Most Common Pronunciation Errors That Korean Speakers Make When Speaking English

 In Learn English

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 speakers 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. Additionally, there’s a tendency for students to add vowel sounds to words, and swap consonant sounds for one another.

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