Unit 0: Alphabet, tones and sounds

The Vietnamese alphabet (CD1;2) 

a
ă
â
b
c
d
đ
e
ê
g
h
i
k
l
m
n
o
ô
ơ
p
q
r
s
t
u
ư
v
x
y

The tones

Vietnamese has a total of six tones.
Each of these is represented by a tone mark, save for the midtone, which goes unmarked.
Tone marks should be distinguished from vowel marks, as seen in the following vowels:
ă, â, ê, ơ, ô, and ư.

Take ư as an example of how the six tones are presented: Below is a brief description of these tones:

1    Mid tone (unmarked): voice is steady ans stays pretty high.
tên
name
 
2   Highest tone (acute accent): voice goes up sharply.
năng
s
sunny
 
3   Lower tone (the grave accent): voice is low and stays low.
mùa
season
 
4   Low-rising tone (the question mark without the dot): voice begins low then goes up
nhỏ
small
 
5   Broken, low-rising tone (the tilde): voice starts low and abruptly goes all the way up, resulting in a glottal stop.
cũng
also
 
NB In Southern dialects, this tone sounds the same
as he low-rising tone, thus cũng sounds like củng.
 
6   Lowest tone the dot: voice starts low and immediately drops to the lowest pitch.
dợi
wait
 
NB In Southern dialects, this tone is slightly higher
and the vowel is shortened less,
as compared to the Northern dialects.
 

It will be extremely helpful for learners to listen to the audio material, in order to master the basics of this key aspect of speaking Vietnamese.

The Vietnamese sound system

1 Vowels (CD1;3-9) 

 
Vowel or combination
Pronunciation
Example
 
 
a
as in rather
xa far
 
 
ă
a short /a/
mắt eye
 
 
â
as in run
cần need
 
 
e
as in bed
khen praise
 
 
ê
simular to fate
mến fond of
 
 
i
as in seat
đi go
 
 
o
as in floor
có have
 
 
ô
simular to no
không no
 
 
ơ
as in term
cờ flag
 
 
u
as in shoot
cũ old
 
 
ư
similar to u huh
rừng forest
 
 
 
ai
as in tie
sai wrong
 
 
ao
as in how
cháo porridge
 
 
au
combination of /a/ and /u/
sáu six
 
 
ay
combination of /ă/ and /i/
chạy run
 
 
âu
simular to show
đâu where
 
 
ây
simular to ray
đẩy push
 
 
eo
simular to sell
mèo cat
 
 
êu
simular to fail
nếu if
 
 
ia
as in dear
kía there
 
 
close to heal
tiếc regret
 
 
iu
as in phew
níu tug at
 
 
oa
as in schwa
hoa flower
 
 
oi
as in toy
nói speak
 
 
oo
as in throng
soong pan
 
 
ôi
a combination of /ô/ and /i/
đôi pair
 
 
ơi
a combination of /ơ/ and /i/
đợi wait
 
 
ua
as in boor
lụa silk
 
 
ui
as in buoy
núi mountain
 
 
as in spoor
uống drink
 
 
as in tour
thuở time period
 
 
uy
as in tweet
tủy marrow
 
 
ưa
a combinaton of /ư/ and /a/
trưa noon
 
 
ưi
a combinaton of /ư/ and /i/
ngửi sniff
 
 
iêu
simular to heal
nhiều a lot
 
 
oai
as in white
xoài mango
 
 
oay
a combination of /o/,/ă/ and /i/
loay hoay fiddle with
 
 
uôi
a combination of /u/,/ô/ and /i/
suối brook
 
 
ươi
a combination of /u/,/ô/ and /i/
tươi fresh
 
 
ươu
a combination of /ư/,/ơ/ and /u/
hươu deer
 
 

1 Consonants (CD1;10-13) 

 
Consonant or combination
Pronunciation
Example
 
 
b
softer than /b/ in beat
biết know
 
 
c
voiced softer than /k/ in call
cờ flag
 
 
ch
simular to ch in chain
chia divide
 
 
d
identical to /z/ in zeal
(in South, identical to /y/)
dày thick
 
 
đ
softer than /d/ in dean
đu đủ papaya
 
 
g*
softer than /g/ in get
gà chicken
 
 
gh
softer than /g/ in get
ghen jealous
 
 
h
identical to /h/ in how
ho cough
 
 
k
voiced, softer than /k/ in call
kim needle
 
 
kh
close to /ch/ in Bach
khó difficult
 
 
l
identical to /l/ in lend
lo worry
 
 
m
identical to /m/ in may
máu blood
 
 
n
identical to /n/ in name
này this
 
 
ng/ngh
identical to /ng/ in longing
ngọt sweet
 
 
nh
close to /n/ in lasagna
nhanh fast
 
 
p
as in hop but unreleased
pin battery
 
 
ph
identical to /f/in fame
phòng room
 
 
q
voiced very close to /kw/ in qualm
quét sweep
 
 
r
very close to /r/ in red
rồi already
 
 
s
identical to /s/ in send
sông river
 
 
t
voiced, softer than /t/ in team
toán math
 
 
th
close to /t/ in tart
thường usually
 
 
tr
close to /dge/ in grudge
trống vacant
 
 
v
very close to /v/ in voice
vội hurry
 
 
x
identical to /s/ in soul
xuống down
 
 
y
identical to /i/ in see
ý chí willpower
 

*In the Northern dialects gi in pronounced zi in the question word gì and should sound like z in any other word that begins with gi, such as giờ, giếng and giống. In the Southern dialects, gi should sound like y.