While English is one of the dominant global languages, Vietnamese also has its hold. With as many as 67.8 million native speakers*, Vietnamese is the most spoken Austroasiatic language. Despite the number of Vietnamese speakers globally, the quantity of speakers is no match to the 335 million English native speakers worldwide. As a result, many Vietnamese native speakers need to have English proficiency. Follow these Vietnamese accent reduction tips from Voice Science.
How to reduce your Vietnamese Accent
1. Master these key English Sounds
The 3 major Vietnamese dialects differ vastly from English. In order to speak any language well, the first step is to make sure you have all the sounds needed for that language. By now you would have realised that Vietnamese and English share many consonant sounds.
However, it is the sounds that Vietnamese and English do not share that need to be focused on.
Make sure that you have a clear command of the sounds of English. The first step is to find out what sounds you need to master that are not present in English. These following 2 sounds are just 2 of the many sounds you will need to address to ensure clear English. Speak with us at Voice Science for more information on the other key sounds needed according to a comprehensive accent assessment tailored to your current accent.
1) TH /ð/
This is the first of two th sounds that occur in English. You can find this sound in words such as those, then, therefore and even mother. Pretty important words, right?
Many Vietnamese speakers replace a true “th” with something close to a “d”. This is a big marker of accent, as your listener will receive it as variation from their accent. Strive to pronounce “th” correctly. Since this sound occurs so often in English, the effect will be profound if you address this sound alone.
Take care, as this version of “th” rarely occupies the last sound of a word, even if a th appears at end of the word.
Pronounce these words and check that your sound production is accurate.
2) CH /tʃ/
This sound is in words like chapel, chores, beaches and match. It always occurs with the letters ch except for some exceptions (such as “moustache” where a “sh” sound needs to be used). It also can appear with tu in words like arpeture.
Try drilling these words and make sure they are correct:
2. English Consonant Clusters
Unlike Vietnamese, the English sound system features consonants that are joined together without a vowel in between. A consonant cluster is where two or more consonants are joined together. You can think of this as a bit like a sound sandwich. For example, in the word “smoke”, the first two sounds “s” and “m” need to be joined together expertly to be intelligible. Thus we have words like smoke, crab, and philanthropy.
There are many more consonant clusters, but be warned, some are more difficult than others. How you master them, will predict your intelligibility. Please don’t be intimidated! Sure, your tongue might feel tangled after practicing a few of these combinations, but with practice you will get there.
Take care to pronounce consonant clusters clearly and articulately. English has many consonant clusters so there is some hard work waiting for you.
3. Multi-syllabic Words
You would have noticed that there is a big difference between word length in English versus Vietnamese. Simply put, English words are exhaustingly long, aren’t they? Since Vietnamese is made up of very short words, pronouncing compound and multi-syllabic words can be very difficult for Vietnamese native speakers. Did you ever stumble your way through words like multiplication, fabrication, gesticulate assimilate or even toothbrushes?
Don’t despair. Instead, practice reading multi-syllabic words. You can easily find word lists by running a quick internet search. Better still, target multi-syllabic words related to your profession by reading journals and news articles concerning your field.
When reading multi-syllabic words, it is important to take time to break the words into their smaller parts. This is just what native speakers do, albeit unconsciously. Words can be divided into easily manageable parts in several ways.
- Identify & Practice Common Word Endings
Many long words that you may struggle to say will have the same ending. Practice words according to their target ending.
For example, -tion is a common word ending for many longer words. Do some word set drills for words with this ending pattern to bolster your speaking skills with such words.
- Look for Smaller words inside Words
Break it down! Try to identify smaller words within the word you are trying to articulate.
- Chunking- Say it in chunks
Save yourself from articulating long words as though they are one word only! The easiest way to get through the lengthy English words that you need to use in daily vocabulary (let alone academic and professional) is to break them into chunks.
Practice reading long words and clapping their syllables. You can easily find multi-syllabic word lists online. Clap the syllables as you say the word slowly part by part. You can even divide the word into syllables using a pen. Drill the word a few times, aiming to link the word components together as smoothly as possible once you feel confident with each individual part.
4. Speech Intonation
Speech intonation refers to the music and rhythm of a language. Every accent and dialect follows parameters of rhythm, tone and pitch that match expression. This is one of the major features behind why we each have accents. When we learn a new language, we are all inclined to apply the intonation of our mother tongue to our target language. This can add charm but sometimes results in listeners struggling to understand you, or even, at worst, becoming distracted by your accent instead of absorbing the content of what you are saying. Since Vietnamese is a tonal language and English is not, you are going to need to hear a lot of native spoken English to get it right.
Try to slow down and link your words together smoothly instead of rushing to sound more fluent. If you speak at a slower rate, listeners will understand you better and you may also feel more calm and confident while speaking. Use pauses to collect your thoughts and don’t be afraid to take more time when you need it.Watch English TV and try to mimic the native speakers. Try to keep your tone and voice colour even throughout as much as possible.
Accent neutralization takes work and practice, but don’t discredit as unachievable. Many non-native speakers may still have strong accents even after decades of being immersed in an English speaking country. Sure, an accent is exotic and often very charming! With time and careful practice however, you can reduce its intensity and increase your speaking command and clarity while still retaining that element of difference, if you wish! Don’t give up. Work on your weaknesses and practice daily to improve your English proficiency.
See more info on Accent Reduction and English Pronunciation Training here.
Many non-native speakers opt to consult with a Speech Pathologist to reduce the impact of a foreign accent.
See more accent reduction tips for non-native speakers here.
©Voice Science, 2013 – 2019
*Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2015. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Eighteenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International.