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Lesson Transcript

Jason: Hi everyone, welcome back. This is All About lesson 2, The Vietnamese Writing System. In this lesson, Giang and I are going to explain a little bit more about the Vietnamese writing system.
Giang: That's right! Hi everyone, Giang here. We are going to cover a lot of things in this lesson. Let's start with the alphabet.

Lesson focus

Jason: Sure. The Vietnamese alphabet is easy to learn because it is more or less the same alphabet as English, plus 7 more letters with diacritics, which are those 7 letters with marks above them.
Giang: Yes, that’s why the Vietnamese alphabet has 29 letters.
Jason: Looking at this number, you can tell some English letters are not used in Vietnamese.
Giang: Yeah, you’re right. In Vietnamese, we don’t use f, j, w and z.
Jason: And other than single letters, there are 10 digraphs and 1 trigraph.
Giang: Let’s explain those for our listeners.
Jason: Okay. Digraphs are two letters that together produce one sound and trigraphs are three letters that together produce one sound. The Vietnamese language uses 10 digraphs and 1 trigraph as consonants.
Giang: How about diacritics? We mentioned them in Lesson 1.
Jason: These diacritics make Vietnamese easily recognizable among others. Remember that there are two kinds of marks in Vietnamese - four marks applied above the letters to create additional letters, and 5 marks to denote the tones. These are all called diacritics.
Giang: And where are the marks applied? Above or below?
Jason: The sound marks are all applied above the letters. For the tone marks, 4 of them are applied above the vowel, and only one is applied below the vowel. There are 4 sound marks - the crescent, the caret or an upside down “v”, the horizontal stroke, and a hook. There are 7 letters with sound marks. Let’s explain what those are.
Giang: Okay. ă is the letter “a” with the crescent above. â is the letter “a” with a caret above. ê is the letter “e” with a caret above. đ is the letter “d” with a horizontal stroke through it. ô is the letter “o” with a caret above. ơ is the letter “o” with a hook attached on the top right hand side, and ư is the letter “u” with a hook attached on the top right hand side.
Jason: Are these vowels or consonants?
Giang: Only đ is a consonant. The others are used as vowels.
Jason: Okay. Let’s now explain about tone marks, and how they’re different from sound marks. Firstly, they look different and I’m sure when you see them, you’ll definitely be able to tell them apart. Secondly, the sound marks have nothing to do with the tone of a word. They are there to create more letters only. It is the tone marks that determine whether you should lower or raise your voice.
Giang: There are 6 tones in Vietnamese but only 5 of them are marked. And now we’ll look into one by one.
Jason: Sure. Let’s start with the unmarked tone first, which is called...
Giang: “ngang”
Jason: This is mid level tone. For words with this tone, you read them with your average tone of voice – no need to raise or lower your voice.
Giang: Some examples are “con”, which means “child” or “ba” which means “three”.
Jason: The second tone is...
Giang ...“huyền”...
Jason: .. and it is the gradual falling tone. For words with this tone, you’ll see the grave accent mark above the main vowel. This is a small stroke written downwards and to the right.
Giang: For example “bà”, which means “grandma”.
Jason: The third tone is called...
Giang: ...“sắc”...
Jason: ...and it is a high rising tone, so you raise your voice with this tone. The diacritic in this case is an acute accent applied above the vowel. This is a small stroke written downwards and to the left.
Giang: An example is “tá”, which means “a dozen”
Jason: The next one is a mid-dipping falling tone, which is called...
Giang: ...“hỏi”...
Jason: This mark is a hook applied above the vowel of a word. Please note that this hook is different from the hook applied on the alphabet letter we mentioned earlier. The hook as the sound mark is attached to the letter, while the hook as the tone mark is applied just above the letter.
Giang: One example is the word “đỏ” which means “red”.
Jason: Listeners, please make sure you don’t mistake one hook for the other.
Giang: That’s important. Ok, now let me introduce the broken rising tone. This mark is called “ngã” and is a tilde. It is written like a wave above the letter. For example, “rẽ” which means “to turn”.
Jason: All right, what about the last tone?
Giang: The last tone in Vietnamese is the heavy falling tone. It is called “nặng”. All words with this tone have a dot below the vowel. You have to lower your voice much more than the gradual falling tone.
Jason: This is the only tone for which the diacritic is applied below, right?
Giang: Exactly. One example is “dạ” which means “yes”
Jason: Great. Well, that’s about all for this lesson and before we say Goodbye, let’s summarize what we’ve covered. The two most important things we’ve learned are the Vietnamese alphabet and the diacritics. Please remember that the Vietnamese alphabet has 29 letters, 22 of which are the same as in English, and the other 7 have diacritics above. We have also looked at 6 tones in Vietnamese.


Giang: Please join us next time when we explore more about Vietnamese grammar.
Jason: Until next time.
Giang: Bye.


Please to leave a comment.
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VietnamesePod101.com Verified
Wednesday at 12:00 PM
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Hi everyone!

Did you knew about the letters with diacritics?

VietnamesePod101.com Verified
Monday at 09:46 AM
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Hello Shaun Darragh,

Thank you very much for your question.

Actually, "dạ" does not mean "yes" or implies agreement. It is used by younger/ lower people to older/ higher people to express their respect.

For example:

- Grandpa asks his grandchild: Cháu đã quét nhà chưa? (Have you swept the floor?)

Grandchild: Dạ cháu chưa quét. (Yah/ Zạ I have not)

Please let us know if you have further question.

Best regards,

Nguyet Nguyen

Team VietnamesePod101.com

Shaun Darragh
Thursday at 10:20 AM
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I was cautioned that "dạ" (Yah) at the beginning of a sentence meant "Yes, I heard what you said" but not "Yes, I am in agreement" or "Yes, that's right." Does that merely a Southern interpretation? Or is it true for Northern dialect as well?

VietnamesePod101.com Verified
Friday at 10:50 AM
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Chào Kimmy,

Thank you for using our site to learn Vietnamese.

We are so glad to hear that our lessons are helpful to you.

Please do not hesitate to ask us if you have any questions or feedback.

We hope that you've enjoyed studying Vietnamese with us.



Team VietnamesePod101.com

Thursday at 10:10 AM
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This really helps me! I'm Vietnamese but I was born in America so I'm starting to lose my Vietnamese. So I'm on this site to help me keep it fresh in my mind.

VietnamesePod101.com Verified
Sunday at 03:07 PM
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Chào Larry,

Thank you for your feedback.

We look forward to getting more comments from you about our lessons.



Team VietnamesePod101.com

Larry Marquez
Friday at 02:27 PM
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This was helpful information. cám ơn (Thank you) for the video. :smile: