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Phonetical Challenges for Vietnamese English Learners

Phonetical Challenges for Vietnamese English Learners | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Phonology is the system of sounds that exist within a particular language, while phonetics is the study of how speech sounds are produced. One difficulty for all learners of a second language is learning how to produce new sounds by moving the mouth, lips, and tongue in new ways. Several other languages also share the Roman alphabet with English but do not pronounce letters and combinations of letters the same way. These learners need to learn the English phonology so that when they read English, they will know how to pronounce the words they read correctly, and so that they speak English with a more native-sounding accent.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Rebecca W. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

English in Vietnam

After colonization by the French in the late 1800s, Vietnam began to use the Roman alphabet, however, their phonology is quite different. The written Vietnamese language uses accents on vowel sounds to denote the required inflection, but English lacks these and the correct pronunciation must be inferred through other rules (e.g. use the short vowel sound when the vowel is followed by a consonant). Therefore it will be very important to teach young learners these rules, in a simple and easy to understand manner. To do this they will need to understand the concepts of consonant, vowel, and syllable, so this will not be a single lesson worth of teaching!

vietnamese university student

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Language Structure Differences

Certain combinations of letters are also different in Vietnamese and English, for example, ng- and th- are pronounced differently and students may have trouble with these. Making exaggerated mouth shapes would help teach these sounds, alongside simple pictures of the mouth; for example, exaggeration of the tongue coming between the teeth for the th- (θ) sound, as well as a drawing of the same. Choral drilling should follow, for example of the words three, think, bath and teeth.

Vietnamese does not have the sh- consonant (ʃ) and learners sometimes struggle with its pronunciation, whether at the beginning (she, shoe) or end (fish, dish) of words. The required lip shape and tongue position will need to be explained as it is not very obvious even with exaggerated movements; the lips should be soft and rounded and the tongue behind but not touching the top teeth. Fun ways to drill this sound for young learners could be roleplay where they are trying to get a baby to sleep (hush baby, sh, sh, sh) and the tongue twister “she sells seashells by the seashore”.

two asian students sitting on the green grass

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Another phonetic issue that Vietnamese students may have is in fully pronouncing the ends of words in English. In particular, final consonants are often omitted [1]. Choral drilling of new vocabulary with consonant endings will be very important. This could be made into a game for young learners, for example, playing “hacky sack” where the hacky sack is thrown to each student and they must say a word ending in /k/ such as sack, pack, lick, trick, suck. Or the students could each write a line for a poem where the last word must end in /s/ such as class, rice, mess, mouse. Groups could arrange the lines into their poem and each group read it to the class.

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Overall, there will be numerous challenges involved in learning English phonology for young learners from Vietnam. However, the great thing about young learners is that their minds are so malleable. They will be able to able to learn English phonics and develop muscle memory in the facial muscles so that they can produce those sounds in a very natural way. Choral drilling using the 3x3 method will increase individual confidence, and songs, rhymes, and roleplaying can teach the new sounds in a fun way.

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