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Lesson Transcript

Giang: Welcome back to VietnamesePod101.com! I’m Giang.
Jason: Hi everyone, I’m Jason, and welcome to our Pronunciation Series. This is lesson 1, The Pronunciation of Consonants in Vietnamese.

Lesson focus

Giang: In this lesson we’re going to start with the basics and slowly work our way up!
Jason: That’s right. And the focus of this lesson is Vietnamese consonants.
Giang: Jason, do you know how many letters there are in the Vietnamese alphabet? And how many of them are consonants?
Jason: We covered this in the All About series, didn’t we! Let’s see. The Vietnamese alphabet consists of 29 letters, 17 of which are single consonants. But there are also 11 compound consonants that are derived from them.
Giang: Yes, that’s right!
Jason: The 17 single consonants and 11 compound consonants together create 23 consonant sounds in Vietnamese. The 11 compound consonants consist of 10 double consonants and 1 triple consonant. Double consonants are sounds created by 2 single consonant letters together, and triple consonants are sounds created by 3 single consonant letters together.
Giang: Jason, could you please explain the structure of a word in Vietnamese to the listeners?
Jason: Sure. A Vietnamese word is generally made up of 4 parts – an initial consonant, a vowel, a final consonant and a tone mark. The initial consonant can be a single or double or triple consonant. The vowel can be a single vowel, diphthong or triphthong. There are only 8 consonants that can be used as final consonants, and we’ll talk about them later. Finally, the tone mark is applied above or below the vowel.
Giang: Also, we learned that only the vowel is the essential part of a word. The others are optional. There are some Vietnamese words that contain only a single vowel.
Jason: And as you have said, there are only 8 consonants that can be put in the final position. It means the others are used as initial consonants only, right?
Giang: Yes. And we won’t keep you waiting any longer. Let’s jump right into the pronunciation of each consonant.
Jason: Great. Why don’t we start with initial consonants? They are the ones that can appear at the beginning of a word.
Giang: All right. Let’s look at the single consonants first. They are bờ, cờ, dờ, đờ, gờ, hờ, ca, lờ, mờ, nờ, pờ, cu, rờ, sờ, tờ, vờ and xờ.
Jason: Because most consonants in Vietnamese are pronounced in a similar way to English, we’ll only mention those that have different pronunciations now.
Giang: Let’s start with đờ. It is the derivative of dờ, written as “d(dee)” in English with a short horizontal stroke through it and pronounced like the “d” in...
Jason: “do”, but unaspirated
Giang: For example “đỏ” which means “red”, the color
Jason: The next one is a pair of consonants that are pronounced the same, but have different combination rules with vowels in a word – Vietnamese “c” and “k”
Giang: The Vietnamese c is called cờ and the Vietnamese k is called ca. They are both pronounced like the “c” in the word “cat”, but unaspirated.
Jason: Can you give a example of words containing Vietnamese c and k?
Giang: Sure. With cờ or Vietnamese “c”, we have “cô” which means “aunt” or “miss”. WIth ca or Vietnamese “k”, we have “ký” meaning “to sign”.
Jason: Another pair of consonants we want to mention is Vietnamese “p” and “q”. They rarely stand alone as initial consonants. Instead, they are combined with another letter to make a double consonant.
Giang: Yes, “p” which is called pờ, often goes with “h” to make the compound “p-h”, which is read as “phờ”. And “q” which is called cu is followed by “u” to make “qu” and pronounced as “quờ”. We’ll talk more about them later in this lesson.
Jason: Next, Vietnamese “s” and “x”.
Giang: sờ also called ét xì, written as “s” in English and pronounced like the “s-h” in “she”. And xờ also called ích xì, written as “x” in English and pronounced like the “s” in “sea”
Jason: And the example is...
Giang: For ét xì, we have “sẽ” which means “will” or “going to”. And for ích xì, we have “xe”, meaning “vehicle”.
Jason: The last one we want to cover is the Vietnamese “t”
Giang: It’s called tờ and pronounced like the “t” in “tea” but softer and unaspirated. For example “tôi” which means “I”.
Jason: All right, that’s all the information about single consonants. Please refer to the accompanying lesson notes to review all the single consonants in Vietnamese.
Giang: Now, let’s continue with the compound consonants.
Jason: We’ll first look at 7 sounds that do exist in English, then we will move on to the other 3 non-English sounds.
Giang: All right. Number 1 – chờ is written as “c-h” in English and pronounced like the “c-h” in...
Jason: “Chicken,” but unaspirated
Giang: For example “chị” which means “older sister”
Jason: Number two....
Giang: gờ kép, which literally means “double g”, is written as “g-h” in English and pronounced like the “g” in...
Jason: “Go”. Basically this “double g” is pronounced similarly to the “single g” we mentioned before, but the combination rule with the vowels in a word is different.
Giang: Yes, gờ kép or “gh” only works as an initial consonant ,and is used when followed by 3 vowels i, e and ê. If the following vowels are different, a single g or gờ is used.
Jason: And what is the example of this sound, Giang?
Giang: Ok, one example is “ghi” written as “G-H-I” which means “to write” or to “note down”.
Jason: Number three...
Giang: “di” is written as “gi” in English and pronounced like the “g” in...
Jason: “Geography”
Giang: For example “giờ” which means “hour”.
Jason: The next one is...
Giang: ngờ, which is written as “n-g” and ngờ kép which is written as “n-g-h” in English. Both consonants are pronounced like the “n-g” in the word “sing”.
Jason: And again, the only difference between them is the combination rule with vowels in a word.
Giang: True, ngờ kép or “n-g-h” is only followed by 3 vowels i, e and ê. Ngờ or “n-g” is followed by the other vowels.
Jason: Could you give an example of the words containing “n-g” and “n-g-h”?
Giang: The example of ngờ - “n-g” is “ngã” which means “to fall” and a word containing ngờ kép - “ngh” is “nghe” which means “to listen”
Jason: Great. Number five is...
Giang: phờ, written as “p-h” in English and pronounced like the “ph” in...
Jason: “phone”
Giang: The example of a word containing phờ - “ph” is a very famous food in Vietnam phở, which means rice noodles.
Jason: Yeah, if you remember, we talked about it in the All about series, the lesson about Vietnamese cuisine.
Giang: Right. And now, the next one is quờ, written as “q-u” in English and pronounced like the “q-u” in...
Jason: Quit
Giang: For example “quạ” which means “crow” - a kind of bird
Jason: Ok, and finally...
Giang: trờ, written as “t-r” in English and pronounced like the “t-r” in...
Jason: “Train”
Giang: Now we’ll talk about 3 compound consonants having non-English sounds.
Jason: Because they don’t exist in English, beginners often have trouble pronouncing these sounds the first few times. But don’t worry, you just need to practice.
Giang: Exactly. Let’s jump right in. The first one is khờ, written as “kh” in English.
Jason: It is pronounced like the “k” in English, aspirated but not suddenly stopped like the English “k”. Instead, it is lengthened.
Giang: So say “k” then let the air gradually come out from your mouth, not suddenly. “Khờ....” Remember Vietnamese “k” - ca is unaspirated and “kh”- khờ is aspirated and lengthened
Jason: Then the example is...
Giang: “Không” which means “No” or “Khó” which means “difficult”
Jason: Number two...
Giang: thờ, written as “t-h” in English and pronounced like the “t” in …
Jason: “Tea”, aspirated and lengthened. The pair t and th in Vietnamese are exactly the same as the pair k and kh we’ve just learned.
Giang: True. To pronounce thờ - “t-h”, say “t” like in English and let the air come out gradually from your mouth, not suddenly. “thờ...” For example, “thỏ”, which means “rabbit”.
Jason: The last one...
Giang: nhờ, written as “n-h” in English. This sound is unfamiliar to English speakers, so let’s explain it.
Jason: Right. To create this sound, lower the tip of the tongue towards the lower teeth, while the back of the tongue rises towards the hard palate and contacts it.
Giang: Say “n” while you are grinning. After many tries, you’ll be able to say this sound correctly. “nhờ......” For example, “nhà” which means “house”.
Jason: So basically we’ve covered all single and compound consonants in Vietnamese. We’ll wrap up this lesson with some explanations about final consonants.
Giang: Well, there are 8 consonants that can be put at the end of a word - cờ which means “c” in English, “chờ” - “ch” in English, ngờ - “ng” in English, nhờ - “nh” in English, mờ - “m” in English, nờ - “n” in English, pờ - “p” in English and tờ, like “t” in English.
Jason: Generally their sounds when functioning as final consonants are the same as how they are pronounced as initial consonants.
Giang: One exception is chờ - “ch” which is pronounced like the “ck” in “kick” when it is put in the final position, not like the “ch” in “chicken”, as we learned before.
Jason: But unlike in English, all final consonant sounds in Vietnamese are unaspirated. In other words, they are silent sounds.
Giang: That’s because they can’t be pronounced alone. They are combined with the vowels before them to make different rhythms.
Jason: But we’re going to discuss Vietnamese rhythms later in this pronunciation series. All right. That’s all about Vietnamese consonants. We have learned a lot, but basically there are only a few sounds that are different from English.
Giang: Yeah, the first step is the hardest, but you’ll gradually master Vietnamese pronunciation by studying this series with us!


Jason: So keep practicing!
Giang: And see you next time!