I am Vietnamese & If I see "Le" & "Bo" I will pronounce them as /le/ & /bo/.

But seem English doesn't have any /e/ or /o/ as a phoneme. A phoneme /ˈfoʊniːm/ is one of the units of sound that distinguish one word from another in a particular language. The difference in meaning between the English words kill and kiss is a result of the exchange of the phoneme /l/ for the phoneme /s/. Two words that differ in meaning through a contrast of a single phoneme form a minimal pair. (Wiki)

See this Vowel chart picture enter image description here (Source)

See the vowel "o" I couldn't find any word in English dictionary that has vowel "o" stands alone without any other vowel standing next to it.

Let say, I can see /ɡoʊ/ (go), the /ʊ/ stands right after /o/.

There are no words that can pronounced as /ɡo/, /ko/ where the /o/ stands alone.

The chart doesn't have /e/ but /ɛ/. But /eɪ/ is popular in English.

To sum up, I think we don't have /e/ & /o/ as a phoneme in English but diphthong /eɪ/ & /oʊ/.

So, I think the Native English speakers will say /leɪ/ & /boʊ/ when seeing 2 Vietnamese words "Le" & "Bo".

If they speak like Vietnamese, they should say /lɛ/ & /bɔ/ but most of time I think they will say /leɪ/ & /boʊ/.

In standard IPA vowel chart (audio version), they tend to pronounce /e/ & /o/ as /eɪ/ & /oʊ/, although not 100% sound like /eɪ/ & /oʊ/ but 80% sound like /eɪ/ & /oʊ/ (see IPA audio chart).

Am I right?

  • 3
    I would say "lay" (now I lay me down to sleep) and "bow" (like with a ribbon).
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 4, 2016 at 23:49
  • "Radio" is pronounced ra-di-o. That said, the pronunciation of many words ending in -o will be influenced by the next word in the sentence.
    – MSalters
    Feb 4, 2016 at 23:52
  • 1
    In this question, and corroborating Hot lick's comment, there are some notes as to why the /ɛ/ sound in foreign languages is generally realised as /eɪ/ in English.
    – Yay
    Feb 5, 2016 at 0:04
  • 1
    The word "le", lacking any other clues, would be pronounced like the Americanized French article "le". (That is, Frenchmen would turn up their noses, but to most Americans it would sound like perfect French.) "Bo" is an alternate spelling of the name "Beau" (as in the title of the book/movie "Beau Geste"). This is also an American attempt at the French pronunciation.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 5, 2016 at 0:27

1 Answer 1


I think that the honest and direct answer to the question is that native English speakers will guess, probably painfully incorrectly to a Vietnamese ear, "lee" or "lay," and "bow" (as in "tow"). Americans will sound dipthong-y in most variants.

If the native speaker is American, older, and (probably) male he may assume that the pronunciation he remembers acquiring as a soldier 40-50 years ago must be right. If he cares deeply, he may go down the street to the Pho Dang restaurant, ask the proprietor, and continue to pronounce as shown above. (But he will feel better about it.)

If the native speaker achieves correct pronunciation, it would be commendable. But the pronunciation would no longer be that of a "native English speaker."

It sounds terribly cynical, and it's certainly not scholarly, but few native English speakers of my acquaintance - be they Americans, British or Australians - do justice to the pronunciation of other languages.

Canadians are an arguable exception: a truly bilingual Canadian switches gracefully between English and French.

(However, I understand that my Parisian friends may not readily accept the language spoken in PQ as "French"!)

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