Learn how to pronounce written Vietnamese

Vietnamese is a very phonetic language. The pronunciation and the spelling of words closely match up. This means you can learn to ‘read’ Vietnamese (ie. read aloud) very quickly.

Vietnamese uses a Latin alphabet and many letters are pronounced as you’d expect like b or m.

Although just like European languages, there is some variation on the basic Latin alphabet. Spanish has letters like ñ while Vietnamese has letters like đ and ư and some letters that have a different sound (eg. Vietnamese th- sounds more like an English t-). But you simply need to learn how these sound because đ always sounds like đ, th- is always th- so on.

How to learn the rules

Learn to read When I was a beginner I learnt how to pronounce written Vietnamese by using the phonetic guide in my phrasebook. There are other phrasebook guides online, including ones with audio.

Learn which letters make which sounds, brush up on your tones and accents then get practising. You could practice by reading aloud the words from this list of 120 beginner words, then comparing with the audio.

In no time at all you’ll be able to pronounce written Vietnamese – allowing you to read aloud signs, addresses and even poetry if you wish!

Granted, this won’t teach you what any of it means but knowing these rules will help you pick up new words that you see and also help you with spelling.

Over to you: How did you learn to pronounce Vietnamese words? Do you find it easy to read Vietnamese words aloud (even if you don’t know what they mean)?

Photo credit: hvaldez1

Having a foreign accent

A few articles have appeared over the last couple of weeks on pronunciation and why it’s ok to have a foreign accent.

Such as:

I have to agree. While I post a lot of things on here about improving your Vietnamese pronunciation, they are aimed at improving how clear and understandable you are.

If you want to aim for a native speaker accent, good for you. Go ahead!

Banderas has an accent

Pic: Yes, I have an accent because I come from Spain. Sheesh!

However, it’s not a requirement. Thinking about English for a minute, there are so many people who speak fluent English with foreign accents from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Antonio Banderas. There’s a difference between having an accent that is hard to understand and having an accent where words are pronounced intelligibly but with a foreign twist. Heck, many people even find Banderas’ and similar accents attractive.

Having an accent just indicates where you’re from, even native speakers have regional accents. There’s no such thing as “accentless” English or Vietnamese.

If languages are about communicating with other people, expressing a meaning, sharing ideas, connecting with people then there’s nothing wrong with a little accent.

Over to you: What kind of accent are you aiming for? Do you think a native speaker accent is necessary or desirable?

The secret to mastering Vietnamese pronunciation

The secret to Vietnamese pronunication As a beginner, Vietnamese pronunciation can be a little intimidating.

Who am I kidding? It can be very intimidating.

Want to know the secret?

Don’t despair. Simply break the problem down and start by tackling one thing.

Instead of freaking out about all the tones, focus on them one at a time. Start with one of the very distinct ones like nặng, or my favourite hỏi.

Watch a video explaining how to say them correctly, look at the speaker’s mouth and copy it as you repeat the word. Then spend a week practising them over and over.

Struggling with ng? Do the same thing.

Get feedback

Because of the tonal nature of Vietnamese, it’s really important to get feedback from a native speaker. Watch a video, copy the speaker, then ask a friend or language exchange partner to tell you whether you’re pronouncing it correctly.

Photo credit: ispap

How to beat Anki backlog

Have you ever left Anki alone for a few weeks and come back to a huge card backlog?

Several months ago I got overwhelmed by my Anki decks. I’d been on holiday and not reviewed anything. I’d started a new course and was behind with adding new words. I basically stopped using it because it felt like a black cloud hanging over my head.

I didn’t want to delete all my cards and start again. I liked having them there as a reference, like a personal dictionary.

Here’s how I tackled my huge Anki backlog.

Part A: Out of sight, out of mind

1. Create a new deck called “temp”

Transfer all the decks you are behind in to this new deck.

Although you can’t see it, most of these decks have 50+ reviews due. See Step 2 to find out how I hid the numbers.

2. Create a new options group “backlog”

Change the settings for this new “temp” deck to a new options group called “Backlog”. Set it to 0 reviews and 0 new cards.

Change the settings to 0 reviews and 0 new cards.

The problem has now disappeared from sight but the cards are still there when you’re ready to tackle the backlog. You can now continue using Anki to learn new cards without getting a visual reminder about those 90, 300 or 1000 cards you should review.

Secretly there are 498 due cards, hidden right there in my “temp” deck.

Part B: Tackling the backlog

Although you’ve hidden your backlog, the cards are still there waiting to be reviewed one day. So, what do you do when you’re ready to tackle the backlog?

3. Move one of your decks out of “temp”

Drag and drop one of your backlogged decks from “temp” to your normal Vietnamese deck.

The settings should revert to whatever your usual settings are (ie. Default). You can, however, double check if they’re using ‘Default’ or ‘Backlog’ settings.

You can then start to catch up on this deck – little and often. I like to review about 10 cards at a time, 2 or 3 times a day.

In a week or two of normal using Anki in short bursts as usual, you should be back to a more normal and manageable number of cards to review every day.

4. Repeat step 3 until all your decks are out of “temp”

This may take weeks, or even months if you have a large backlog. In the meantime, you still have access to your cards if you want to search them and you can keep learning new cards without a black cloud over your head.

No more Anki rain cloud.

Over to you: Have you ever been behind with flashcard reviews? What did you do?

Get more practice with a language exchange

I’ve said before that it’s really important to get feedback from a native speaker on your Vietnamese pronunciation. But what if you’re not in Vietnam? What if you’re learning at home with an audio course or textbook?

Depending on where you live, you may be able to find a native speaker in your town. But it can still be hard to find someone willing to help you practice and to correct your mistakes. Even if you have friends who can speak Vietnamese, friends are not always the best language exchange partners.

That’s where the internet comes in!

Types of language exchange

When you first read ‘language exchange’ at the beginning of this article, what did you think of? Two people meeting up in person to practice each others’ languages? This is certainly a form of language exchange (or ‘language tandem’) but it’s not the only one.

Let’s take a look at the different ways you can exchange a language or otherwise practice with a regular partner.

1. Local face-to-face language exchange

This is the classic form of language exchange where you find someone who lives in your town or city and meet up with them in a coffee shop or similar. You spend half the time speaking in each language so that both of you get to practice.

2. Online face-to-face language exchange

These days it’s so easy to set up an online exchange where you chat via Skype, Google Hangouts or other system. This can be a lot more convenient than meeting someone in person – and you don’t even have to live in the same country. Again, the principle is that half the time is spent talking in each language.

3. With a penfriend

The advantage of a ‘penfriend’ or ‘penpal’ is that you don’t have to schedule a time to talk. You can send emails or messages back and forth as and when you have free time. Because it’s not instant you can also take the time to look words up in the dictionary or refer to your class notes. This is great to focus on accuracy and for getting corrections.

There are a few ways to make this into an exchange: you can write your messages in both languages or you could write to them in Vietnamese and they reply in English, sending you some corrections at the end.

4. Pay someone to talk to you

The downside of traditional exchanges is that half of the time is spent helping the other person to improve a language. If you’re busy, this can be limiting.

Instead of having a session where you split the time between two languages, you can have a session focused on you, practising and improving your Vietnamese. Of course, no-one would help you practice without getting something in return so if you’re short on time for a two-way exchange, parting with some money could get you the attention you need.

This kind of session can be flexible – if you want a full lesson you can find a teacher to do this but if you just want to practice, some corrections and to learn some new or more natural expressions then any native or fluent speaker can help, like a Community Tutor on iTalki.

Ways to find a language partner

Now you know what kinds of language exchanges are out there, how do you find a partner?

Local communities

Ask around. Someone you know may know someone looking for this kind of exchange, or may suggest where to go. Students could be a good option.

Online communities

Especially communities you’re already part of like the people who help correct your writing on Lang-8, through language learning forums or add a comment here or on facebook if you’re looking for someone. Người Việt cũng vậy nhé.

Language exchange websites

There are a lot of Vietnamese people wanting to practice English so it should be easy to find someone on any language exchange website out there.

A few sites I’ve come across are:

  • Conversation Exchange lets you list what type(s) of exchange format you’re interested in, including local face-to-face exchanges.
  • Linguar recently started by a fellow Vietnamese learner, Carl Noresson, again lets you select and search based on what kind of exchange you’re interested in.
  • iTalki* for online face-to-face exchanges.
  • WeSpeke is a fairly new site for online face-to-face or text chat exchanges.
  • Polyglot Club is good for finding a penfriend.

* affiliate link which gives me free credit if you sign up and buy credit

Top tip: You can end up getting a lot of messages, especially on more established sites, because so many Vietnamese people want to practice English. If this gets a bit much, you might want to change your settings so less people can contact you or send you a friend request.

How to get the most out of your language exchange

If you prepare for your exchange, you’ll get more out of it. The clearer you are on your goals and what you want to get out of the exchange, the better.

Over to you: Have you ever done a language exchange? Which type of exchange do you prefer? Are you inspired to try a new kind?