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How to Improve Your Vietnamese Pronunciation With Twisters and Karaoke Songs


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A great thing for everybody learning Vietnamese out there is that the language is musical and contains tones that are indicated in the letter by individual symbols.

Let’s take the word ma (“ghost”) as an example.

If we put special signs above (or below) a, then we get completely different words:

  • – “mother”
  • – “but”
  • – “horse”
  • mạ – “rice”
  • mả – “grave”

For students, these nuances cause difficulties when studying the phonetics of the Vietnamese language.

But don’t worry! I’ll help you master the intricacies of Vietnamese pronunciation and present to your attention the most effective Vietnamese tongue twisters and karaoke songs.

Table of contents

Vietnamese Phonetics: Features Every Student Should Know

Students who are new to the Vietnamese language often hear expressive sounds in the speech of native speakers, consisting mainly of “meows” and “croaks”. This is because words in the Vietnamese language are short. Most Vietnamese words consist of three letters, four, and rarely five or six.

Vietnamese has four, five, or six tones (depending on the region), which means four, five, or six ways of pronouncing vowels. The same simple short Vietnamese word, spoken in different tones, has a different meaning each time.

Thus, vocal modulation introduces the following tones into the Vietnamese language: flat, descending, ascending, intermittent, interrogative, and heavy.

Let's take a simple three-letter word ban as an example. Pronounced in a descending tone with a sad sigh, ban means “table”. However, if you pronounce the same syllable with a raised voice, you get the verb “sell”. An interrogative tone denotes the word “instance”. But if you pronounce this word heavily, it will mean the English word “friend.”

By the way, a smaller number of letters in Vietnamese words does not mean a decrease in the number of meanings.

For example, let's take the letter “n” away from the word ban. Only two letters will remain: “b” and “a”, that form the word ba. But there are a great many meanings of ba, not even taking into account the numerous regional dialects and words that include ba.

In particular, if you say ba without intonation, you will define the noun “dad” or the number “three”. Furthermore, if you say the Vietnamese number “three” two times exactly the same, you get not only the numeral “thirty-three”, but also the turtle baba.

Unfortunately, native English speakers are not used to hearing speech that has so many tones. Their speech apparatus is also poor at pronunciation of these tones.

As for people with a predisposition to mastering the Vietnamese language, these include those with good hearing, musical education, as well as those who are able to hear and distinguish between tones and semitones.

Top 10 Vietnamese Tongue Twisters That Will Boost Your Pronunciation

I’m going to give you my top 10 tongue twisters that will help you to boost your Vietnamese pronunciation and understand the nuances of tones.

To learn how to pronounce these twisters correctly, you can use the listening function in Google Translate, having previously copied the text of the tongue twisters into the translation window. Some of them can also be found on YouTube.

Listening and repeating after the native speakers is very beneficial, but be careful not to fall for a small local dialect which are quite common in Vietnam.

1. Lặt rau rồi luộc – “Pick/cut the vegetables and boil them”

This is a good tongue twister to practice your tone switch. Pay attention to how down “a” goes and compares with a flat one and then finishes with the up “o” sound.

2. Buổi trưa ăn bưởi chua – “Having pomelos for lunch”

This is a perfect example of how confusing Vietnamese can be for an unprepared learner. And not only with its vowel sounds. Words like trưa and chua can be quite tricky as well.

Listen to this twister at least a dozen times before you try it. Pay a close attention and try to catch the difference between ascending “o” and its question tone in the word bưởi. It’s one of those words you should really be careful with.

Students often pronounce buổi with a question tone, turning it into not the most polite word.

3. Lúa nếp là lúa nếp làng, lúa lên lớp lớp lòng nàng lâng lâng – “Sticky rice is grown in the home village, so she enjoys the strong growth of the sticky rice”

This twister doesn’t make much sense and might be confusing even for the native speakers, but it’s a good practice for both up and down tones.

Listen to how “â” and “a” should be pronounced as they are actually quite different.

It also shows how repetitive words in the spoken language can transform their original meaning, like in lâng lâng‘ – which might mean to give a soft freedom in your head like a feeling of being slightly drunk.

4. Bà ba béo bán bánh bèo bên bờ biển – “The fat lady Ba sells rice pie on the beach”

Try to pronounce it very slowly at first, one word at a time. See how the consonant “n” changes at the end of each word depending on the tone of the vowels.

5. Nồi đồng nấu ốc, nồi đất nấu ếch – “Copper pot cooks snails, clay pot cooks frogs”

Alteration of ascending and descending sounds is what often makes it confusing for those who just started with Vietnamese.

Make sure you don’t miss the down/sigh “o” in the pot (nồi).

6. Chồng chị chín chết chị chưa chôn, chị chờ chuối chín chị chôn cho chồng – “Her husband is dead. She hasn't buried him. She waits for ripe bananas to bury her husband.”

This is a good twister not only to get along with the tones but also practice the consonant sound “ch”, which can be quite difficult for English speakers.

Try pressing your tongue to your teeth more. It would be more similar to English “t” than “ch”.

7. Một nút thắt, hai thắt nút, ba nút thắt, bốn thắt nút, … – “One knot, two knots, three knots, four knots, …”

It’s essential to practice how to use tones with some specific letters like “t”. Pay attention that syllables ending with “t” usually have a shorter vowel sound compared to other consonants.

8. Một ông sao sáng, hai ông sáng sao, ba ông sao sáng, bốn ông sáng sao – “One bright star, two bright stars, three bright stars, four bright stars”

It’s actually a part of the children's song, but just a previous one, it's a good practice to get along with numbers using real nouns.

9. Lúc nào lên núi lấy nứa về làm lán nên lưu ý nước lũ – “Whenever you go to the mountain to take bamboo back to make a shack, you should pay attention to floodwater”

Pretty complicated twister to pronounce flawlessly. Make sure you don’t omit extra sounds, especially “m” and “n” which would be a common mistake for English speakers.

10. Con cá rô rục rịch trong rổ réo róc rách – “The perch in the basket rattled”

This twister is made to practice the sound “r” as you might have guessed. It’s a very unusual spelling and tongue position for most languages that use the Latin alphabet, and it requires additional attention.

Depending on the region, “r” can be pronounced as “r” “z” or even “ɹ”, so don’t get confused if this twister sounds very different in different sources.

Top 15 Vietnamese Karaoke Songs That Will Help You to Learn the Language

Now I’d like to share my top 15 Vietnamese songs that you can find at karaoke bars to improve your pronunciation.

1. Hà Okio – Sài Gòn Cafe Sữa Đá

This song with a mesmerizing motive is an appeal of the singer to his beloved, with whom he used to talk sweetly in a Sài Gòn Cafe, drink iced coffee, and watch the foliage of trees and people.

It says that the weather changes from day to day, but people still continue to talk to each other about their plans and dream of the future.

Listen to this piece of music, you will definitely love its authenticity.

Useful words to pay attention to:

  • cafe – “coffee”
  • nắng – “sunny”
  • mưa – “rain/rainy”

2. Elvis Phương – Bến Thượng Hải

This is a song about passionate, all-consuming love that is stronger than the waves of the ocean. Here the author says that people can love each other forever, through the years, and their feelings for each other will only become stronger every day. This is a real ode to love.

Useful words to pay attention to:

  • niềm hạnh phúc – “happiness”
  • nỗi sầu – “sadness/sorrowness”
  • mo – “a dream”

3. Lam Trường – 999 Đóa Hoa Hồng

The lyrics of this nostalgic song are dedicated to the sadness of lost love. The author conducts a dialogue with his soul mate, whom he promises to love forever, at any time of the day, in winter, in cold weather, and in a rainy and dull autumn.

Useful words to pay attention to:

  • mùa đông – “winter”
  • hoa hồng – “a rose/roses”
  • kỉ niệm – “a memory”
  • ước – “a wish”

4. Quốc Đại, Cẩm Ly – Cafe Miệt Vườn

This song is a monologue of a wife complaining about her husband. Her husband, instead of coming home on time and helping around the house, stayed late at the café.

5. Vĩnh Thuyên Kim – Hào Hoa (Remix)

This song is dedicated to a guy whose intentions are not clear to the girl. Sometimes she thinks that he is a real gentleman, sometimes that he is a womanizer.

In the text of the song, there is a play on words that differ from each other only in tonality.

Useful words to pay attention to:

  • vui – “fun”
  • tự hào – “pride”
  • đam – “passion”

6. Sơn Tùng M-TP – Lạc trôi

The essence of the song's lyrics lies in the monologue of a lost man who is in despair. Sadness, tears, sad memories – this song is for real lyricists.

Useful words to pay attention to:

  • sương – “fog”
  • bầu trời – “sky”
  • lạc trôi – “to get lost”

7. Emily – Sẽ Chỉ Là Mơ

This beautiful song is from a girl to a guy, which says that she dreams of seeing his smile, and while they are at a distance, the girl is very sad. She dreams of a guy all the time, and every time she realizes that this is only a dream, not reality.

Useful words to pay attention to:

  • ôm – “hug”
  • cười – “laugh”
  • cô đơn – “lonely”

8. Soobin Hoàng Sơn – Xin Đừng Lặng Im

This is a song about lost love and the memories associated with it.

Previously, the lovers were the whole world for one another, but today the author has to wait to hear his beloved at least once again.

Useful words to pay attention to:

  • đau – “pain”
  • Im lặng – “silence”
  • đợi – “to wait”

9. Đông Nhi – Xin Anh Đừng

This is a song about love, forgiveness, and regret. Lovely lyrics are complemented by a melody that creates a romantic mood.

Useful words to pay attention to:

  • áo sơ mi – “a shirt”
  • bão – “a storm”

10. Bảo Anh – Sống Xa Anh Chẳng Dễ Dàng

The lyrics of this song are about love, about how people often hurt each other without noticing it. The author addresses his beloved, promising to love tenderly and not to harm. This is a wonderful song that celebrates deep feelings.

Useful words to pay attention to:

  • khoảng cách – “distance”
  • quá – “the past”
  • sự thật – “the truth”

11. Bích Phương – Bao Giờ Lấy Chồng?

This song is dedicated to the eternal problem of parents and their unmarried daughters.

The singer talks about how every time she comes to her parents' house, they bother her with questions about when she will get married.

Useful words to pay attention to:

  • chồng – “a husband”
  • bố mẹ – “parents”
  • gia đình – “a family”

12. Khac Hung x Min x Erik – Ghen

This is a song with simple lyrics, where the authors confess their love to each other.

The motives of the song are very similar to the songs of Taylor Swift, so if you are a fan of her work, be sure to pay attention to this track.

Useful words to pay attention to:

  • thôi – “stop”
  • ghen – “jealous”

13. Hương Tràm – Em Gái Mưa

This romantic track is dedicated to the singer's first love – her teacher, who perceived her only as a younger sister. This is a real hymn to light sadness about the past.

Useful words to pay attention to:

  • chị gái – “sister”
  • đôi vai – “shoulders”
  • đôi môi – “lips”

14. Xesi x Masew x Nhatnguyen – Túy m

These underground artists dedicated this song to a blue-eyed girl who literally intoxicated them with love. The singers long to see her silhouette again, to feel these emotions again.

Useful words to pay attention to:

  • đêm – “night”
  • say – “drunk”
  • thêm một lần – “one more time”

15. ONLY C – Yêu Là “Tha Thu”

This is a song about the vicissitudes and difficulties of love. The singer is trying to convey to his listeners the idea that there is no need to be sad about those who do not remember you.

Useful words to pay attention to:

  • quà tặng – “a gift”
  • trái tim – “a heart”

Conclusion

The more you listen, the more you’ll see that Vietnamese is not that complicated. It may, however, take some time to understand the dimension of its symbol system.

In Vietnamese, due to the lack of hieroglyphs, phonetics plays a meaning-forming role, which is absent in other languages.

That is why it is so important when teaching Vietnamese to pay special attention to phonetics and not neglect listening to the speech of native speakers.

author headshot

Ryan Bronson

Travel analyst, blogger

Ryan Bronson is a seasoned traveler, photographer, journalist, and a writer at heart. If he's not climbing some mountain or exploring new sights, you can find him writing for EduBirdie blog or mentoring students.

Speaks: English, German, Vietnamese, Russian, Chinese, Arabic

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