The population is concentrated in the two main river deltas. The Vietnamese account for more than 85% of the population. They speak an Annamese-Muong language. The approximately 50 minority groups in the highlands include the Muong, Tai, Hmong, Dao, Sedong, Jarai, Bahnar, Rhade, Cham, and smaller groups. There is a significant population of Cambodians (Khmers) near the Cambodian border and at the mouth of the Mekong River. There are large numbers of Chinese in the urban centres, notably in the Cholon area of Ho Chi Minh City, although many fled after South Vietnam was defeated by the North and after a border clash with China in 1979.
According to official figures, 86.2% of the population speak Vietnamese as a native language. In its early history, Vietnamese writing used Chinese characters. In the 13th century, the Vietnamese developed their own set of characters called Chữ nôm. The celebrated epic Đoạn trường tân thanh (Truyện Kiều or The Tale of Kieu) by Nguyễn Du was written in Chữ nôm. During the French colonial period, Quốc ngữ, the romanised Vietnamese alphabet representation of spoken Vietnamese which was developed collectively by several Portuguese missionaries, became popular and brought literacy to the masses.
Various other languages are spoken by the several minority groups in Vietnam. The most spoken of these languages are: Tày, Mường, Khmer, Chinese, Nùng, H'Mông. The French language, a legacy of colonial rule, is still spoken by some older Vietnamese as a second language but is losing its popularity. Russian — and to a much lesser extent Czech or Polish — is often known among those whose families had ties with the Soviet bloc. In recent years, Chinese, Japanese and English have become the most popular foreign languages, with English study being obligatory in most schools.
A mix of Buddhism, Confucianism, and traditional local beliefs and Roman Catholicism are the most widely practiced religions. Although the Communist government has discouraged religious practice, it is tolerated within the context of government-regulated Buddhist and Catholic groups, and since the 1990s traditional worship at Buddhist temples has been encouraged. Protestant evangelical churches (found mainly among ethnic minorities) and other unregulated groups are actively suppressed.
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