In a nutshell, the following is the formula to say hi/hello in Vietnamese:
Chào + [The correct word to address that person]
The following table shows some common cases:
|If you’re more or less at the same age or you’re especially close.||chào bạn
chào + [The person’s name]
|If the person is younger||chào em
(for both males & females)
|If the person is older, and <= your age + 10
(around the age of your older brother / sister)
|chào chị (for females)
chào anh (for males)
|If the person is much older, around the age of your aunts or uncles||chào cô (for females)
chào chú / bác (for males)Sometimes, in some regions, “bác” is also used to refer to older females
|If the person is very old, around the age of your grand parents||chào bà (for females)
chào ông (for males)
(Thanks Thanh & Coyle for your suggestions to update the above table)
So if your friend’s (first) name is Hảo, you would say Chào Hảo. If she’s older and called Thảo, you would say Chào chị Thảo. It’s worth noting that we can also omit the name: so we could have just said Chào chị.
There is one noticeable difference in the use of proper name and family name between English and Vietnamese. In English, if you’re being formal, you would probably address the other person using their family name: Hi Jim but Dear Rohn.
In Vietnamese, we would always use first name, in every situation. The formality is encoded by the different way you address, and never in the change from first name to family name.
Try a small experiment by calling your Vietnamese friend by his family name, and the person would probably think you’re talking to someone else, if there are many around, or you have forgot his/her name!
If the other person is someone older and very much admired/respected, such as your old teachers, consider adding a Xin before the word Chào to make it more formal: Xin Chào anh/chị.
By now, you probably have realized that the age factor plays a significant role in addressing people in Vietnamese (and in many other languages such as Chinese, French, Japanese as well). While in English, we’d always use “you” regardless of age, it’s considered very inappropriate not to address people according to age, even if you’re the boss and the other person is your subordinate! This is not about authority, it’s culture.
Saying Good morning, afternoon, etc.
Below are the equivalents in Vietnamese.
There is one good news: you don’t need to learn the above table! The reason? In Vietnam, it’s somehow not so popular to address using ‘good morning’ and the likes. Maybe it’s due to the pragmatics aspect of language: Chào buổi sáng is 3 times longer than just Chào, which already does a good job. What’s your guess?
The translation of goodbye is tạm biệt so that the equivalent of Goodbye Huy is Tạm biệt Huy. The usage of tạm biệt is exactly the same as that of chào. If you are young (at age or at heart) and the other person is likewise, it’s hip to use Bye as in Bye Huy. But whenever you every suspect the other person is being formal, please don’t use it.
- To say hello: (Xin) Chào + bạn/< Proper Name >/anh/chị
- It’s usually uncommon to say the equivalents of Good morning in normal situations.
- To say goodbye: Tạm biệt + bạn/< Proper name >/anh/chị.