Koreans Learning English - Common Difficulties The Korean language is considered one


The Korean language is considered one of the most difficult languages for a native English speaker to learn, so it comes as no surprise that many Koreans would have similar difficulties with learning English. Both Korean grammar and English grammar are rather complex and differ with many basic rules. The writing systems are completely different. The intonations and speech patterns as well as the pronunciation of certain sounds present a challenge. In the following text I have related several examples of difficulties that many native Koreans have when learning English. I have learned of these problems from my personal observation of many native-Koreans speaking English, from experience tutoring English in Korea, and from what many Koreans have informed me of.

There are many elements of English grammar that are completely absent from Korean and some that are just different and difficult. There are no articles in Korean and there is confusion when to use 'a/an,' 'the,' or none at all, often Koreans writing and speaking English will just leave the articles out. The use of possessive adjectives is absent as well, often translated as 'he' or 'you' instead of 'his' and 'yours,' for examples. Genders with the third person pronouns are also absent, with the Korean speaker often using 'she' and 'he' interchangeably. The difference between countable and uncountable nouns is difficult to understand, as in the plural usage of 'music' or 'water.' The usage of English's 12 verb tenses is also a great source of frustration, especially the perfect tenses. The positioning of adverbs is a common mistake. Irregular verbs, the proper usage of prepositions, phrasal verbs, and comma usage are other causes for a great amount of confusion.

The difficulty that Korean speakers have with English is probably most noticeable with spoken communication. English education in South Korea is prevalent and carries importance, however, English classes often take place with large classes and are often concentrated on reading and writing. Proportionally, conversational English receives little attention and because of this, along with basic differences in the language structure and phonology, spoken English presents a challenge to many Koreans.

To begin with, Korean incorporates different vowel sounds than English and also does not have several of the consonant sounds. The vowel sounds in 'hit,' 'clean,' and 'year' pose an especial problem. The sounds for 'z,' ' x,' 'v,' 'y,' 'f,' 'ph,' and 'q' are hard to pronounce. The 'sh' sound is a problem at the beginning and end of syllables, such as in 'should' and 'wash.' The 's' sound is a problem at the end of syllables such as with plural nouns and are often left out. The 'ch' sound is also difficult at the end of syllables, 'watch' for instance. The most noticeable difficulty lies with the distinction between the sounds of 'r' and 'l,' with there being a great struggle to pronounce an 'l' at the beginning of a syllable. In addition to this, the difference between voiced and unvoiced consonants can be somewhat clouded. The 'p' and 'b' sound, 'g' and 'k,' and the 't' and 'd' sounds are often switched. The Korean language is also a very syllabic language where there is less slurring of words, running words together, and silent letters. This leads to more monotone sounds with less intonation and stress than English has. There is an especially difficult effort knowing which syllables to stress in a word and which words to stress in a sentence. Korean is a very orthographic language, comparatively different from English, which is not always written how it sounds or pronounced how it's written. This leads to many irregularities in pronunciation when reading aloud or reciting from memory.

Reading and writing must first pay attention to overcoming the obstacle of differing writing systems, Roman letters and the Korean Hangul system. The next step is the difference in grammar. Vocabulary is not often a problem as Korean students of English have often spent a proportionally large amount of time on vocabulary.

During listening activities, the difficulty lies with homophones and the usage of silent letters and slurring. As with speaking, the comparatively complex orthography of English also hinders listening comprehension a certain amount.

One other difference lies with the usage of negative questions and answers. With English, a negative question is answered by referring to the answer, as in 'Isn't it cold'' 'Yes, it is cold.' In Korean, the answer refers to the question, as in 'Isn't it cold'' 'No, it is cold.' This may often lead to some unclear answers.

We often can observe that problems which Korean speakers may have when learning English are problems that are common to Korean learners of English. In conclusion, there are obvious problems stemming from writing systems and grammatical structures, though the largest difficulties lie with phonology, the intonation, stress, orthography, and specific sounds. I believe this supposition may be supported by the evidence that many educated Koreans score very well on standardized written English tests while showing proportionally much lower results for listening and speaking tests.