The Vietnamese have a relatively complex personal pronoun system to refer to family members. Relatives on the father’s side are called “họ nội” and on the mother’s side “họ ngoại”. Both sides of the family are considered equal.
The names and titles in Vietnamese are in a hierarchy. There are a lot of pronouns t remember and it varies according to region and relationship. It may even vary person to person; it is often up to them. The family system of pronouns is central to names and titles given across the board in Vietnam.
If you pay a visit to your friend’s extended family, you can greet his/her mother and father as “cô” and “chú” if they are less than 45; if you guess they are over 45, you should call them “bác gái” and “bác trai”. For the rest of the family members, you may call them by their title as if they were your own family – grandfather “ông”, grandmother “bà”, aunt “cô”, uncle “chú”, older brother “anh”, younger brother “em”, older sister “chị”, younger sister “em”.
The way you refer to your friend’s family also depend on your relationship with your Vietnamese friend. If you are coupling and planning for marriage, you may address his/her parents as “bác trai”, “bácgái” or “ba” (father), mẹ (mother), it’s up to them. Furthermore, you may address his/her other family members as mentioned above, for example :
– If they are younger than you, address them both as “em”
– If thay are several-years older than you, address them as “chị” (for female), and “anh” (for male).
– If they are approximately your parents age, address them as “cô” (for female) and “chú” (for male).
The personal pronoun when you learn Vietnamese varies too, according to who you are talking to. A general rule is to refer to yourself by whatever they are calling you. For instance if they refer to you as an older brother by using “anh” then call yourself “anh”. If you are talking to an elderly person they might refer to you as their son or daughter by using “con”, so call yourself “con”.
Don’t be worried if you greet people wrongly because they will still feel pleasure to welcome a guest. The Vietnamese consider the society as a great family.