Techniques for teaching Vietnamese phonetics to foreigners in the first session

Vietnamese is an isolated language, with a relatively large number of vowels and consonants, especially the tonal system, creating its own characteristics. These are also relative barriers for a foreigner to start learning Vietnamese. In this small article, we want to discuss how to teach to help learners approach the Vietnamese phonetic system most effectively.

2. Contents

As we all know, Vietnamese phonetics is divided into 5 systems: first sound, accompaniment, main sound, last sound and tone. However, it is not really necessary to clearly divide the boundaries of systems in one syllable with foreigners who mainly learn Vietnamese from a communication perspective. It can be summarized about the following three contents: consonant system, vowel system and tone system. Then note to them the special points, important differences in each system so that in the end they can pronounce Vietnamese with relative accuracy.

2.1. About the consonants

Usually, in the first session when introducing Vietnamese, for the phonics part, many teachers choose to give the alphabet (a table commonly used for primary school students) and then introduce them in turn. That way also helps learners know how many consonants there are in Vietnamese and how the consonants are pronounced. However, the important point is that they cannot recognize which consonants have similar pronunciation characteristics, which can cause confusion when pronouncing. This may cause confusion in students’ pronunciation.

Therefore, in our opinion, it is possible to choose a way to introduce consonants according to pronunciation position so that teachers can help students easily compare similarities and differences.

btch/ trk/ c/ q
phx/ skhh
vd / gi / ry / y

Doing so has the following advantages:

  • Identify the pronunciation of the consonants in the group clearly. Learners immediately understand the position of the sound structure for each consonant.
  • Find the differences or similarities of the consonants in the group.
  • Teachers can recognize which consonants are often confused by learners. From there, teachers will find a way to fix and correct in the next stages of the course in a focused way. For example, Koreans often confuse the two sounds b and v . Usually they do not pronounce v correctly , but often pronounce v like b . Or the Japanese cannot separate the cypress in the pronunciation of t and th . They tend to pronounce t like th . Meanwhile, the Chinese, especially those from the areas bordering the northern border of our country , often confuseand the way they pronounce it makes the listener feel like they ‘re pronouncing Or students from English-speaking countries have a lot of difficulty with the group of tongue root consonants: c/k/q – ng/ ng/ – g/ gh

It should be noted that Vietnamese consonants have a difference when standing at the beginning or the end .

ch in rhymes ich, ech, ach tends to sound like c , different from when ch stands at the beginning of the syllable like ba is a lingual sound. For example the difference of ch in: prick, chak, yep

nh in the starting position is the lingual sound, pronounced outward, while nh stands at the position of the end of the syllable in rhyme , eh, anh is a sound that tends to have a tongue root like ng .

Such grouping of consonants helps teachers to develop clearer and more scientific exercises.

2.1. About vowels

Similar to the consonant part, if introducing vowels is also based on alphabetical order, it is very difficult for learners because they do not recognize the similarities and differences between vowels. Accordingly, teachers should also divide vowels into groups so that learners can easily form habits in pronunciation and help them recognize the mistakes they often make.

In the division of groups, it is worth noting that there is a distinction between accented vowels and unsigned vowels . Therefore, the teacher can first divide into groups with the same writing form but different accents leading to different pronunciation. This is expressed into groups of vowels as follows:

– a, ă, â

– o, oh, eh

– u, eh?

– and is

We are native speakers, it seems easy, but from practical experience, we realize that foreigners are initially undefined and do not recognize well the accents of vowels. They often forget it when writing and do not understand it as a sign of the length of the vowel. On the other hand, they easily confuse the accents of vowels with the tones of syllables/words, so for many foreigners this point becomes complicated.

After dividing and clarifying for learners how to pair this first group, teachers can rely on 3 criteria, namely the position of the tongue, the opening of the mouth and the shape of the lips to group the vowels together. Such as:

– The group of vowels in the front row, without rounded lips: i, ê, e

– The group of vowels in the back row are not rounded: u, eh, ã, a, ă

– Group of vowels in the back row are rounded: u, o, o

One more note for teachers is the special case of vowel a . That’s the case when a goes with nh , ch becomes rhyme anh, ach . At that time, even though it is written as a , when it is pronounced it is not a but it must be pronounced like e and then tends to be shorter than a normal e . This is the point that many teachers do not understand, leading to learners mispronouncing the first word or finding it difficult to pronounce due to the impression left by the letter.

2.3. About tone

Tone is a typical phonetic feature of Vietnamese. It is the change in pitch of the voice and is the biggest obstacle for learners, especially those from other languages ​​such as English, American, Korean, Japanese, etc.

The Vietnamese tone system consists of 6 tones, which are divided into two groups: low-pitched tones (hyphen, question, heavy) and high-pitched tones (no, fall, sharp).

When introducing tones to foreign students, teachers can give them one by one: unsigned, profound, fell, asked, sharp, and heavy. However, if you just stop there, students will also have misunderstandings or lack of understanding about the bars, leading to unclear distinctions between bars.

After fully introducing the 6 bars as above, the teacher can group the bars to indicate the characteristics of each bar (including similarities and differences). Specifically here, the following groups can be pointed out:

– Groups of unsigned and equal bars : differ only in pitch, relatively flat contours. Thus, the teacher will help the learner from the outset to understand what pitch must be reached when pronouncing these two sounds and what error will be made if the unsigned or the equals do not reach their respective pitches. .

– Group of unsigned and timbre bars : these two bars belong to the high range. However, the duration of the bar is not much longer than the tone bar. Or it can be roughly given that the unsigned bar is high and long and the tone bar is high and short. Pointing out those similarities and differences will surely help students avoid making mistakes.

– Group of equal bars and heavy bars : these two bars belong to the low range. The difference is that the length of the flat bar is longer and the heavy bar is short and sudden. Same as above, can be reduced to the following two characteristics for each bar: flat bar is low, long; Heavy bar is low, short.

– Group of fall and question bars : These two bars have the same point of breaking, but the most obvious difference is that with the falling bar in the second stage of pronunciation, it must be tightened, narrower than the question bar.

These are basic distinctions, but of course, in the process of teaching and pronunciation, students will reveal their mistakes. In fact, foreigners can confuse all tones with each other. However, pointing out the basic features in such groups will at least help them have a first look and understanding according to the system to avoid maximum pronunciation errors later .

3. Conclusion

It can be said that the first pronunciation lesson is very important. It helps learners initially approach and understand the Vietnamese phonetic system, so it is necessary to choose appropriate teaching methods as well as content. If the content is presented in a sketchy way, it is difficult for learners to understand deeply. If the content is transmitted in an academic way, it will be difficult for learners to even create a feeling of fear and heaviness.

Some of our discussions on how to conduct phonetic introduction in the first session of teaching Vietnamese to foreigners are just suggestions. Certainly from teaching practice, teachers who have taught in class will have more useful sharing. That will help us to improve our methods and more importantly help learners approach a new language in a comfortable, highly practical position.



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