Del’s Primer About Communicating with Vietnamese Developers

Del Elson
2 min readAug 31, 2021


I have been living and working in Vietnam for some years now. One of the reasons for this is because the Vietnamese developer community is so large and varied, and there are a large number of outsourced projects in Vietnam. The number of large projects enables me to best use my solution architecture skills, as well as mentoring and training development teams which forms a large part of what I have been doing over the previous years.

The strength of the Vietnamese developer community is their willingness to dive into new areas, their commitment to work and overall work ethic, and also that (since IT and computer science is routinely taught here starting in grade 2 at primary school), their depth of understanding of software development even at new graduate level.

The one most common weakness, however, is language. I have been struggling with learning the Vietnamese language here for nearly 4 years, and it’s often the case that Vietnamese people struggle to learn English. The English language skills here, in my experience and despite all government efforts and surveys, is not as good as that in Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia or other areas around Asia with strong developer communities. This often causes issues for English speaking team leads (or those from other Indo-European language backgrounds) attempting to communicate with their Vietnamese teams.

One common issue is grammar, especially questions. Questions in English are most commonly asked with the question word at the beginning of the sentence. I believe that this is called “wh-fronting” in linguistics terms. In Vietnamese, the question word is most commonly at the end of a sentence. Compare these two language forms of the same sentence:

Whose book is this? (English)
Sách này của ai? (Vietnamese — literally “Book this belongs who?”)

Another example is in yes/no or confirmation questions, as follows:

Are you well? (English)
Bạn khỏe không? (Vietnamese — literally “You healthy no?”).

Is this your book? (English)
Sách này của bạn phải không? (Vietnamese — literally “Book this belongs to you yes no?”)

Confirmations in Vietnamese such as “phải không” or simply “hả” can be tacked on to the end of any sentence to turn a simple statement into a confirmation question. For example in English we would rewrite the sentence “you are going to the shop” to the question “Are you going to the shop?” in Vietnamese it would be asked like “you are going to the shop hả?”.

So one major issue there is that even asking a simple question in Vietnamese, the listener may not be clued up to the fact that the question word was at the beginning of the sentence and may be left hanging waiting for a question word at the end — blank stares as a result. So one way to overcome this is to ask questions, especially confirmations, in a way that’s closer to the Vietnamese grammar.

For example, instead of asking “Will you finish this task this afternoon?” you could ask “This task will be finished this afternoon, correct?”. You’re much more likely to get understanding and an intelligent response!



Del Elson

Since moving from Australia to Vietnam in 2014, Del has been running training courses in software architecture and technical architecture for the IT industry.