Say Numbers in Vietnamese

Vietnamese Numbers 1 – 10

The table below shows the building blocks of counting, i.e., numbers from 0 to 10 in Vietnamese, which are used to construct bigger numbers.

Number English Vietnamese
1 one một
2 two hai
3 three ba
4 four bốn (also: tư)
5 five năm
6 six sáu
7 seven bảy
8 eight tám
9 nine chín
10 ten mười

In English, one would need to remember additional 2 numbers before there is any rule: eleven, twelve. In Vietnamese, you can already start to compose numbers from 11. What a good news!

So how would you say 11 in Vietnamese? 11 = 10 + 1 = mười + một = mười một! How about 19? Please compose it and if your answer is mười chín, congratulations!

How would you say 15 then? Is it mười năm? Unfortunately it’s not. If we think about English, while we say 16 as six + teen, 15 is fif + teen, not five + teen! In Vietnamese, a strange thing also happens with 15: the correct answer is mười lăm, and not mười năm. This is the only exception in the range from 11 to 19, which would fall under a rule mentioned in the next section.

Numbers from 20 to 999

In order to say 20, you would say 2 + mươi = hai + mươi. This same rule applies to 30, … until 90, with no single exception. Hey, even 50 still conforms with this rule: 50 = năm + mươi.

Next, let’s tackle numbers such as 29. In English, this is said as 20 + 9 = twenty + nine. Vietnamese shares the same rule so that 29 is written and spoken as 20 + 9 = hai mươi + chín! How would you then say 83? Is ist 80 + 3 = tám mươi + ba?

There are 2 exceptions that you need to take note: for number 1 and 5. 1 is một in the number 1 and combinations 01 and 11. In other 2-digit numbers such as 21, 31 till 91, it becomes mốt. For instance, 31 = 30 + 1 = ba mươi + mốt; 61 is sáu mươi mốt.

Similarly for 5: it’s năm when stands alone or in 05 combination. In all other combinations, 15, 25, till 95, it’s lăm. For example, 55 = 50 + 5 = năm mươi + lăm.

It’s worth noting that in spoken Vietnamese (but not in writing), the word mươi is often omitted in saying 2-digit numbers. As such 29 becomes hai chín, which is essentially saying the number 2 and 9 separately. Likewise, 83 becomes tám ba. Of course, when the number is 40, which is bốn mươi, you can’t omit the mươi. Or you’d be referring to the number 4!

Before we can say any number in Vietnamese, we need to learn the last piece: the hundreds. The Vietnamese word for hundred is trăm. To say 300: it’s simply ba + trăm; 500: năm trăm. Exactly the same as in English.

In English, the number 152 is: one hundred and fifty two, where the and between the hundred-unit and the rest is normally used in British English but not in American English. In Vietnamese, it’s truely up to you: not unsual to use it and not unsual not to use it. So 152 is một trăm năm (mươi) hai, with or without the word mươi.

How would you say 103? It’s one hundred and three, right? The same rule as for saying 152 above. In Vietnamese, however, we need to insert the word lẻ before the number 3 so that it’s said: một trăm lẻ ba. This is due to the 0 before the number 3. How about 105?

Let’s practice a little. How would you say 190? It’s 100 + 90 = một trăm + chín mươi.

What about 111? Let’s break it down the same way you speak in English: 100 + 11 = một trăm + mười một. Please be reminded that 1 in the last digit becomes mốt, except when it appears alone as number 1 or in 11 as in the above example.

Why not finish this section with the biggest 3-digit number 999? How would you say it? The table below shows the answer.

Number 999
English nine hundred and ninety nine
Vietnamese chín trăm chín mươi chín

Say a big number?

By now, you have known all the necessary pieces to say any number. Are you aware of it?

Let’s do just that by first giving the words for the bigger units we’d play with in this section:

Unit English Vietnamese
100 hundred trăm
1000 thousand nghìn or ngàn
1000000 million triệu
1000000000 billion tỉ

Now, how would you say a number like 15603? It’s not difficult: say it in English and then simply translate the English units and numbers you’ve learned in the previous 2 sections to Vietnamese. This works simply because Vietnamese and English share the same way of saying number.

Let’s take a drill. How to say 15603 in Vietnamese?

Number 15603
English fifteen thousand six hundred and three
Vietnamese mười lăm nghìn sáu trăm lẻ ba

The only note here is that due to the 0 before the last digit 3, we need the word lẻ.

 

You can also check your answer using the automatic numbers speller. It also contains the mapping between English and Vietnamese.

How about 5063? Tread carefully here.

 

Number 5063
English five thousand and sixty three
Vietnamese năm nghìn không trăm sáu mươi ba

As we’ve already learned, there is no need to say the equivalent of and in Vietnamese. You should have been surprised about the word không right in front of trăm. Recall that for a number 063 or simply 63, it’s said simply as sáu mươi ba, not không trăm sáu mươi ba. But when the 0 at the hundred-unit is preceded by higher scales such as thousand or million, etc. it becomes necessary to say explicitly the 0 at the hundredh-unit.

As another example, 6023023 is said as: sáu triệu + hai mươi ba nghìn + không trăm hai mươi ba. As you can see, the 0 of the first 023 is not said explicitly while the 0 the second 023 is said as không trăm. So the 0 should be said explicitly when it’s at the hundred-unit, and this doesn’t apply to any other unit.

Next example: 502305

Number 502305
English five hundred and two thousand three hundred and five
Vietnamese năm trăm lẻ hai nghìn ba trăm lẻ năm

As you might have realized saying such as big number as 502305 is just a matter of: < saying 502 > + thousand + < saying 305 >. This is why knowing how to say till 999 is enough for you to cope with any number.

Let’s practice with a bigger number: 62003100

Number 62003100
English sixty two million three thousand and one hundred
Vietnamese sáu hai triệu ba nghìn một trăm

How familiar it is to say numbers in Vietnamese if you already know how to do so in English.

And to graduate from this tutorial on cardinal numbers, put yourself to test with this really, really big number: 99,999,999,999. Give it a try before you look at the answer.

Number 99999999999
English ninety nine billion nine hundred and ninety nine million nine hundred and ninety nine thousand and nine hundred and ninety nine
Vietnamese chín mươi chín tỉ chín trăm chín mươi chín triệu chín trăm chín mươi chín nghìn chín trăm chín mươi chín

And don’t forget to use the automatic numbers pronouncer (Link temporarily missing) to help you master Vietnamese numbers.

Say ordinal numbers in Vietnamese

This lesson has been quite long, so you’ll see a magic formula below:

To say ordinal number: thứ + < Ordinal number >

Wonderful! This means to say 22nd, you’ll say thứ + hai mươi hai. Short and sweet for ordinals in Vietnamese.

Of course, exceptions are to be expected. Luckily, only one: 1st is thứ nhất instead of thứ một.

Summary

  • Saying number in Vietnamese is very similar to English at the general level, except for only some minor differences.
  • To say oridnal numbers, simply say it as a cardinal number and put the word thứ in front.
  • Tool: Automatic numbers pronouncer: Vietnamese and English.

Say Pronouns in Vietnamese: I/You/We and My/Your/Our

Introduction to Vietnamese Pronouns

As we have learned before in the Grammar lessons, Vietnamese sentence structure is similar to that of English.

However, one of the challenges that may hinder you from making rapid progress with your Vietnamese is…pronouns. Their usage is not different from English, just that there are many different Vietnamese words for each English pronoun (I, You, etc.). And the various words are not always interchangeable.

The grammatical reasons for different Vietnamese words for the same word, say I, are, firstly, to express the difference in age, which is culturally a “big deal”; and secondly, to express the 2 genders.

And a further complication is that in different regions (North, Middle, South) local words are used extensively for pronouns (which is not true for most other Vietnamese words).

But there is nothing to be afraid, because after finishing this lesson, you’d know the necessary common words to use in almost every situation, and be understood everywhere in Vietnam.

Let’s learn how to say Vietnamese pronouns by starting with the pair ‘I – You’.

Say I, You in Vietnamese

From my experience, it’s usually more effective to learn this part by shifting our mind from asking questions such as How do I say ‘I’ in Vietnamese? or How do I say ‘You’ in Vietnamese?. Instead it’s useful to ask the question: What’s the correct word to refer to the older/younger person of conversation?.

To see why the latter is a more apt question, let’s take a look at the following table:

Vietnamese words for I and You in various situations

Word for I – Word for You When to use
Tôi – Bạn ‘I’ and ‘You’ are more or less at the same age
Em – Chị ‘I’ is younger than ‘You’ and ‘You’ is female
Chị – Em ‘I’ is older than ‘You’ and ‘I’ is female
Em – Anh ‘I’ is younger than ‘You’ and ‘You’ is male
Anh – Em ‘I’ is older than ‘You’ and ‘I’ is male

As can be seen from the above table, if ‘You’ are older (than ‘I’) and are female, the correct word is chị. And interestingly, the word for ‘I’ is also chị if ‘I’ were female and older than ‘You’.

As an illustration, consider the following example:

Mai (female, older than Huy): Em đang đi đâu đấy? (Where are you going?)
Huy (male): Em đang đi học. Còn chị? (I’m going to school. And you?)
Mai: Chị đang đi đến cơ quan. (I’m going to office)

In this conversation, Mai is older than Huy so Mai refers to Huy using the word em in the first line. When answering Mai’s question, Huy refers to himself using the same word em!

In line 2, we see again that Huy uses the word chị to refer to Mai while Mai also uses that same word to refer to herself in the 3rd line.

So we’ve known how to address ourself and the other person in the case of equal or moderately different ages, i.e., within the range of 10 years. The numer 10 is not carved in stone, but approximate. So as long as you feel both persons are in the same ‘generation’, it’s appropriate.

Next, let’s learn the words to use when the difference in age is significant.

Say I – You when there is a significant difference in age

Word for ‘I’ – Word for ‘You’ Age relation
Em – Cô/Bác The other person is much older than you, but not very old yet (looks younger than 70?). For female.
Em – Chú/Bác Same as above, but for male.
Con – Bà The other person is really much more senior than you (looks older than 70?)
Con – Ông Same as above, but for male.

As can be learned from the table above, you’d use the word in situations where the other person is female, and quite older than you. It’s also this same word that would be used by the other person to refer to herself when talking to you. She may choose to use a different word, but its must be equivalent to . And since is the most common word for this situation, you can just learn this word to get started.

And the interesting observation is that if you don’t want to remember the word to use for females, and chú for males, you can just remember the word bác, which can be used for both males and females. In practice, the word bác may be more popular than chú in the case of addressing males, while is more widely used for females.

As just about no explanation can be as illustrative as a good concrete example, let’s go through another example short dialog where a young man called Trung is talking to a very senior couple.

Trung: Ông bà đang nấu gì vậy? (Grandpa Grandma are cooking what?)
The old couple: Ông bà đang nấu xôi. (Grandpa grandma are cooking sticky rice)

In this example, Trung refers to the senior couple as ông bà, juxtaposing the words ông and to refer to the couple. When replying to Trung’s query, the senior couple themselves use the same phrase ‘ông bà’ to refer to themselves.

If everything has been clear so far to you: Congratulations! you’ve got the knack of Vietnamese pronouns. Really.

Before we wind up this section, it’s worth repeating that one of the deciding factors when choosing the correct word pair to use is the age difference of the 2 speakers, not absolute age. If you’re a 45 male, a young chap at 20 would call you anh but your high-school friends, who are also 45 years old, would definitely not refer to you using anh because to them, you’re not older.

The following Video by Donna Vo would help you review what we’ve gone through so far.

Say He, She in Vietnamese

The not-so-good news is that just as for the pronouns I and You we’ve learned above, there are many different translations for He and She, depending also on the age relation between the speaker and the referred person as well as the gender of the referred person (and note how English also has 2 words: she for female and he for male.

The absolutely fantastic news is that you’ve already learned all those words! The following table confirms why.

He, She in Vietnamese

[The word for ‘You’, if you were talking to the person directly] + ấy (or ta).

To clear things up, what’s the phrase for he if the man is older than you?

To get to the correct answer, what’s the word to refer to an older guy you’re talking to? It’s anh, right? (If you got it wrong, please review the section about ‘I’ and ‘You’ above).

So the phrase for he is then… anh + ấy = anh ấy. What if he’s younger than you? The answer is em ấy.

Just to make sure everything is absolutely well understood, how would you translate She likes chatting with friends? The answer is below:

Cô ấy thích trò chuyện với bạn bè
She likes chatting with friends

You (plural), We and They

In this section, we’ll learn how to refer to a group of people.

We’ve learned in section 1 above that there are many words for the (singular) You such as em, anh and chị. To make You plural to refer to the many people you’re talking to, we simply add the word các in front.

To refer to the plural version of You, use các + [The suitable word for singular You]

Next, let’s talk about the pronoun They as it shares a similar rule as the plural You. The standard translation is họ or bọn họ. In cases when they comprises of only men or only ladies, we normally translate they in another way to indicate this explicitly.

They (all men) ‘các’ + [The suitable word for ‘He’]
They (all ladies) ‘các’ + [The suitable word for ‘She’]

So what does [The suitable word for ‘He’] above mean? It means you need to choose the appropriate word for the pronoun he, depending on the age relation. For example, if they is a group of men all older than you, the correct phrase would be các + anh ấy. Again, anh ấy is the translation of he when referring to older men.

What should you use for they if some of them are older than you while some are younger? If some of them are older than you, I think you wouldn’t mind refer to the group as a whole as if they consisted of people all older than you. Would you?

Lastly, let’s see how we say we in Vietnamese:

We = tụi/bọn/chúng + [the suitable word for ‘I’].

For example, a group of children talking to their teacher would refer to themselves as tụi em or bọn em. A group of senior students would use tụi anh in the place of we when talking to junior students.

Some caveats on pronouns usage

In this lesson, we’ve learned how to say the various pronouns: I, You, He, She, We, You, They. There is one thing you must be aware of by now is that there are many different words for each of the English pronouns, due mainly to 2 reasons: age and gender.

The first point I would like to remind you is that in the cases where there are different words for male and female, please take your time to use the correct word. Or they may think you’re confused about their gender…Just kidding.

For age, however, you really need to exercise some caution. And the reason is that if you talk to an older person, which necessitates the word anh for male or chị for female but you use the word em instead. This would make the other person think you are not respecting him/her and this is definitely be among the mistakes you don’t want to make (unless you’re disrespectful on purpose). And if the other person is a male, there’s no doubt it’s not a trivial mistake.

In our discussion in section 1, we said you’d use anh or chị when the other person is older than you. But if you have the slightess doubt whether you or they are older, consider them older and use the appropriate word. That’s the short and simple way to be right.

Now, let’s delve a bit into the dynamics behind why using the appropriate word is necessary. When the person you talk to is male, talking to them using anh shows that you value them highly because the word has evolved to become a symbol of strength, not just a mere language-correct way to refer to someone older than you. As such, it’s obvious that you should take every opportunity to use the word anh to refer to a man you talk to, especially in business settings. And you’d see they refer to you using anh or chị as well. It’s polite and is used everyday by locals, so you should follow.

If the other person is a lady, the wind flows in the opposite direction. Vietnamese women, like women everywhere else, want to be viewed as “young” in the eyes of men. So if you’re male and older than the lady, definitely use the word em to refer to her. And even when you’re younger but the age difference is small, use em as well. And if she ever mentions you’re younger than her, congratulate her on looking so young (that you were mistaken she’s younger than you). It simply works.

In business settings, however, it may be safer to use chị when it’s unclear who’s younger.

In business settings, it’s polite to refer to the other person using the word for a senior person.

My, Your, Our in Vietnamese

Vietnamese language doesn’t really have a direct equivalent of possessive pronouns such as My, Your, etc. This means that in order to say, for example, my, you would say of me or belonging to me when translated literally to English. And the Vietnamese translation of ‘of’ or ‘belonging to’ is của.

My = của + [the suitable word for ‘I’]
Your = của + [the suitable word for ‘You’]

The above rule applies to all other cases: his, her, our, its, their, etc.

To practice, let’s translate the sentence: This is my friend, John. The table below explains the translation:

.

Đây là người bạn của tôi , John
This is the friend of me , John

Me, You, Us in Vietnamese

It can’t be better: the same word for ‘I’ is used for ‘me’. The same word for ‘we’ is used for ‘us’. The same applies to other pronouns. What a good news!

Mary loves him
Mary yêu anh ấy
He loves Mary
Anh ấy yêu Mary

Summary

There is no doubt that this is a tough lesson. So please review it as many times as you need to. And if you have any questions, please simply write in the Comments section below.

The most important points in this lesson are:

  • There are different Vietnamese words for each English pronoun, depending on the age relation and gender of the person you talk to.
  • The common canonical Vietnamese words for IYou are tôi, bạn, anh, chị, and em, etc. Other pronouns: He, She, We, They are built upon the words for I and You.
  • In business settings, it’s polite to refer to your associates as anh and chị
  • The way to say my in Vietnamese is belonging to me or of me. Similar for your, his, her, our, their.
  • In Vietnamese, the same word is used for both subject and object pronouns: I and me, He and him, etc.
  • We didn’t quite mention this: the word for It and Its is .

Say ‘How are you?’ in Vietnamese

How are you in Vietnamese

The most common way to ask How are you? in Vietnamese is:

How are you? = [The word for You] + (có) khỏe không?

As an example, let’s imagine that John meets his senior Vietnamese colleague called Thảo. In order to ask How are you? to Thảo, John would say: Chị (có) khỏe không?. The word is totally optional and is usually ommitted in both spoken and written language. John uses the word chị to address Thảo not only because Thảo is his senior colleague, but also because in business settings, it’s polite to refer to your colleague using the word for a senior person when the age difference is small. To review how to use the correct word for you and recommendations for business settings, consult the lessons on how to say Pronouns: I, You, etc.

The word khỏe means fine and the word không is a word added to the end to convert the sentence to a question. Hence, the literal meaning of the question: Chị khỏe không? is Are you fine?. An alternative word to không, although less common, is the word chứ. Usually, when chứ is used, we’ll repeat [the word for You] at the end as well. As such, in our example John would say: Chị khỏe chứ chị?

There is another lesson common way to ask How are you? in Vietnamese that is even in translation to the English question:

How are you? = [A time phrase, such as hôm nay (today)] +
[The word for You] + thế nào?

In our example situation, John would then ask, using the second way of asking: Hôm nay, chị thế nào? The phrase thế nào is the Vietnamese equivalent of the English word how. Please take note that in Vietnamese, it would be really uncommon just to ask Chị thế nào? without a time phrase in front, as Chị thế nào? is a generic question about how, and not a set phrase to refer to only health.

I am fine in Vietnamese

In this section, we’ll learn how to say the standard answer flow to the question How are you?: I’m fine. Thank you. And you?

I am fine = [The word for I] + khỏe
Thank you = Cám ơn + [The word for You]
And you? = Còn + [The word for you]?

A small note is that to say thank you, you can just say cám ơn. But if you know the proper word to address the other person, it’s preferred to add in that word. Consult the lesson on how to say thank you in Vietnamese for more details.

The way to say And you? in Vietnamese in Còn + [The word for you]?. Note that còn is not the Vietnamese translation of and!; it is synonymous to the English word about. As such the Vietnamese translation of And you? in this situation is actually the literal translation of About you?

Putting everything together, below is the dialogue between John and his senior colleague Thảo

John: Chào chị, hôm này chị khỏe không?
Thảo: Mình khỏe, còn anh?
John: Tôi cũng (also) khỏe. Cảm ơn chị.

If you pay close enough attention, you would see that Thảo didn’t actually say Thank you in her answer. This way of reply is actually quite common in Vietnamese culture and is still considered as polite (enough).

Before we end, below are the Vietnamese equivalents of the English answers to the how-are-you question:

I’m fine: Tôi khỏe.
Very good: Rất khỏe/tốt.
I’m so so: Tàm tạm.
Not very good: Không khỏe lắm.
Very bad: Rất tệ.
Very tired: Rất mệt.

Summary

  • The 3 most common ways to say How are you? in Vietnamese:
    [The word for You] + khỏe không?
    [The word for You] + khoẻ chứ + [The word for You]?
    [A time phrase, such as hôm nay (today)] + [The word for You] + thế nào?
  • To say And you? in Vietnamese: Còn + [The word for You]?

Say Hello and Goodbye in Vietnamese

Saying Hello/Hi

In a nutshell, the following is the formula to say hi/hello in Vietnamese:

To say hello/hi in Vietnamese:
Chào + [The correct word to address that person]

The following table shows some common cases:

If you’re more or less at the same age or you’re especially close. chào bạn
OR
chào + [The person’s name]
If the person is younger chào em
(for both males & females)
If the person is older, and <= your age + 10
(around the age of your older brother / sister)
chào chị (for females)
chào anh (for males)
If the person is much older, around the age of your aunts or uncles chào cô (for females)
chào chú / bác (for males)Sometimes, in some regions, “bác” is also used to refer to older females
If the person is very old, around the age of your grand parents chào bà (for females)
chào ông (for males)

(Thanks Thanh & Coyle for your suggestions to update the above table)

So if your friend’s (first) name is Hảo, you would say Chào Hảo. If she’s older and called Thảo, you would say Chào chị Thảo. It’s worth noting that we can also omit the name: so we could have just said Chào chị.

There is one noticeable difference in the use of proper name and family name between English and Vietnamese. In English, if you’re being formal, you would probably address the other person using their family name: Hi Jim but Dear Rohn.

In Vietnamese, we would always use first name, in every situation. The formality is encoded by the different way you address, and never in the change from first name to family name.

Try a small experiment by calling your Vietnamese friend by his family name, and the person would probably think you’re talking to someone else, if there are many around, or you have forgot his/her name!

In Vietnamese, goodbye in vietnamesealways Refer to people by their firstname, including formal situations.

 

If the other person is someone older and very much admired/respected, such as your old teachers, consider adding a Xin before the word Chào to make it more formal: Xin Chào anh/chị.

By now, you probably have realized that the age factor plays a significant role in addressing people in Vietnamese (and in many other languages such as Chinese, French, Japanese as well). While in English, we’d always use “you” regardless of age, it’s considered very inappropriate not to address people according to age, even if you’re the boss and the other person is your subordinate! This is not about authority, it’s culture.

Saying Good morning, afternoon, etc.

Below are the equivalents in Vietnamese.

Good morning
Chào buổi sáng
Good afternoon
Chào buổi chiều
Good evening
Chào buổi tối

There is one good news: you don’t need to learn the above table! The reason? In Vietnam, it’s somehow not so popular to address using ‘good morning’ and the likes. Maybe it’s due to the pragmatics aspect of language: Chào buổi sáng is 3 times longer than just Chào, which already does a good job. What’s your guess?

Say Goodbye

The translation of goodbye is tạm biệt so that the equivalent of Goodbye Huy is Tạm biệt Huy. The usage of tạm biệt is exactly the same as that of chào. If you are young (at age or at heart) and the other person is likewise, it’s hip to use Bye as in Bye Huy. But whenever you every suspect the other person is being formal, please don’t use it.

Summary

  • To say hello: (Xin) Chào + bạn/< Proper Name >/anh/chị
  • It’s usually uncommon to say the equivalents of Good morning in normal situations.
  • To say goodbye: Tạm biệt + bạn/< Proper name >/anh/chị.

Pronounce Vietnamese words: A complete guide

After you have had a good foundation of how to write Vietnamese, it’s time we learn how to speak Vietnamese. The ability to speak even just a few simple words and sentences in the target language quite often arouse a very special feeling!

We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

As we have learned in the lesson on writing, Vietnamese is a tonal language (i.e., with accent marks/diacritics) with some vowels that don’t appear in the English alphabet (e.g. ă, ơ, ê). As such getting the hang of Vietnamese words’ pronunciations is understandably not easy. The key to tackle this difficulty is however still the same as acquiring any difficult knowledge: understanding the basics to get started, then keep listening till you get familiar with the sounds. The wisdom practice makes perfect rings true here.

Let’s start with the vowels.

Pronouncing Vietnamese vowels

The following table list the vowels, their IPA phonetic symbols and the equivalent sounds in English. If you’re unfamiliar with IPA symbols, it’s simply a conventional mapping from symbols to actual sounds so that once you’ve learned the mapping, you would know the correct pronunciation by just looking at the phonetic symbols, which are available in dictionary entries. You can just ignore the IPA symbols if you want to.

Pronunciation of Vietnamese vowels

Vowels IPA English sounds Examples
a /aː/ far xa (“far”)
ă /a/ father (shortened a)* mt (“eye”)
â /ə/ but * đt (“earth”)
e /ɛ/ red xe (“vehicle”)
ê /e/ may * hên (“lucky”)
i, y /i/ me hình (“image”), yêu (“love”)
o /ɔ/ law lo (“worried”)
ô /o/ spoke * cô (“she”)
ơ /ə:/ sir trơn (“slippy”)
u /u/ boo bún (“noodle”)
ư /ɨ/ uh-uh * mt (“jam”)

The 4 asterisks indicate that the examples are not close enough because there isn’t any close sound in English for those cases. In order to overcome this unfamiliarity, you may want to listen to native speakers and record the sounds in your mind. Please watch the video [1] below for native pronunciation of vowels in the above table.

Pronunciation of Vietnamese vowels

The vowel clusters, as we’ve mentioned in the lesson on writing, are pronounced quite differently from their constituent vowels. As such, learning to pronounce the vowel clusters is more difficult. I’d suggest you learn them only after having mastered the sounds of vowels. Once you are there, you can check out the Wiki page for the IPA symbols of some of the common clusters [2].

Pronouncing Vietnamese consonants

The following table provides info about all the 17 consonants and 11 consonant clusters in Vietnamese (ten 2-letter and one 3-letter clusters).

Pronunciation of consonants and consonant clusters

Consonants IPA English sounds Examples
b /b/ bee bao(“bag”)
c, k, q /k/ cat con(“child”), kính(“glass”), q: in qu
ch /c/ chip * cho(“give”)
d, gi /z/(Northern) zoo dao(“knife”), giá(“price”)
/j/(Central, Southern) yes
đ /d/ do đi(“go”)
g, gh /g/ goal ghen(“jealous”)
h /h/ hat hên(“lucky”)
kh /x/ loch * khói(“smoke”)
l /l/ link lái(“drive”)
m /m/ my mẹ(“mum”)
n /n/ net nền(“floor”)
ng, ngh /ŋ/ sing ngồi(“sit”), nghe(“hear”/”listen”)
nh /ɲ/ canyon * nhanh(“fast”)
p /p/ pen p: in ph
ph /f/ fine phở(“pho”)
qu /kw/(Northern, Central) queen quen(“familiar”)
/w/(Southern) will
r /r/ run rau(“vegetable”)
s /s/(Northern) sun sen(“lotus”)
/∫/(Central, Southern) shy
t /t/ tip tối(“dark”)
th /tʰ/ thank thích(“like”)
tr /ʈʂ/ try trơn(“slippy”)
v /v/ vote vẽ(“draw”)
x /s/ stun xem(“watch”)

The table shows that in contrast to the vowels’ sounds, the pronunciations of all consonants and many consonant clusters have close equivalents in English, with the only exceptions of ch, kh and nh, which are annotated with asterisks. In this table, pronunciations of the northern, central and southern regions are also provided where they differ. This information is mainly for your reference and is not meant to cause further confusion. Unless you already have in mind a target region of Vietnam for use, you can simply stick with the northern pronunciation as it’s considered the “standard”. Please watch the video [3] below for native pronunciation of consonants and consonant clusters mentioned in the above table.

Pronunciation of Vietnamese consonants

Pronouncing the 6 Vietnamese Tones

The six tones in Vietnamese, their corresponding diacritics and pronunciations are summarised in the following table:

Pronunciation of tones

Tone name Diacritics Pronunciation
Level no diacritic middle starting point; intonation remains level
Sharp acute accent(´) middle starting point; gradual rising
Hanging grave(`) low starting point; gradual falling
Asking hook( ̉ ) middle starting point; quick falling, staying there for a while, then quick rising back to near middle: valley-shape
Tumbling tilde(~) middle starting point; quick rising, slight gradual falling, quick rising
Heavy dot(.) middle starting point; sharp falling

Probably the easiest tone is the level tone. Start at the middle pitch and remain there for the period of pronunciation.

The other tones that are also quite clear in pronunciation are the sharp(with accute accent), the hanging (with grave) and the heavy tone. All of them have monotonous direction in pitch: either rising or falling. The first twos have gradual change while the last has a rather sharp falling.

The asking (with hook) and tumbling (with tilde) are probably the more difficult tones. The asking tone starts at the middle, falling quickly and staying there for a while before rising back to the middle pitch. If pronounced quickly, the asking tone is sometimes confused with the sharp tone as the initial falling and staying at the bottom are not recognised by learners because of the fast pronunciation speed. The tumbling tone starts with a quick rising, followed by a longer period of small falling, then ending with a quick rising.

The first video [4] below records native pronunciation of tones while the second one[5] will guide you through the pronunciation of the Vietnamese Alphabet.

Pronunciation of Vietnamese tones

Pronunciation of the Vietnamese Alphabet

Pronounce new Vietnamese words

Now that we’ve learned the pronunciations of the basic components, let’s move on to discuss how you can learn to pronounce correctly a new Vietnamese word.

By rights, if there is already a standardized set of phonetics symbols (such as the IPA), there wouldn’t be any problems: when you learn new word, you’ll look them up in dictionaries where you can also find their IPAs and, given your knowledge of the IPA system, there you go.

The practical problem here is that existing (online and paper) Vietnamese dictionaries haven’t supported the IPA symbols yet. As a comparison, in English, if one looks up, for example, the word courage, they’d see right below it the IPA /ˈkɜːrɪdʒ/ for American English. This enables independent learners to pronounce the word correctly.

On the other hand, the good news is that some online Vietnamese dictionaries do provide pronunciations of words in sound. So, you would just have to listen to the provided sounds until you feel sure.

Summary

  • Many Vietnamese vowels and most consonants have equivalent sounds in English.
  • The sounds of some Vietnamese vowel clusters don’t quite exist in English. In contrast, most Vietnamese consonant clusters have equivalent sounds in English.