Vietnamese Passwords

02.02.10 | admin | In Vietnamese

I just heard of a good way to use your new Vietnamese language skills — use Vietnamese phrases as your passwords!  Who is going to guess bu1nthi5tnu7o71ng (which comes out to bún thịt nướng using the VNI typing system) yet it’s still easy to remember.  [My password on this blog isn’t using this system so don’t bother trying to guess it!]

Vietnamese double adjectives and the relationship between word-final consonants

07.16.09 | admin | In Vietnamese

In Vietnamese one can decrease the effect of an adjective by doubling it. For example, to say something is “vui” means it’s fun but if you say “vui vui” it’s only a little fun. Vietnamese adjectives can be doubled in this way without any changes it the tone is ngang (no tone, as in “vui”) or the falling tone, thanh huyền.

For words with other tones (sắc, hỏi, ngã, nặng) the tone is lost in the first word. For example “đỏ” (red) becomes “đo đỏ”.

For words that end in consonant that are stops (-p, -t, -ch, -c) the tone will always be sắc or nặng and the first word will actually change. First, the tone changes. If the tone is sắc then the first word will have a tone of ngang. Otherwise, if the tone is nặng then the first word will have a tone of huyền.

The second change is to the consonant. T changes to n, p changes to m, ch changes to nh, and c changes to ng.

So for example “mát” (cool) doubles up to become “man mát” or “khác” (different) becomes “khang khác”.

This lesson in the Vietnamese language seems to suggest that in that language is a phonological relationship between the stops (plosive consonants) above and the nasal consonants they change into.

Nokia Symbian S60 English Vietnamese dictionary software review

05.08.09 | admin | In software, Vietnamese

My Nokia phone that runs Symbian OS S60 V3 happens to come with a dictionary installed. This free dictionary is the Kernerman Semi-Bilingual Dictionaries MOT GlobalDix 3.0. Within the dictionary software itself you can go to Nokia’s website and download and install other foreign languages. So imagine my delight when I saw that Vietnamese was one of the available languages and for free!

After downloading and installing it I was soon disappointed. It seems that nobody had even bothered to try using the software. It can hardly be described as working software. When looking up an English word you are presented with several possible Vietnamese translations but no help in deciding which one you want. This can certainly get you in trouble in Vietnamese or in any language if you choose the wrong translation.

Then if you want to translate from Vietnamese to English you have to go to the menu, select language, select source, select Vietnamese, go back to the menu, select language, select source, select English. There’s no easy way to just switch from English-Vietnamese to Vietnamese-English.

Now, in Vietnamese there can be many versions of a vowel letter depending on the diacritic marks. But this dictionary software ignores those altogether. For example, if you search for “mat” and choose mát you’ll be shown the translation for mát, cool, but also mất, mật, mắt, and mặt which could mean to lose, honey, eye, etc. and each of those Vietnamese words could have several other translations which would also be shown. This software is useless.

So then I tried to find some other dictionary software and I lucked upon a few forums in Vietnamese where people were offering commercial English-Vietnamese dictionaries for S60 V3. I won’t link directly to these places but here’s how you can find them on Google:
English to Vietnamese dictionaries for S60
Vietnamese to English dictionaries for S60

If you notice that in Vietnam if you buy a dictionary it usually translates one way either from English to Vietnamese or from Vietnamese English but not both. It’s the same with dictionary software so you may need to find different software to translate in each direction.

One software I found was EVDict/M-Dict which is supposed to have 110,000 words. This is a decent English-Vietnamese dictionary with a horrible user interface. Words don’t appear as you type them like in most other dictionaries instead they are searched when you hit the search button. And there is no shortcut key to go back to searching after looking at an entry.

Another I found was LexisGoo which has a slick interface except that I can’t actually type anything at least on my Nokia E63 which makes this software completely useless also.

So as it stands, I’m still looking for a dictionary that translates from Vietnamese to English for my Nokia phone. Please leave a comment if you have any suggestions.

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

Vietnam dong devaluation in 2009?

12.19.08 | admin | In currency, Vietnamese

Over six months ago Morgan Stanley warned of a currency crisis in Vietnam. But the valuation of the Vietnam dong would have been similar in magnitude of the severe devaluation of the Thai baht in 1997 which sparked the Asian financial crisis. In the months following Morgan Stanley’s warning we have seen a global financial crisis but only slow, gradual devaluation of the Vietnam dong after a one time 2% drop back in June.

At the time we hear were spooked and helped spread the Morgan Stanley rumor of imminent dong devaluation. But as nothing happened and now Morgan Stanley is talking of a “large realignment” of the exchange rate in 2009 are they really to be believed?

At the time one of the factors was the 12-month nondeliverable forwards which predicted a 39% drop against the dollar. However, that figure may not be an accurate predictor because of the small size of that market which allows a small number of players to have a large influence on the price.

Another factor was the high double-digit rate of inflation in Vietnam. However, as the world falls into recession demand and the price of oil has dropped sharply and as oil was largely imported and was a large component of consumer spending inflation has dropped sharply. In fact, consumer prices are now falling and oil continues to fall.

On the other hand, Vietnam still has a high current account deficit and there is still the problem of loan repayments due to the stalled real estate market. And as the countries that Vietnam exports to, the United States, Japan, and Europe, are now in recession Vietnam has to try harder to compete with its exports possibly by devaluing its currency to make its products cheaper. China, which has long kept the Chinese yuan artificially cheap, could devalue its currency which could force Vietnam to follow suit in order to remain competitive.

While Vietnam wants to remain competitive Hanoi also wants to prevent the negative social ramifications of sudden and steep currency devaluations. Vietnamese companies like coffee exporters who took out loans in US dollars because they were much cheaper than loans in Vietnamese dong might not be able to repay those loans if the price of dollars were to suddenly go up. So Hanoi favors slow, incremental devaluation. However, the State Bank of Vietnam widened the dong’s trading band from 2% to 3%. Just over six months ago they had increased it from 1% to 2%. This allows for larger one time increases in the drop of the dong’s value.

As interest rates have been cut in the US and around the world they have also been cut in Vietnam. Whereas before a rate of nearly 20% could be had on Vietnam dong deposits the rate now is from 10 to 12% and hovering around 4% for US dollar deposits for 12 months. So while the rate for dong deposits is still three times higher as a percentage than for dollar deposits it’s only an 8% difference and it looks possible that the dong could devalue 8% against the dollar in 2009 and there is always risk that it could devalue even more.

Pronouncing words in a foreign language

12.05.08 | admin | In software

Another language learning resource that was featured on Mashable recently is a site called Forvo that, according to the CEO:

We have created a database for word pronunciations. We have +45000 pronunciations in 75 languages in only 6 months. We hope Forvo becomes a useful tool to learn languages. All words in all languages is our goal. The recordings are 100% real, not text-to-voice applications.

English, for example, has almost no consistent pronunciation rules. Original English words are pretty weird when you think about it and then a huge portion of the words used in English now come from French, but so many other languages have contributed words to the English language. But when a word from another language enters the English lexicon it usually does so under a convention of transcribing words in that language so that you need to know the rules of that convention. Chinese, for example, has a number of conventions for writing its words in English. Being able to spell most of the words used in the English language today means being able to pronounce words in many languages. This makes spelling English notoriously difficult and of course is why we have spelling bees.

That problem aside, when learning a foreign language it also takes a while to learn all the rules for pronouncing regular words in that language. So how do you do that without having a native speaker pronounced the word for you? This is where Forvo comes in.

Right now the number of Vietnamese words that have been pronounced on the site is tiny. But perhaps in the future this site can be a resource to be mashed with other sites to create a more useful resource with pronunciation available for those times it’s needed.

One suggestion I have is to be able to say which dialect you’re speaking. This is especially useful in Vietnamese where words are pronounced quite differently depending on if you speak the North, Central, or Southern dialect. And of course there are plenty of differences between British English and American English.

Livemocha foreign-language learning website

12.05.08 | admin | In software

Livemocha is a new website for those who are learning a foreign language. It combines lessons with flash cards to a community of fellow learners. I’ve had success with other sites for meeting language partners such as My Language Exchange but Livemocha is a lot more advanced. Here’s what mashable has to say:

Centering around a social network, LiveMocha lets people help other users for the purpose of learning a new language. By providing this network alongside a set of tools that have proven useful for teaching new languages, Livemocha gives you multiple ways in which to learn whatever language you’d like. LiveMocha also has in-house tutors that will help you along the way. The lack of immersion is probably among the biggest reasons why many language-learning programs (including high school and college classes) don’t work.

I have to agree with the approach. The way most students learn a foreign language is inadequate. You really need to practice using the language and having a language partner helps with that as well as with motivation. And now Web technology is advanced enough to really facilitate interactively learning online.

In the same vein is Mango Languages software, another website with a large set of developed lessons with audio as well is an attached community of language students. I recommend this site.

Pimsleur’s audiobook CDs online

10.28.08 | admin | In Vietnamese

Are you thinking about learning a new foreign language? if you gone to the bookstore you’ve probably seen Pimsleur’s products, CDs that you can listen to in your car or on the train ride to work and learn by the Pimsleur’s method.  It’s probably more suited to those driving a car by themselves because it requires talking out loud.  But at the bookstore you’ve also probably noticed that these CD sets are quite expensive.  Now you could go on eBay and look for a used copy or maybe go to your local library and search for a copy.  Or you could go onto the internet library and try out a copy to see if it’s worth the money.  I’m not advocating piracy or not paying for something that you genuinely found useful.  But if you’re a little internet savvy and know about bittorrent then check out this list of .
<a href=””>Pimsleur’s books</a>

Pimsleur - Albanian - 100.6 MB
Pimsleur - Arabic (Eastern) 303.3 MB
Pimsleur - Arabic (Egyptian) 151.9 MB
Pimsleur - Armenian (Eastern) - 227 MB
Pimsleur - Armenian (Western) - 235.8 MB
Pimsleur - Chinese (Cantonese) 222.3 MB
Pimsleur - Chinese (Mandarin) 151.4 MB
Pimsleur - Chinese (Mandarin) 171 MB
Pimsleur - Chinese (Mandarin) 150.9 MB
Pimsleur - Croatian - 193.2 MB
Pimsleur - Czech - 109.8 MB
Pimsleur - Danish - 189.7 MB
Pimsleur - Dutch - 41.9 MB
Pimsleur - Farsi - 59.4 MB
Pimsleur - French 232.2 MB
Pimsleur - French 229.3 MB
Pimsleur - French 145.5 MB
Pimsleur - German 357.3 MB
Pimsleur - German 536.6 MB
Pimsleur - German 547.9 MB
Pimsleur - German 145.6 MB
Pimsleur - 288.5 MB
Pimsleur - Haitian Creole - 201.6 MB
Pimsleur - Hebrew 213 MB
Pimsleur - Hindi - 74.9 MB
Pimsleur - Indonesian - 110.9 MB
Pimsleur - Irish - Quick & 92.6 MB
Pimsleur - Italian 200 MB
Pimsleur - Italian 194.7 MB
Pimsleur - Italian 201.4 MB
Pimsleur - Japanese 399.4 MB
Pimsleur - Japanese 569.2 MB
Pimsleur - Japanese 406.7 MB
Pimsleur - Korean - 197.6 MB
Pimsleur - Lithuanian - 257.1 MB
Pimsleur - Norwegian - 94.9 MB
Pimsleur - Ojibwe 382.4 MB
Pimsleur - Polish - 170.4 MB
Pimsleur - Portuguese (Brazilian) 383 MB
Pimsleur - Portuguese (Brazilian) 380.7 MB
Pimsleur - Portuguese (Brazilian) 353.1 MB
Pimsleur - Portuguese (Continental) - 108.3 MB
Pimsleur - Romanian - 114.6 MB
Pimsleur - Russian 360.2 MB
Pimsleur - Russian 444.5 MB
Pimsleur - Russian 449.5 MB
Pimsleur - Spanish 203.8 MB
Pimsleur - Spanish 332.2 MB
Pimsleur - Spanish 319.9 MB
Pimsleur - Spanish 103.1 MB
Pimsleur - Swahili - 111.9 MB
Pimsleur - Swedish - 174.6 MB
Pimsleur - Swiss German - 95.7 MB
Pimsleur - Thai - 165.7 MB
Pimsleur - Twi - 116 MB
Pimsleur - Ukrainian 352.6 MB
Pimsleur - Vietnamese - 110.5 MB

Interesting Vietnamese materials

10.15.08 | admin | In vocabulary, Vietnamese

The Vietnamese word for leather is the same as the Vietnamese word for skin, da.  However, the tropical climate in Saigon means that there is little chance for people to actually wear clothes made out of “skin”.  More likely they would be wearing bông, which means cotton but can also mean flower. Nhựa is the word for plastic but it can also mean tar, resin, and even opium.  The word for stone is đá which also means ice or to kick as in đá bóng, football. The word for cement, xi măng, is based pronunciation of the French word ciment.

Vàng is gold but it also means the color yellow and in the case of hair it means blonde. Silver is bạc which also means money, as well as meager and ungrateful.  I guess that means that gold would make the better gift.  The hán-việt words for gold and silver are kim and ngân which together mean jewelry.  Kim loại means metals while kim cương means diamond (really hard metal).  Ngân hàng is another word you’re likely to see which means bank.

Similarities between Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Korean

09.11.08 | admin | In Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese

A Japanese-speaker learning Vietnamese or a Vietnamese-speaker learning Japanese will both notice that a lot of words in the other language seem to correspond with words in their native language. And both the Japanese-speaker and Vietnamese-speaker ought to know that the corresponding words (cognates) are part of the Chinese-derived vocabulary that make up about half or more of both languages’ vocabularies. This is much like English where around half of our words come from French or Latin, especially words for the sciences and legal terms. The Korean language also falls in the group of languages with heavy Chinese influence.

And when you compare the Mandarin language spoken today with the Chinese-derived words in either Japanese or Vietnamese you’ll find that the words in those two more closely resemble each other than their modern counterparts in Mandarin. This is because the Middle Chinese language spoken at the time the Japanese and Vietnamese were importing technology, culture, and vocabulary from the Chinese has changed a lot since becoming the Mandarin dialect spoken today in Beijing and taught all over China. The Middle Chinese language spoken back then in some cases more closely resembles Shanghainese or the Min dialect.

So when you look at a Việt-Hán dictionary and look at the Chinese-derived words at first they may seem dissimilar but then you will notice a pattern that corresponds to the difference between how the Vietnamese imported the original pronunciation of the Chinese and how that Chinese pronunciation changed into modern Mandarin. For example, Mandarin has less syllable endings than other Chinese dialects. In Vietnamese, all syllables end with either a voiceless stop (/k/, /p/, /t/) or a nasal (/n/, /m/, “ng”). Standard Korean has the same set of final consonants plus the flap “r”. Compare this to English where syllables can end in any consonant, not to mention consonant clusters. Mandarin Chinese only allows the two nasals /n/ and “ng” (we’ll forget about “er” for now). This is much reduced from Middle Chinese and it’s worth noting that Cantonese today as well as the Hakka dialect retains exactly the same endings as Vietnamese. In Japanese all syllables are open by the way they define syllables but for this discussion we can say that some syllables end in a nasal, which is always written using the N character but can be any nasal (/n/, /m/, “ng”) depending on the following syllable (likewise, you’ll notice in English that words with the prefix in- only occur when not followed by “b” or “p” in which case it is im- and the same principle applies in Japanese). Moreover, Japanese can actually have a stop when used between two other syllables if one syllable ends and the other begins with the same value. This puts the number of endings on par with Vietnamese and some Chinese dialects.

However, the words (morphemes) that were being imported from Middle Chinese were made up of single syllables. This fitted fine with Vietnamese but Japanese was more limited in the way the stops could be used to end syllables. So Chinese words that ended in a nasal became words in Japanese ending with “N” but those ending in a stop became two syllables in Japanese. And then in Mandarin those stops were dropped altogether. One example is “kingdom” as in the Middle Kingdom, the name all four countries use for China. In Vietnamese the word is “quốc” and in Japanese it is “koku” while in Mandarin it is “guo”, where the “g” is pronounced as an unaspirated /k/. They all begin the same but only Japanese and Vietnamese retain the “k” stop ending.

Sound correspondences

When looking for Chinese-derived words in Vietnamese and Japanese some conversion is necessary. In Mandarin words no longer begin with a nasal “ng” and so Vietnamese words which begin with this will have no initial consonant in Mandarin. In Japanese these words may begin with /g/. An example is “ngoại” which means outside (alternatively “ngoài”), “wài” in Mandarin, and “gai” in Japanese. Vietnamese words that start with the letter “d” will start with “y” in Mandarin reflecting the southern Vietnamese pronunciation of today’s “d” which differs from words beginning with “gi” in Vietnamese which may more closely respond with Northern Vietnamese pronunciation which today is /z/. Vietnamese words which begin with “nh” are transcribed in Pinyan, the system for writing Mandarin in Roman characters, as the letter “r”, which is very different from the English “r”. In Japanese these words begin with “n”. An example is the word for Japan which in Japanese is “nippon”, “nhật bản” in Vietnamese, and “ri ben” in Mandarin. Japanese, at the time of first contact with Chinese, didn’t yet have the “h” sound, rather it was a”p” and b, p, and h are rather like different forms of the same sound in Japanese. So the word for 100 is “bách” in Vietnamese, “băi” in Mandarin, and “hyaku” in Japanese. And the word for white is “bạch” in Vietnamese, “bái” in Mandarin, and “haku” in Japanese. Mandarin and Japanese don’t have the “kh” sound so “khách”, customer in Vietnamese, is “kè” (”k” is aspirated) in Mandarin, and “kyaku” in Japanese. A word similar to “feeling” is “khí” in Vietnamese, “qì” in Mandarin, and “ki” in Japanese.

So we see that sometimes “kh” corresponds to “q” and sometimes to “k”, and it seems to depend on the following vowel. For example, “khi” and “khu” often correspond to “qi” and “qu”. In Mandarin many initial consonants have changed depending on the following vowel sound. In English any consonant can be followed by any vowel. The languages like Japanese on the other hand have certain consonants that don’t precede certain vowels and instead are replaced by similar sounds which are considered basically equivalent in Japanese. For example “ch” precedes “i” and “ts” precedes “u” but is otherwise a “t”. Many Mandarin words that begin with the same letter in Vietnamese start with many different letters in Mandarin. So words beginning with “s” could be “sh”, “ch”, “zh”, and “t” corresponds with a number of letters including “z” like in the word for “word”, “tự”, “zì” in Mandarin and “ji” in Japanese. But “t” never corresponds with “t” in Mandarin, the aspirated /t/. However, “th”, the aspirated /t/ in Vietnamese can sometimes correspond with “sh” in Mandarin.

As mentioned earlier many endings that were dropped in Mandarin are retained in Vietnamese. But Vietnamese words that end in “nh” will end in “ng” in Mandarin, agreeing with the Northern Vietnamese pronunciation.

The “v” sound in Vietnamese is “w” or “y” in Mandarin. Neither Mandarin nor Japanese have the sound.

Other similarities

Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Korean are quite different languages, each belonging in a separate language family, with the latter two consisting as isolates. Linguists believe that Japanese and Korean are not related to any other languages in the world although many believe they may be related to each other. The reason they are all so similar in vocabulary is due to Chinese influence after each of these languages became a language. But besides vocabulary there are some other commonalities.

For one, all these languages use a system of classifiers which is relatively uncommon throughout the world’s languages. These classifiers must be used when referring to a number of things and objects are classified into classes such as people, books, flat things, round things, rolled up things, animals, and so on.

Another is that Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese don’t use pure pronouns although Mandarin today does. This means that there is no universal word for “you” or “I” and instead the word that is used depends on the relationship between the speaker and listener. In Vietnamese, pronouns are kinship terms and in Japanese they are part of its honorific system. The pronoun used can depend on if the listener is older or younger, male or female, or in a higher or lower position and the word to refer to yourself in one context can be a second person pronoun in another context. And in Japanese and Vietnamese a person’s name can be used in the first or second person. In English it would always be in the third person. Japanese and Vietnamese also have different words for brother and sister depending on if they are younger or older.

The English language has the words “green” and “blue” to distinguish between those two colors. However, our four languages each use a single word which can mean either green or blue, “ao” in Japanese, “xanh” in Vietnamese, “qīng” in Mandarin, and “pureu-da” in Korean. The people in these cultures originally did not distinguish blue and green as different colors but rather variants of the same color. However, many other non-Asian languages also have a single word for green and blue and sometimes even black and blue.

And also, as mentioned above, these languages are similar in regards to consonant clusters. English you will find up to three consonants in a row, e.g. “str” in “string”. But in our Asian languages no clustering of consonants is allowed, meaning each consonant must exist by itself.

Learning a new language is always easier when you know a similar language. So those who speak Vietnamese already should find that it’s easier to pick up Chinese or even Japanese just as an English-speaker will be able to pick up French relatively easily.

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