“Cơm cha, áo mẹ, chữ thầy. Nghĩ sao cho bõ những ngày ước ao”

Oude Vietnamese schriften (foto: cc-by GFDL)

Thus sounded the first sentences of proverbs that I had to memorize for the Vietnamese language lessons. When I was eight, my father taught me and my older brother and sister Vietnamese. He felt that we had to be familiar with the Vietnamese language. Although I didn’t like to pay attention to Vietnamese after school that time, I am eternally grateful for that now.

Classic Chinese
With 1000 years of occupation by China it’s not a wonder that Vietnamese culture is infused with Chinese influences. Before the arrival of the Portuguese and French in the 17th and 19th centuries, the Vietnamese writing existed of Chinese characters. The first writings, chu han and chu nho, descended from the classical Chinese. The second script, chu nom, was based on the unique phonetic system of the Vietnamese and made use of Chinese characters according to the Chinese model.

Latin alphabet
The current national script of Vietnam, quoc ngu, is based on the Latin alphabet. It emerged when Portuguese missionaries and traders developed a transcription for the Vietnamese language.

The catechism, giáo lý, of the French missionary Alexandre de Rhodes (1591-1660) written in Latin and in Vietnamese quoc ngu. De Rhodes was the one who introduced the final transliteration in the 17th century, based on the transcription of the Portuguese. The quoc ngu writing was gradually used in education and by the government, and became the national script of Vietnam in the 20th century.
The three main dialects are the North Vietnamese (Hanoi), Central Vietnamese (Hue) and South Vietnamese (Saigon).

Vietnamese alphabet
a  b  c  d  đ  e  g  h  i  k  l  m  n  o  p  q  r  s  t  u  v  x  y

The vowels with different tones:
a ă  â   e ê   o ô ơ   u ư

Another famous proverb in Vietnamese lesson:

“Công cha như núi Thái Sơn. Nghĩa mẹ như nước trong nguồn chảy ra. Một lòng thờ mẹ kính cha. Cho tròn chữ hiếu mới là đạo con”

Uithangbord in Nha Trang (foto: Pho Vietnam © Kim Le Cao)