One of the biggest obstacles of learning the Vietnamese language is not the actual words or grammar rules, but the Vietnamese alphabet. It is unlikely that your Vietnamese lessons will immediately feature exposure to this alphabet because the concept of learning an entirely different alphabet in addition to building a new vocabulary and grasp of grammatical rules can be incredibly overwhelming. Instead, your lessons will feature words that have been transliterated, or converted from the traditional alphabet of the Vietnamese language into the alphabet used to write in the English language. This is accomplished through a means known as “phonetics”, or the letters that are assigned to different sounds.
It is entirely possible to learn how to speak Vietnamese and even be able to communicate without delving into the Vietnamese alphabet simply by relying on transliterated vocabulary and communications. A true appreciation for the language, however, requires knowledge of the alphabet. This knowledge will allow you to read materials that are written in the language, including literature and historical markers, but also practical materials such as signs, menus, and other information should you visit the country.
The written alphabet is actually based on Latin script and is known literally as “national language”. It can be difficult to learn the alphabet and connect it effectively to communicating in the language. This is because some of the letters may represent several different sounds, or the same sound may be represented by the same letter. This is because the alphabet was designed many hundreds of years ago and since then the spoken version of the language has been modified. This could also be the result of those developing the written language attempting to write out the sounds of several different spoken dialects at the same time. Learning the alphabet in conjunction with the spoken language, therefore, can be rather complicated. Only consistent exposure to using the alphabet will enable you to understand the contexts.
When learning how to speak Vietnamese you will quickly learn that it is a tonal language, meaning that the words themselves rely on the tone in which they are spoken to garner meaning. These tones are indicated through the usage of accent marks. Depending on how many accent marks are placed on a word, and where they are located, the word will be pronounced differently, and therefore mean something different.