Why is the letter “G” so Weird in Vietnamese?
The letter G is a confusing letter for non-Vietnamese speakers. Its pronunciation differs between North and South Vietnamese dialects, and it is one of many Vietnamese letters that sounds like ‘zzz’ (including r and d).
- g,gh is pronounced like a hard guttural ‘g’ as in goat, but slighted aspirated like the Scottish ‘ch’ in ‘loch‘.
- gi is pronounced like ‘z’ as in zebra (Northern Vietnamese), or ‘y’ as in ‘young’ (Southern Vietnamese).
Gi as a Z-sound in Vietnamese
In Northern Vietnamese, words that begin with “gi” have a zzz sound. The sound is identical to the Vietnamese letter “d”, which is also pronounced like a z-sound.
Example gi words that sound like “z”.
- giỏi (exellent) – sounds like zoi
- giấu (hide) – sounds like zow?
- giai (boy) – sonds like zeye.
In Southern Vietnam, the “gi” words have a lazy “yuh” sound. This is identical to the South Vietnamese “d”.
G as a Normal G-sound in Vietnamese
When “g” is not followed by an i, then it is similar to the English g as in “goat”. However, the g may be slightly aspirated, like the Scottish ‘ch’ in ‘loch‘.
- ghế (chair)
- gai (thorn)
- gái (girl)
K vs. G in Vietnamese
To add to the confusion, there are other letters in Vietnamese that sound like the English G. This shouldn’t be too surprising, given that folr many non-English languages, there is a spectrum between the K-sounds and the G-sounds, especially in Vietnamese.
Therefore, the letters “c”, “k”, and “qu” can all sound like an English “g” or “gw”. This is why “cảm ơn” (thank you) actually sounds like “gamon” to an English-person. The Vietnamese basically hate the English “kuh” sound.
c – ‘g’ as in goat
k – ‘ga’ as in gateau (sometimes like a k)
qu – ‘qu’ as in queen, and ‘gu’ as in Guatemala
However, when a Vietnamese person is asked to carefully articulate “c” and “k” and “qu”, they may emphasize the “k”-sound. This is because the shift from “k” to “g” is a type of linguistic laziness, analogous to the way that many English speakers lazily pronounce trailing t’s as a “j” or “ch” sound (e.g., “What do you want?” becomes “wha’chu want?” in American English).
Vietnamese Letters that Sound like Zee
There are three letters that have distinct sounds in English, but in Vietnamese, they all have devolved into a “z” sound.
The letters “r“, “d“, and “gi” all have the exact same “z” sound in the North, or a “y” sound in the South.
If you hear a word that begins with a “z” sound, you’ll have no way of knowing whether it is spelt with an r, d, or gi. This is true for fluent Vietnamese as well.
Why? Because the “z” is like an extremely heavy black-hole that sucks-in everything around it. It is considered a “lazy” sound, into which the Vietnamese tongue naturally wants to reside, while the fully-articulated sounds of an international-r or international-d are considered exaggerated and unnatural.
Other Vietnamese Consonants – Audio Pronunciation Guide
See our audio pronunciation guide for Vietnamese consonants, vowels, double-vowels, and the Vietnamese tones.