigon once and telling me that she had met and talked to, of all people, a French couple and had found herself thinking in English for the first time.  Thinking in L2 is not the method, it is the breakthrough point but a very difficult one no matter the language.  She routinely thinks in English when she speaks it now.  It is often mispronounced and non-grammatical but it is still her thought process which is what is critical.  Improvement comes at a faster pace from that point on.

THIGV :

Thinking in L2 is not the method, it is the breakthrough point but a very difficult one no matter the language.

Dreaming (and sleep talking in my case) in another language is the next benchmark of proficiency.  At least that's how I felt whenever I learned a new language.

It seems odd that numbers are one of the first things we are taught it a new language but they are one of the last things that we give up from our native tongue.  If you are bilingual, ask yourself what language you use to recite phone numbers in your head when you dial or write them down.

Telephone numbers have never tripped me up because the numbers are recited differently in different countries.   

In the States, we call them in groups (area code, prefix, then 4 last numbers either in pairs or individually).   In France, they're called out in pairs.  In Italy, depends on how many digits are in the number (between 7 and 11), they're called by groups of 3 leaving the last number by itself, or groups of 3 with a pair in between.   In Basque Country, it's the first number by itself, then the rest in pairs.  In Vietnam, it's different each time depending on whether the number is a new released or an old one, whether they're 9, 10, or 11 digits, and whether zero is the first number.  So, wherever I lived or whatever language I was speaking, I adapted myself to the practice of the land, never mixed them up in my head.

What I couldn't do in another language is math.  From time table to mental long division to algebra, I learned them in my mother tongue and that's how I still do to this day.

We never ask "khỏe không"
It would really bother me if another Vietnamese asks me that. It would mean I look or seem somewhat not well so they have to ask if Im ok.

QuangNguyen84 :

We never ask "khỏe không"
It would really bother me if another Vietnamese asks me that. It would mean I look or seem somewhat not well so they have to ask if Im ok.

“We” as in you and who?  Certainly not you and the majority of 92M Vietnamese.

In my rather long life, I've never heard of someone (besides you) who thought being asked “khỏe không” was the same as “ You’re looking unwell; are you okay?” 

That innocuous question doesn't carry the same meaning as "You look tired" in Western culture.  Perhaps you're confused between the two languages?

I was in a supermarket in Go Vap yesterday and noticed two attractive young ladies probably in their 20’s. They were dressed in form fitting uniforms of their respective beer companies. As I walked by they asked in unison if I wanted to buy some beer. I replied that I didn’t drink beer, didn’t drink whiskey and didn’t smoke. One of the girls who had a broad lovely smile, replied that she didn’t either. The other one replied the problem was people drinking too much. I added that smokers in Vietnam aren’t aware of the problem of second hand smoke or even care. They agreed completely.

The entire conversation was in Vietnamese and neither girl spoke English. When I complimented them on their listening skills with a foreigner, they replied, not at all, your pronunciation is very good.

After that I continued shopping and at one point asked a clerk, in Vietnamese, where the milk was. She promptly ran off to find somebody that could speak English. Three clerks came over and after five minutes one of them twigged that I wanted milk.
It still stuns me that most Vietnamese don’t understand Vietnamese spoken by a foreigner and yet many do. Perhaps 80% of the population don’t recognize even one word of their own language.

Today I called the Honda dealer to ask for a mechanic to come to my house to fix my motorcycle. It took 3 girls on the phone to figure out what I wanted. Funny how the mechanic understood me.

There have been many suggestions about this dichotomy. I believe it’s an unidentifiable cultural thing.

According to QuangNguyen84 Vietnamese never ask "khỏe không." I often tell Vietnamese to stop asking me, "khỏe không" as that is not done.

you must tell them you are speaking Vietnamese and not English. When you speak Vietnamese they still assume you are speaking English and therefore trying to translate their own language into their own language and then they just get confused...

raymerjacque :

you must tell them you are speaking Vietnamese and not English. When you speak Vietnamese they still assume you are speaking English and therefore trying to translate their own language into their own language and then they just get confused...

How do you do that. If they dont speak English and cant undertand you are speaking Vietnamese, how can you explain this.

colinoscapee :
raymerjacque :

you must tell them you are speaking Vietnamese and not English. When you speak Vietnamese they still assume you are speaking English and therefore trying to translate their own language into their own language and then they just get confused...

How do you do that. If they dont speak English and cant undertand you are speaking Vietnamese, how can you explain this.

With great difficulty :)

raymerjacque :
colinoscapee :
raymerjacque :

you must tell them you are speaking Vietnamese and not English. When you speak Vietnamese they still assume you are speaking English and therefore trying to translate their own language into their own language and then they just get confused...

How do you do that. If they dont speak English and cant undertand you are speaking Vietnamese, how can you explain this.

With great difficulty :)

I think that was the whole point of the OP.

There is an interesting discussion on the news today; apparently when an artificial voice says "yanni" other people hear "laurel" and vice versa. This strange phenomena could be part of a Vietnamese's inability to understand their own language spoken by a foreigner. Vietnamese are racially similar in appearance and voice tone. Foreigners can be Chinese, Russian, American and more. This may partly explain the mystery.

***When the speak slang at auctioneer speeds I don't understand and don't expect to ever understand.***

LOL, Been there done that. My close Viet friends understand me well but I have a lot of trouble being understood by someone that doesn't know me. My pronunciation is very good but I think they are trying to understand what I am saying in English and not Vietnamese.

I think some is just better at understanding a foreigner's Vietnamese than others. For some one who often don't even understand Vietnamese spoken by Vietnamese with a strong dialect it is hard to understand a foreigner's Vietnamese, unless that person speak well of course. Also I think it is easier for people who are often in contact with foreigners that speak Vietnamese. Moreover, if I don't speak any foreign languages and you are talking to me in not so good Vietnamese, I ll quickly assume that you are speaking a foreign language and get help, that s quite reasonable thinking.

I went to a Viet market recently and asked a clerk "bánh phồng cua ở đâu?" and all I got was a deer in the headlights look. Fortunately her boss heard me and repeated what I said with exactly the same pronunciation and intonation and she understood exactly.
I think many times they are expecting English and not Vietnamese. Another time I asked another clerk a question while she was busy with another task. She answered my question and then looked up at me. "you are speaking Vietnamese!" I'm not sure she would've understood me had she looked at me first.
(I am living in Dallas at the moment)

Not sure how speakingVietnamese gets mistaken for English. If a Vietnamese speaks English to me, I dont think " oh, that must be Vietnamese." Lame excuse for people just being plain lazy.

Why don't Vietnamese understand Vietnamese spoken by a Canadian, American or Australian? What I am asking is why don't Vietnamese understand Vietnamese spoken by a Caucasian? Perhaps this question could be applied to other foreigners trying to speak Vietnamese but I don't know any so I will stick to my experience as a Caucasian born and raised in Canada/America and am well travelled.
I posed the, "question" on Expat over two years ago and have had some wonderful responses and ideas. Also many of the responses to the question were simply idiotic.  I have puzzled over why I'm not understood by most Vietnamese every day for 10 years.

Sometimes I am told my spoken Vietnamese is very clear, sometimes not clear but most times indecipherable.  How is this possible? I decided there is no one answer  to my dilemma but, like an epiphany, the answer came to me in a flash, today, November 18, 2018 at 18:00 hours.

I was at a friend's birthday party and a young lady coming late sat down beside me. It was obvious she didn't want to sit beside me but it was the only chair not occupied.  I said hello to here and invited her to try some of the food at the table. I can tell when a person doesn't understand me, it's in the eyes. I asked her if she was crazy  and she replied in the affirmative. She was lovely in a stylish red dress with a great decolletage. I learned later she was 22 years old and a second year Accountancy student.

Another person explained to her and she replied in terrible English that she could not understand me and was sorry of that. I understood every word of her extremely pitiful English. So, that broadens the question; why can I and every other native speaker understand bad English but many Vietnamese cannot understand perfect Vietnamese when spoken by a foreigner?

Why can many of my friends understand a lot of my Vietnamese after hearing me for about 20 minutes.  The answer is so simple but is not allowed to be verbalized in some circles. One day I was listening to "America's Got Talent" and it occurred to me that I recognized most black singer's race without even seeing who was on stage. It also occurred to me that Vietnamese female singers all  sounded similar regardless of the talent level.

The reason why Vietnamese don't understand me is because I am not Asian. 

Listen to an Indian English speaker and you will be struck by how they all have a similar voice but we can still understand their incorrect use of syllables.  It's racial! Because of the political system, foreigners in general are not allowed to live here. Most Vietnamese have no contact with foreigners so they don't recognize the sounds. This also explains why my Vietnamese neighbor is so impressed by my Vietnamese speech. She say I speak very clearly with a mild accent. But.............she is married to a foreigner who speaks no Vietnamese.

It's racial and I will accept not one other explanation.

Why have I stayed here for 10 years? Because I love the Vietnamese people. It's racial.

I believe you are correct in your assessment - it is racial. I understand that but I don't understand the mechanism. Does a Viet person "freeze" when they realize they are speaking to a Caucasian? Are they trying to hear English when we are speaking Vietnamese? Are they just being lazy and not even trying? Or do they not want to understand? That's just a few of the reasons I've considered.

My adopted Vietnamese daughter has a terrible time understanding Asian Indians speaking English. So it is not just a Caucasian thing.

     How is it we can understand Vietnamese English which in many cases is butchered beyond belief and they can't understand us?  In most cases the last syllable is AWOL  and is other cases the syllables are even out of order. I think Vietnamese being a monosyllabic language has a lot to do with that.

There are also issues with pronunciation. There are sounds that my Viet SO just can't make. I can say a word very slowly with perfect diction and she just doesn't get it. She can say a Viet word to me and I can make the exact sound back to her, although I can't remember it well until I've seen it written down.

And there is a whole other issue that I don't understand at all. I've heard Viet conversations where both parties are speaking at the same time and no one ever seems to miss a beat. Not only that but they are talking so fast I can't even understand one side of the conversation. I'll bet they are hitting 200 words per minute for brief intervals. I was following Nga through a store recently. She was talking on the phone to one of her employees that had just screwed something up. Nga was speaking at a machine-gun-rate as we passed another woman. The woman got this astonished look on her face and she looked at me. I smiled and said "you don't want to get on her bad side".

Bottom line is Nga and most of her Viet friends and most of my Viet family understand me very well. But I sometimes have problems speaking to other Viets. Something interesting happened to me recently. I was in a Viet grocery store and asked a clerk a question which she answered. Then she looked up and with a shocked look on her face said "you were speaking Vietnamese!" In another case I was looking at a box of seeds at another Viet grocery. A male customer made a snide remark about the American looking at the Viet veggie seeds. The clerk told him I speak Vietnamese and he got a pained look and shut up.

At another grocery I got a mixed response that fits this thread exactly. I asked a clerk "bánh phồng tôm ở đâu?" She got a deer-in-the-headlights look and asked me what I said.  Her manager repeated exactly what I said and she understood him.

BTW - shrimp chips and guacamole go spectacularly well together.

I speak fluent Chinese and a number of other languages, some of which are tonal. I have lived in hcmc for 4 years and my wife is Vietnamese. She told me that foreigners will face this issue, even if their  Vetnamese is perfect. She said to me  "people look you, see not Vietnamese, not understand". From my experience, if you do not look like a local they will have a mental block.

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