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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 an afternoon in a park taught me to pronounce ng-

Readers have been asking me questions about Vietnamese pronunciation. It’s an important part of learning Vietnamese but ‘pronunciation’ is a big topic. I was wondering how to tackle it until I read this pithy article last week about how to deal with your huge language problems.

The short answer? Get specific. Then tackle it one little bit at a time.

So today I’m going to tell you how I learnt to pronounce ng and how you can do it too.

some Vietnamese ng words

I started learning Vietnamese just a few days before I arrived in Vietnam. In some ways this was great because I was surrounded by native speakers from the beginning. If I didn’t pronounce something correctly, I’d be met with a blank look.

Even so, one month in there was one consonant sound that was still troubling me… ng-

I wanted to be able to say ngon (delicious) but my attempts to say the ng- sound were really hit and miss.

It all changed in an afternoon

One afternoon I was in a park in Saigon and chatting in English to some university students. During the conversation, I mentioned that I was learning Vietnamese. They encouraged me to say something so I said “Tôi là người Anh” (I’m English).

As you may have guessed, I didn’t pronounce người right. One student decided to teach me to say it.

She modelled the sound for me, showing me how her mouth was positioned as she simply said ng. After she did this a few times, she encouraged me to try.

Me:  ng
Her: Yes!
Me:  n
Her: No.
Me:  n
Her: No.
Me:  ng
Her: Yes!

This went on for a couple of minutes.

Little by little I started getting more yes’s than no’s. I also started hearing the difference myself and being able to tell when I was saying it correctly and when I wasn’t.

I kept practising for the rest of the week. One day it just clicked and since then I’ve had no trouble pronouncing ng. I’ve even taught other people to say it correctly.

How you can learn to pronounce ng- too

Start by listening to the sound ng, paying attention to how it should be formed in your mouth and how it should sound.

This video by Stuart Jay Raj explains it really well as even though only a few examples are Vietnamese, the Thai and Indonesian examples have a ng sound.

By the end of the video you should be able to say ng correctly, though you may still sometimes get it wrong like I used to. Keep on practising Vietnamese words beginning with ng

Here are some great examples for Vietnamese. If possible, ask a native speaker if you’re pronouncing it correctly.

Although this article is about ng, you can use the same technique with any sound, tone or word you are struggling with.

Over to you: What sounds do you find hard to say? What do you do to practice them?

Pronouncing brand names and other foreign words in Vietnamese

As Vietnamese is a monosyllabic language with different sounds and without consonant clusters, brand names and other foreign words can be pronounced very differently.

Words like passport and visa should generally be understood if you pronounce them as they are. Some brands such as Nokia or Coca-Cola sound more or less the same. Many Korean and Japanese brands are also pronounced similarly, like Samsung and Yamaha.

There are however some foreign words so different that you may face communication problems. The differences are best explained through examples, so let’s take a look at some common ones.

If you ever find yourself laptop shopping, prepare for confusion between these two brands. Both often referred to as a-sờ, or sometimes a-si for Asus, but either you or the sales assistant will confuse them at some point!

If you ever find yourself laptop shopping, prepare for confusion between these two brands. Both often referred to as a-sờ, or sometimes a-si for Asus, but either you or the sales assistant will confuse them at some point!

Over to you: Have you had problems pronouncing foreign words in Vietnamese? Have you got any more examples to add to this list?