Key Differences Between English & Vietnamese

English, like other Germanic, and most of the European languages are spoken and read with the emphasis on the consonants. There are many internet memes and mind games that play with our ability to read English without vowels, or spelled incorrectly. Vietnamese, on the other hand, is a vowel based language, and repeated efforts by English speakers to get Vietnamese speakers to understand them by correcting the leading consonant, instead of correcting the tone of the vowel, can lead to mutual frustration.

In fact, the way the two cultures LISTEN is different. Learning to be able to listen in Vietnamese is probably the most challenging part of learning Vietnamese. Vietnamese vowels are modified by up to 5 tones, or no tone at all, and it is these tones that the Vietnamese speaker is listening for to understand the word being spoken. Training the English speaker's ear to listen for these tones is essential, and also requisite to being able to speak Vietnamese correctly.

People usually make the mistake of saying the English language is not a "tonal" language, but this is actually incorrect. English doesn't have tonal inflections on each word, like Vietnamese dose, but English does use tones on sentences. For example a rising tone at the end of a sentence in English can make it become a question. A forceful tone can make the same sentence a command. The use of the rising tone for a question can be particularly hard to overcome, but when speaking Vietnamese doing so may change the meaning of the sentence.