Does anyone have any good links that help with explaining the tones in Vietnamese, and how they are marked? Thanks!

April 22, 2016


There are lots of illustrative videos on Vietnamese tones on YouTube. Since I've watched several of them, I would like to point out the one I liked most —

The guy not only shows a tone on one single vowel, but he also shows it in a sentence. Using a male voice is also useful, since most of the videos are registered with female voice (not always clear how high you should pronounce it with a lower voice you have). He pronounces Southern consonants though, keep that in mind too (the differences are not so many, but may be bewildering).

You may want to search for „Vietnamese tones“ there to see other videos too.

I will try to explain here.

There are 6 tones, and they are used to alter syllables. This contrasts with English, where tones are used primarily to express emotion. There is regional variation; here I describe northern tones.

  • Ngang (a) – mid level – rather than being flat, it is a bit high and even
  • Huyền (à) – low falling – starts a bit high, then drops
  • Hỏi (ả) – mid falling – dips and rises
  • Ngã (ã) – glottalized rising – rises, with a forced break in the middle
  • Sắc (á) – rising – rises, sounds similar to a questioning tone in English
  • Nặng (ạ) – glottalized falling – starts low, forced break at the end

To hear it and practice, you can try this memrise course.

To memorize the tones, I am finding it helpful to associate them with physical movements. Here is the breakdown of how I do it:

  • Ngang (a) – hands moving forward, just below eye level
  • Huyền (à) – hands pushing down, starting from chest level
  • Hỏi (ả) – dipping and rising motion with either hand
  • Ngã (ã) – forearms at shoulder level and rising, with a deliberate stop midway
  • Sắc (á) – hands lifting up, starting from just below chest level
  • Nặng (ạ) – dropping an (imaginary) stone from stomach level

I hope this helps.

As for the Southern tones:

  • Ngang (a) - mid level - similar to Northern
  • Huyền (à) - low falling - similar to Northern
  • Hỏi/ngã (ả/ã) merge - starts low and swings up somewhat high
  • Sắc (á) - rising - similar to Northern
  • Nặng (ạ) - heavy - starts low and swings up slightly but stays somewhat low (close to mid level)

Your answer is great! :) There is just a small mistake here: "ngang", not "ngan". Thanks for your help.

Oops, fixed. Thanks for the correction.

Cảm ơn. I appreciate this a lot! :)

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