Vietnamese Pronunciation Guide - 5 Important Points To Remember

July 20, 2021

Have you ever tried to say something in Vietnamese but native speakers could not understand you? If so, this article is for you! Although you may know a lot of Vietnamese vocabulary, poor Vietnamese pronunciation can still prevent you from mastering the language.

I am going to show you the five most important points you need to keep in mind when pronouncing any Vietnamese word. Are you ready? Let's get started!

 

Pronounce The Vietnamese Alphabet Correctly

A Vietnamese word is created with consonants and a vowel. Therefore, the pronunciation of consonants and vowels is very important to help you read a word correctly.

There are 17 consonants and 12 vowels in the Vietnamese alphabet. Although the modern Vietnamese writing system uses Roman letters, native speakers pronounce them differently from how they are pronounced in English. For example, the consonant 'k' is pronounced as /g/ in Vietnamese while it is pronounced as /k/ in English.

To pronounce the Vietnamese alphabet correctly, check my article Vietnamese alphabet & how to pronounce them with a detailed IPA pronunciation guide.

 

Vietnamese Pronunciation Guide For Diphthongs, Triphthongs

The diphthongs and triphthongs in Vietnamese play a role as the vowel in a word. They are the combinations of single Vietnamese vowels. Therefore, the sound of a diphthong or a triphthong is also the combination of every single vowel's pronunciation. For example, the diphthong 'ai' is pronounced as /ai/, which is similar to when you pronounce /a/ and /i/ together.

Below are how to pronounce some Vietnamese diphthongs and triphthongs and their equivalent sound in English words.

  • ai /ai/: like hi, my in English
  • ao /ao/: like cow, loud
  • au /aw/: like how, sour
  • ay /ʌi/: like Malay
  • âu /əu/ or /ou/: like no, slow
  • ây /ei/: like hey, may
  • eo /eo/: like meow
  • êu /eu/: like fail, snail
  • ia, iê /ia/: like beer, here
  • iêu /iaw/
  • iu /ew/: like ew, chill, fill
  • oa /oa:/: like reservoir

There are 51 combinations of Vietnamese vowels, so it can be challenging to remember how to speak all of them. I would suggest you practice with the Ling app that has speaking games to evaluate your pronunciation. You can also listen to the way native speakers say the word, then mimic them.

 

Tones Are Important In The Vietnamese Language

Vietnamese is the tonal language, as same as Thai. That is why you really need to be able to differentiate the tones. Otherwise, people can easily misunderstand you.

There are six tones in Vietnamese, as described in the image below:

Vietnamese tones
Vietnamese tones

Make sure you check how to pronounce Vietnamese tones with audio and practice with the Ling app to polish your pronunciation skills.

 

Be Aware Of Different Dialects

There are five main dialects in Vietnamese. In each dialect, people may pronounce some consonants, vowels, or tones a bit differently. For example, in the Northern Vietnamese accent, some consonants are usually spoken like d, gi, r pronounced as /dz/, or s, z pronounced as /s/. In the meantime, people in Central Vietnamese distinguish the consonants clearly.

The differences between the dialects have been explained in the article 5 Vietnamese Dialects. These differences might cause you some trouble when trying to understand people from different regions in Vietnam. It also makes the Vietnamese language a bit difficult to learn.

 

Learn The Way Native Speakers Actually Speak

Sometimes, the Vietnamese language that you learn is not actually spoken in daily life by native speakers. Usually, language learners speak the language formally or with the intonation of their first language.

To speak Vietnamese naturally, you may want to check the following aspects:

Intonation

The Vietnamese language also has intonation. However, the intonation in Vietnamese is different from it in English. For example, in English, you will raise your voice pitch at the end of a yes-no question. This is not the case in Vietnamese because the voice pitch will be kept the same. Let's look at the following example!

Vietnamese intonation

Natural Speed

In daily conversations, Vietnamese people speak really fast. You can check the average speed of native speakers in this travel video:

Can you hear what they say in the video? Even if you don't get what they speak, you don't need to worry. Vietnamese people will speak slowly to you when they know that you are learning the language. However, it is a good practice to listen to the natural speed regularly, so you can catch up with how the language is spoken in daily life.

Stop Final Consonants

While in English, final consonants are usually pronounced clearly. So, for instance, the word 'speaks' will be pronounced as /spi:ks/.

In Vietnamese, the final consonants are usually silent or stopped. The word 'cát' will be pronounced as /gat/ with a stop /t/ sound.

 

Common Vietnamese Pronunciation Mistakes

Wrong Tones

As mentioned earlier, the tones are important in the Vietnamese language. With different tones, a word can have different meanings. Below is a typical example of three different fruits that have the same consonants and a vowel but different tone marks:

  • Dưa (flat tone): watermelon
  • Dừa (low falling tone): coconut
  • Dứa (high rising tone): pineapple

Vietnamese language learners usually pronounce the tones either wrongly or not clearly. This challenges native speakers to understand them. Therefore, it is better to speak Vietnamese slowly but clearly, especially to get the tones correctly.

Pronouncing Vietnamese Consonants In The English Way

English native speakers usually pronounce the following consonants in the English way:

ConsonantsEnglish pronunciationVietnamese pronunciation
C/k/ like in cat/g/ like in get
D/d/ like in dog/z/ like in zoo
Hsometimes it's silent/h/ like in hat
P/p/ like in pen/bp/
Q/kw/ like in queue/gw/
S/s/ like in set/sh/ like sugar
T/t/ like in tea/dt/

Increasing Voice Pitch At The End Of A Yes-No Question

As said in the Vietnamese intonation, English native speakers tend to raise their voice pitch up at the end of a yes-no question. This makes their Vietnamese pronunciation less natural, but at the same time, it sounds interesting.

You can improve your Vietnamese pronunciation with the Ling app every day by listening to how native speakers say the phrases in dialogues and checking your pronunciation scores in the speaking game. The app also has fun mini-games to keep you interested in learning the language.

I hope you can master Vietnamese soon.

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