I’ve created yet another article for my Vietnamese section, and this one is also about pronunciation. I’ve attempted to explain how to precisely and easily pronounce certain vowels and consonants in the Vietnamese alphabet. Read on for the article.
The Vietnamese alphabet consists of 24 letters, including most of the letters found in English. This is because, as you may already know, the Vietnamese writing system is based on that of Latin. Many, but not all, of the letters are pronounced like they are in English. Note that approximate pronunciations are based on [Ohioan] American English:
- A, without an accent mark, is pronounced like the a in father.
- With a breve (ă), it sounds like the u in hut.
- With a circumflex (â), it sounds the same as above, except that the sound is longer.
- B is pronounced just as it is in English.
- C is pronounced somewhere between a k and a hard g. Many will tell you that it is actually the sound of a hard g but it is actually a little sharper-sounding than that.
- Ch is pronounced like the ch in English.
- In the southern dialect, d is pronounced like the y in young. In the northern dialect, it is usually pronounced like a z in English.
- Đ, the “Vietnamese D”, is pronounced like the d in English.
- E is pronounced like the eah in yeah.
- With a circumflex (ê), it is pronounced like the é in resumé (that is, like the é of French).
- G is pronounced like the g in goat, except with a more gutteral sound, like the ch in loch.
- Gh is pronounced much the same.
- In the southern dialect, gi is pronounced like the y in young. In the northern dialect, it is usually pronounced like the z in English.
- H is pronounced as it is in English.
- I is pronounced like the i in the English prefix -ing.
- Note: Unlike the i in other Western writing systems, the Vietnamese i retains its dot, even after an accent mark is applied. This letter, in Vietnamese, has no meaning without its dot, anotherwords.
- K is pronounced like the Vietnamese c.
- Kh is pronounced like the k in keep.
- L is pronounced much like the l in English.
- M is pronounced like the m in English.
- N is pronounced like the n in English.
- Ng is pronounced like the ng in sing-along. I’ll have a more detailed explanation on this some other time, because this is the trickiest sound for most Westerners to produce.
- Ngh is pronounced like the Vietnamese ng.
- O is pronounced like the word awe.
- Note: The sound of this letter can bend to other sounds, depending on the sounds that follow. This is so that it is comfortable to pronounce the word. I’ll have more on this in a future article.
- With a circumflex (ô), it is pronounced like the o in most languages, including Spanish, Latin, and Italian, and like the ô in French. I cannot currently think of an example in English that is common in many regions.
- With a horn (ơ), it is pronounced like the “schwa” sound in English. That is, it sounds like the a in alone.
- P is pronounced as it is in English.
- Ph is pronounced like the f in English.
- Q is pronounced like it is in English.
- Qu is always pronounced somewhere between the qu in quack and the Gu in Guatemala.
- In the northern dialect, r is pronounced like it is in English. In the southern dialect, it is rolled, like the r of Spanish.
- S is pronounced like it is in English.
- T is pronounced like the hard th of English. (Some will pronounce thin with a hard th; they may use that as an approximation.)
- Th is pronounced like the t of English.
- Tr is pronounced like the Vietnamese ch, although it is pronounced less strongly in the northern dialect.
- U is pronounced like the oo in boo!
- With a horn (ư), it is pronounced somewhere between the u in boo! and the oo in book. It is roughly similar to the French u.
- V is pronounced like it is in English.
- X is always pronounced like the s in English.
- Y is always pronounced like the Vietnamese i.
The Vietnamese also recognize other letters that are not found in the alphabet as letters. For example, a Vietnamese newspaper talking about an American named George Williams would call him “George Williams,” even though the letter w is not a Vietnamese letter.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, while these are all the letters found in the Vietnamese alphabet, they are not all the Vietnamese letters that exist. Most Vietnamese dictionaries consider a and â separate letters, and therefore separate words beginning with those letters.
Finally, Vietnamese dictionaries also consider digraphs and trigraphs like ph and kh as separate letters.
And, as a friendly reminder, don’t forget those accent marks!