Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam spoken by 90% of the Vietnamese people. Vietnamese uses the Latin alphabet with some addition and deduction of letters. Therefore, it is quite easy to learn how to write Vietnamese but it is difficult to learn how to speak it out. Read on to gain a deeper understanding of the Vietnamese alphabet and pronunciation which will be useful for your Vietnam vacation.

Vietnamese Alphabet and Pronunciation vietnam vacation

History of Vietnamese Language

Vietnamese is a native language derived from the civilization of agriculture, where today is the northern part of the Red River and the Ma River in Vietnam. According to the explanation of A. G. Haudricourt in 1954, the Viet-Muong language group in the early Christian era was a language or dialect without tone. Later, through the process of interaction with the Chinese language and especially with the linguistic Tai-Kadai language, which has a highly developed tone system, the tone system in Vietnamese appeared and formed as today, according to the rules of tone formation.

history of Vietnamese language vietnamese alphabet and pronunciation

The appearance of tones began around the sixth century (the northern period in the history of Vietnam) with three tones and stable developed in the 12th century (the Ly Dynasty) with 6 tones. Then, some initial consonants change until now. In the process of change, the final consonants go to change the syllabic endings and the initial consonant moves from mixed unvoiced and voiced consonant to separation.

Vietnamese Phonology

The Vietnamese alphabet consists of 29 letters. In the Vietnamese alphabet, there are:

11 single vowels: a, ă, â, e, ê, i, o, ô, ơ, u, ư, y.
3 phonetic pairs with different writings: ia – yê – iê, ua – uô, ưa – ươ.
The remaining letters are called consonants. Most of them are 1 letter, in which 9 consonants are composed of 2 letters: ph, th, tr, gi, ch, nh, ng, kh, gh. There is a consonant with 3 letters: ngh.
The following pronunciation guide will help foreigners who want to learn Vietnamese to learn and capture information about the Vietnamese alphabet in the easiest way.

Vietnamese Alphabet & Pronunciation

Vietnamese Alphabet English Sound Pronunciation Example
a α: ‘a’ as in father
â ɜ ‘u’ as in but
ă α ‘a’ as in hat
b ɓ ‘b’ as in big
c k ‘c’ as in cat
d z, j ‘z’ as in zoo (north), ‘y’ as in yes (south)
đ ɗ ‘d’ as in done
e ε ‘e’ as in get
ê e ‘a’ as in mate
g ɣ ‘g’ as in good
h h ‘h’ as in house
i i ‘i’ as in machine
k k ‘c’ as in cat
l l ‘l’ as in life
m m ‘m’ as in man
n n ‘n’ as in nice
o ɔ ‘o’ as in hot
ô o ‘oa’ as in boat
ơ ɜ: ‘u’ as in fur
p p ‘p’ as in pet
r z, ɹ ‘z’ as in zoo (north), ‘r’ as in ring (south)
s s, ∫ ‘s’ as in sore (north), ‘s’ as in sure (south)
t t ‘t’ as in stop
u ʊ ‘oo’ as in boot
ư ɨ ‘oo’ as in boot
v v, j ‘v’ as in van (north), ‘y’ as in yes (south)
x s ‘s’ as in sore
y i ‘I’ as in pin


Other Vietnamese Letter Combinations

Letter English Sound Pronunciation Example
gh ɣ ‘g’ as in good
gi z, j ‘z’ as in zoo (north), ‘y’ as in yes (south)
kh kh, x ‘ch’ as in the German Bach
ng ŋ ‘ng’ as in singer
ngh ŋ ‘ng’ as in singer
nh ɲ ‘ny’ as in canyon
ph f ‘f’ as in find
qu kw ‘qu’ as in queue
th th ‘t’ as in top
tr t∫, ʈɽ ‘ch’ as in church (north), ‘tr’ as in tree (south)
ch t∫, c ‘ch’ as in church

Vietnamese Diphthongs & Triphthongs

Letter IPA
ai [aĭ]
ay [ɛi]
ây [ei]
ao [ɑu̯]
au [au̯]
âu [əu̯]
eo [ɛu̯]
ia [iə]
iêu [iəu̯]
iu [iu̯]
oa [wɑ]
oai [wɑĭ]
oe [wɛ]
oi [ɔi]
ôi [oi]
ơi [ɤĭ]
ua [uə]
ưa [ɯə]
ươ [ɯə]
ui [uĭ]
uôi [uəĭ]
uy [wi]
uyê [wiə]
ưi [ɯĭ]
ươi [ɯəi]
ưu [ɯu̯]

Vietnamese Tones

Vietnamese is a tonal language, each syllable of Vietnamese carry a tone. Due to the reason that the tone of the Vietnamese language in the national language is indicated by the bar mark, also known as “dấu”, so some people used to call the tone of the Vietnamese is “dấu”.  The Vietnamese language has 6 tones which are noted as follows:

Tones Vowels with diacritic
mid-level, ˧ unmarked A/a, Ă/ă, Â/â, E/e, Ê/ê, I/i, O/o, Ô/ô, Ơ/ơ, U/u, Ư/ư, Y/y
low falling, ˨˩ grave accent À/à, Ằ/ằ, Ầ/ầ, È/è, Ề/ề, Ì/ì, Ò/ò, Ồ/ồ, Ờ/ờ, Ù/ù, Ừ/ừ, Ỳ/ỳ
mid falling, ˧˩ (Northern); dipping, ˨˩˥ (Southern) hook above Ả/ả, Ẳ/ẳ, Ẩ/ẩ, Ẻ/ẻ, Ể/ể, Ỉ/ỉ, Ỏ/ỏ, Ổ/ổ, Ở/ở, Ủ/ủ, Ử/ử, Ỷ/ỷ
glottalized rising, ˧˥ˀ(Northern); same as Hỏi tone (Southern) tilde Ã/ã, Ẵ/ẵ, Ẫ/ẫ, Ẽ/ẽ, Ễ/ễ, Ĩ/ĩ, Õ/õ, Ỗ/ỗ, Ỡ/ỡ, Ũ/ũ, Ữ/ữ, Ỹ/ỹ
high rising, ˧˥ acute accent Á/á, Ắ/ắ, Ấ/ấ, É/é, Ế/ế, Í/í, Ó/ó, Ố/ố, Ớ/ớ, Ú/ú, Ứ/ứ, Ý/ý
glottalized falling, ˧˨ˀ(Northern); low rising, ˩˧(Southern) dot belw Ạ/ạ, Ặ/ặ, Ậ/ậ, Ẹ/ẹ, Ệ/ệ, Ị/ị, Ọ/ọ, Ộ/ộ, Ợ/ợ, Ụ/ụ, Ự/ự, Ỵ/ỵ