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Essential pronunciation in the Vietnamese context

Gõ tiêu đề google đưa link tới trang dẫn của Hội Đồng Anh

Paper presented at VTTN Conference held by BC and MOET, Dec 2005

Tran Thi Lan*

Abstract: (Printed in VTTN National ELT Conference 2005)


Summary for British Council magazine “English Now”


Of the four language skills speaking is always seen most challenging by the Vietnamese. One reason of this is poor pronunciation due to neglection at school of all levels.

On tutoring IELTS candidates the instructor constantly asks herself whether it is possible for a “false learner” to acquire English pronunciation for a shortest amount of time. If so,  what is the minimal items to learn and how to learn them best? The answer perhaps lies in contrastive analysis, which I believe strongly helps cope one’s problems, thus, improve their speech.

English pronunciation books in the market are plentiful. So are worldwide websites. Yet those materials are written predominantly by English native speakers for general learners. None is exclusively for the Vietnamese, i.e. with the acount on special features of the Vietnamese language.

The major objectives of this paper is to define core list of English items for Vietnamese students to acquire. Pronunciation is taught for intelligibility in an academic context rather than acquisition of a native like speech. Methods to deal with the problems or materials for practice can be found in “English Pronunciation for All” (Trần Thị Lan Ngữ âm tiếng Anh cho mọi người – Sách biên soạn riêng dành cho người Việt) due to be published this autumn by the publishing house “Văn hoá Thông tin”.

The findings:

A list of core items to teach, first 7 believed to be most essential, has been defined as follows:

  1. The English alphabet. Essential. Vietnamese confusing letters (by ear rather than by eye) can be R, I, E,  G , J, H, X, K, Q, W, X, Y
  2. The English phonemic chart. Essential as it helps reading words in dictionaries. Monolingual Dictionaries by reputed publishers should be encouraged to use.
  3. Voiced and unvoiced sounds. Essential as helping students to deal with ends /s/ and /-ed/.
  4. Long and short vowels: essential as they differ in meaning.
  5. Word final consonants. Essential. Continuant exercises on final endings should be done attentively during the course.
  6. Consonant clusters: sts, ts, str, tr appear to be most challenging for many.
  7. Supresegmental level: Word stress, sentence stress, intonation. Essential. Tonic intonation should be of special care as they differ in meaning. Sound linking: important but not essential. Let the learners know that once they say the words correctly, they will link sounds naturally themselves.
  8. Sounds unavailable eg. interdentals /d/, /q/. Can be mixed up with /f/ or Vietnamese /th/ though they may not disturb comprehensibility. Right articulation can help overcome this problem.
  9. /l/ and /n/ can be mixed up in the northern dialect (Hai Phong, Hai Duong, Hung Yen, Quang Ninh etc.). Articulation can help solve out this problem.
  10. /j/  initial like in yes, young, yellow may be heard as zes, zoung, zeallow. This sound could be a bigger problem for learners from the south, orcentral provinces of the country. Articulation and minimal pair can help.
  11. /r/ some may have problems with this sound as Hanoiaccent does not distinguish /r/, /z/, or /gi/. Some people in the central part of Vietnamsuch as Nghe An or Quang Binh, Hue, Danang can say /zed/ instead of /red/, /ozing/ instead of /orihd3/
  12. Initial /t/ respirated as in ten-thirty ( can be heard as ten terty) – respirated in English but never in Vietnamese. This is advisable to teach but not the must for a short course.

Sounds not causing comprehensible problems for the Vietnamese.

The quality of the sound may not affect people’s comprehension. So they can be introduced briefly and not necessarily need special practice: b, c, d, ch, f, k, h, m, n, ng, q, s, t, v, w.

Diphthongs do not seem to show much difficulty for the Vietnamese.

Principles of teaching English pronunciation to the Vietnamese:

Pronunciation teaching should be systematic, gradual, consistent, interesting, practical, integrated.



  • Teaching pronunciation is important. It is “one of the surest element of language to fossilize and fossilize good and hard” (Dr. Maria Sperily – TESL-L). It needs to be taught properly at the very beginning of language study.
  • In designing or selecting materials for pronunciation it is important to take into account the purpose of the learners’ language study,  whether it is to acquire “a native like accent or for intelligibility in international communication.  In most cases it – the accent selected –  should be comprehensible to the greatest number of persons not sharing that particular language” (Dr. Merton Bland – TESL-L).
  • Once the major  accent is selected, a list of core and non-core items should be identified. Learners’ native language special features should be taken into account to avoid language interference. Teaching and learning items are prioritized  accordingly to learners’ need and their time availability.
  • Teaching should be done in an easy, learner-friendly, consistent, regular, practical, interesting, integrating, personalized manner and it should help maintain learners’ autonomy.

Recommended materials for further readings:

  1. Bell M. 1996. Teaching pronunciation and intonation to EFL learners inKorea. Originally submitted in the course Ling 901: Phonetics and Phonology, Master of Applied Linguistics,MacquarieUniversity,Sydney,AustraliaJune 1996
  2. Bowel J.D, Madsen H., Filferty A. 1992. TESOL Techniques and Procedures. Chapter 5: Pronunciation (133-158) Newbury House
  3. Celce-Murcia M. 1991. Teaching English as a second or foreign language, 2nd ed. Section “Teaching pronunciation”, pp. 136-153. Heile&Heile Publishers
  4. Dalton D. Some techniques for teaching pronunciation.
  5. Doyle D. Phonics, syllable and accent rules.
  6. Griffiths B. Integrating pronunciation into classroom activities. British Council teaching English-Pronunciation- English sentence stress.htm
  7. Joyce K. Rhyming pair game. British council teaching English – try – pronunciation.htm
  8. Pathare E. Word Stress. British Council- Pronunciation.htm
  9. Steele V. Connected speech. British Council teaching English – Pronunciation – Connected speech.htm

Recommended materials for students’ self-study:

Baker, A. Ship or Sheep: an intermediate pronunciation course.CambridgeUniversityPress.

For further notes and practice on English pronunciation please see “Ngữ âm tiếng Anh dành cho mọi người” – Sách viết dành riêng cho người Việt – to be published this autumn by “Văn hoá Thông tin”).

Websites for beginners: (British English)

evaeaston (American English)

* Ph. D Ling., Senior Lecturer,HanoiUniversity of Foreign Studies

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