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 I didn’t know where to start. Then last week I read this short article explaining how to get over your big language issues.

It all became clear how to break down the big topic of Vietnamese pronunciation for you.

The short answer? Get specific. Then tackle each of your issues one at a time.

How I learnt to pronounce ng- words

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, after one month 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 similar 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- like ngonngười and the most common Vietnamese surname – Nguyen.

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?

5 replies on “How an afternoon in a park taught me to pronounce ng-”


Thanks for this post. Actually I am Thai and have just started to learn Vietnamese. I assure you it is really hard for me to pronounce the Vietnamese NG as well. It is not the same in Thai and in Vietnamese. So I am not sure if we can say that this sound an an Asian sound though.

Interesting! I’m surprised to hear that. I’ve heard people liken the Vietnamese ng- sound to a sound we have in English in the middle or end of words (eg. singing), but perhaps that is also a little different.

In the video above, can you hear a difference between his Thai and Indonesian/Cantonese pronunciation of ng- words? Does his ng- sound the same or different? He doesn’t say enough Vietnamese words for me to be able to compare.

I also linked to a video by Vinaville above if you want to get some practice copying Vietnamese ng- words. Then try to get a native speaker to check if you’re getting it right, if you can.

currently having the same issue with ‘ng’ trying to say good night. A local patiently repeated several times and still struggling.

Did you repeat it after the local? Did they tell you when you got it right and when you got it wrong?

If you can’t pronounce it at all, check out the first video by Stuart Jay Raj. If you need more practice (I didn’t master the sound in an afternoon, I just learned how to get it right sometimes, then I kept practising) then I’ve now embedded the second video (as I just checked and it was a broken link)!

Hope that helps! Keep practising!

Trying to say this always activates my gag reflex. Which is why, at my call-center job, whenever I encounter this name, I just skip it entirely, and go right into “Do you need help?” And occassionally, at the end of the call, I just ask them how they want it pronounced, and add the appropriate phonetics.

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