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.
Fuh? 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:
Below are my own versions. There are differences which will be explained below. Both wiki's and my versions are correct pronunciation.
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.
- Let's go have some pho today.
- I had pho with a friend this past weekend.
- Let's meet for pho at about 8 tonight - in Vietnamese.
- 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.
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
Making me look bad there Cuongis. This is a killer post!
Thanks Tim. Hopefully this will help other lost souls find pho nirvana. Hey Mr. Chicken pho! you skipped the poll! Should have taken a crack for the fun of it.
Pho Saigon is my favorite pho restaurant so far. There are still many more restaurants I need to try in town before I can pass judgement. I could eat pho every day. Thanks for visiting my blog.
@Croix82. Thanks for dropping a comment. I'll have to try Pho Saigon if/when I get to Houston (last time there myself was, let's see, in the late 80's!) Anyway keep up your interesting blog and enjoy pho. You're in the hotbed of pho outside of Vietnam and CA:)
what confused me is the similarity of vietnamese to thai and cambodian, and in thai a "PH" is pronounced like a "P" as in Phuket or "Poo-ket" and just a "P" is pronounced "B" as in Pai or "Bye"
Naturally I assumed, that the "ph" in Pho was pronounced like the "ph" in Phuket, like a letter "p" and i guess this is not so, and I think that's strange.
@markon. Interesting point and dilemma you have. Though if you look at it closely, Vietnamese language is much different from Thai and Cambodian. I think Viet is much more different from the other 2 languages than English is different from French, for example. Or saying it another way, English is more similar to French than Viet is similar to Thai and Cambodian.
So the "ph" in pho is pronounced like an "f" and in Viet language there is no word that begins with "p" alone; has to be "ph". The Western or Roman alphabets are only representation of what these languages really sound. In the end I guess you'll just have to know the convention. Like the "f" and "v" sound in Volkswagen 😉
I've actually come across some Americans who have corrected my pronunciation. I pronounce it like #3. The Americans I have spoken with swear that their Vietnamese friends have told them that it is pronounced PHO as in the American "fo". I am Lao and grew up with pho in our house. My mom is fluent in a few languages including Vietnamese and she pronounces it like #3. So I picked that up from her. I have never had anyone, including Vietnamese, correct my pronunciation. I've actually been complimented. I have posted this on my Facebook. Hopefully, this will settle the argument. Hopefully.
dvlachos: Thanks for sharing this story. I think a Laotian should have no problem pronouncing Viet, and vice versa. On more than one occasion I have tried to explain to an American friend the following facts.
Many Vietnamese, both young and old, and especially those more fluent in English, in an effort to assimilate themselves in American life, have deliberately pronounced Vietnamese words incorrectly while teaching their American friends how to say Viet words (using an American accent no less!) This is because of the following reasons: 1) it's easier for Americans to learn, 2) it takes less time to teach (instead of repeating 20 times and still not getting it,) and 3) it doesn't make them sound foreign. As many can attest, not sounding foreign in the U.S. is the way to get accepted.
This seemingly innocent practice has actually caused lots of misunderstanding and confusion about how Vietnamese words are pronounced, and you guessed it, pho included. It's quite bad to the point that some of these Vietnamese even avoid speaking Vietnamese in the presence of Americans. I'm sure you have experienced similar situations.
How about fa, as in do re me fa so la tee doe..the music scale? Is this closer?
JimH, thanks for the question, but the pronunciation is as demonstrated above.
FINALLY someone who knows what the hell they're talking about AND provides an audio file to boot!! Thank you!
Santiago: Thanks for visiting and your kind words. Glad you found the pho audio files useful.
For those who lack speakers, it is pronounced "phaw," as in "paw" or "raw."
Dear GB: Thanks for the help, but regretfully your method contributes to the misinformation that is rampant on the Internet. "phaw" is not the pronunciation of phở. In fact it's not even close. The purpose of the audio files on this site is to provide readers a way to hear how the words should be pronounced correctly. Any other methods, including your suggestion, using similarly pronounced English words would be lacking to say the least.