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.
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.
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.
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 – and 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?