Pronunciation, Tones + the Vietnamese Alphabet

    Like the majority of South East and East Asian languages, Vietnam is a tonal language. This means that for each syllable there are six different tones that can change the meaning of a phrase.

     

    This can be unusual for Westerners since there are times we have a natural inclination to change the tone of our speech - the most common is raisinng the pitch of your voice when asking a question. Don't let it put you off though - once you have mastered the pronunciation, Vietnamese is a satisfyingly straightforward language, with a grammar system that is much easier than that of a language like French.

     

    Another great advantage learners of Vietnamese have over those studying other Asian languages is that the Vietnamese alphabet is essentially a modified version of the Roman alphabet, making it easy to read signs and addresses when travelling around.

     

     

     

    Tones

    Description

    Diacritic

    Sample word

    Meaning

    High rising

    Mother

    Low falling

    That

    Start in a low tone, go down, and gently back up

    (I tend to imagine a bored butler - 'Ye-es M'lud?' )

     

    Mả

    Tomb

    Start high, bring voice down, cut off and go back up*

     

    Horse

    Bring voice down and cut off abruptly

    (imagine a parent firmly saying 'No.')

    Mạ

    Rice Shoots

    Mid range voice, go flat and level

    (No mark)

    Ma

    Ghost

     

    * This tone is very strong in the North around Hanoi where there is a perceptible 'cut' in the sound. In the South around Saigon people tend to speak in a more 'smooth' manner, and many would say this tone becomes almost identical to the low, rising tone above it ('Ye-es, M'lud'')

     

     

    Vietnamese Alphabet

    Although the Vietnamese use the same alphabet as Latin languages such as English and French, some of the sounds are fairly different to their English equivalent. There are a few similarities with French, however. To hear the sounds described here, see http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Vietnamese/Guide_to_Pronunciation/alphabet/alphabet_system.htm

     

    Consonants

    d

    Like 'z' as in zero

    đ

    Like 'd' in English as do

    g,gh

    Like 'g' in go

    gi

    Like 'y' in yes

    kh

    Like 'Karen'

    nh

    Like 'n' in Cognac

    ng, ngh

    Like Singer

    ph

    Like 'f' in forest

    r

    Normal R in English

    s

    Normal S in English

    t

    As in Tan

    th

    As in Thump

    tr

    As in Train

    v

    As in Violet

     

    Vowels

     

    One rule to pronouncing vowels in Vietnam that is very useful to remember is that whenever you get two vowels together - for example 'ui' - the first vowel should have much more emphasis than the second - 'ui'

     

    a

    As in father

    ă

    like 'a' in "father", except said very quickly

    â

    As a in black

    ai

    I

    Ao

    Loud

    au

    Ow

    Âu

    As in go

    ay

    As in day

    ây

    As in David

    e

    Like in America

    eo

    Like meow-cat's noise

    ê

    Like in café

    i

    Like in see

    Ia

    Like in idia

    Ie

    Like in yes

    o

    Like in door

    oa

    Like in Oasis

    oai

    Like in Why

    oay

    Like in Uruguay

    oe

    Where

    oi

    Coin

    ô

    Joseph

    ôi

    Like in toy

    ơ

    Like in Burger

    ơi

    ơi

    u

    Like in Sue

    ua

    Like Ecuador

    ư

    fur

    Like in 'Question'

    ui

    Like oo-ee

    uy

    Like 'oui' in French

    uya

    As French 'Culture'

    uyen

    when

    y

    Like letter 'e'

    yeu

    Like in few