“Hello everyone, I am in Ho Chi Minh City, and I am here to eat banh mi.”
Kim Jeong Eun says this in fluent Vietnamese just before entering a famous banh mi store in Saigon’s District 1. Later the South Korean woman stands on the busy sidewalk and eats the sandwich with evident enjoyment.
This video from the “Trong Un Tru” YouTube channel, which premiered in February, has garnered more than 870,000 views on the video streaming platform.
With 177,000 subscribers to her channel, Kim is one of the rising foreign stars among the Vietnamese YouTube community.
Foreigners who can speak Vietnamese fluently know they are on to a good thing. For a few years now, they have been acquiring a large fan following, not to mention decent sums of money, with videos of themselves speaking Vietnamese on a variety of topics.
Native speaker netizens are lapping it up, subscribing to the foreigners’ YouTube channels in the hundreds of thousands.
Igbokoyi Jesuloluwa of the “Cee Jay Official” channel. Photo courtesy of Igbokoyi Jesuloluwa.
One of the most popular channels is “Cee Jay Official” of Igbokoyi Jesuloluwa, a Nigerian living in Hanoi with his Vietnamese wife and daughter.
Putting out Vietnamese-speaking videos of his daily life, he has 820,000 subscribers with more than 80 million views in two years.
From South Korea, a host of YouTubers have jumped on this bandwagon with videos on their lives in Vietnam, cultural comparisons between the two countries, and their tips on studying languages, all narrated in Vietnamese.
“Woossi TV” by Saigon-based South Korean Park Woo Sung with many cuisine videos has attracted 1.68 million subscribers in four years. Cheri Hyeri’s channel has 1.07 million subscribers.
“The trend of foreign YouTubers speaking Vietnamese in their videos and earning more public attention is likely to get stronger, making them become more than Internet stars in Vietnam,” sociologist Trinh Hoa Binh told VnExpress International.
Their popularity among netizens is earning them big bucks, too. The Vietnamese-speaking foreigners have joined several multi-channel networks (MCN) that function as an intermediary, connecting creators of video content and YouTube for a commission, supporting the development of new products and optimizing advertising for more financial benefits.
According to an experienced YouTuber, the CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions) in Vietnam is $0.3, meaning video creators can earn $300 if they have one million views in the country.
Chris Lewis, owner of the “Co Rit O Chau A” channel, confirmed this in a video published on November 21, saying he earned around $619 for a 2.2-million view video.
“Honestly it is a high number,” Lewis said, adding that it took him only four hours to record and edit the video.
Apart from the money and popularity, the time and effort spent on learning Vietnamese and making videos is also an opportunity for the expat YouTubers to become TV stars or writers.
Their fame has got Jesuloluwa, Park, and Lewis on TV talk shows and game shows. Cheri has published a bestselling book for Vietnamese who want to learn more about the South Korean language.
‘Videos are magnets’
With the rising prominence of YouTube, public curiosity and demand for videos of foreign-related content, international YouTubers are well situated to make hay when the sun shines.
With 64 million Internet users, 65 percent of Vietnam’s population, the demand for online entertainment in general and videos in particular is huge.
A report by the streaming platform in 2019 found Vietnam country amongst the five most dedicated YouTube markets in the world. This forms fertile ground for foreigners who speak Vietnamese in their videos and have a cross-culture background, something domestic YouTubers cannot offer.
“Netizens are curious and want to know more about foreigners as well as their thinking about Vietnam, so these videos are magnets,” sociologist Binh commented, adding Vietnamese love to see expats try to use their mother-tongue.
“I feel like I learn about Saigon by watching your videos, which show me my hometown through an expat’s point of views,” a netizen comments under a video by Woossi TV, which shows audiences places to eat and hang out in town, and sometimes, basic South Korean communication and culture.
Foreign YouTubers are creating diverse content to keep their Vietnamese audience engaged. Common topics range from language learning tips, daily life chitchat to efforts to experience Vietnamese life as authentically as possible. They film themselves eating street food, calling motorbike taxis and even giving beauty advice for young girls and women.
On “Cee Jay Official,” videos are about the differences between Vietnamese people and foreigners, anecdotes of love between Jesuloluwa and his Vietnamese wife, his experience with Vietnamese food, and his trips to other countries.
“You are black, and you have a golden heart, I wish you and your wife a happy life,” one viewer commented on the video of the Nigerian man traveling to the U.S.
Gaining popularity with their language skills is one thing, but foreigners also have to be careful about some potential cultural and other pitfalls, not to mention disrespectful attitudes towards the locals.
In early 2018, Dan Hauer, a Hanoi-based American YouTuber with over a million subscribers, also popular for his Vietnamese fluency, earned the wrath of locals for disrespecting Vietnam’s late, well-respected General Vo Nguyen Giap.
He apologized later, claiming a cultural misunderstanding, but it failed to cut much ice. The English centers where he had been teaching ended their contracts with him following the incident and the authorities said they would fine him for insulting a national icon.
Many Vietnamese-speaking foreigners say they are aware of cultural discrepancies and are careful to avoid controversy.
“Being a well-known foreigner in Vietnam definitely gives me a lot of privileges, but I have also experienced a rough patch… So I always keep in mind that whatever I do, I must be careful and honest”, said Park of the “Woossi TV” channel.
Sociologist Binh also noted that the lucrative trend has prompted some people who cannot use or pronounce Vietnamese correctly to try and develop a YouTube audience.
He cautioned: “While foreigners creating Vietnamese language content have provided netizens with more choice on their entertainment menus, they can also create a wrong impression about our language.”