Thursday, September 6, 2007

Typing Vietnamese on Mac OS X

Tôi học tiéng Viẹt. (I'm learning Vietnamese.)

I'm learning Vietnamese and recently decided I need to start writing up some of my vocabulary so I will remember it. Back 1994 when I first started learning Vietnamese you had to run these totally hokey add ons so you could type the accents and the special characters.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Mac OS has support for Vietnamese (and most other languages) built right in. Here's a one page summary of how to do this. Basically you just select Vietnamese in the system preferences and then you can type Vietnamese and easily switch back and forth between English and Vietnamese keyboard mappings.

(This doesn't seem to be the case for Windows. Everyone I've met here seems to use some sort of add on to make this work in Windows.)

Vietnamese is a rare Asian language that uses a westernized script. Like Chinese, Vietnamese is a tonal language. This means that words have a different meaning depending on how you say them. In English we use tones very differently. For instance, we use an up tone to indicate questions. When you say "Are you sure?" your voice goes up. In Vietnamese there are 5 tones that are written as accents. The accents are always on the vowels. Here is an example with the letter e: è, ẻ, ẽ, é, and ẹ. The first 4 go above the letter, the last goes under it. There are other accent marks but these are not tonal but indicate different sounds. For instance the letter 'd' makes the 'y' sound so the Vietnamese word 'de' sounds like 'yea'. However, the letter đ sounds like the English letter d as in dog. The Vietnamese word đi (dee) means to go. Vietnamese is missing some letters that we have. They don't have J or Z. There are a few special versions of certain vowels: ă, â, ê, ô, ư, and ơ. I won't even try to explain in text how to pronounce these, right now this is the hardest part for me. The tones are much easier than trying to figure out the difference between the sound of a versus ê. Oh well, practice makes perfect, if you practice perfect. And therein lies the rub.