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  5. I can't read Vietnamese yet!


I can't read Vietnamese yet!

I've tried to get into it but there needs to be a lot more audio than written text especially at the start. Unless Duo is willing to teach us the alphabet first. I just need to hear what I'm selecting because it's similar to pin yin (Mandarin). What are your thoughts?

June 5, 2016



I absolutely agree that there needs to be more audio at the start.

Most Vietnamese letters are pronounced completely differently to pinyin! Kua made some very helpful posts on the vowels, tones and consonants of Vietnamese, which you might find useful.


I agree with you. I was really looking forward to Vietnamese, but when the course came out, I was hugely disappointed.

I honestly feel like I can't learn Vietnamese from the Duo course. (Which is weird, because I learned a number of languages on my own, long before Duo ever existed, so I do know how to learn languages.)

As you point out, one of the big drawbacks for the Vietnamese course is its lack of complete audio — a huge problem, but I also feel that the explanatory notes are chaotic, disorganized, and unclear. And the sentences were unhelpful.

I tried a couple of times, but simply gave the course up in frustration. And it really was frustrating. And it's a shame, because I thought the Duo method would be a good fit for a "harder" language such as Vietnamese, about which I knew very little, and would be my ticket to learning a bit of the language.

If I decide I really want to learn a little bit of Vietnamese, I'll have to seek out other resources.


Chào Kevan! Surely... Before starting the course you do need to find other resources (for example, on www.memrise.com).

First, you will need to make an account and enter here:


It can take between a week (perhaps two or three) to learn some basics, salutations, animals, colors. But I also know there is a lack of grammar studies on Memrise courses. In a short time you could become familiar with the basic words, and with the audio of many short courses of Vietnamese.

Also, it is very important to install a proper keyboard and start to practice the use of diacritics (perhaps this part can take a long time until you feel confident when writing only the basic words). If you practice with the keyboard well, you will not need to make any annotations. But if you prefer you can make a table with the position of diacritics and a sheet with the basic sentences. I think only when you have practice a lot then you can choice the input method that you prefer (before this you can use any of them).

In my case, I have started some exercises in the course of English for Vietnamese speakers in Duolingo several months ago (and fighting all the time with the Google translator). Now I have started to use the Duolingo script to hear the voice of Google TTS in the reverse tree. This is really very helpful!

See the Reverse Tree Enhancer here: http://duolingo.wikia.com/wiki/Duolingo_Userscripts

When I started the new Vietnamese course I did not focus on the pronunciation, but the grammar basics. On Wikipedia you can also find a grammar book that can help a lot. I know the orthography is not modern but it is still a good book. You have already references on Duolingo about the alphabet, the consonants and vowels sounds, so you will not have problems to understand adding information. Here is the book:

A Vietnamese reference grammar. (http://www.sealang.net/archives/mks/THOMPSONLaurenceC.htm)

This link is also here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnamese_language

I think you will find many responses. You can find a lot of information about tones, classifiers, markers, particles, etc. Also, there is a complete chapter about the history of writing system.

Another point, you need some references about the relative Asian languages, (not only the Cantonese). I think the most important thing is to understand the different grammar structures. The grammar structure of Chinese languages can be easy to understand, but the others are not. I do not prefer to compare any of them with the European languages.

Perhaps this is not the best method of language study, but it works well for me (even if I cannot remember all the sounds of Vietnamese words, because always I need to learn more). But I can only say that the resources are there, and you should use any of them. Good luck! =)


Could you share more details to help the course creators refine this course? I am not one of them, though I do hope to see the course be successful. In particular:

  • What about the course notes is confusing?

  • What would you find helpful in the course notes (i.e. what should be there to make things clear)?

  • In what way are the sentences unhelpful?

  • What sentences do you think might be more helpful?

  • How do you think the Duolingo platform could be better utilized to teach such a language?

If you do have a chance to respond, thanks.


Pinyin is the romanisation of Chinese characters. It simply shows how a word is pronounced, and is tailored towards speakers of English. There is also a version that uses Cyrillic characters. Vietnamese is not a romanisation. Vietnamese is written, as standard, with the Vietnamese alphabet, which is based upon the Latin alphabet. What makes it hard are the tones. As garpike said, Kua offers good lessons about this.


Wait. What? Vietnamese is certainly a romanized system. It uses the Latin alphabet! Just because "chữ nho" and "chữ nôm" aren't used much anymore doesn't mean they should be discarded as never existing. Even if all of China started using only Pinyin tomorrow doesn't mean we discard and forget all the characters that predate the system.


Is French romanised because it uses the Latin alphabet? How about Spanish? Again, I would like to state that Vietnamese is written, as standard, with the Vietnamese alphabet. Wherever you go, everything is written by this standard. Of course, Vietnamese used to use Chinese characters, however their alphabet is so extensive, and built into their culture, that it is falling away from being a romanisation, and more of a standard writing system. Following your logic, every language that uses an alphabet is a romanisation, because at some point in the past it used a different writing system. Is the Korean alphabet a Hangulisation? No. It is simply Hangul. What about Japanese? Is Hiragana a Hiraganisation of Chinese? No. It is simply, Hiragana. So why is Vietnamese not simply, Vietnamese?


(In reply to below/above): Chinese Pinyin is a romanised representation of the sounds of Mandarin; it isn't a romanisation of the Chinese script (there is no methodical set of rules with which someone with no knowledge of Mandarin could convert pinyin into characters). A better example would be Tibetan: Wylie is a romanisation of the script; Tibetan pinyin is a romanisation of the sounds. As is Vietnamese. Hangul was a newly-invented system to represent the sounds of the Korean language, not a different way of representing hyangchal. As it was created from scratch for this purpose, it makes little sense to call it a 'hangulisation'.

Incidentally, hanyu pinyin certainly wasn't created primarily to help non-natives pronounce words; it was to help Chinese schoolchildren (and illiterate adults) to pronounce words!


Alright, I give in! :) Vietnamese is a romanisation, and I was just being blind to what was right in front of me!


If it makes you feel better, it is all just random intellectual discourse at the end of the day. Standard written Vietnamese isn't going to concede to the old writing system any time soon, so it is as you said, it's just Vietnamese.


Because it was romanized. French isn't romanized because it is a romance language. Vietnamese is romanized because, in part, a Jesuit priest came and romanized a system that utilized characters instead of the Latin alphabet, not just the Chinese characters - Vietnamese is romanized in quite the literal sense.

Look, I get what you're saying and that we're arguing semantics. Yes, Vietnamese, as standard in the modern world, is definitely just Vietnamese, romanized or whatever. My point, however, is that it is a romanized system because of the history of the language. The Vietnamese language has a history, and it does all of us a disservice to simply say that it is simply what it is. My logic isn't about how "every language that uses an alphabet is a romanisation," so much as the fact that, considering the start of the current writing system, Vietnamese is most certainly romanized. The difference is that the guy who started the ball rolling was a Jesuit priest and used his familiarity with the Latin alphabet. I wouldn't call it romanized if it had been someone with non-roman origins. Semantics, see?


I wouldn't call it romanized if it had been someone with non-roman origins.

Pinyin was created entirely by a committee of Chinese people in China, but it is without a doubt a romanization. The origin of the creator(s) is entirely irrelevant. If a Matabele tribesman comes up with a new system of transcribing Mongolian using the Latin alphabet, it's still a romanization!

I do agree with you that Vietnamese is romanized; however, it something of a moot point as the vast majority of Vietnamese speakers don't understand the original sinitic script (which itself is a sinicization—Vietnamese has never had a truly indigenous script).

The difference is that the guy who started the ball rolling was a Jesuit priest and used his familiarity with the Latin alphabet.

By the same token, Glagolitic and thence Cyrillic came into being by a priest with familiarity with the Greek alphabet; before that, the European Russians probably wrote using a runic script (a gothicization!)


Sure, the Vietnamese alphabet is a romanisation, I agree with that, but not in the same sense of Chinese Pinyin. Chinese Pinyin is not the standard writing form of Chinese. It is there to help non natives pronounce words. I ask you then to clarify this for me. If Vietnamese is a romanization of another script, is Korean then a Hangulisation? of Chinese script?


Hm. Pretty sure that we could blame the Jesuits for starting the ball rolling there, too, since Pinyin, though created by a Chinese committee, is based off earlier works - Yale, Wade-Giles, etc. (Tangentially, I wish Wade-Giles had been adopted more into the Pinyin system. I never found Yale to make as much sense, but Wade-Giles always worked for me.)

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