The Vietnamese language is the communicative language of Vietnamese people and also the mother-tongue of Viet people (also named as Kinh, the major ethnic group in Vietnam). The formation of a common language used by the entire people is a hard task due to the diversity of dialects and accents. Vietnamese is based on melodious syllables and stressed accent. Accent has an important role to play in helping distinguish and identify the meaning of the sayings. There also exist numerous accents in the Vietnamese language, among which the most common and favorite is the Southern one. This accent seems to be different form the a standard one as its pronunciation is based heavily on the main sound disregard of the standard accent and even grammar. Vietnamese is a monosyllabic language with each articulated sound carrying a certain meaning. Also, it offers innumerable pairs of compound words, which are comprised of 2, 3 or even for constituent single sounds.

The Vietnamese language has been formed and developed for many centuries now. Documents of early feudal dynasties used Chinese and not until the birth of Nom (Demotic script) language in 14th century was it employed in both speaking and writing, especially in composing literature. In 17th century, Vietnamese or namely national language came to existing. Its origin is closely related to Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and French propagators working in South East Asia countries.

Those invented a new writing script as the mean to express the Vietnamese language. The most noticeable contributors to the formation and studying Vietnamese at that time was a French vicar named Alexandre de Rhode with his publication of one of the first Vietnamese dictionary and grammar called Vietnamese – Portuguese – Latin Dictionary. Initially, Vietnamese was used merely for the purpose of propagation but was soon popularised officially when French people imposed their colonial regime on Vietnam. To some extents, Vietnamese was originally the tools for ruling of colonists, but then, thanks to its convenience, Vietnamese became popular. Moreover, its easy-to-pronounce alphabet system and combination enabled it to overcome any criticism.


(tiếng Việt, or less commonly Việt ngữ) is the national and official language of Vietnam. It is the mother tongue of 86% of Vietnam's population, and of about three million overseas Vietnamese. It is also spoken as a second language by many ethnic minorities of Vietnam. It is part of the Austro-Asiatic language family, of which it has the most speakers by a significant margin (several times larger than the other Austro-Asiatic languages put together). Much of Vietnamese vocabulary has been borrowed from Chinese, and it was formerly written using the Chinese writing system, albeit in a modified format and was given vernacular pronunciation. As a byproduct of French colonial rule, the language displays some influence from French, and the Vietnamese writing system (quốc ngữ) in use today is an adapted version of the Latin alphabet, with additional diacritics for tones and certain letters.
As the national language of the majority ethnic group, Vietnamese is spoken throughout Vietnam by the Vietnamese people, as well as by ethnic minorities. It is also spoken in overseas Vietnamese communities, most notably in the United States, where it has more than one million speakers and is the seventh most-spoken language (it is 3rd in Texas, 4th in Arkansas and Louisiana, and 5th in California). In Australia, it is the sixth most-spoken language.
According to the Ethnologue, Vietnamese is also spoken by substantial numbers of people in Cambodia, Canada, China, Côte d'Ivoire, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Laos, Martinique, the Netherlands, New Caledonia, Norway, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, Senegal, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and Vanuatu.
" At first, as Vietnamese has tones and shares a large vocabulary with Chinese, it was grouped into Sino-Tibetan. Later, it was found that the tones of Vietnamese appeared very recently (André-Georges Haudricourt-1954) and the Chinese-like vocabulary is also borrowed from Han Chinese during their shared history (1992); these two aspects had nothing to do with the origin of Vietnamese. Vietnamese was then classified into the Kam-Tai subfamily of Daic together with Zhuang (including Nung and Tày in North Vietnam) and Thai, after removing the surface influences of Chinese. Nevertheless, the Daic aspects were also borrowed from Zhuang in their long history of being neighbors (André-Georges Haudricourt) , not original aspects of Vietnamese. Finally, Vietnamese was classified into the Austro-Asiatic linguistic family, the Mon-Khmer subfamily, Viet-Moung branch (1992) after more studies were done. Kinh is the largest population in Vietnam. According to Fudan University's 2006 study, it belongs to Mon-Khmer linguistically, but there is no last word for its origin.

Henri Maspero maintained the Vietnamese Language of Thai-Origin, and the Reverend Father Souvignet traced it to the Indo-Malay group. A.G. Haudricourt had refuted the thesis of Maspero and concluded that Vietnamese is properly placed in the Austro-Asiatic family. None of these theories quite explain the origin of the Vietnamese language. One thing, however, remains certain: Vietnamese is not a pure language. It seems to be a blend of several languages, ancient and modern, encountered throughout history following successive contacts between foreign peoples and the people of Vietnam.

While spoken by the Vietnamese people for millennia, written Vietnamese did not become the official administrative language of Vietnam until the 20th century. For most of its history, the entity now known as Vietnam used written classical Chinese. In the 13th century, however, the country invented Chữ nôm, a writing system making use of Chinese characters with phonetic elements in order to better suit the tones associated with the Vietnamese language. Chữ nôm was proven to be much more efficient than classical Chinese characters that it was extensively used in the 17th and 18th centuries for poetry and literature. Chữ nôm was used for administrative purposes during the brief Hồ and Tây Sơn Dynasties. During French colonialism, French superseded Chinese in administration. It was not until independence from France that Vietnamese was used officially. It is the language of instruction in schools and universities and is the language for official business.

Like many other Asian countries, as a result of close ties with China for thousands of years, much of the Vietnamese lexicon relating to science and politics is derived from Chinese. At least 60% of the lexical stock has Chinese roots, not including naturalized word borrowings from China, although many compound words are composed of native Vietnamese words combined with Chinese borrowings. One can usually distinguish between a native Vietnamese word and a Chinese borrowing if it can be reduplicated or its meaning does not change when the tone is shifted. As a result of French occupation, Vietnamese has since had many words borrowed from the French language, for example cà phê (from French café). Nowadays, many new words are being added to the language's lexicon due to heavy Western cultural influence; these are usually borrowed from English, for example TV (though usually seen in the written form as tivi). Sometimes these borrowings are calques literally translated into Vietnamese (for example, software is calqued into phần mềm, which literally means "soft part").

1. Vietnamese alphabet system

There are 29 letters in the Vietnamese alphabet system which consists of 12 vowels and 17 consonants. See the list below:

A a Ă ă Â â B b C c Dd Đ đ E e Ê ê G g
H h I i K k L l M m Nn O o Ô ô Ơ ơ P p
Q q R r S s T t U u Ư ư V v X x Y y

2. Vowels
As mentioned above, there are 12 vowels in the Vietnamese alphabet system. They are including:

a ă â e ê i
o ô ơ u ư y

How to pronoun these vowels is to follow the below

Front Central Back
High i, y [i] ư [ɨ] u [u]
Upper mid ê [e] â [ə] / ơ [əː] ô [o]
Lower mid e [ɛ] o [ɔ]
Low ă [a] / a [aː]

Front, central, and low vowels (i, ê, e, ư, â, ơ, ă, a) are unrounded, whereas the back vowels (u, ô, o) are rounded. The vowels â [ə] and ă [a] are pronounced very short, much shorter than the other vowels. Thus, ơ and â are basically pronounced the same except that ơ [əː] is long while â [ə] is short — the same applies to the low vowels long a [aː] and short ă [a].

* Diphthongs and Tripthongs
In addition to single vowels (or monophthongs), Vietnamese has diphthongs and triphthongs. The diphthongs consist of a main vowel component followed by a shorter semivowel offglide to either a high front position [ɪ], a high back position [ʊ], or a central position [ə]. See the table below:

Vowel nucleus Diphthong with front offglide Diphthong with back offglide Diphthong with centering offglide Tripthong with front offglide Tripthong with back offglide
i - iu~yu [iʊ] ia~iê~yê~ya [iə] - iêu [iəʊ]
~ ~ ~ ~
ê - êu [eʊ] - - -
e - eo [ɛʊ] - - -
ư ưi [ɨɪ] ưu [ɨʊ] ưa~ươ [ɨə] ươi [ɨəɪ] ươu [ɨəʊ]
â ây [əɪ] âu [əʊ] - - -
ơ ơi [əːɪ] - - - -
ă ay [aɪ] au [aʊ] - -
a ai [aːɪ] ao [aːʊ] - - -
u ui [uɪ] - ua~uô [uə] uôi [uəɪ] -
ô ôi [oɪ] - - - -
o oi [ɔɪ] - - - -

The centering diphthongs are formed with only the three high vowels (i, ư, u) as the main vowel. They are generally spelled as ia, ưa, ua when they end a word and are spelled , ươ, , respectively, when they are followed by a consonant. There are also restrictions on the high offglides: the high front offglide cannot occur after a front vowel (i, ê, e) nucleus and the high back offglide cannot occur after a back vowel (u, ô, o) nucleus.

The correspondence between the orthography and pronunciation is complicated. For example, the offglide [ɪ] is usually written as i however, it may also be represented with y. In addition, in the diphthongs [aɪ] and [aːɪ] the letters y and i also indicate the pronunciation of the main vowel: ay = ă + [ɪ], ai = a + [ɪ]. Thus, tay “hand” is [taɪ] while tai “ear” is [taːɪ]. Similarly, u and o indicate different pronunciations of the main vowel: au = ă + [ʊ], ao = a + [ʊ].

The four triphthongs are formed by adding front and back offglides to the centering diphthongs. Similarly to the restrictions involving diphthongs, a triphthong with front nucleus cannot have a front offglide (after the centering glide) and a triphthong with a back nucleus cannot have a back offglide.

With regards to the front and back offglides [ɪ, ʊ], many phonological descriptions analyze these as consonant glides /j, w/. Thus, a word such as đâu “where” [ɗəʊ] would be /ɗəw/.

It is difficult to pronoun these sounds:

Liêu xiêu đêm khuya mưa lao xao mười hai
chai rượu tay tai làu bàu hiu hiu

3. Consonant
The consonants that occur in Vietnamese are listed below in the Vietnamese orthography with the phonetic pronunciation to the right.

Labial Alveolar Retroflex palatal Velar Glottal
Stop voiceless p[p] t [t] tr [ʈʂ~ʈ] ch [c~tɕ] c/k [k]
aspirated th [tʰ]
voiced b [ɓ] đ [ɗ] d [ɟ]
Fricative voiceless ph [f] x [s] s [ʂ] kh [x] h [h]
voiced v [v] gi [z] r [ʐ~ɹ] g/gh [ɣ]
Nasal m [m] n [n] nh [ɲ] ng/ngh [ŋ]
Approximant u/o [w] l [l] y/i [j]

Some consonant sounds are written with only one letter (like “p”), other consonant sounds are written with a two-letter disgrah (like “ph”), and others are written with more than one letter or digraph (the velar stop is written variously as “c”, “k”, or “q”).
The tables below show detail and it may help you easier to understand
* There are 17 single consonants as listed below:

Consonants Sound Phoneme English equivalent sounds
b /b/ but, bike
c /k/ car, clean
d /z/ zoo,
đ /d/ do, does
g /g/ go, get
h /h/ hat, house
k /k/ keep,
l /l/ leaf, lose
m /m/ meet, mouse
n /n/ not, no
p /p/ pipe, people
q /k/ queen
r /r/ run, road
s /sh/ show, shower
t /t/ tea, top
v /v/ video, vowel
x /s/ see, sea

* There are 11 consonants clusters:

Consonants Sound Phoneme English equivalent sounds
ch /ts/ cheap
gh /g/ ghost
gi /j/ yes
kh /x/ loch
nh /ɲ/ canyon
ng /ŋ/ sing
ngh /ŋ/ single
ph /f/ fine
th /θ/ thin, theory
tr /ʈʂ/ try
qu /kw/ queen

* There are 8 final consonants:

Consonants Sound Phoneme English equivalent sounds
c /k/ car
ch /ts/ lunch
m /m/ them
n /n/ then
nh /ɲ/ canyon
ng /ŋ/ sing
p /p/ stop
t /t/ top

It is necessray to make a difference between these two sounds:

+) K vs. Kh

“K” & “kh” are two of the consonant symbols in the Vietnamese language. “K” is produced fortis and unaspirated. It is similar to the “c” in cat. In Vietnamese language it is similar to “c” and “q”. Perhaps one of the most common words beginning with “k” is “kem” which means “ice cream” and “kẹo” which means “candy”. ‘Kh’ is produced lenis voiceless dorsorelar spirant. The most common ‘kh’ word is “không” which means “no” or “not” though there are less common meanings as well. “Khỏe” which means “strong” and “healthy” is another common word. To place “khỏe không” after a personal referent is to enquire as to another’s health – literally: “you well no?” as in “bạn khỏe không?” Also in these times of fast food, the ubiquitous french fry is known as “khoai tây chiên” meaning “potato fry”.

+) Ng and Ngh

The sound that ng and ngh make in Vietnamese is by far the hardest sound for Westerners to make. Ng and ngh simply make the last sound in “king” or “running” (as long as you don’t make the hard /g/ sound at the end). The problem arises when ng or ngh come at the beginning of a word, as the common family name Nguyễn clearly demonstrates. Here, the speaker has to isolate the /ŋ/ sound, which even many Western dictionaries don’t recognize in their pronunciation guides. (Those that do tend to represent it as /ng/.) This lesson will help you to at least pronounce the /ŋ/ sound well enough for a native listener.

One thing you have to take a notice of is the combination of these above consonants Ng/ ngh with vowels. See below for detail:

a ă â e ê i o ơ ô u ư y
Ngh nghe nghê nghi
Ng nga ngo ngơ ngô ngu ngư

  1. Ngh can only combine with the vowels which are started with i, e, ê.
  2. Ng can combine with vowels started with a, o, ơ, ô, u, ư.

Besides, Vietnamese has another pair of sound (g/ gh) which are all pronouned as /g/, for these consonants, there is also rule in combining with vowels.

a ă â e ê i o ơ ô u ư y
g ga gi* go gu
gh ghe ghê ghi

- gh can only combine with vowel started with e, ê, i.
-g can go with vowel started with a, o, ơ, ô, u, ư.
* g can also go with i but in this case it will be pronoun as /j/, e.g. cái gì.

3. Tones

Vietnamese is a tonal language, It means that different voice inflections on any word will change the meaning of that word. For example, if you say ban with a rising tone, it means “sell,” but if you say it with a falling tone, it means “table.” Tone is the central part of a word.

There are five tones in Vietnamese, plus a mid-level non-tone. Press each symbol button below to hear what each tone sounds like, and the name of the tone. Then press the word buttons to hear how one word can be pronounced with all six tones. Underneath is the English translation of each word.

Description Name of tones Symbol Sample word & meaning
Midrange voice goes flat and level. Ngang “three”
High rising Sắc bá “to hug”
Low falling Huyền “grandmother”
Start in a low tone, go down and gently back up Hỏi “bane”
Start high, bring voice down, cut off, and go back up Ngã “residue”
Bring voice down and cut off abruptly. Nặng “haphazardly”

It is time to practice.

1 Ba Bả Bạ
2 Ma Mả Mạ
3 Be bẻ bẽ bẹ
4 Me mẻ mẽ mẹ
5 Le lẻ lẽ lẹ

* How to type Vietnamese on computer:
To use Vietnamese on your computer, you need to download Unikey and then choose vietnamese. You also need to follow this rule:

Letters Tones
ă = a w
â = a a
đ = d d
ê = e e
ô = o o
ơ = o w
ư = u w
Huyền = F
Sắc = S
Hỏi = R
Ngã = X
Nặng = J

- The rest is to follow the normal rule.
Tiếng Việt = t i e e n g s v i e e t j