Vietnamese translation services for UK businesses are in ever-higher demand as the two countries develop closer trading ties. Recent technological advances are making those services better, faster, and more cost-effective than ever before. 

For UK companies in search of new markets, this is great news. Vietnam is an emerging economy with incredible potential. 

To see that the UK government agrees, we only need look at its keenness to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership and set up a new free trade deal with Vietnam to replace the one lost after Brexit. 

One of the biggest barriers to successful, profitable outcomes from these deals for businesses in both nations will be overcoming cultural and language barriers. Because English and Vietnamese are very different languages. 

Luckily, AI and machine learning technologies are starting to play a major role in enhancing Vietnamese-English translation accuracy and efficiency: 

 

The unique linguistic features of Vietnamese 

To understand why recent advances in translation technology are so exciting, it’s useful to understand the unique linguistic features of the Vietnamese language: 

1) Tonality 

Spoken Vietnamese has six tones. This means a word with the same combination of letters spoken in a different tone can have a dramatically different meaning. 

The six tones of Vietnamese are mid-level, low falling, high broken, low rising, high rising, and heavy. You will see them represented in Vietnamese writing by diacritics and digraphs. 

2) Diacritics 

Sometimes colloquially referred to as “accents”, diacritics are dots and other markings used to indicate tones and, occasionally, phonemes, helping you distinguish one word from another. 

Modern Vietnamese is written using a Latin-based writing system called chữ Quốc ngữ (in itself, this word is a great example of how diacritics look). 

By way of another example, most English speakers would write the name of the Vietnamese capital as Hanoi. However, Hà Nội is how the name is written using the Vietnamese writing system. Vietnam is written as Việt Nam. 

3) Dialects 

There are over 110 recognised dialects and languages spoken across Vietnam. This is a huge amount of linguistic diversity. 

Vietnamese itself has three key regional dialects. Though these are mutually intelligible (somewhat like a more extreme version of the differences between British and Australian English), there are differences in vocabulary and a strong difference in pronunciation between: 

  • Northern Vietnamese – spoken around Hanoi, this is the base for official Vietnamese. 
  • Central Vietnamese – spoken around Hue. 
  • Southern Vietnamese – spoken around Ho Chi Minh City. 

You may also hear speakers of these different dialects use different tones or use the tonalities in spoken Vietnamese differently. 

Somewhat luckily for non-native speakers, all three main dialects of Vietnamese do use the same writing system. 

4) The importance of word order and modifiers 

Finally, as this will have huge relevance to translation technologies, the word order of Vietnamese determines how words are syntactically related to each other (i.e. how words form meaningful sentences). 

Also, rather than using affixes (in the way English might in the word affix-ing), Vietnamese uses modifiers (such as an adverb in English) to show things like tense.

 

Enter AI and machine learning in language translation 

It is vital to understand these unique features if translation technologies are to be able to contribute to effective Vietnamese translation services for UK businesses. 

AI and machine learning have been applied to translation for a long time – certainly longer than ChatGPT has been making headlines. 

Something like Google Translate is a very basic example of Machine Translation (MT) and by no means suitable for business purposes – or representative of the kind of quality that can be achieved with the latest generation of machine learning models. 

These models tend to work in one of two ways, sometimes in combination with each other: 

  1. Statistical Machine Translation – uses algorithms to analyse existing human translations and look for relationships in order to predict the likely next word in a sequence of words. 
  1. Neural Machine Translation – models an artificial neural network to avoid breaking a sentence down into a sequence, instead considering the sentence as a whole. The output is generated by passing through a series of nodes inspired by brain neurons. 

To achieve the best results though, all NMT and SMT systems need to be “trained” on two side-by-side “corpora” of Vietnamese and English text. 

This is a problem for languages like Vietnamese and English, where there are comparatively few high-quality bilingual resources.

 

Technological breakthroughs in Vietnamese-English translation 

Vietnam is a country that is investing heavily in the AI future. Indeed, the government’s National Digital Transformation programs and investments in the Internet of Things, blockchain, machine learning, and other trends could make the country a technology powerhouse in years to come. 

For example, the Hanoi-based firm VinAI (its CEO Dr. Hung Bui used to be part of Google DeepMind) is currently one of the top 20 AI research firms. 

VinAI and others are working on the high-quality training data problem (it claims to have a store of approximately 9 million high-quality sentence pairs). They are also working on technical approaches that will overcome the hurdles in Vietnamese-English translation, such as tonal variation and contextual meanings. 

One of the methods detailed in recent research from New York University’s Center for Data Science suggests using encoder-decoder structures (that handle variable sequence lengths) and what is called an “Attention Mechanism” to manage and quantify the relationships between the inputs and outputs. 

As machine learning technologies continue to develop at pace and Vietnam continues to invest in the technology, research like this and companies like VinAI will likely lead to further breakthroughs in Vietnamese-English translation. 

 

The impact of all this on UK businesses 

Vietnam is highly placed among regions the UK is hoping to boost trade with in years to come. The UK replaced the EU-Vietnam trade agreement that was due to come into effect after Brexit with an identical bilateral UK-Vietnam deal (the UKVFTA) in December 2020. 

The UK also joined the CPTPP (the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership), of which Vietnam was a founding member, in July 2023. 

Advancements in translation technologies are already helping UK businesses improve communication with their Vietnamese partners and customers. More advanced tools also integrate much better with business processes. 

Some UK businesses have already leveraged these tools to successfully enter the Vietnamese market: 

1) McLaren – marketing localisation 

In October 2022, British luxury car manufacturer McLaren joined other high-end automotive firms including Mercedes, Lamborghini, and Porsche in targeting the fast-growing Vietnamese market. 

Historically, Vietnam has been a motorbike-dominant market. But as the country has rapidly developed in the past few decades, demand for luxury four-wheeled vehicles has jumped. 

This has created intense competition among manufacturers. Improvements in Vietnamese marketing translation have enabled these firms to compete for market share more effectively. 

2) AstraZeneca – medical translation 

The largest UK-Vietnam exports in 2020 were in medical and pharmaceutical products (valued at £131 million).   

One of the key firms in this trade is AstraZeneca, which is working with the Vietnamese government on various projects. These include both drug research and disease prevention strategies. 

This kind of close cooperation on life-or-death technical subjects like medicine requires extensive subject matter knowledge on the part of expert Vietnamese translators and interpreters. 

3) HSBC and Standard Chartered – legal and financial translation 

One of the UK’s primary exports to Vietnam is financial services. Giant UK-based financial institutions like HSBC and Standard Chartered have been in Vietnam for over a century. HSBC became the first foreign bank to incorporate in Vietnam in 2009. 

This kind of longstanding presence is only possible with extensive linguistic and market knowledge – especially of legal and financial systems, but also in customer services. 

For other UK brands looking to enter the increasingly lucrative Vietnam market, one of the ways AI technology will assist is in overcoming linguistic barriers, particularly in customer support with tools such as AI chatbots. 

 

The challenges of Vietnamese translation technology 

None of this is to say that the challenges of Vietnamese translation have already been entirely solved by technology. 

There are two key areas in which advances continue to be made – and need to be made – to unlock the full potential for UK businesses (and vice versa). These are primarily: 

1) Linguistic 

Capturing the differences in the regional dialects of Vietnamese is an ongoing challenge in all Vietnamese translation that relies on technology. 

As with most languages, there is also difficulty in handling slang and idiomatic expressions with anything other than specialist human translators who have Vietnamese as their native language. 

2) Technical 

The key technical issue in current English to Vietnamese translation technology is the comparative lack of good training data. Languages like English and French have huge bodies of already-translated documents for these tools to refer to. Vietnamese and English really don’t. 

This relates to another major challenge – common to all current AI technology: data privacy and security. 

Machine learning tools need to be trained on data. Often, this will be data that’s relevant to the subject at hand. For many of the increasing numbers of such tools that are built into software companies use every day, that data might include your business’s. 

Protecting critical or sensitive information from being part of AI training data (where it could be accidentally regurgitated) is a vital concern for businesses in every sector and every part of the world. 

 

The future of Vietnamese translation services for UK businesses 

With innovators such as VinAI leading the way, the future of Vietnamese translation services for UK businesses is likely to be bright – consistently improved by AI and other technology as it matures. 

The key will be to develop more extensive corpora of comparable bilingual data to train neural and statistical-based machines on – particularly corpora that include the regional differences in Vietnamese dialects and more idiomatic expressions. 

However, the integration of these tools into collaboration software and other business apps – limited AI translation tech is already part of some packages, such as Microsoft365 – is likely to accelerate, enhancing business operations but bringing security challenges with it. 

Currently, technological advancements in Vietnamese-English translation are already creating huge value for businesses in the UK and Vietnam 

But the UK businesses that adopt and invest in these rapidly improving technologies are going to be those that will dominate the rapidly developing Vietnamese market in years to come. 

 

Are you a UK business looking for Vietnamese translation – for marketing, sales, financial documents, and more? 

Let’s talk. Asian Absolute has specialised in Asian languages for over 20 years, counting HSBC, Volkswagen, and numerous other leading organisations among its clients. 

Reach out to us now to get a cost and obligation-free quote or to discuss your language needs.