Pho Pronunciation: You Can Say It, Pronounce Pho, Say: Phở...

Updated 04-02-14. You need only read a few of my posts on this site and you'll understand my passion for pho. I take my pho seriously. And personally, I'm not one to make fun at my favorite, beloved and respected chow. Certainly not in substance, not in name, and definitely not in pronunciation.

pronounce-pho1Fuh? foe? FO? Fu-uuuuuhh? PhuUUH? What the P...? Well, you will find no funny stuff here. On the other hand, pronouncing "pho" can be challenging if you don't have the correct pho pronunciation to go by.

Use your favorite search engine and you'll find various ways that people suggest how to pronounce pho. If you care and search long enough you'll discover one or two ways to say "pho" getting propagated by many people. Well guess what, regardless of how widely spread and popular these Internet versions are, and how well-intentioned the individuals may be, these "pho" versions are incorrect pronunciation. Update: there are some decent pronunciation guides now on YouTube.

Since my goal aims to stop further proliferation of such 'slanderous' treatment of my favorite noodle dish called pho, I won't mention them here to further the butchering of the word. Instead I'll offer the following for your reading (and listening) enlightenment.

First let's set the record straight. I'm not a hard-liner. I believe in freedom and capitalism as the next sensible person. But I think we can all do better with pho pronunciation. It's not difficult, and with minimal effort, proper guidance/demonstration and practice, you'll impress a Vietnamese-speaking person or enjoy watching him/her in shock with such unexpected fluency and command of the language and your knowledge of the dish. Yes, no more "f..." or "ph...", or whatever. So here goes.

Wikipedia correctly makes a distinction between Vietnamese and English versions of written and pronunciation of pho. That is not to say that it is necessarily acceptable or there is nothing more to it. Granted, written words and their pronunciations in other languages have been "Americanized" before (read 'butchered',) so this is nothing new. But in this global economy it's probably a good thing to try saying non-English words as correctly as possible. Hey anything to help foster international friendship and understanding, right? And when it involves "pho", it's even more important to pho lovers and newbies alike.

So, using the International Phonetic Alphabet, the Wiki explains that Phở is pronounced phonetically as [fə̃ː] which sounds like this:

Phở pronunciation from Wikipedia.     
Below are my own versions. There are differences which will be explained below. Both wiki's and my versions are correct pronunciation.

Phở in normal speech.     
Phở in slower speech.     


Note: the Wikipedia pronunciation is from a Southern Vietnamese speaker, whereas my pronunciation has both Southern and Northern accents, with probably a 40-60% (South-North) influence. Also I deliberately accentuate to demonstrate the different sounds that exist in the word. Both are phonetically correct and legitimate pronunciation of the word phở.

Sometime a single sound doesn't really do justice. So below are a few additional phrases with proper pronunciation of "pho" in conversational usage so you get a better sense of the word "pho" and its inflections. You should be able to identify "pho" with no trouble. But more importantly you can now identify "pho" even when spoken in Vietnamese. Try numbers 3 and 4 below.

  1. Let's go have some pho today.     
  2. I had pho with a friend this past weekend.     
  3. Let's meet for pho at about 8 tonight - in Vietnamese.     
  4. How is your beef pho? - to lady friend in Vietnamese.     

There. It's pretty easy isn't it?

Well there is another challenge. North, Central or South Vietnamese accents. Encountering one when you're familiar with another can throw you off, but that's for another post. I can tell you one thing, of the two Vietnamese phrases above, one is Northern and the other, Southern accent. Can you tell which is which? If you promise not to cheat, take this poll below, and the answer is at the end of this article.

Which is Northern Vietnamese accent, recording #3 or #4?

Loading ... Loading ...

I hope that if you enjoy eating pho and care about this noodle dish (and who doesn't after the first bowl?), please pass on the proper pronunciation, or maybe gently correct a friend who has been misled. Better yet point them to this post so they can experience the recordings above themselves.

So what variety of pho pronunciation have you encountered? Share your views with us with a comment below.

By the way if you need help with Vietnamese pronunciation or would like some guidance or even request help, head on over to read my post on "Pronunciation of Pho and Other Vietnamese Words and Phrases," and leave a request.

#3: Southern Vietnamese accent
#4: Northern Vietnamese accent


Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.