English Pronunciation Difficulties by Korean Students

 In Accents and Pronunciation, Classes

The way sounds are organized in Korean is very different from that of English, technically this is called the “phonology” of a language.  These phonological differences affect Korean ESL student’s pronunciation in a number of ways, causing pronunciation difficulties such as poor sentence rhythm, intonation and voice stress, being able to correctly sound diphthongs and consonant pairs, as well as long and short vowel sounds, are all issues Korean students will have problems with when speaking English.

Additionally, there’s a tendency for students to add vowel sounds to words, and swap consonant sounds for one another.  I’m sorry to say that’s not all but don’t drop out just yet.

So you will understand how I came to a conclusion during my research on the pronunciation struggles ESL students, the world over will confront when learning English—Korean ESL students have it the worst!

The Top Types of Pronunciation Difficulties Korean ESL Students have when speaking  English

pronunciation mistakesBecause so many of the pronunciation difficulties have the same root cause, the phonology of Korean, they may have the same solution.

Sentence Rhythm, Intonation and Voice Stress, Sounding Diphthongs and Consonant Pairs, Long and Short Vowel Sounds

Here’s the number one tip, remember you’re speaking a foreign language—don’t try to apply your native language’s rules of pronunciation.

Sure, there’s a strong adherence to “vowel harmony” in Korean, but not in English.

Yeah, one character in Korean is one syllable and is sounded independently, that’s not true of English so stop making that assumption when you speak English.

Practice proper pronunciation, correct intonation, and voice stress by watching English language movies with the subtitles turned on.  Read the dialog out loud, mimicking the actor’s speech rhythms, and voice stresses.  When you’re killing time surfing the internet, watch YouTube videos for pronunciation tips.  Make sure that there’s audio to whatever material you’re using for practice and speak out loud.  You need to get your vocal muscles to learn the correct way to make the sounds.  Training your mouth, tongue, lips, breath, and vocal cords to imitate the sounds is going to be the quickest, most effective way to overcome several of the top challenges Korean ESL students have with proper English pronunciation.

Adding Vowel Sounds to Words

Korean rules of pronunciation do not allow for 2 consonants at the beginning of a word or syllable.  Korean ESL students will often add an “eu” sound between the consonant sounds of an English word that breaks this Korean pronunciation rule.

christmas becomes keuismaseu

school becomes seu-kool

Some sounds in Korean language pronunciation must be followed by vowel sounds.  Korean speakers of English apply these rules to their pronunciation of English words resulting in mistakes.

mark becomes mareukeu

stench becomes seu-ten-chee

Swapping Consonant Sounds for One Another

Some consonant sounds do not exist in Korean pronunciation.  Korean ESL students have the habit of swapping in a consonant sound that exists in Korean for the unfamiliar English sounds in an English language word

English consonant r f v th z sh
Mistaken replacement sound l p,wh b s,d,t j,g s

rice becomes lice

far becomes whar

victor becomes bictor

this becomes dis

zip becomes gip

ship becomes sip

Pronunciation is not really taught in Korean English language classes.  Korean/English dictionaries within the country tend to use incorrect or misleading phonetic entries leading students to make pronunciation mistakes.

English language pronunciation can pose an out-sized challenge to Korean ESL students.  Conquering this beast requires a willingness on the part of ESL students to set aside their native language pronunciation rules, and be a true beginner—learning the new sounds by practicing them every day.  Dedication can make these common mistakes in pronunciation a thing of the past.


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