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Vietnamese from English Duolingo community real-word debrief blog.

Every time I use my Vietnamese correctly in a real world situation I get excited, and sometimes I really want to share that excitement with people! The forums here are the best place to do so. We're a community of learners trying, and often failing, but sometimes succeeding in using Vietnamese. I think it would be cool for people to write about an interaction they have had with a Vietnamese person where they used the language learnt from this course.

I'll go first: last night in the Hanoi old quarter my girlfriend and I were looking for a cafe to do some work on our computers. We didn't want to sit on the street, so I asked the staff 'chúng tôi có thể ngồi ở trong không?'.

I don't know whether they understood my sentence or just my pointing, but it worked! Chúng tôi, ngòi and trong are all words I learnt from Duolingo.

Native speakers, if my sentence is weird please advise me of how I can say it more naturally.

I don't think có thể has appeared in the course yet (I'm halfway through) and, as such a common verb, perhaps it could be introduced earlier in the tree.

October 6, 2016



Hey man, congrats, I support those learning my mother tongue. Your sentence is almost grammatically correct. I believe that there should be a 'được' between 'trong' and 'không'. So it should be'chúng tôi có thể ngồi ở trong được không?'. But other than that, you are good to go.

In terms of 'naturality' of your speech, this is absolutely fine for beginners of Vietnamese, and I think that how natural the speech will sound depends considerably on the region you are residing. I see that you are currently in Hà Nội, but I am originally from Đà Nẵng.

If you want my suggestion coming from my region, this is how I would tweak my sentence for a more local appeal. I would say '' bọn mình (see below) ngồi (ở) trong được không?''.

The pronouns depend heavily on the context and who you are talking to:

  • Say you are talking to someone older than you (roughly less than 10 years older, you can estimate), then 'chúng/bọn/tụi + em' is appropriate.

-If they look like a generation apart from you (elderly), 'chúng//bọn/tụi + con' is suitable.

-If they are roughly your age, 'chúng/bọn/tụi + mình' is highly recommended

-If they are younger than you, 'bọn/tụi + anh/chị' or, in your case, 'anh chị' is best suit for the situation.

A disclaimer, Vietnamese is a highly regionalised language, though we understand one another, we tend to stick to our own regional usage.

If you have any questions, feel free. Again I support those who learn Vietnamese :D. Cheerio.


danghost18 and ckhadung, I very much appreciate the feedback. Thank you for taking the time to write.

In the four months I've been in Vietnam I have learnt the anh/chị/em/con pronouns, and anh chị is a plural pronoun I make regular use of when speaking to younger shop workers or students. I had also learnt tụi but had forgotten it until you reminded me of it just now, danghost18. It's very useful, and has the amusing direct translation of 'bag of us', which is cute. I'll trial bọn tomorrow and see if Hanoians understand me. I did spend two weeks in Đà Nẵng. I wish I had known about bọn while I was there!

I have another question: what is the best pronoun to use for 'I' when the person I'm speaking to looks about the same age as me?' I occasionally find myself in a situation where I'm staring at a person in uncertainty momentarily while I try to decide on 'em' or 'anh' before I finally settle for the safety of 'tôi'.


Sorry for the late reply,

Yeah yes! the good old pronoun 'I/me' in Vietnamese. Truth be told, I, at times, do have problems with the usage in Vietnamese, so don't feel too bad should you retreat to the safety zone by using 'tôi'.

Again, I apologise in advance, Vietnamese is a regionalised language, and the pronoun varies with regions.

  • As for the Northern regions, I have a few friends from there and they usually refer to themselves as 'tớ' or 'mình'. Once you have introduced yourself, you can use your name! E.g. Vinh rất vui khi được gặp bạn. It should be noted that for this usage that it is aimed towards acquaintances or mutual friends, rather than your typical encounters with shopkeepers or waiters. Furthermore, this usage is accepted nationwide, so it is useful when travelling around Vietnam.

  • As for the Central regions, that's me (loud and proud), we tend to use 'mình' mainly, though Northern Central may use 'tớ' (Quảng Bình for instance). If you know anyone from this region and are very close to them (close friends especially), then the use of ta/tao/tui/tau/ ( the last one is mainly Northern Central) is suitable here. HOWEVER, newsflash, ta/tao/tau is rather vulgar when said to those you meet the first time or just acquaintances.

  • The southerners' usage is rather similar to that of the Central, though there might be slight variations which I might not remember, so I apologise.

I want to say that the use of 'tôi' is rather formal from my perspective, and it sounds rather distant when having a chat.

Nói tóm lại (In a nutshell), I highly recommend the use of 'mình' or your name when you want to make a friendly/casual conversation. Should you be in a formal situation, e.g. a meeting, 'tôi' is highly desirable.

Chúc bạn may mắn trên con đường học tiếng Việt. :D (Good luck on your path of learning Vietnamese)


Hey, I'm glad that you had such an exciting experience. The phrase có thể is somewhere in the first 1/3 of the skill tree, by the way.

You just address one of the most perplexing issues in the Vietnamese language: how can one define "speaking naturally"? Personally, I don't think there is such concept. In this course, you are learning written form of the language. One can say it is very different from verbal communication. Still understandable, but different. For instance, you can only see or hear someone uses words like tôi, chúng tôi (pronouns) in films, formal speeches, books, newspapers, etc. Basically any formal circumstances. For informal one, danghost18 explains very accurately in this comment section. It's impossible to teach all those informal expressions with Duolingo learning system.

However, do not be alarmed. Vietnamese people can cope with how non-native speakers speak the language the way you do. It sounds unnatural and formal, yes, but quite charming at the same time.

Thanks for telling us. It's the people like you that keep me motivated to work on this course.


There is no way I'd have the self-discipline for daily study without this program and your course, so thanks for getting it online. It is very fun trying out the vocab I get from this course in the streets.


I was looking for a late dinner tonight and I was trying to ask people 'are you still open?'. I tried 'em vẫn mở không?', 'em vẫn nấu ăn không?' and 'em nấu ăn bâ giờ?'

Could you tell me which of those three is the best, or whether there's something better I could say? Thanks.


The best (closest one) of yours would be "em vẫn mở không?". It still sounds a bit strange. "(Em) còn mở cửa không?" (literally you still open door?) is more natural.

Note that your sentences are not grammatically wrong. It's just that people prefer certain ways of expressions that they deem "natural".


ckhadung has said most of the things I want to say, so I just want to add a few more. You can use:

-(Quán (ăn))) còn mở (cửa) không? (direct translation: ( the food place) still open (door)?)

If you want to be more polite (Vietnamese are fond of those who speak politely and mannerly in terms of sentences), you can try:

  • Em ơi, cho anh hỏi quán còn mở cửa không? ( translation: hey there, may I ask whether the food place is still open?)

Cần gì bạn cứ hỏi, mình sẽ trả lời càng sớm càng tốt :D ( If you need to ask, fire away, I will reply asap)


Thanks guys. The use of cửa helps a lot. And I'll try the cho anh hỏi... polite formulation. I do love that surprised 'anh nói tiéng Việt ha?!' reaction I get sometimes.

All of this goes into the notebook I keep in my back pocket, which I have plenty of time to read on the xe buýt.

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