Introduction to Vietnamese (Tiếng Việt): Part One


Tiếng Vit

Though not as commonly spoken amongst language students as Mandarin Chinese or Japanese, the Vietnamese language (Tiếng Việt) is fascinating and melodious, and a lot of fun to study if one finds the right books and tutor. So I thought I would provide for you all a taste of this wonderful language, and hopefully inspire a few of you to join me in an ongoing interest to learn it.

The easiest way to begin speaking Vietnamese is to learn the basic conjugation of the verb “to be,” which thankfully is significantly easier than languages such as German. The word “I”, is pronounced tdoy, like “doy” except with a little bit of a ‘t’ sound at the beginning, and/or “toy” with a slight ‘d’ just after the ‘t.’ The actual verb “to be” is not necessary in the sentence, since “I happy” is understood to mean “I am happy.” Thus, you can say any number of adjectives without “am” or “was” since the past and future forms only require a marker. For example, expressing happiness (pronounced “voo-y”):

Tôi ___                                                I am

Tôi vui.                                               I happy (“I am happy”)

Tôi đã vui.                                          I (past) happy. (“I was happy”)

Tôi sẽ vui.                                           I (future) happy. (“I will be happy”)

The negative is also expressed with a marker (pronounced “houng” with a slight ‘k’ sound at the beginning), thus:

Tôi không ___.                                    I am not…

Tôi đã không ___.                               I was not…

Tôi sẽ không ___.                               I will not be…

You can also modify the verb by adding quá (“kwa” with an abrupt end to the ‘a’) and create sentences expressing such things as quantity.

Tôi ___ quá.                                          I am too…

Tôi không ___ quá.                              I am not too…

Tôi đã ___ quá.                                    I was too…

Tôi đã không ___ quá.                         I was not too…

To speak Vietnamese properly requires tutoring in pronunciation, so unfortunately I cannot adequately explain the sound of Vietnamese in writing. But I can reveal that the diacritical marks over the various letters sound a bit like they look. Quá, for example, goes up a little at the end, just as the mark indicates. The squiggled line over the ‘a’ in đã starts as a mid tone on ‘d’, dips a little, then you must stop the sound with the back of your throat at the beginning of the ‘a’, and then say the rest of the ‘a’ with a rising sound. To those unfamiliar with Vietnamese it sounds like person has a momentary crack in their voice before they finish the word, like they have a sore throat. This cracking effect is actually part of the pronunciation, and actually sounds quite beautiful when native speakers use it. It adds a quiet little skip, which gives the word a kind of bluesy quality.

In the next instalment I will further explain how to describe yourself and your occupation.


©2014 Daniel


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