Why English is Hard for Korean People

1. Pronunciation

1.) Korean words generally follow a pattern of consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel, for example “Sprite” is pronounced “suh-puh-rah-ee-tuh”.

2.) Many (or most) Korean students have been taught (or picked up) the wrong pronunciation of many English sounds. This is due partly to Korean pronunciation carrying over into their English, and partly due to a lack of knowledge of correct English pronunciation.

Main examples:

- “ch”, “sh”, “g” sound at the end of words- lunchee, watchee, washee, Georgee Bushee

-”th” sound- senk you (not thank you), wiz (not with)

-”r”/”l” sounds- classic problem for Far East Asians speaking English- rater (later)

-”z” sound- doesn’t exist in Korean. Usually replaced with a “g”- joo (zoo), jee/jed (zee/zed)

-”f” sound- doesn’t exist in Korean. Usually replaced with a “p”- pacebook (Facebook), or “f”- hurenchee hurai (French fries)

-”i”/”ee” sound- Korean only really has one “ee” (이) sound, whereas English has a short “i” and long “ee” sound. So Koreans struggle with e.g. hit/heat; lid/lead…

-short and long ”oo” sound- in the same way, Korean only really has one “oo” (우) sound whereas English has distinctly short and long sounds, e.g. good (short sound) and food (long sound).

2. Grammar

1.) Articles (“A/An/Some” and “The”)

Actually English articles are extremely difficult for English language learners, especially Far-Eastern language speakers. There are many exceptions in the use of “a/an” and “the”. Even very advanced English learners frequently make mistakes when using these articles. Korean doesn’t really have articles (although they do say “some” as in “some people”).

2.) Plurals

1. Korean does have a plural form. BUT they use it much less than English speakers.

2. Koreans drop as much from spoken language as possible, whereas in English we do not. So the English sentence “The students are going home” is often said as “Student house go” in Korean. In that sentence you don’t know how many students there are, one or several or many. So when Koreans speak English, they often speak in the same way.

3.) Verb conjugation (inflection)

1. In English we conjugate verbs in many ways, including depending on the subject (I go, he goes…) This is particularly true of irregular verbs (I am, you are, he is…)

2. In Korean, verbs are not conjugated differently depending on the subject (I/You/He/She etc.). Although, Korean does have a way of changing the form if you need to use “honorifics” (the way of speaking politely to strangers, people older than you or more senior than you etc.)

4.) Auxillary verbs

Auxillary verbs are verbs which add function or meaning. For example “Do you want some coffee?”or “I could go there tomorrow”. These are very easy for us to use, but explaining and translating these is very complicated as they don’t exist in the same way in Korean (Korean expresses could/should/might etc. by changing the verb itself).

3. Vocabulary

1.) Korean misuse of English words. Many words have been picked up by Korean but taken on a slightly (or completely) different meaning. This leads to confusion for English learners in Korea.

- e.g.: “meeting”: in Korean this has more of a meaning of “social meeting” (a date or friends meeting) than the “work meeting” we tend to mean.

2.) In some cases words do not translate directly, or one Korean word means several things in English (or one English word means several things in Korean).

- e.g.1: One Korean word, two English words:

“expect”: In Korean, there is one word which means both “expect” and “look forward to” (기대하다). So when Koreans say in English that they are looking forward to something, they usually say they are “expecting” it.

-e.g.2: One English word, two (actually more) Korean words:

“old”: In English we can say “an old man” and “an old car”, but in Korean, different words for old are used for each example.

3.) As a general rule, translating nouns (window, student, cloud) between English and Korean is pretty easy, but translating verbs (decide, fight) and adjectives (bored, old) is more difficult.

4. Accents

1.) There are so many different English accents. Even within your own country, people speak English differently depending on where they are from. Imagine the difficulty for a Korean student trying to understand English accents of speakers from all over the world.

2.) If you don’t have an American accent, you may find Koreans can’t understand you when you spell a word. For example, British pronunciation of “r” sounds like “i” to Koreans.

5. Writing

1.) Korean doesn’t have upper-case (capital) and lower-case (small) letters, so Koreans often misuse them when writing English. What’s more, as some letters are different between upper-case and lower-case (e.g. A and a), some lower-level students only know one variety or use a mixture (foR ExaMplE wrITinG likE THis).

2.) Some letters which are instantly recognisable to English native speakers are easily misused by Korean students (for example lower-case “n” and “h”, or “i” and “j”).

6. Phonetics

1.) English is a relatively phonetic language. In other words, if you know the alphabet, you can read words you haven’t seen before and have a good chance of pronouncing them correctly. Unfortunately for English learners, a large percentage of English words are not pronounced the way they are written. This is due to words losing their original pronunciation over the centuries, and the fact that many words come from other languages and keep their original (or similar) spelling.

2.) Some words with similar spellings can have completely different pronunciation.

Consider the suffix -ough: cough; rough; dough; through; thorough

7. Pragmatics

1.) Pragmatics is when context contributes to meaning. In other words, the same words have a different meaning depending on when, where, how and to whom you say them. This can be one of the hardest things for language learners.

2.) Example: “Is that your dog?” can mean several things.

“Is that your dog?” (as opposed to another dog)

“Is that your dog?” (or someone else’s)

Consider too that saying “Is that your dog?” can mean “Please take your dog away” or “What a beautiful dog!”. It can be difficult to deduce what people are really saying, even when you understand the words. This is not such a problem in our own language, but in a foreign language it can be challenging.

If this was useful, please share on Facebook! Thanks! 

Related posts:

  1. How to Learn Korean Effectively
  2. How To Improve Spoken English, Part 2- Say What You’re Thinking
  3. How To Improve Spoken English, Part 1- TV and Movies
  4. Why Anyone Can Learn Another Language
  5. Intermediate Season 1, Lesson 11: Shut the Door!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>