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Lesson Transcript

Giang: Welcome back to VietnamesePod101.com! My name is Giang.
Jason: And I’m Jason! This is Pronunciation lesson 5, Common Vietnamese Pronunciation Mistakes. Giang, it’s already the last lesson in our series!

Lesson focus

Giang: That’s right! You’ve come such a long way, listeners. In this lesson, we’re going to teach you another important aspect of Vietnamese pronunciation.
Jason: In this lesson, we’ll be going over the top five pronunciation mistakes in Vietnamese. So what’s our first one?
Giang: You should pay attention to final consonants. As we have learned, the function of the final consonant sounds in Vietnamese is to combine with the vowel before it to create rhythm in a word, and it is not pronounced as in English.
Jason: In other words, Vietnamese final consonants are voiceless or implosive. Foreigners, especially English speakers, usually pronounce the final consonants the way they do in English. That makes their Vietnamese sound very strange.
Giang: Yeah, that’s right. I’ll give you some examples now. Firstly, the word “thích” which means “to like”. This word ends with a compound consonant “ch” but it is not pronounced like “ch” in “rich”. Instead, it is pronounced like “ik” but with a voiceless “k” sound. Listen again thích. Don’t make it [θítʃ] or [θík]. One more time thích.
Jason: Now, the second common mistake is...
Giang: The unaspirated and aspirated pairs of initial consonants k vs kh and t vs th. Unlike in English, the [k] and [t] sounds in Vietnamese are unaspirated and shorter.
Jason: In other words, you don’t let the air come out of your mouth like when you pronounce these similar sounds in English.
Giang: Right. For example with the [k] sound, we have “cá”, “con”, “kê”. Don’t pronounce them like the aspirated k-á, k-on, k-ê as in English. Listeners, please repeat after me cá[pause], con[pause], kê.
Jason: Listeners, did you notice the difference?
Giang: Now the examples with [t] sound. Listeners, please repeat after me tôi(pause), tin(pause), táo(pause).
Jason: What about the compounds “kh” and “th”?
Giang: This is where the aspirated sounds work. kh or khờ in Vietnamese is pronounced like the aspirated [k] in English but a bit longer [k-]. And th or thờ in Vietnamese is pronounced like the aspirated [t] in English but a bit longer [t-].
Jason: Giang, could you give our listeners some words containing these sounds?
Giang: Sure. For the kh, we have “khó”, “khi”, “không”, meaning “difficult”, “when” and “no” respectively. For the th, we have “thu”, “thích”, “thơ”, which mean “autumn”, “to like” and “poem” respectively.
Jason: Please be careful with these sounds. It is easy to get confused. Again, remember that Vietnamese k and t are unspirated. Vietnamese kh and th are aspirated and lengthened.
Giang: Now let’s continue with the third common mistake. This one is related to two consonant sounds that do not exist in English nhờ which is nh in English and ngờ which is ng or ngh in English.
The problem is foreigners have trouble telling the difference between nhờ, ngờ and nờ. They tend to pronounce them all like the [n] sound in English.
Jason: So how can we tell them apart? Could you give our listeners some tips on how to pronounce them correctly?
Giang: Okay. nhờ, which is, n-h in English, is a palatal sound. The best way to practice this consonant sound is to pronounce [n] while you are grinning. So your starting point is when your upper and lower teeth meet each other and they are separate when the sound is complete. Let’s practice together nhà. Again nhà [pause], nhà. This word means “a house”
Jason: Great. Now, how do we pronounce the ‘ng’ or ‘ngh’?
Giang: As we learned already, both ng and ngh are pronounced like [ŋ] in “sing”. Say “sing” and lengthen the final sound [ŋ] and you will get the hang of it ngờ (pause), ngờ (pause). Now with the word “ngon” which means “delicious” ngon (pause), ngon (pause).
Jason: Alright. Our next common mistake relates to the diacritics in Vietnamese. There’s a difference between the sound marks and the tone marks. But it’s easy to mistake one for the other.
Giang: That’s true. Sound marks are the marks applied above a letter to create additional sounds other than those in the English alphabet. We can see these marks above Vietnamese vowel letters. They include the crescent, the caret or upside down v and the hook.
Jason: On the other hand, tone marks are applied above or below the main vowel of a word to define the tone of that word, and there are six of them.
Giang: Learners of Vietnamese at the beginners’ level often mistake the sound marks for tone marks and tend to raise their voice when they see a letter with a mark above. They get more confused when seeing a word with both the sound mark and the tone mark.
Jason: Remember that you only change the tone of voice when you see the tone marks.
Giang: Right. A word containing a sound-marked vowel such as ă, â, ê, ô, ơ, or ư but without a tone mark is pronounced at the mid level like any other unmarked word.
Jason: Okay, let’s move onto the last one.
Giang: This one is also related to tones. Here we’ll distinguish the two most difficult tones in Vietnamese the mid dipping falling tone which is called “hỏi” and the broken rising tone which is called “ngã”. The mid dipping tone “hỏi” has a hook as the diacritic while the broken rising tone “ngã” has a tilde or a wave as the diacritic.
Jason: Among the six tones, the mid dipping falling tone and the broken rising tone are the most difficult to pronounce and they are easily mistaken for other tones.
Giang: To pronounce a word with a mid dipping falling tone, you start from the middle of your voice and lower it quickly. It is different from the gradual falling tone or huyền tone in that the starting tone is a little higher and the lowering process is more sudden.
Jason: For the gradual falling tone, if you still remember, you start from a fairly low tone of voice then gradually lower your voice to the lowest level.
Giang: Let’s hear some examples of words with the hỏi tone and huyền tone. bỏ - bò, (pause) mả - mà, (pause) củ - cù
Jason: Next, to pronounce a word with a broken rising tone, you start just a little above the normal voice range, dip down a bit then raise it suddenly.
Giang: It is different from the high rising tone or sắc tone in that there is a sudden lowering process before raising your voice. For the high rising tone, you just raise your voice from the middle to the highest level. For example tã - tá, (pause) cũ - cú, (pause) mã - má.
Jason: Finally, the mid dipping falling tone and broken rising tones are also hard to distinguish. If pronounced incorrectly, they would sound the same. In some regions in Vietnam, Vietnamese people even merge them into one tone, like we learned in the Pronunciation series lesson 4.
Giang: So remember that “hỏi” or the mid dipping falling tone is basically a falling tone so your voice is lowered when the sound is complete. In contrast, “ngã” or the broken rising tone is basically a rising tone, so your voice is raised when the sound is complete. For example mả - mã, (pause) tả - tã, (pause) bả - bã.
Jason: All right, well those are our top five tips for avoiding pronunciation mistakes in Vietnamese!
Giang: Remember to keep practicing!
Jason: We can’t stress this enough. Listening and repeating is the quickest way to get these sounds down.


Giang: Yes! That’s it for this lesson, and for this series.
Jason: We hope we’ve given you a good introduction to the Vietnamese language and culture!
Giang: Thanks for listening! Tạm biệt. Goodbye!