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International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) for Vietnamese learning English

01.13.09 | admin | In orthography, Vietnamese, English

One of the many reasons that Vietnamese and other foreigners need a teacher that can speak the language is because it is difficult to read English words and pronounce them correctly without first having somebody read them to you. This is because English orthography, the spelling system, is very inconsistent and contains many words from other languages such as French and Latin. Many Vietnamese students studying English rely on electronic dictionaries that can say the words out loud but these dictionaries cost in the neighborhood of $100 and so are out of the reach of many students.

However, most British English dictionaries transcribe the pronunciation of each word. The system that is used is the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) simplified a bit for the English language. Unfortunately, many dictionaries don’t explain this alphabet and even those that do usually explain in English which requires that you know how to pronounce the example words already.

So I put together this chart to help Vietnamese students correspond IPA notation to approximate Vietnamese sounds.

First, the English consonants. Since the Vietnamese alphabet is based on French which is similar to English most of the letters are the same. But there are many symbols that are not in the alphabet which generally represent sounds not found in Vietnamese.

Consonant Sounds Approximate Vietnamese
d đ
Vietnamese does not have this sound, đ followed by gi, or đz
θ th
ð đ (Vietnamese does not have this sound)
s x
z d (northern dialect)
ʃ s when it is pronounced differently from x
ʒ gi, not like y, but softer than d
j y
w qu (Southern dialect)
The rest are pronounced more or less the same in Vietnamese as English
f ph
v v (Northern dialect)
p p
b b
t t (or th with less breath)
k k
g g (gh)
h h
m m
n n
ŋ ng
l l
r r

International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) has many symbols for vowel sounds that are not in either the English or Vietnamese alphabets. Most English-Vietnamese dictionaries are British and and therefore the pronunciations are British English.

Vowel Sounds Approximate Vietnamese
æ a in man
a: a in anh (Southern dialect)
ɔ o
ɒ o
ə ơ
i y
ɪ thích
ʌ â or ơ
ʊ ư
o ô
ɛ/e e, ê in northern dialect

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