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Insightful tips for Vietnamese localization projects

Insightful Tips for Vietnamese Localization Projects

Posted by Anne Quach on May 2021.

The demands for Vietnamese localization has grown enormously in recent years as more and more companies choose to expand their business in Vietnam. Being among the fastest-growing economies in Asia, combined with a large population of 97 million people – over half of which are of working age – are two of the main factors that make Vietnam a potential target market for many companies that are going global.

After discussing with our team of in-house native Vietnamese translators, GTE Localize has listed tips and advice that we believe will help you avoid misunderstanding and miscommunication when localizing your content into Vietnamese.

1. Personal Pronouns

The Vietnamese language consists of numerous personal pronouns that are only meaningful when used in the correct context. Also, using the right personal pronouns show your respect to people of different ages or refer to their social status.

For example, when talking to an elderly, you are considered disrespectful if using “Tôi” or “Tao”. The pronoun you should use in this case is “Cháu”. Although “Tôi”, “Tao” or “Cháu” all means “I”, the two former pronouns are only appropriate to people are around your age while the latter is used when talking to old people.

Due to this complexity, carefully choosing suitable personal pronouns when communicating with your target audiences in Vietnam is highly needed. In general, brands prefer to use formal pronouns when talking to clients – “Bạn”. However, to make sure the pronouns you use are appropriate and create a good impression on audiences, you should send your professional native linguists your audience’ profile and get recommendations from them.

Below is the table of singular Vietnamese pronouns for your reference when selecting pronouns for your Vietnamese localization projects:

Vietnamese Pronoun English equivalence How to use it
First-person Tôi I – Refer to yourself (formal)
Tao – Refer to yourself with close friends (informal)
Second person Bạn You – Use for a person who is at the same age as you or your friends.
Em – Miss, girl or boy (younger than you, informal)
Anh – Mr. (older than you)
Chị – Miss or Mrs. in formal address
Ông – Mr., Sir., gentleman (formal)
– Mrs., Madam, lady (formal)
Mày – Address between close friends (to use with “tao” – first-person)
Third-person Em ấy He – Boy (younger than you)
Anh ấy – Mr. (Older than you or slightly younger than you in the formal address)
Ông ấy – Mr. (a person is older than you or of higher status)
Em ấy She – Girl (younger than you)
Cô ấy – Miss/Mrs.
Chị ấy – Miss/Mrs.
Bà ấy – Lady, Mrs, Madam (a person is older than you or of higher status)
It – Thing in general

 

2. Different Regional Writing Style

Vietnam map

The Vietnamese language used within Vietnam itself and Vietnamese communities around the world has some significant differences in terms of writing styles (mostly spelling and vocabulary).

Geographically, Vietnam can be divided into three main regions: Northern Vietnam, Central Vietnam, and Southern Vietnam whose people use distinct spelling as well as vocabulary in both written and oral communication.

Spelling – In general, Vietnamese people regardless of their locations can understand the meaning of words that have some slight differences in spelling. However, the spelling used in Hanoi, Northern Vietnam is considered as the “standard” Vietnamese which is used by schools, course books, official materials, and the media. Therefore, most translated content into Vietnamese is in the Northern Vietnam spelling.

Below are examples of the differences in the spelling of words in three regions.

Spelling in Northern Vietnam Spelling in Central Vietnam Spelling in Southern Vietnam Meaning in English
Hành chính Hành chính Hành chánh Administrative
Tài chính Tài chính Tài chánh Finance

Vocabulary – Unlike spelling, Vietnamese vocabulary in each region is significantly different from one another. In fact, even native speakers from different areas misuse words or misunderstand one another sometimes.

    • Same words but different meanings
Words in Vietnamese Meaning in Northern Vietnamese Meaning in Central Vietnamese Meaning in Southern Vietnamese
Quả mận Plum Plum Java apple
Tầng 1 First Floor First Floor Second Floor
    • Different words for the same meanings
Words in English Northern Vietnamese Central Vietnamese Southern Vietnamese
Peanuts Lạc Đậu phụng, đậu lạc Đậu phộng
Mom Mẹ Má, Mạ
Sick Ốm Đau Bịnh/Bệnh

Due to the complexity of the Vietnamese dialects, companies when establishing a Vietnamese localization strategy should pay extra attention to choosing the right words for a better audience experience. For formal documents such as contracts and agreements, you should use Northern Vietnamese vocabulary as it is the standard language. However, for marketing materials, it is highly recommended that you custom your content and messages by using the dialects of the targeted locations to bring the audience a better experience and impression of your brand.

 

3. Complex Capitalization System

In the Vietnamese language, the use of capitalization has a considerable effect on the meaning of words and it shows your company’s professionalism and understanding of the language and culture. The capitalization rules for the Vietnamese language is quite complex. Below are some of the most notable rules that you should pay extra attention to when localizing content into Vietnamese:

    • Capitalize the first letter of a term if it is a heading or if each word in the source language is capitalized. For example, Protected Health Information = Thông tin sức khỏe được bảo vệ.
    • Capitalize the first letter of words or phrases indicating the type of agency or organization, functions and fields of operation of agencies and organizations. For example, World Health Organization = Tổ chức Y tế Thế giới.
    • Capitalize the first letter of each word if they are personal names, location names, etc. For example, New York, Hà Nội, Nguyễn Văn A.

 

4. Word Expansion

When translating words from a foreign language into Vietnamese, the length of words is usually expanded to some extent. While the text expansion does not relate to the accuracy of the translation, it affects the layout and design, especially for high-visual content such as brochure, posters, or website.

Take English to Vietnamese translation as an example. It is estimated that translated Vietnamese documents are likely to be 30-37% longer than their original in English. This is because the expression in Vietnamese is usually much longer and more detailed compared to English expression.

If you want to keep the layout of the translation intact or you need to meet the character limits, then you should ask the translators to choose short words and sentence structures to meet the requirements.

 

5. Other Vietnamese Localization Details and Locale Specifics

Below is the checklist of Vietnamese localization details you should consider:

    • Facebook is the most popular social media sites in Vietnam with a huge number of users. In fact, Vietnam was seventh among the countries with the highest number of Facebook users as of July 2019.
    • Vietnamese people use the metric system of measurement (meters, kilometres, km/h, and Celsius).
    • The date format is date-month-year.
    • Both 24-hour and 12-hour clock notation is widely used. 24-hour notation is commonly used in transport timetables, legal documents and television schedules, while 12-hour notation is mostly for daily conversation. When using the 12-hour clock, people have to add sáng (in the morning), trưa (noon), chiều (afternoon), tối (evening), or đêm (night) after the time. For example, 9 P.M = 9 giờ tối.
    • The full name format is family name followed by the given name.
    • The address format is house number, street, ward, district, city.

The complexity of the Vietnamese language, along with its rich culture requires foreign companies to do proper research for a better chance of achieving a successful Vietnamese localization project. By following our recommended tips and insights, we hope you can establish a smart Vietnamese localization strategy that will help you make a splash in this potential market.

If you are interested in entering the Japanese market, read more tips and advice here.