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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

Top Vietnamese reading materials for learners (online)

Vietnamese reading materials

Read to improve your Vietnamese.

Vietnamese articles and stories provide natural models of the language in an interesting and engaging context that help you deepen your knowledge and increase your knowledge of Vietnamese.

In language learning it’s important to read articles that are at the right level. If it’s too hard you’ll want to give up. If the material is easy, that can be great for extensive reading (aka reading for pleasure) and deepening your knowledge of words and structures you already know.

But you should also try to balance that with some intensive reading of materials that are challenging but not so much that you get discouraged. With this kind of reading the focus is on understanding the text and it is this ‘studying’ while you read that will help increase your knowledge.

For a long time I didn’t know of any materials with graded language for Vietnamese language learners. Children’s books and comics can be helpful, but they are not the same thing as graded readers.

After digging around, I’ve uncovered some real gems online!

1. Learning Vietnamese Network

Level: elementary, low intermediate.

The site provides bilingual articles, with both northern and southern audio of the Vietnamese text. Some articles are about common textbook topics such as family or education and some are more topical, news-style.

Get started:

2. Study Vietnamese

Level: high elementary, low intermediate.

A language school provides bilingual articles – mostly short stories that are cultural, have morals or are funny.

Get started:

3. VinaVille

Level: elementary, intermediate.

Articles on VinaVille highlight new or difficult vocabulary and provide translations of these words in English, French and Japanese. There’s also an English translation of the article.

Get started:

4. Vietnamese for expats (Tuoi Tre)

Level: high elementary to intermediate.

At the lower level there’s a ‘My Story’ section of articles by learners about their time in Vietnam. Another feature of this site is the ‘Bilingual Library’ – Tuoi Tre newspaper articles with both a Vietnamese and English version (not a literal translation).

Both types of articles highlight new or difficult vocabulary and provide a key with English translations.

Get started:

5. VietFun Truyện

Level: intermediate, high intermediate.

Moving on to more natural material, I like this huge collection of short stories and legends.

Get started:

Read more

These are my favourite places to find interesting Vietnamese reading materials that I can actually read. You can find more, especially for higher levels, on our resources page.

Over to you: Do you have any favourite Vietnamese reading materials?

Photo credit: lusi

Why you should learn to read from the beginning

Đọc đi! Why you should learn to read a foreign language from Day 1 Vietnamese’s romanised script is a little deceptive. It looks familiar but many of the sounds are totally different. Our recent interviewee, Adam, shared one example of where this can go very wrong.

Let’s look at the problems caused by not starting to read early in your learning journey.

Reading problems

When I first arrived in Vietnam, it was as a traveller. I thought I might stay but I wasn’t sure. I had an abridged phrasebook with me and I learnt 1, 2, 3, 10 (chục), rice and thank you on the bus over, before it got too crowded. The following day I learnt the rest of the numbers and some more food items. However, as I had no idea how to pronounce these words with all their ‘squiggles’ I learnt how to say them from the pronunciation guide provided in the book. While this meant I was understood (thanks in part to context, I’m sure), when I later came to study Vietnamese in a classroom, it caused an embarrassing problem…

I couldn’t read numbers written in word form.

I still remember the first time I saw ‘bốn’ on a page. I was shocked. I read it out slowly in disbelief before realising it was in fact the number 4. This phenomenon is not limited to numbers though, I learnt the word ‘khóc’ (cry) from a friend and was similarly staggered when I first saw it written down until I again read it out. It’s a good job Vietnamese is so phonetic!

Pronunciation problems

The second problem with not learning to read, and this will apply to languages that use a different script too, is that you might make errors when transcribing how a word is pronounced.

Again, I can offer an example from my experience. I started some Korean classes recently and this is my first time learning a new alphabet. After a couple of lessons I was able to read, albeit very slowly. My teacher has a habit of calling on people to read things from the book. But because I’m slow at reading, I wrote a phoneticisation next to the sentences in case I got called on.

While this meant I could read a little quicker, it wasn’t until I got home and wrote some sentences on lang-8 that I realised I had misread an ‘o’ for an ‘a’, thus pronouncing the word for ‘I’ totally wrong.

So there we have two reasons, with examples, why you should learn to read in a foreign language from Day 1.

Over to you: Have you had any problems reading Vietnamese? Have you ever learnt a language with a different script?