5 Tips for Native Vietnamese Speakers

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Here are 5 tips for native Vietnamese speakers, explained by Vera:

Vietnamese-speaking German learners are especially lucky at sylby, as the co-founder wrote her doctoral thesis among other things on second language pronunciation by native Vietnamese speakers. Therefore, she has many tips for native Vietnamese speakers up her sleeve: also in the lesson videos you get an exclusive tip here and there. This way, the efforts of her PhD time have been worth it for you!

by Vera Scholvin

However, this small advantage is by no means unfair, because the differences between German and Vietnamese could not be stronger. That’s why the German pronunciation is really a challenge for you, but you will definitely master it. And sylby makes it easier for you! 

Tip #1: The sch-sound

Many speakers of Vietnamese pronounce the German sch-sound [ʃ] as [s]. However, there is a sound very similar to the German sound, e.g. in upscale Vietnamese in airport announcements or occasionally in singing. Here are two examples: 
  • Traditional: e.g. in this song in second 45 twice in the consecutive words sang sông ‘to cross the river’, the singer uses a sound for the letter s which is similar to the German sch-sound: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wo4dInycI-0
  • Modern: e.g. in this song in second 7 in the word chẳng ‘not’, this time for the letter sequence ch. The short [t], which can normally heard at the beginning of the sound, is simply omitted to make the speech sound softer, and the result is a sound that is very close to the German sch-sound: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7tZFq29lis
However, this sound is not spoken in many varieties of Vietnamese, and most of you might not speak the whole time like at the airport or in a poetic song. Therefore, many Vietnamese learners of German replace the sch-sound [ʃ] with the sound [s] and say su [suː] instead of Schuh [ʃuː] ‘giày/shoe’. Tipp: just imagine making a Vietnamese airport announcement and your German [ʃ] will certainly work better! In the lesson “Das Konzert” you even get a video instruction if it did not work out yet. Watch out: this sound is especially difficult at the end of a syllable.

Tip #2: The r-sound

The letter r is pronounced as [z] in the North Vietnamese standard, for example in ra [za] ‘out’. Therefore, it might happen that you pronounce the German word Regen [ʁegən] ‘mưa/rain’ like Segen [zegən] ‘phúc đức/blessing’, because you transfer your knowledge from Vietnamese orthography to German orthography (see also our article “The 3 Biggest Bugs of Orthography“). 

Tip: rather follow South Vietnamese standard or varieties of North Vietnamese, where ra ‘raus’ is pronounced with a rolling r-sound. The rolled r sound [r] is understandable for German speakers, since it is also spoken in Germany in southern regions. Southern Germany and Southern Vietnam have thus already at least one thing in common! However, if you want to practice the standard German r-sound [ʁ], you should rather orient yourself on the North Vietnamese sound [ɣ]. It is written in Vietnamese with the letter g, e.g. in ‘chicken’. The German sound [ʁ] is just a tiny bit further back in the throat. You can learn more about this in our lesson video “Seriales Lernen”. 

Tip #3: Consonants at the end of a syllable

The ich- and ach-sounds [ç] and [x] are, as for many other learners of German, also particularly challenging for Vietnamese speakers. They usually replace them by a [k]. For the word ich, for example, this does not matter at all in Berlin, because many Berliners also say ick [ɪk] instead of ich [ɪç]. But if you want to speak standard, we recommend the first six lessons of sylby. Most of them are even free, starting with the lesson “Sprachenlernen”. Also, in Vietnamese, only a very small number of consonants can be placed at the end of a syllable. Therefore, not only the ich- and ach-sounds, but also many other different consonants at the end of a syllable in German are quite difficult for Vietnamese speakers. For example, you might tend to replace the [l] in Ball [bal] ‘bóng/ball’ by a [n].

The lesson “Asyl beantragen” addresses exactly this problem. This and similar problems can definitely cause comprehension difficulties and sometimes lead to strange misunderstandings. At sylby, however, we don’t make dirty jokes and that’s why we won’t specifically tell you which ones;). We recommend paying special attention to consonants at the end of a syllable. It can help to put a vowel behind it, for example for the word Ball like this: ba la. After that, you can make the a-sound at the end shorter and shorter and finally drop it.  

Tip #4: Consonant groups

Consonant groups, such as the group [ʃtʁ] in Straße ‘street’, are a really difficult topic because they hardly exist in Vietnamese. Maybe, as a strategy of avoidance, you put a vowel in between or just leave out one of the consonants. In this way Straße [ʃtʁaːsə] ‘đường/street’ becomes t ra sờ [traːsɤ] or sờ tờ ra sờ [sɤtɤrasɤ], for example. 

This is a clever strategy, but it can make comprehensibility quite difficult. Fortunately, to practice consonant groups, sylby offers you many different lessons, for example, “Die Spree entlang”. The German sound [t͡s] as in Zeit [͡tsɑɪt] ‘thời gian/time’, which is written with the letter z, is difficult for the same reason, as it is actually made up of the two sounds t + s. Try not to omit the [t] and say Seit, a very typical mistake even among other learner groups of German. You can practice the sound [t͡s] with the lesson “Umzug”.

Tip #5: Vowels

The last point in the tips for Vietnamese native speakers are the ü and ö sounds: For instance, Vietnamese learners of German often pronounced the [yː] written with the letter ü is as [wiː]. Similar as in Vietnamese quy ‘rule’. And by analogy, they pronounce the sound [øː] written with the letter ö as [weː] as in quê ‘village’. This is a pretty clever workaround and you’ll certainly get on in life like that without any problems. If you want to pronounce the sounds correctly, then we recommend for example the lessons “Österliche Fröhlichkeit” and “Züge nach Rügen”. 

Another vowel which can be trained is the letter e at the end of a word, for example in Blume [blumə] ’hoa/flower’. The corresponding sound is then unstressed and pronounced as a schwa-sound [ə]. This is different in Vietnamese, where the last syllable is rather heavy. But in German, is is often the first syllable which is stressed. And if the last syllable is a schwa syllable, namely a syllable with the sound [ə], then it is not stressed at all. Here only so much: it sounds almost like the sound [ɤ̆], which is written in Vietnamese with the letter â as in the word âm ‘warm’. You can find out how the schwa sounds correctly in the lessons “Ich bin Pflegekraft” and “Hamburg”.

Rome wasn't build in a day either...

We hope our tips for Vietnamese native speakers were helpful and we wish you much success in practicing. But if someone doesn’t understand you right away, don’t be discouraged: the others can also practice listening more carefully in order to understand you better! By the way, it took sylby’s co-founder a long time until she was understood in Vietnamese. And if she hadn’t learned Vietnamese, she might never have understood how challenging pronunciation can be. Especially when the language you learn in adulthood sounds very different from the language(s) you spoke from childhood on. So that’s why the creation of sylby also owes a lot to learning Vietnamese!


* In this article we use IPA-symbols. These are the symbols you also find in a dictionary that indicate how a word is pronounced. If you want to know more about it please read our article here or visit the International Phonetic Association.


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