The information provided below is my own experience after nearly 10 years teaching Vietnamese and English. I have also collected common mistakes and opinions from my lovely students. Please source it and put the link at the end if you use any of these ideas as your reference.
- Tone or intonation
- Ending sounds
- Short vowels and long vowels.
- Tone or intonation
- Function words
- Vietnamese is very efficient
- Northern and southern accent.
*** TONE OR INTONATION
In response to my students’ complaint about the fact that Vietnamese tones are so difficult, I say: Yes, they are, but you still make them every day in English.
Vietnamese has six tones from low to high: low constricted tone (nặng), falling tone (huyền), level tone (ngang), rising tone (sắc), falling rising tone (hỏi) and high rising tone (ngã).
The tones are different from but actually similar to intonation in English.
- Starting with level tone, you can try to be a “robot”, speaking with a monotone. Or please say the words: “I, you or No” without any emotions, I’m pretty sure that you did the level tone successfully. To make the level tone, make sure that the starting point of your word is the same as the ending point of your word.
Moving to the falling tone, as the name of the tone says, your tone has to fall down. It sounds like you are walking slowly downhill or you’re informing sad news. For example, if someone asks me whether I passed my driving test and because I failed and I am very sad, I will answer: No with falling tone, it can be level tone to some people, but definitely not NO with the other tones. Also If the starting point and ending point of the level tone are equal, the ending point of the level tone must be lower, here. So in Vietnamese, the word watermelon with a level tone will be Dua whereas coconut with level tone sounds Dua.
- To make the falling rising tone, try to imagine the word you want to say being put at the end of a question, you will find your tone go down then up like this:
- The high rising tone is quite similar to the falling rising tone, all you need to do is choose a higher level to start your word with and end it with. Actually we don’t really make the high rising tone with the Southern accent.
- With regard to the rising tone, choose a starting point then try to rise intonation up, exactly like the way you say the words: wet, pet or set in English. Your tone can never go down.
Now please try to say the word: “Logistics” in English. You will find your tone go this way:
Lo gis tics
Do you know that it’s not easy for us to make three different tones in just one word like this? And you can do it easily.
*** ENDING SOUNDS
Do you know that when you say "Vietnamese"? We pay more attention on how your voice goes up or down to recognize the intonation than the "ese" sound at the end.
This occurs because we don't have ending sounds such as the "s" sound at the end of cats, "d" of God, "sh" of cash, "kst" of text or "ng" of "sing". So don't be surprised when you can hear different ending sounds from the same word said by different Vietnamese people. My advice is "Ignore the ending sounds".
*** SHORT VOWELS AND LONG VOWELS.
Vietnamese doesn't have "Short vowels" like foot and "Long vowels" like food which is different from English. That's why many new English Vietnamese learners usually say "foot" and "food" the same.
*** FUNCTION WORDS
There are many "strange" words that we call as Function words or particlse. They don't mean anyting but make you very Vietnamese. You can't use them in speaking in one or two weeks, but learning about them will help you a lot in listening. Otherwise, it's very easy for you to get lost when around 90% of Vietnamese speaking sentences and questions have "Function words" in my opinion.
They are put at the end of the sentences to show the expression or feeling of speakers such as ơi, dzạ, dzậy, nhen, với, vậy, hả...It depends on the purpose of what you're saying. For instance, "dzậy" or "dzạ" are normally put at the end of questions and "với" is put at the end of imperative sentences. "Could you please pass me the phone?" = "Pass me the phone với" or when you want to call someone or attract someone's attention, you should use "ơi". "Mum/dad, please help me = Mum "ơi"/Dad "ơi", please help me
And it is related to a very difficult but interesting case for people who want to learn Vietnamese of central people. "Chi", "mô", "răng", "rứa", "hỹ", etc. are local special words that can be used commonly instead of the above words in the middle region of Vietnam. They are very confusing but also really "unique".
*** VIETNAMESE IS VERY EFFICIENT
Like in German, We seem to shorten sentences as much as possible. We don't waste time with filler words and many of the pleasantaries of English. But we do have many personal pronouns which in some ways are less efficient than English but they are probably the exception.
Instead of "Could you please pass me the phone?", we will say "Pass me the phone với"
*** NORTHERN AND SOUTHERN ACCENT.
Try to be Kiwi if you want to learn Southern accent.