Vietnamese tones

Submitted by xuanvi on Thu, 06/01/2017 - 16:29

There are six tones in Vietnamese including: low constricted tone (thanh nặng), falling tone (huyền), level tone (ngang), rising tone (sắc), falling rising tone (hỏi) and high rising tone (ngã). Because southern Vietnamese makes falling rising tone and high rising tone the same, we will work on five tones only.

You may find them confusing and too difficult to pronounce. However, Vietnamese tones are actually similar to intonation in English. And you still use them in everyday English.

- Starting with level tone – thanh ngang, could you please say the words: “I, you or No” without any emotions….. I’m pretty sure that you did the level tone successfully. So to make the level tone, you have to try to speak without any emotions or copy a “robot” speaking with monotone. Make sure the starting point of your word is the same as the ending point of your word. Words in Vietnamese with level tone are: Ba (father), đi (to go), anh /em (I), yêu (love), bao nhiêu (how much)…

- Moving to the falling tone – thanh huyen, as the name of the tone says, your tone has to fall down, like you are walking 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, not NO. Also If the starting point and ending point of the level tone are equal, the ending point of the falling tone must be lower. Words in Vietnamese with falling tone are: gì (what), là (to be), trời (God, sky), người (person, people),…

- The rising tone, by contrast, is like you running uphill. The ending point of the tone must be higher than the starting point that makes the words sound shorter. In English, all of the words ending with “t” or “p” such as: wet, cat, what, cop, hip hop, top,… will have rising tone when you say the words on its own. You can try making Vietnamese rising tone by saying “wet” or “top” first. Now try saying the word: Dứa with that way. Words in Vietnamese with rising tone are: ít (a little bit), bốn (number 4), nước (water/country), chát (chat), rất (very/really), khó (hard/difficult)…

- The next tone is the lower constricted tone. Let’s start learning the tone by saying some English words such as: wanted and needed on their own. Did you try saying them? Wanted, needed. Can you feel your voice saying the ending: -ed very low and it seems to be stuck in your throat. That’s how Vietnamese low constricted tone works. If the falling tone is like you’re walking downhill, the low constricted tone is like you’re falling off a cliff. You have to let your tone go down deeply and then stop it suddenly. That will make your words become very short. Examples with lower constricted tone are: Thịt meaning Meat, mệt (tired/tiring) or tạ (dozen),.... We can say the words WantED and NeedED first, and then say the word "Meat" in Vietnamese to compare the ending –ed and the low constricted tone. Another way to make lower constricted is copying a sheep’s Barr, Barrr, Barr. And now try to say the word: Bạ Bạ. Barr Bạ Barr Bạ.

- The last tone of our lesson today is the falling rising tone (or high rising tone) which I call Question tone. Please remember that southern Vietnamese speakers say the high rising tone in a similar way to how they say the falling rising tone. There is always a question mark on top of words with falling rising tone meaning that you have to imagine the words are put at the end of a question, so you need to go down then up like this: Phở, phở. So I know, it’s a little strange but try to be surprised if you want to make falling rising tone. Examples for question tone are: Phở, giữa (high rising tone) meaning “middle” or “center”, tỉ (billion), or Nguyễn (the most common surname in Vietnam, my surname). Ok. Repeat after me please: Phở (Pher with question tone), phở, phở. One more thing I want to mention is: Don’t worry too much about the difference between falling rising tone and the “real” high rising tone, they are quite similar in fact, all you need to do is choose a higher level of falling rising tone to start your word and end it to make high rising tone. Actually we mostly base on the content of the sentences to understand the words more than the difference between the tones.

Please visit my youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/speakeasyvietnamese for the lesson and practice video!