Frequently Asked Questions About the Hmong Language

What is This Section?

I put this article together based on questions I have heard over the years and Google’s auto-generated questions when you search for the words ‘Learn Hmong’ in Google. I hope to answer the questions here briefly as well as providing links to more complete answers or resources for learning that you can find on this site. So, here we go!

Table of Contents

Is Hmong Easy to Learn?

I think the best answer is this: Hmong can be easy to learn. If you compare it to many other languages, Hmong has a very low barrier to entry. One of these is that the written language uses only roman characters with no special characters or diacritics at all. The spelling and pronunciation of words is 100% consistent with no special rules or exceptions (Just kidding, there are always exceptions. But Hmong has very few). This means that if you are reading this, you can learn to read Hmong quite easily and quickly. In addition, spoken Hmong uses a limited vocabulary. Unlike English, it is not necessary to learn thousands and thousands of synonyms to say pretty much the same thing. Here is an example sentence in Hmong, just in case you are curious:

Kuv noj mov.

‘I eat food/ rice.’ In this example, the first letter of each word is a consonant. The second letter is a vowel. The final letter is a tone marker.

You can learn more about how to read here: The Hmong Alphabet

On the other hand, there are some things that make Hmong harder to learn. Hmong do not have a single country where they all live so that you can travel there and immerse yourself. In fact, it can be hard to find opportunities to converse with a native speaker. Thankfully there are many resources online and a large library of videos on websites like YouTube. Just copy and paste this phrase into YouTube and you will find all sorts of videos in the Hmong language: ‘Ua zaub mov hmoob‘ (it means ‘make Hmong food.’)

The truth, however, is that all languages are hard to learn. You can find more about this in the next answer.

How Long Does it Take to Learn Hmong?

That depends entirely on you.

That may seem like a strange answer, but think of the question kind of like, “How long does it take to get really physically fit?’ For some people the answer is ‘forever,’ whereas for some the answer is, ‘a few months to a year.’ Does it make sense now? You get out of any language what you put into it. Learning a language takes dedication, self-discipline, and a regular, daily investment of actual time to make progress.

From my experience, spending about 1-2 hours per day practicing reading, speaking, and memorizing new vocabulary will cause you to see quick progress and you will likely be able to hold reasonable conversations in 6 months or 1 year. You will feel pretty confident with your abilities after about 3 years.

On the other hand, spending about 1-2 hours daily telling everyone how much you like the Hmong language and culture and telling everyone how you intend to start learning soon but you just have been so busy lately, you should expect… disappointment. I don’t mean to seem cynical, that is just the reality I have observed. There seem to be just two groups. I recommend you choose the first one. 😛

What Are Some Basic Greetings In Hmong?

What if you just want to learn to say, “Hello” or “Goodbye” in Hmong? I’m glad you asked.

What Language Do Hmong Speak?

Hmong.

Hmong people speak the Hmong language.

How Many Dialects of Hmong Are There?

I know of two main spoken dialects.

The Hmong are spread all throughout Southeast Asia, East Asia, and because of war, many other countries all over the world. Because of this, language can change a bit over time. Despite this, there is a surprising amount of consistency to the Hmong language. There are two main dialects spoken throughout most of Southeast Asia and in and in other countries where the Hmong have come from Southeast Asia. These are White Hmong (Hmoob Dawb) and Green Hmong (Moob Ntsuab / Moob Leeg).

There are also more dialects among the Hmong in Southern China, but I am not familiar with these dialects and have not been there so I will not comment on them.

How Many Tones Does The Hmong Language Have?

The Hmong language has 8 tones.

The Hmong language has 8 tones

The image above shows the 7 tones that have a tone marker, each represented by the letters you see. The tone marker will be the final consonant in a word. So if we look at the word, ‘koj,’ you can see that it ends in a ‘j’ which is a falling tone. If the word ends in a vowel and has no tone marker like the word ‘ua’ the word would be pronounced as monotone (like a robot).

Changing the tone will change the actual meaning of the word. So the word ‘peb’ means ‘we.’ But if you simply change the tone to ‘pem,’ it means ‘up-at there.’

The ‘D’ tone is the exception to the above rule in that the ‘D’ tone is used in special circumstances and doesn’t entirely change the meaning of the word. If you are so brave, you can learn more about when and why the ‘D’ tone is used here: Hmong Tone Change – The D Tone for Direction Words

peb
pem – up-at there
ped – up there

Are Hmong Chinese?

No.

Both the Chinese and the Hmong themselves view the Hmong as a different race. The Hmong also speak their own language which is different than Chinese. The Hmong people originate from the country of China and have spread to other parts of Southeast Asia and then later as refugees to other parts of the world.

Is Hmong a Dying Language?

It might appear that way, but it is definetly not a dying language.

The Hmong language continues to be kept alive by the millions of speakers around the world and their contribution to the language (even if they may not realize it). Many Hmong still live in isolated communities and mountain villages throughout Southeast Asia and Hmong is their primary language from birth to death.

In addition to this, thanks to the internet, many Hmong contribute to keeping the language alive by making and publishing music, YouTube videos, dubbed and original movies, as well as many other things on a daily basis.

There are also websites like this one, StudyHmong.com, which help more people to learn the language. You’re welcome.

How Do You Say ‘Yes’ in Hmong?

You aren’t going to believe this, but there is no direct equivalent to the English word, ‘Yes,’ or, ‘No,’ in Hmong.

The word ‘aws’ is used as an affirmation in certain scenarios, but is perhaps closer in meaning to the English word ‘ok.’

Grammatically, ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ are expressed differently in Hmong. For example, let’s say you wanted to ask a ‘yes or no’ question in Hmong like, “Are you going home?” You start building the question by making a statement like, ‘Koj mus tsev.’ (You go home.) Next you add the question word ‘puas’ before the verb that you would like to inquire about. So think, what do you want to know? You want to know if they are ‘going.’ So you would put ‘puas’ before the verb for go, ‘mus,’ like this: ‘Koj puas mus tsev?’ Now you have asked a ‘yes or no question.’ But we just said there is no direct equivalent to yes or no in Hmong, right?

Right. So in the above example, the way to respond with yes is to simply respond with the verb that was inquired about above. They asked, “Koj puas mus tsev?” To say yes, you would simply respond with the word, “Mus.” If you wanted to say ‘No,’ you would respond with that same verb, but preceded by the negative marker ‘tsis.’ So you would say, “Tsis mus.”

As you can see, the word for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ change based on each individual question asked.

Please don’t stop learning Hmong now. I promise it gets easier.

Do Hmong Have a Country?

At one point in history it appears that the Hmong lived in China, but since then Hmong are not centralized in one single country.

The majority of the Hmong live in the area of Southeast Asia where China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam all meet. So, for example, there aren’t many Hmong in the far south of Thailand. But there are many, many Hmong that live in Central and Northern Thailand.

As a result of war, the Hmong have also moved as refugees (mostly from Laos) to live in other countries like the United States, Australia, France and more.

Is the ‘H’ Silent in Hmong?

No. And yes. Sort of.

In the White Hmong pronunciation of the word Hmong (spelled ‘hmoob’ in White Hmong) the H sound should be a puff of air that comes out of your nose, not your mouth before you pronounce the ‘mong’ part.

The ‘H’ in Hmoob should come from the nose.

Green Hmong, however, does not have any nasal aspiration (the puff from the nose), which is why the word Hmong is usually spelled ‘Mong,’ in Green Hmong. You would pronounce ‘Mong’ exactly as you see it.

I Have A Different Question, How Dare You Not Answer It Here!

Alright. Leave your question in the comments section below or send it to us through Contact StudyHmong.com

I’ll try to expand this article as I get more questions (if I can find the answer).

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