The word “Goodbye” is not equivalent to “Tạm biệt”. When saying goodbye, rarely do the Vietnamese people say “Tạm biệt”, but instead, they usually say “Chào + second personal pronoun/title”. Even though, “Tạm biệt” is being taught to foreigners as “Goodbye”. However, the Vietnamese locals rarely say “Tạm biệt” as “Goodbye” in their daily lives. We hope that you will not distrust this instruction because Vietnamese English speaker when asked how to say goodbye in Vietnamese, say “Tạm biệt”. They mix the dictionary meaning of “Tạm biệt” with the spoken word used for saying goodbye. In other words, “Tạm biệt” is a word whose meaning is equivalent to “Goodbye” but it is not normally used in Vietnamese spoken language.
So when do the Vietnamese people use “Tạm biệt”? It is used when temporarily leaving a place or a person and you are insure if you will ever see them again. For example, during graduation, “Tạmbiệt” can be used for saying “Goodbye” to teachers because it is not certain when the graduates will meet their teachers again. In addition, “Tạm biệt” can also be used in literature or in soliloquies (also having literary meaning) such as “Tạm biệt quê hương, tạm biệt nhé…” (Goodbye my native country, goodbye…)
Why then do foreigners learn that “Goodbye” is “Tạm biệt”? Simple because it is easier and less confusing to understand. It may be confusing for beginners to grasp the idea that “Goodbye” and “hello” are te same phrase. Thus, in language study books, “Tạm biệt:” is used as “goodbye” and “Chào” as “hello”. However, it is not the case in conversation. Therefore, it is recommended that when in conversations, use “Chào + pronoun!” or “Xin chào” (for use in groups) for “Goodbye” instead of “Tạm biệt”.