Amazingly exotic and entirely beautiful, Việt Nam is a country of breathtaking natural beauty with an incredible cultural and historical heritage.
Officially known as the Socialist Republic of Việt Nam, the country occupies the easternmost section of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia, and boasts an estimated population of 91 million, making it the world’s 13th-most-populous country, and the eighth-most-populous in Asia.
Việt Nam is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest and Malaysia to the southeast, across the East Sea (or “South China Sea”).
This centralized location in Southeast Asia lends to the cultural, ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity of this densely populated and topographically diverse nation.
The official state or national language of Việt Nam is Vietnamese or “Tiếng Việt”, a tonal Mon–Khmer language which is spoken by the majority of the country’s citizens.
In the early history of the language, Vietnamese writing used Chinese characters.
However in the mid-13th century, the Vietnamese people developed their own set of characters, referred to as Chữ Nôm.
A student of Khmer descent learns Vietnamese language
Vietnamese is closely associated with Cambodia’s official language, Khmer.
In the Vietnamese language, with each syllable there are six different tones that can be used—tones that change the definition of most words—making it difficult for foreigners/non-native speakers to pick up, much less master, the language.
In written form, Vietnamese now uses the Roman alphabet and accent marks to show tones.
This system of writing, called Quốc ngữ, became widely popular and brought literacy to the Vietnamese masses during the French colonial period.
The aforementioned alphabet was developed in the 17th century by the Jesuit priest Alexandre de Rhodes and several other Catholic missionaries as a way to translate the scriptures.
Eventually this system, particularly after World War I, replaced the one using Chinese characters (Chữ Nôm), which had been the unofficial written form used for centuries.
In addition to Vietnamese, there are several other minority languages spoken in the country of Việt Nam—languages that are either the mother-tongue or second language of a wide section of the country’s population.
These minority languages include Tày, Mường, Cham, Khmer, Nùng, H’Mông, Chinese
The Montagnard people of Vietnam’s Central Highlands also speak a number of distinct languages, and a number of sign languages have recently developed in the larger cities.
Việt Nam was once a colony of France, and as such, the French language, a legacy of that colonial rule, is spoken as a second language by many of Việt Nam’s educated populace.
It is especially prevalent among the older generation and those educated in the former South Việt Nam, where it was a principal language in administration, education and commerce; Việt Nam remains a full member of the Francophonie, and education has revived some interest in the language.
In addition to the languages highlighted above—and to a much lesser extent—the Russian, German, Czech and Polish languages are also spoken among some Vietnamese whose families once had ties with the Soviet bloc during the Cold War.
In recent years, as Việt Nam’s contacts with Western nations have increased, English has become more popular as a second language in the country.
The study of English is now compulsory in most Vietnamese schools, either alongside, or in many cases, in lieu of French, which was once mandatory under French rule.
Japanese, Chinese and Korean have also grown in popularity as Vietnam’s links with other East Asian nations have strengthened.