Hello everyone. Today I decided I’m going to talk about Korean exchange students and their common pronunciation of English. I will also try to explain, linguistically, why it is they pronounce words as such.
In case you didn’t notice, sometimes it’s hard to understand a Korean accent, especially when the Korean with whom you are speaking came from the countryside (such as 부산 or 창원) These areas have a stronger 사투리 (dialect) or accent and that is why it is sometimes harder to understand their pronunciation of English.
In Korean, two consonants cannot be pronounced next to each other. The Korean language prefers a CV, CV (consonant-vowel) order. In English, however, we can have many consonants clustered together and still manage to pronounce them.
For example, the English word “stress” has the three consonants “s”, “t”, and “r” immediately adjacent to one another. And we pronounce this word in one syllable simply as “stress”. Another thing that can be illustrated through this example is the final consonant. In Korean, final consonants cannot be released (unreleased final consonant), which means they are not really pronounced. In English, however, we release our final consonants with a big gust of air, and so they are pronounced. These two differences are the reasons why the word “stress” is one syllable in English, but four in Korean – 스트레스. The final “으” needs to be added at the end in order to make the “s” sound.
When talking about the final consonant we can also talk about how it may be difficult to understand other words in English such as, “up”, “meet”, and “mess” – “업”, “밋”, “매스”. This is because the final consonant is either not pronounced (업, 밋) or the “으” sound is added to the final consonant in order to make the sound (매스). However, “으” is not the only sound added to the end of a word in order to pronounce the final consonant; in words like “much” or “touch” the sound “이” is added, so that these words become “머치” and “터치” (muh-chee, tuh-chee). The pronunciation is different and the words have changed from one syllable to two (due to the rule of the unreleased final consonant in Korean) It can get confusing, right?
Moving on, Koreans have trouble with “l” and “r” distinction. This is because “ㄹ” is both the letter “l” and the letter “r”. “ㄹ” is pronounced like “l” at the beginning and end of a word or when it is preceded or followed by another “ㄹ” or a consonant. E.g. “알다” al-da, “첼로” chel-lo, “설레다” (seol-leh-da). It is pronounced “r” in between two vowels. E.g. “알아” a-ra, “처리하다” cheo-ri-ha-da, “허리” heo-ri. Koreans do not, however, hear this distinction when speaking Korean; they understand “ㄹ” has only one pronunciation. However, if you point it out to them, they will start to recognize the difference. Therefore, it is very difficult for Koreans to pronounce words like “radio” – where the initial letter is an “r” instead of an “l”; “turtle” – where the “r” and “l” are both very close to each other and have a consonant and a vowel on either side of each; and especially “ballroom” – where, in Korean, the three adjacent “l”/”r”s would all be pronounced as “l”. My friend actually asked a Korean friend of ours to try and pronounce “ballroom” and it took us almost ten minutes of his saying “ballloom” and our correcting him to “ballroom” before he actually managed to say it. It was actually easier for him to pronounce it if he paused in between “ball” and “room”.
Also, the English “oo” sound is sometimes pronounced more like an “eu” sound rather than an “ooh” sound. However, in Korean, this “oo” sound is always pronounced “우”. So words like “look”, “book”, “took”, “foot”, etc are often pronounced as 룩, 북, 툭, 풋.
Which reminds me – Korean also doesn’t have the sounds or letters “f”, “z”, “v”. Therefore, when learning English, a lot of Koreans first pronounce these letters as “p”, “j”, and “b” respectively. Thus, the word “zoo” becomes 주 or “joo”. This can also sometimes make it really difficult to understand what a Korean speaker is trying to convey. For example, “food” and “foot” are two different words in English, and, although they have similar spelling and pronunciation, we can clearly make the distinction between the two based on the final consonants “d” and “t”. However, in Korean, there are unreleased final consonants, so both would be held. Furthermore, there is no “f” sound, so they would pronounce it as a “p” instead. This means that both words would be pronounced 풋, meaning there is no distinction between the two whatsoever (and it would have already been difficult to understand due to the “p” instead of “f” pronunciation).
As Koreans learn English, however, they start to realize these differences and so actively attempt to use “f”, “z”, and “v” sounds where they should be used. However, while learning, sometimes Koreans do something called “hyper-correction”. This means they use “f”, “z”, and “v” sounds where they don’t need to.
For example, the word “poor” – Koreans will sometimes say “foor”. They do not realize they are making a mistake; it may simply be their subconscious telling them “sometimes English uses “f”! And there is no “f” in Korean! Put “f”, put “f”!” and so they sometimes misuse these letters.
Lastly – the letter “s”. In Korean the letter “s” is “ㅅ”. In English, “s” is always pronounced as this “sss” sound; however, in Korean, “ㅅ” is pronounced this way in every case except before the vowel “이” or any diphthong with the vowels “이” and “우” together (e.g. 위, 유). In these cases, “ㅅ” is pronounced as “sh”. Therefore, a lot of Koreans say “shee you later” instead of “see you later”, and “sheet” instead of “sit”.
I’m sure there are more pronunciation errors you guys have found when hanging out with your Korean friends! I’ve just mentioned a few of the more predominant ones I’ve noticed that have stuck out in my mind!
I am in no way bashing Koreans. I love Koreans and I love their adorable accents and these cute mistakes they make while learning English. I think it’s a part of their adorable charm! And I hope that, through this article, English speakers can better understand their Korean friends (by using this as a guide to understand what it is they are likely trying to say) and I hope that Korean speakers can use it to acknowledge their mistakes, understand why they are making such mistakes, and how it is they can fix them!