Vietnamese 1/Alphabet

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This is a guide for Languages --> Southeast Asian languages --> Vietnamese Language --> Vietnamese alphabet
It describes the alphabet (Chữ_cái) of the Vietnamese language in use around the world. For Vietnamese( Tiếng_Việt - Bảng chữ cái) see Quốc_ngữ

Language of Vietnam (Tiếng_Việt)
Speakers: 91.5 million + overseas population
English name: Viet or Vietnamese
Language name: Tiếng_Việt
Spoken in: Vietnam and overseas population
Pronunciation: Hanoian, Saigon, Huế, Mekong, Ethnic, Overseas
Official Language: Vietnam
Family of languages: Austro Asiatic
Relatives: Viet, Mon, Khmer
Writing system: Quốc ngữ (Vietnamese alphabet), Chữ Nho (Chữ Hán)

Introduction to the Alphabet

Spoken alphabet[edit | edit source]

The Viet (Việt) alphabet can now be read by English speakers. But, nearly everything will be spoken very poorly in an English voice. Viet has to be read as a tonal language, according to the markings placed around letters/characters. Each marking will describe a sound change.

If you change the sound of the Viet alphabet letters on your own, then people will not understand your words.

  • The English language lets people say each word a little differently each time to express a feeling from the speaker.
  • The Vietnamese language only allows for a expressions through a change in volume and quality - even when angry or happy.

You cannot guess feeling from the way people change their tones for words. While a change in volume will reveal some difference. And an abrupt quality may reveal some expression. Watch the tone of voice in 'Phim Hai' (Comedy) to see how tone of voice is still used despite proper word control. [1] The choice of words, the common-phrase's meaning in the current discussion, normal animation (activity), and visual signs (e.g. smiles) are all indicative features of expression. It is only a small system of six tones and some altered vowels that leads to an alternate meaning for the words (and not a change in the expression). Otherwise the language is as expressive as English!

To be very clear use this example to understand how to say hello:

Example one: Xin Chào (Hello) should never be Xin Chowee, as you could have said by using informal English expression. It's always Xin Jow, with the jow falling down to very quiet or flat sounds. Xin Chào is a stern sounding greeting. Like, "Hello, how are you today, sir/madam?" not expressively "Hellooo, beautiful princess" as you might say to little girls in party costumes.

It's the first and most important thing - Phát_âm ('Fat Arm' or 'Fat Um' - pronunciation). So, a new learner will say "Xin loi, toi khong co phát_âm tot". (Sorry, I haven't got the pronunciation).(át_âm).

The use of sounds[edit | edit source]

English has strong use of consonants. 'v,b,y,m,n' etc. (Said: veh, beh, yeh, meh, neh). In English, a sentence will have strong consonant sounds.

For example: "Peter and Jane tossed a great party very late last night". The Pee - terr sounds for Peter have a very strong consonant sound.

Vietnamese has strong use of vowels. 'y,i,o,u' etc. (Said: 'ee, ee, oh, oo'). Vietnamese words have many consonants that help vowels - not disrupt them.

  • Vietnamese Names
Ng is a famous digraph for a very famous name in Vietnam.
Nguyen [2] (Nguyễn).
It's the Vietnamese equal of the name Smith (in notoriety).[3]
When you say the name Nguyen, it requires a soft use of the the consonants to help the (correct) vowels.[4]
It is acceptable slur or mumble several consonants and concentrate on the vowels and tone (to be parsed in Vietnamese).
English: parses with mumbled vowels, while concentrating on the consonants. For example: Hello can be changed to sound very strange and still be recognized by many people. 'H - low' will do, if the H(aitch) is said as any variation of heh, huh, or hah!

Vietnamese does have strong consonants e.g. (Chắc chắn). But, a guide on the important use and sound of vowels in the Vietnamese language is more important for many English speakers. It's not a rule of the differences (dichotomy) between the two languages!

In Vietnamese a letter with no marking has no change. But, it can only be said as Viet speakers say it, else a new meaning could be introduced. Especially, the letter 't' which rarely has the 't'h' sound. US-English speakers have the same pronunciation of the 't' sound. "Batter up!" has the sound badder up!. That is the only 't' sound in Vietnamese! (So, 'Peter' will be said 'Pee - derr').

This is a spoken language so musical pitch or lilt is not the most changed sound quality. Different voices have different musical pitches. What the speaker will change is the pitch and intensity, and time given to the sound parts for each letter (or word). If a speaker uses strong pitch changes, it will probably be for pronunciation (with a better quality voice) - unnecessary in normal speaking! Some people still drone in a slight voice, just the same as in spoken English![5]

Letters of the alphabet[edit | edit source]

Vietnamese characters[edit | edit source]

Here is the total set of characters for the lowercase letters:

b o ô ơ a â ă ê e u ư i y r l c
d ó á é í ý n h s
đ ò à ế è ú ì m t x
g õ ã ũ ĩ v k
q ù

This makes the useful alphabet 89+ letters.
I.e. This letter is a word: ', it means at (or where, place).

The Latin alphabet[edit | edit source]

The main letters from the latin alphabet:
a, b,c,d,e,g,h,i,k,l,m,n,o,p,q,r,s,t,u,v,x,y

The first set of changed letters[edit | edit source]

ô, ơ, â, ă, ê, ư, đ

This changed set of characters makes new alphabet letters for use in the Vietnamese language. They are an extension to the set of Latin characters already used. English doesn't extend the alphabet. English just uses the same written characters over again, to denote different (letter) sounds. For example: ape, angry, all, art, aorta, and apple. For the Vietnamese language, sounds are split up with their own letter/character changes.

'đ' is just the same as the English d.
'd' in the Vietnamese alphabet is y (in Southern Vietnam)
'd' is also z (in Northern Vietnam).

'a, â, ă' are just different ah letters.
'u, ư' are different oo letters - never, ever an uh/ah sound.
'e, ê' are just eh and ey - but they may sound different to English e in use.
'o, ô, ơ' are just oh, oe, and ur - but they still all sound like o's from English.
Note: i and y are essentially the same vowel (and may be exchanged in some situations)

The school alphabet[edit | edit source]

The alphabet is taught in Vietnam's schools with these letters

a, b, c, d, e, g, h, i, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, x, y - ô, ơ, â, ă, ê, ư, đ

Vietnamese schools teach the alphabet with these 29 letters. The total number of possible letters is much higher if diacritical marks are added.

Making the vowel sounds[edit | edit source]

These are the tone rules for vowels with different sounds. It's like music where only the correct sound can come from the instrument. It doesn't matter which instrument, as long as the sound follows the rule.

Empty - Ngang or Bằng A a, Ă ă, Â â, E e, Ê ê, I i, O o, Ô ô, Ơ ơ, U u, Ư ư, Y y Unmarked vowels are pronounced with a level voice, in the middle of the speaking range.
Lifting - Sắc Á á, Ắ ắ, Ấ ấ, É é, Ế ế, Í í, Ó ó, Ố ố, Ớ ớ, Ú ú, Ứ ứ, Ý ý The lifting mark tells the speaker to start normal and lift.
Falling - Huyền À à, Ằ ằ, Ầ ầ, È è, Ề ề, Ì ì, Ò ò, Ồ ồ, Ờ ờ, Ù ù, Ừ ừ, Ỳ ỳ The falling mark tells the speaker to start normal and drop the sound.
Turning - Hỏi Ả ả, Ẳ ẳ, Ẩ ẩ, Ẻ ẻ, Ể ể, Ỉ ỉ, Ỏ ỏ, Ổ ổ, Ở ở, Ủ ủ, Ử ử, Ỷ ỷ The turning mark tells the speaker to start low, then drop, and finally lift.
Breaking - Ngã Ã ã, Ẵ ẵ, Ẫ ẫ, Ẽ ẽ, Ễ ễ, Ĩ ĩ, Õ õ, Ỗ ỗ, Ỡ ỡ, Ũ ũ, Ữ ữ ,Ỹ ỹ A breaking mark tells the speaker to start, stop, drop, and then start again and lift.
Sunk - Nặng Ạ ạ, Ặ ặ, Ậ ậ, Ẹ ẹ, Ệ ệ, Ị ị, Ọ ọ, Ộ ộ, Ợ ợ, Ụ ụ, Ự ự, Ỵ ỵ The sunk mark tells the speaker start low and get a quick, sunk stop.

This is a spoken language so musical pitch or lilt is not the most changed sound quality. Different voices have different musical pitches. What the speaker will change is the intensity, and time given to the sound parts for each letter (or word). If a speaker uses strong pitch changes, it will probably be for pronunciation.

Treatment of the Alphabet[edit | edit source]

Sounds similar to letters[edit | edit source]

Before, the alphabet was arranged from 'a to z' by foreign dictionaries, it included two letter sounds. The letters are like two letter sounds in English. 'Ch' in mechanic, or Christmas are good examples. In Viet characters the 'j'(jeh) sound has an equal (sound) that is written as 'tr'(jeh). Letters like 'Tr' used to be in every dictionary's order right in between the other alphabet letters. Another sound is 'ph'. 'Ph' is very famous - it's used in 'phở' the most famous Vietnamese soup in the world. 'Ph' is an 'f' sound, just like in English - 'phone'.
In addition to the normal alphabet, there are nine compound double-letters and one compound triple-letter.

  • CH
  • GI
  • GH
  • KH
  • NG
  • NGH
  • NH
  • PH
  • TH
  • TR (preserved as "T + R" by some Southern (Vietnam) speakers).

The order[edit | edit source]

a ă â b e ê g i k o ô ơ p t u ư v y z
á c é ế gi í kh ó ph th ú x ý
à d è h ì l ò q tr ù
đ m r
ã ĩ n õ s ũ

The syllables[edit | edit source]

Because of a relationship with East Asian languages (Japanese,Chinese etc.) the Vietnamese words can be moved around in their order. The reversal of the syllable-words moves them to another position in the dictionary. Also, the syllable-words can be held behind different syllable-words - like the articles in English. It's best to use a computer query to find them.

The alphabet in daily life[edit | edit source]

Young Vietnamese learners will spend a lot of time with this alphabet. Correction is very common. The need for correction is used in many comedies about uneducated people. Comedies about foreigners are becoming very common too.
The reason for all the attention is how quickly the meaning will change. To say "I have a sore head, somewhere" ("đầu của tôi là đau đâu!" in Vietnamese) is nearly impossible for (foreign) learners on their first day. A learner will only hear 'dow, dow dow' or 'dough, dough, dough' or 'dow, dough, dough' which does not help when listening. The same problem can be stated in English - 'four forks for foreigners' foreheads forthwith!'
Each word in Vietnamese can be identical to another word, except for the sounds/tones/letter-changes. The sound is also identical to the ears of English speakers that allow for expression (sound changes) still.
See: Vietnam Eyes lesson on YouTube

Foreign characters/letters[edit | edit source]

From English[edit | edit source]

The world includes Vietnam! So, the other letters 'j, f, w and z' are now OK to use in many places - on billboards, posters, t-shirts... But, if you work for any type of Vietnamese authority or association, then limit their use until the authority declares them as acceptable letters. But, the other alphabets that are used in English might not be accepted. For example: the Greek alphabet is very useful for English speakers - but in Vietnam it can lack meaning - it would be a decoration for the general population. Educated people will know more letters from the Greek alphabet.

From Chinese[edit | edit source]

Vietnamese used to be written in Chinese characters. A variety for Vietnamese is used in traditional culture. Many Chinese speakers find Vietnamese easy to grasp. The combination of two words is very common to Chinese. Example: phat am, Hong Kong/Xiong Gong etc. .

Combined characters[edit | edit source]

'Dipthongs' are the next most important step to understanding the use of Vietnamese letters. The combination of toned vowels as dipthongs and tripthongs makes the Vietnamese language very fast. Some phrases can be spoken clearly without a strong clarity from consonants. It's very hard for English speakers to follow the combinations of sounds, especially vowels.

The alphabet in computers[edit | edit source]

Language code
ISO 639-1 vi
ISO 639-2 vie

The Vietnamese keyboard is always virtual (in software). Nobody can buy a computer keyboard for Vietnam, in Vietnam. The common QWERTY keyboard is used in Vietnam. Software programs for Vietnamese characters are very common.

On a webpage[edit | edit source]

The webpage is usually set to include the UTF-8 standard when using the Vietnamese alphabet. If the design of the characters is strange the designer of a web-page will set the font to plain "Arial". Some special fonts have been made for Vietnamese alphabets.

Javascript codes[edit | edit source]

<script type="text/javascript">



Open source[edit | edit source]

Some software is free to use. An open-source software program for the Vietnamese keyboard has already been written.

Downloaded Keyboards[edit | edit source]

There are a few virtual keyboard systems to use.

Machine Translators[edit | edit source]

Google Translate can convert Vietnamese into many languages. It has alternate word choice. It has a virtual keyboard.


  • Machine translators are transliterators that require observation of the difficulty in transliteration.
  • The translator has no idea of word-meaning, and will process according to a vocabulary set for conversions.

Positive outcomes:

  • Machine translation effectively reveals language traits that don't automatically translate.

References[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]