HOW TO PRONOUNCE VIETNAMESE – IPA VIETNAMESE

One of the biggest difficulties for foreigners when learning Vietnamese is probably pronunciation. To be able to learn and speak Vietnamese naturally, you can’t just imitate native speakers, you must understand the pronunciation rules because one miss pronunciation  may result in a word’s different meaning. So how to pronounce Vietnamese?

To pronounce Vietnamese correctly, you need to understand the two most basic issues: Tones in Vietnamese and the transcription of vowels and consonants.

1. Tones in Vietnamese – How to Pronounce Vietnamese

Unlike most other languages, Vietnamese has 6 tones and 5 bar marks. Just by being different in tone, the meaning of words can completely be changed. 

6 Vietnamese tones include: 

  • Level: No accents. For example: Ca, Co, Cu,…
  • Acute (´): A slash is placed on a vowel. This is the highest tone

For example: Á, Ó, Ố, Ú, Ứ, Ý, Í,…., Cá, Có, Cú,….

  • Grave (`): Backslash with chromatic accent and also placed on vowels. When reading this tone, lower your voice.

 For example:  À, Ò, Ồ, Ù, Ừ, Ì,…, Cà, Cò, Cù,…

  • Tilde (~): Placed on vowels. 

Example: Ã, Õ, Ỗ, Ũ, Ữ, Ỹ, Ĩ,…, Cỗ, Cũ, Kỹ,…

  • Hook above (?): Placed above a vowel

Example: Ả, Ỏ, Ổ, Ủ, Ử, Ỷ, Ỉ,…, Cả, Cỏ, Củ,…

  • Underdot (.): Put below the vowel.

For example: Ạ, Ọ, Ộ, Ụ, Ự, Ị,…, Dạ, Cọ, Cộ, Cụ, Kị,…

You can see the illustration below to visualize the difference between the bars:

6 tones in vietnamese - how to pronounce Vietnamese

The tone differences present words’ meaning changes. 

  • Ca (Level): It means ‘hát’ or ‘cái cốc nhựa’ in Vietnamese
  • Ca (Acute): It means ‘con cá’
  • Ca (Grave): Quả cà

Note: Vietnamese has 3 accents corresponding to 3 regions. Southern accent will only have 5 tones because there are 2 sounds pronounced the same (still different spelling). They are  a hook above and tilde.

2. How to pronounce vowels and consonants in Vietnamese? – Pronounce Vietnamese

To be able to pronounce Vietnamese correctly, you must understand the rules of vowels and consonants, just like you would when learning English. It will be difficult due to the significant number  of vowels and consonants in Vietnamese.

2.1. Pronunciation of Vietnamese vowels – IPA Vietnamese

In terms of writing, Vietnamese has 12 vowels. However, in terms of phonetics, Vietnamese has up to 11 single vowels and diphthongs and triphthongs. Here is the basic Vietnamese IPA table for your reference:

a. Single vowel – Pronounce Vietnamese

Single vowels VietnameseIPASimilar sound in EnglishExample
a/a:/fatherBa (Father), Xa (Far)
ă/a/cutăn (eat)
â/ə/butmt (lost)
e/ɛ/setxe (vehicle)
ê/e/day, saycây (tree)
i,y/i/tea, meti vi (TV)
o/ɔ/lawno (full)
ô/o/bowlcái ô (umbrella)
ơ/ə:/sirbơ (butter, avocado)
u/u/toobún (rice noodle)
ư/ɨ/ /ɯ/uh-uh (US)vt (throw away)

b. Vietnamese diphthongs – IPA Vietnamese

In theory, there are 32 diphthongs and 13 triphthongs. However, not all vowels are used in writing or daily communication..

Here are some commonly used diphthongs and triphthongs:

aiâuêuoeuaưi
ayâyiaoiưuuôi
aouâyiêuooươi
auoayiuôiuiuya
oaieooaiơiuyươu

Example: Pronunciation of some diphthongs/triphthongs (vowels clusters):

  • (a) + (o) => (ao). For example: cao, sao, dao,…
  • (e) + (o) => (eo). For example: heo, keo,…
  • (i) + (ê) + (u) => (iêu). For example: tiêu, diêu, kiêu,…
  • (o) + (a) + (i) => (oai). For example: xoài, hoài,…

There are many diphthongs and triphthongs, and some are exceptions to the rules. You should learn from an experienced native teacher rather than self-study because it is easy to confront confusion, time wasting, and being ineffective.

Some special cases are commonly met such as:

  • The vowels “i” and “y” are both pronounced /i/, but when combined with “a” and “u,” the pronunciation changes dramatically.
  • The letter “a” is pronounced differently from “ă”. But the diphthong “au” has the same pronunciation (ă + u).

See more:

2.2. Pronunciation of Vietnamese consonants – Learn vietnamese pronunciation

Vietnamese consonants, like Vietnamese vowels, include many single and double consonants. However, you shouldn’t be too concerned because the majority of these consonants have a similar reading in English.

The table below contains Vietnamese international phonetic transcriptions for Vietnamese consonants. You can practice Vietnamese pronunciation by using this table:

Vietnamese consonantsVietnamese transliterationSimilar sound in EnglishExample
b/ɓ/blue, bestba (farther), bay (fly)
đ/ɗ / day, doneđi (go), đẹp (beautiful)
d/z/zero, zoodao (knife)
gi/j/yes, jumpgiày (shoes), gió (wind)
c, k/k/come, cutcao (tall), kem (cream)
g/gh/ɣ/go, getgà (chicken)
ghế (chair)
h/h/hi, hellohên (lucky),

ho (cough)

l/l/law, lovelo (nervous)
m/m/my, mindma (ghost)
n/n/number, nono (full)
p/p/pen, pushpin (battery)
s/ʂ/she, showsò (scallop) 
x/s/so, somexa (far)
t/t/stayto (big), tim (heart)
v/v/van, veryvà (and)
r/r /run, redrau (vegetable)
kh// /x/loch (Northern dialect)khô (dry)
nh/ɲ/nho (grape)
ng/ŋ/singngu (stupid)
ph/f/form, funph
qu/kw/ (Northern, Central)queenquên (forget)
/w/wow
th/tʰ/thinthầy (teacher)
tr/ʈʂ/try, trendtrơn (slippy)

In English, most consonants have similar pronunciations. However, in order to apply it to Vietnamese spelling and pronunciation, you will need a guide because many words will differ from English when the consonants are behind the vowels.

3. Tips for you when learning Vietnamese pronunciation

If you do not know how to pronounce and spell Vietnamese, you should first discover and then study with a native teacher. They will assist you in practicing and will point out unique or confusing cases. 

Revision should be done every day, practicing Vietnamese pronunciation regularly, repetition will help you to spell as a reflex.

Currently, most Vietnamese dictionaries do not have Vietnamese transliteration for you to use. You can use online dictionaries that include audio content to listen to and imitate the sound. 

Above are the sharing on how to pronounce Vietnamese as well as the Vietnamese transcription table, so that you can practice pronunciation with simple words yourself. Hope this article helps you!

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