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It’s time to learn how to speak Vietnamese after you’ve had a strong base on how to write Vietnamese. A very unique feeling is the opportunity to say even a few basic words and phrases in the target language very frequently!

Vietnamese is a tonal language (i.e., with accent marks / diacritics) with certain vowels that do not appear in the English alphabet (e.g. ă, ơ, ê), as we have discovered in the lecture on writing. As such, it is understandably not easy to get the hang of Vietnamese words’ pronunciations. However, the secret to overcoming this challenge is still the same as learning any challenging knowledge: knowing the basics to get started, then keep listening until you get acquainted with the sounds. The practice of wisdom makes full rings come true here.

Let’s get the vowels started …

Pronouncing vowels from Vietnam

The vowels, their IPA phonetic symbols and the corresponding sounds in English are described in the following table. If you’re unfamiliar with IPA symbols, it’s just a traditional mapping of symbols to actual sounds, so you’d know the right pronunciation after you’ve mastered the mapping by just looking at the phonetic symbols available in dictionary entries. If you want to, you can only skip the IPA symbols.

Pronunciation of vowels from Vietnam

VowelsIPAEnglish soundsExamples
a/aː/farxa (“far”)
ă/a/father (shortened a)*mắt (“eye”)
â/ə/but *đất (“earth”)
e/ɛ/redxe (“vehicle”)
ê/e/may *hên (“lucky”)
i, y/i/mehình (“image”), yêu (“love”)
o/ɔ/lawlo (“worried”)
ô/o/spoke *cô (“she”)
ơ/ə:/sirtrơn (“slippy”)
u/u/boobún (“noodle”)
ư/ɨ/uh-uh *mứt (“jam”)

As we described in the writing lesson, the vowel clusters are pronounced very differently from their constituent vowels. As such, it is more difficult to learn to pronounce the vowel clusters. I would say that only after mastering the sounds of vowels can you learn them. You can search the Wiki page for the IPA symbols of some of the common clusters once you are there[2].

Pronouncing vowels from Vietnam

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Pronouncing consonants from Vietnam

Information about all the 17 consonants and 11 consonant clusters in Vietnamese (ten 2-letter and one 3-letter clusters) is given in the following table.

Consonants and consonant cluster pronunciation

ConsonantsIPAEnglish soundsExamples
b/b/beebao(“bag”)
c, k, q/k/catcon(“child”), kính(“glass”), q: in qu
ch/c/chip *cho(“give”)
d, gi/z/(Northern)zoodao(“knife”), giá(“price”)
/j/(Central, Southern)yes
đ/d/dođi(“go”)
g, gh/g/goalghen(“jealous”)
h/h/hathên(“lucky”)
kh/x/loch *khói(“smoke”)
l/l/linklái(“drive”)
m/m/mymẹ(“mum”)
n/n/netnền(“floor”)
ng, ngh/ŋ/singngồi(“sit”), nghe(“hear”/”listen”)
nh/ɲ/canyon *nhanh(“fast”)
p/p/penp: in ph
ph/f/finephở(“pho”)
qu/kw/(Northern, Central)queenquen(“familiar”)
/w/(Southern)will
r/r/runrau(“vegetable”)
s/s/(Northern)sunsen(“lotus”)
/∫/(Central, Southern)shy
t/t/tiptối(“dark”)
th/tʰ/thankthích(“like”)
tr/ʈʂ/trytrơn(“slippy”)
v/v/votevẽ(“draw”)
x/s/stunxem(“watch”)

The table indicates that the pronunciations of all consonants and many consonant clusters have similar counterparts in English, in contrast to the sounds of the vowels, with the only exceptions being ch, kh and nh, which are annotated with asterisks. The pronunciations of the northern , central and southern regions are also presented in this table, where they vary. This data is solely for your reference and is not intended to trigger more uncertainty. If you have a target region of Vietnam already in mind for use, you should simply stick to the northern pronunciation as the “norm” is considered. For the native pronunciation of consonants and consonant clusters referred to in the table above, please watch the video[3] below.

Pronouncing consonants from Vietnam

Pronouncing the 6 Tones of Vietnam

The following table summarizes the six tones, their corresponding diacritics and pronunciations in Vietnamese:

Tones Pronunciation

Tone nameDiacriticsPronunciation
Levelno diacriticmiddle starting point; intonation remains level
Sharpacute accent(´)middle starting point; gradual rising
Hanginggrave(`)low starting point; gradual falling
Askinghook( ̉ )middle starting point; quick falling, staying there for a while, then quick rising back to near middle: valley-shape
Tumblingtilde(~)middle starting point; quick rising, slight gradual falling, quick rising
Heavydot(.)middle starting point; sharp falling

The easiest tone is probably the tone of the stage. Start at the middle pitch and stay there for the pronunciation duration.

The sharp(with accute accent), the hanging (with grave) and the heavy tone are the other tones which are also very evident in pronunciation. They all have a monotonous pitch orientation: either rising or dropping. There is a gradual improvement in the first two, while the third one has a very rapid decline.

The more complicated tones are probably the asking (with hook) and the tumbling (with tilde). At the center, the asking tone begins, dropping rapidly and remaining there for a while before rising back to the middle pitch. The asking tone is often mistaken with the sharp tone if pronounced rapidly, as the initial dropping and remaining at the bottom are not understood by learners because of the rapid speed of pronunciation. The tumbling tone begins with a rapid rise, accompanied by a longer duration of small fall, then finishes with a rapid rise.

The first video below records native tone pronunciation, while the second guides you through the Vietnamese Alphabet pronunciation.

Pronouncing the 6 Tones of Vietnam

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Pronunciation of the Vietnamese Alphabet

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Pronounce new words from Vietnamese

Now that we’ve mastered the pronunciations of the fundamental components, let ‘s talk about how you can learn to pronounce a new Vietnamese word correctly.

By rule, if a standardized set of phonetic symbols (such as the IPA) already exists, there will be no problems: when you learn new words, you would look them up in dictionaries where you will find their IPAs as well, and you will go there, provided your knowledge of the IPA system.

The practical issue here is that the IPA symbols have not yet been endorsed by current (online and paper) Vietnamese dictionaries. In English, as a reference, if one looks up the word bravery, for instance, they will see the IPA / k-r-d/ for American English right below it. This helps the word to be pronounced correctly by individual learners.

The good news, on the other hand, is that some Vietnamese online dictionaries do have sound pronunciations of words.

Summary

  • In English, most Vietnamese vowels and most consonants have equivalent sounds.
  • In English, the sounds of certain Vietnamese vowel clusters don’t yet occur. By comparison, in English, most Vietnamese consonant clusters have equivalent sounds.

Link Source: https://yourvietnamese.com