Vietnamese Alphabet & How To Pronounce Them: #1 List

May 31, 2021

Learning the Vietnamese alphabet and how to write it correctly is one of the main elements of learning the language. Unlike other neighboring languages such as Thai, Khmer, and Chinese, the Vietnamese language uses the Latin alphabet. This will make it easier for English speakers when learning the Vietnamese language. 

In today's lesson, we will learn the Vietnamese alphabet and how to pronounce them.

The History Of Vietnamese Writing System

According to Wikipedia, the classical Chinese (aka chữ Hán) used to be used and taught in Vietnam since the beginning of Chinese rules in 111 BC. Since the 12th century, chữ Nôm, using variant Chinese characters, was created and supplemented with Vietnamese-invented characters to represent native Vietnamese words.

As early as 1620, Francisco de Pina, a Portuguese Jesuit interpreter, created the first Latinized script of the Vietnamese language as assistance for learning the language. This Latin-based script was called chữ Quốc ngữ, which means 'the national writing system.' The script then was developed and used within the Catholic community for 200 years.

In 1910, the French colonial administration enforced chữ Quốc ngữ in Vietnamese public literature. They also tried to replace Vietnamese with French, but they didn't succeed, given several French-like words in Vietnamese such as ghi-đông (in French: guidon, meaning a bike handlebar), cát-sét (in French: la cassette, meaning cassette).

Chữ Quốc ngữ then was taught massively in primary schools. Hundreds of thousands of textbooks for primary education began to be published in chữ Quốc ngữ. This gave a chance for chữ Quốc ngữ to become popular in Vietnam.

Nowadays, the modern Vietnamese language still uses chữ Quốc ngữ that includes 29 main characters and five-tone marks. There are also many letter combinations, diphthongs, and triphthongs. Chữ Quốc ngữ is spoken by about 90% of the Vietnamese population, together with other minority languages such as Ê Đê, Hmong.

Introduction To Vietnamese Alphabet

The Vietnamese alphabet consists of 29 letters, splitting into 12 vowels and 17 consonants.

vietnamese alphabet

Vietnamese Alphabet

The consonants in Vietnamese are not categorized in classes as in the Thai alphabet. Many consonants have a similar pronunciation to the English consonants, such as b, g, l. Some Vietnamese consonants have different pronunciations from the English consonants, such as c (pronounced as /k/), d (pronounced as /z/), s (pronounced as /sh/).

The Vietnamese language also has its own consonants and vowels such as đ (consonants), ă, â, ê, ô, ơ, ư (vowels). English consonants f, j, w, z are not used in Vietnamese writing.

The Vietnamese writing and speaking systems also have letter combinations such as nh, gh, kh, diphthongs, and triphthongs such as ai, ay, uê, oai, ươi.

Vietnamese Consonants & Their Pronunciation

17 Single Consonants

As mentioned in the introduction, there are 17 consonants in the Vietnamese alphabet.

Vietnamese consonants Vietnamese name Pronunciation (IPA) Examples in English
B b bờ / bê /ɓ/ begin, balance
C c cờ / xê /k/ cat, cook (the /k/ sounds a bit like /g/)
D d dờ / dê /z/ zone, zoo
Đ đ đờ / đê /ɗ/ done, duel
G g gờ /ɣ/ get, gone
H h hờ /h/ honey, hat
K k ca /k/ key, kind (the /k/ sounds a bit like /g/, used when preceding i, e, ê
L l en-lờ /l/ love, lonely
M m em-mờ /m/ money, middle
N n en-nờ /n/ none, net
P p pờ /bp/ sounds like /b/ but the vibration on your lips is stronger
Q q quờ / quy /kʷ/ quick, queen
R r rờ /r/ red, run
S s sờ / ét-sờ /ʃ/ sheet, sugar
T t tờ / tê /t/ tea, teach
V v vờ / vê /v/ Vietnam, van
X x xờ / ích-xì /s/ six, sing

10 Letter Combinations (Grouped Consonants)

Besides the 17 consonants, there are 10 letter combinations that play the role of Vietnamese consonants:

Vietnamese Consonant Combination Vietnamese name Pronunciation (IPA) Examples in English
ch chờ /tɕ/ cheat, channel
gh gờ kép /ɣ/ get, gun (used when preceding i, e, ê)
gi gi /z/ zone, zoo (similar to consonant 'd' but the vibration between your teeth is stronger)
kh khờ /x/ like 'ich' in German
ng ngờ đơn /ŋ/ like ng in 'sing'
ngh ngờ kép /ŋ/ like 'ng' (used when preceding i, e, ê)
nh nhờ /ɲ/ sounds like ny
ph phờ /f/ film, feel
th thờ /tʰ/ think, thank
tr trờ /tʃ/ treat, trick

Vietnamese First Consonants And Final Consonants

Among 27 Vietnamese consonants (both single and grouped consonants), all can be used as the first consonant, but only some can be used as final consonants. The consonants which can be used as final consonants are listed below:

Final consonants Pronunciation Vietnamese words
c /k/ mặc (to wear)
m /m/ làm (to work, to do)
n /n/ ăn (to eat)
p /p/ hấp (to steam)
t stop /t/ mắt (eye)
ch /k/ sách (a book)
ng /ŋ/ ông (grandfather)
nh /ŋ/ anh (older brother)

Vietnamese Vowels & Their Pronunciation

12 Single Vowels

There are 12 vowels in the Vietnamese language:

Vietnamese vowels Pronunciation (IPA) Examples in English
A a /a:/ bar, hat
Ă ă /ʌ/ but, flood (with a high rising tone)
 â /ə/ bird, flirt (with a high rising tone)
E e /ɛ/ bed, met
Ê ê /e/ like in 'may' without /i/
I i /i/ meet, beach
O o /ɔ/ hot, bot
Ô ô /o/ like in 'info'
Ơ ơ /ə/ fur, her (with a flat tone)
U u /u/ food, mood
Ư ư /ɯ/ like in flooded
Y y /i:/ bee, agree

Vietnamese Diphthongs & Triphthongs

By combining the vowels, Vietnamese people created a lot of diphthongs and triphthongs, which can be used as vowels.

a e ê i o ô ơ u ư y
a ai ao au ay
â âu ây
e eo
ê êu
i ia iê, iêu iu
o oa, oai, oay, oao oe, oeo oi oo
ô ôi
ơ ơi
u ua, uay, uai, uau uă uâ, uây ue, ueo ui uo uô, uôi uơ uy, uya, uyê, uyu
ư ưa ưi ươi, ươu ưu
y yê, yêu

How To Write Vietnamese & Type Vietnamese

The Structure Of A Vietnamese Word

Vietnamese is the left-to-right language, which means you need to write and read Vietnamese from left to right. A Vietnamese word usually consists of four elements: first consonant, vowel, final consonant, and tone mark. The tone mark will be put under or above the vowel.

For example, the word 'Việt' has V as the first consonant, iê as the vowel, t as the final consonant, and the heavy tone mark (.)

Some Vietnamese words don't have the first consonant, such as 'ướt' (wet), 'yên' (peaceful). Some don't have the final consonant such as 'hoa' (flowers), 'ma' (ghost). Some Vietnamese phrases don't have any consonants or tone marks, such as 'yêu' (love) and 'ai' (who).

How To Type Vietnamese

To type Vietnamese, you need to enable the Vietnamese keyboard on your devices first. After that, you need to know how to type some Vietnamese letters that are not available on the English keyboards, such as â, ơ, đ, and tone marks with different typing methods. There are three methods to type Vietnamese: Telex, VNI, and VIQR. Telex is the most popular typing method in typing Vietnamese.

This is how to type Vietnamese vowels and tone marks with different methods:

Vietnamese letters/ tone marks Telex VNI VIQR
ă aw a8 a(
â aa a6 a^
ê ee e6 e^
ô oo o6 o^
ơ ow o7 o+
ư uw u7 u+
đ dd d9 dd
High rising tone (sắc) s 1 '
Low falling tone (huyền) f 2 `
Low rising tone (hỏi) r 3 ?
High broken tone (ngã) x 4 ~
Heavy tone (nặng) j 5 .
Remove tone mark z 0 -

For example, this is how to type 'anh yêu em nhiều lắm(I love you very much) in Vietnamese with the Telex method: 'anh yeeu em nhieeuf lawms'.

If you want to practice the Vietnamese characters and how to spell Vietnamese words, the Ling app has you covered. You can trace the letters with strokes in the Writing games and learn how to pronounce Vietnamese words from native speakers. I hope you can master the Vietnamese writing skills in record time.

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