It is the very first lesson not only about language but also about culture that learners should learn if they want to move forward in Vietnamese language.
Personal pronouns help to show respect.
Vietnamese – a language in which you cannot say hello without telling your listener exactly what you think about them, and how to address them properly (chào em, chào anh, chào chị, chào ông, chào bà, …). Without saying terms such as “please”, you can still let people know your respect to them by the way you address them.
When I speak English with native speakers, no matter how old they are, I feel that we are on the same level, not so difference in age. Why? Because of their personal pronouns (“I” and “you”). English language treats the speakers and listeners the same. “You” can be used to address an old lady, a man, a woman, a girl, or even a kid, … On the other hand, diversity of personal pronouns in Vietnamese reminds us about how much the age gap is between two people. When I say “chào cô”, I have a thought in my mind that I am treating her like my mom or my auntie in our conversation. When I say “Dạo này mày đẹp quá!” (You are so beautiful these days), I know that we are very close and I am treating her like my close friend.
Personal pronouns help to show friendliness
In Vietnamese, a pronoun usually confers a degree of family relationship or kinship. For instance, ”anh” is your older brother. You also say “anh” to any one you know who is the same or similar age to your older brother. “Bà” is grandma, and of course, you can say “chào bà” to an old lady you meet somewhere in your life, because in your mind, you are distinctly treating her like your grandma. The coziness comes easily to you by choosing proper personal pronouns.
Only “chào” is thought to be rude in Vietnamese. It should be “chào + personal pronoun”
Personal pronouns help to show that you care about them.
Let’s think about “cám ơn” and “xin lỗi”. Vietnamese people prefer “cám ơn anh” and “xin lỗi anh” to saying “cám ơn” and “xin lỗi”. When you want to thank somebody, saying “cám ơn anh” lets people know that you care about them, care about who you say thanks to, not just “thanks” as a routine.