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Four Vietnamese Words That Can't Be Translated Into English


The relationship between language and culture play an important role in representing the country’s traditions, the people, and its point of view. Influenced by Confucianism and Buddhism, Vietnam society is family-oriented and modest. Within this culture, many circumstances and experiences require new vocabularies for Vietnamese to fully express their feelings. Thus, some words can’t be directly translated from Vietnamese to English. 

Here are some of the Vietnamese words that represent the uniqueness of Vietnamese culture and language.

1. thương (th-uuh-oong)

Mixed between like (thích) and love (yêu), thương is a word that Vietnamese often use to show affection towards others. Love (yêu) is indeed a strong word in Vietnam but thương is a casual, more subtle expression. In the family context, many children often say “Con thương bố/mẹ” which is roughly the equivalent to the phrase “Love you, dad/mom” in Western countries. However, “Con yêu bố/mẹ” (the direct translation of I love you, dad/mom) is a rare occasion in the household. In other social contexts, such as friendship or an actual relationship, thương is also easier to say and express.

Thương is a word that Vietnamese use to show affection towards others.

2. duyên (dwin)

The majority of Vietnamese society functions based on the concepts of Buddhist and Confucian teachings. Duyên is one of the concepts based on the Buddhist teaching of predestined happenings. The word is often used to describe the romantic relationship between two individuals. Many roughly compare the word to fate. However, duyên slightly differs from fate as Vietnamese often relate the concept to past lives. Whether it’s có duyên với nhau (which means they are destined for each other) or lỡ duyên (which means it’s not meant to be), many believe that duyên has to do with your past lives. 

Duyên is often used to describe the romantic relationship between two individuals.

3. thần thái (ton thaj)

Thần thái is starting to become popular in the past few years as it becomes a staple phrase for many young adults. Like the term vibe in Western countries, thần thái describes the attitude or the atmosphere someone brings to the situation. “Quan trọng là thần thái” (What importance is your attitude) was once a “hot” phrase among Vietnamese youth, and it was an inspiration to many cultural products including a pop song of the same name. Although it’s somewhat similar to vibe, they don’t necessarily have the same substance. Thần thái focuses on your confidence, and how you manage yourself without relying on your physical appearance. 

Thẩn thái focuses on your confidence.

4. đa đoan (ta dwan)

Đa đoan describes someone that has a lot of troubles and complicated stories. This individual is always tangled in troubles, both in their personal and social lives. In addition, a đa đoan person is someone who is often faced with problems in their love life. What is unique about this word is that it doesn’t just describe someone who is creating the troubles for themselves. Instead, they just found themselves in these sad circumstances. 

A đa đoan person always find themselves in troubled situations.

Written by Phuoc Ho

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