The Vietnamese consonant “ng” (ŋ) is perhaps the most difficult sound for English-speakers to both hear and speak. For Vietnamese words like Nguyễn , the leading ng is almost silent to an English-ear.
The ng-sound is not an n-sound, nor a g-sound. In English, it occurs at the end of “-ing” words, like running, talking, and writing. It is also the ng in English. If you listen carefully, you can hear that ng really deserves its own unique character (officially ŋ), being entirely unrelated to both “n” and “g”.
Because there are no English words that begin with “ng”, the English tongue is reluctant to utter “ng” at the start of a word. The difficult part is to train the English tongue to start a word with the (i)ng sound, for which we have a little trick…
Training to Pronounce the Vietnamese Ng Sound
We have a little trick to train your tongue to pronounce “ng” at the start of words, such as in Nguyễn and Người. Try to say the following out-loud (don’t just read it!).
Trick to correctly pronounce Ng in Nguyễn
running win? unning win? ning win? ing win? (i)ng win? (i)ngwin? (one syllable) (i)nguyễn nguyễn
The point of the exercise is to trick your tongue to begin a word with the “ing” sound, and eventually drop the i altogether to just vocalize the ng.
Pay attention to how your tongue is naturally positioning itself when you say “-ing”. It is so natural to you that you probably don’t realize that the ng has an entirely unique tongue-position that is unlike n or g.
Trick to correctly say Ng in Người
running yoi unning yoi ning yoi ing yoi (i)ng yoi (i)ngyoi (one syllable) (i)người người
Difference between Ng and Nh in Vietnamese
Many English speakers learning Vietnamese will try to pronounce the ng-sound like an nh-sound or ny-sound. This is incorrect. In Vietnamese, the consonant “nh” is an entirely distinct consonant from ng.
Listen below: can you distinguish between ng and nh?
Audio: “nh” vs “ng” sounds
|nh||like ny in canyon|
|ng||like (i)ng at the end of sing|
How to Pronounce the Last Name Ng
Ng is a surname in Cantonese and Singaporean Chinese, which has origins in the Mandarin family-name Wú (like Johnny Woo). The Vietnamese derivative is Ngô (like the famous Vietnamese-American journalist Andy Ngo), or Hoàng. The name Ng is not a common Vietnamese family name.
In English, the Singaporean surname Ng is often approximated as Ing, Eng, Ing or Ung.
ŋ – Voiced Velar Nasal
The Ng-sound is its own distinct sound that is represented by the character ŋ in the International Phonetic Alphabet. It is officially referred to as the voiced velar nasal.
The sound occurs in a variety of languages such as Chinese, Albanian, Moari, and even English. However, in most languages (like English), it is rare to begin a word with ŋ.
Audio Guide to Vietnamese Consonants and Vowels
If you are interested in learning about other strange Vietnamese consonants and vowels, be sure to check out our Audio Pronunciation Guide.