« Vietnamese language schools in Hanoi
» Basic Bootstrapping Guide to Backpacking in Bangkok

Vietnamese vowels

01.23.08 | admin | In Vietnamese

This is a continuation of learning the Vietnamese vowels system which began with a Vietnamese pronunciation guide with audio samples of the six tones. Diphthongs will be covered later.

Vietnamese is supposed to be a monosyllabic language like Chinese, where the language got a lot of influence. In practice many words are actually more than one syllable. However, it still means that each syllable needs to have maximum expressive ability. This means that there are many vowels, diphthongs, and tones for each. There are 12 basic vowels in Vietnamese and they can be categorized as being the front or back, having a high, mid, or low tongue position, lips rounded or unrounded, and either short or long.

First, the front vowels. These are all unrounded.

high i/y
mid ê
low e

Most books won’t tell you this but the difference between “i” and “y” is simply that “y” is a longer a vowel in diphthongs so for example “mai” is pronounced “maaai” and “may” is pronounced “maiiiii”. The sound of “i/y” is like that in the word “singing”. The sound of “ê” is somewhere between “him” and “hem”. You may want to open your mouth a bit to make the “e” sound like in “ten”.

One other thing to note is that with “sin” compared to “sinh” the vowel in “sin” will be more like the pure “i” sounds whereas in the latter it will be more like a schwa like in “sun”. Something to look out for.

position rounded/back unrounded/central shortened
high u ư  
mid ô ơ â
low o a ă

You should listen to these vowel sounds carefully. First practice the rounded vowels and keep in mind that you really have to shape your mouth, just like in French. Then when you are able to make the long, rounded vowels you can make the unrounded bells by, according to the chart, on rounding your lips, letting them relax. And then by shortening them you can make the third column vowels.

Also “a” isn’t always close to the sound in “father” as sometimes it’s more like the sound in “sang”. Anh is a good example.

If you pronounce “caught ” and “cot” differently than the Vietnamese “o” is more like the vowel in “caught”.

Language hack: a word that ends with a t/p/k sound will always have hỏi or sắc tone and will immediately be high or low, i.e. there is no raising of the tone, it is immediately high.

And in words that end with “ng” or “c” sound with a rounded vowel (u/ô/o) the lips come together making it sound like the word ends with “m” or “p” respectively.

Leave a comment

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. Subscribe to these comments.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>



« Vietnamese language schools in Hanoi
» Basic Bootstrapping Guide to Backpacking in Bangkok