Vietnamese – the one language that sticks out in this part of Asia. You recognise it immediately when you hear it. Its sound pattern is not exactly like the singsong of Thai or Laotian.
It sounds more like drama. Ups and downs in tone, long and short. A roller-coaster ride of the tongue. And strange vowels that you wonder how they are being produced. Challenging 🙂
Once you start to approach the language systematically you notice immediately that also the grammar is completely different from our Western tongues (and from other Sino-languages). In principal much simpler – but different.
Like there is no conjugation of verbs. Also no declination of nouns. Specific descriptions always put the general first and the particular second. Example: meat = meat pork, meat beef, meat chicken…; station= station bus; station train…and so on…
The biggest hurdle, however, is really the pronunciation and in particular the vowels.
One example: the letter “O”.
“O” – is pronounced like “aw” in awful
“Ô” – is pronounced like “o” in hotel
“Ơ” – is pronounced a little like the Bulgarian “Ъ” (but without “air”). There is no real equivalent in English.
That’s for starters. As Vietnamese is a tonal language there are 6 different tones for every vowel, from low-falling to high-rising, Which provides us with 18 different “shades of O” alone. And, of course, 18 different words containing the letter. The same applies to the other vowels – giving as a huge playground 🙂
Pronouncing even the seemingly simplest things proofs a challenge.
Let’s take the national dish: Phở bò (beef noodle soup)
The “ô” would be pronounced like the Bulgarian “Ъ” – if it would not be “ổ” (which denominates a mid-falling tone in Hanoi – a different one in Saigon, of course).
So the final pronunciation of “Phở” (soup) lies in between “Фъ” and “faw”. After twisting your mouth to produce this sound follows an immediate reshuffle to attach “bò”(beef) (which sounds like “baw” but with a falling tone).
That’s the simple part. From here you move on to diphthongs and triphthongs 😛
Did I make you interested? Will you enrol in a Vietnamese class. I guarantee you, you won’t be bored 🙂