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Pronunciation Problems in Korea In Korea, English is big business. As
In Korea, English is big business. As the English language is (perhaps) the closest thing to a universal language that is present in the world today, South Korea places a large amount of importance on a student´s ability to effectively communicate to native English speakers. English is part of their curriculum from at least middle school on (in public schools) and many students have access to English education from three years old and up, whether through home schooling or formal English academies.
As such, learning English is a large facet of success later in life. Business is extremely big in Korea, and to be a good businessman, you must speak English. Testing well on the state English tests also helps considerably in getting into a good university.
The spoken Korean language is call hanguk mal and its written form is hangul. Hangul is a phonemic alphabet, putting it in stark contrast with the English alphabet. This causes many problems for Koreans learning to speak English (or for a native speaker of English trying to learn Korean). Because it is phonemic, there is no way to turn written Korean into sounds that are not normally found in hanguk mal. English, being a much less insulated language than Korean, has evolved to have a fairly large number of different sounds associated with it. Missing from the Korean language (but present in English) are: f, th, sh (except in one instance), z, v, most consonant blends, and qu.
In the case of the specific letters (f, z, etc), there is merely no way of making that sound in hangul. As there is no matching sound in Korean, different letters are always substituted for them. For instance, v becomes b (vitamin = bitamin), f becomes p (phone = pone) and z becomes g (zebra = gebra). In the case of dipthongs, there isn´t any particular way they´re dealt with. Sometimes students can turn a th into an f sound (thimble = fimble), or sometimes an s sound (faith = face). The sh sound is used in Korean, but only when the â€œsâ€ character is placed with the â€œeeâ€ character (making â€œsheeâ€). Other than that, there is no natural occurrence of the sh sound in Korean. English, as we know, is very dependent on consonant blends. Korean, on the other hand, uses none of them, and must form ways to make the sounds while staying within the rules of the written language. Hangul is a much more organized alphabet than the English one. Koreans write in blocks. Each block can consist of no more than two consonants and one vowel (in the pattern consonant-vowel- consonant) although it can also consist of just a vowel, a consonant- vowel or vowel-consonant. Each block forms one syllable. Two consonants can never occur without a vowel between them (as consonant blends are not syllables in and of themselves). Because of this, Koreans usually add the â€œuhâ€ character as a placeholder between the consonants (pronounced in the same way as â€œcouldâ€). For instance, my name (Scott) is phonetically spelled out in Korean as either Suh-kott or Suh-kot-tuh.
All of these differences cause problems in pronunciation for students learning English, especially younger students who have only been exposed to â€œKonglishâ€ and aren´t aware that the popular pronunciation for many of the English words they know is wrong. Many children have problems with the â€œshâ€ sound, but in an oddly opposite way than someone would normally think of pronunciation errors. Some students will add the â€œshâ€ sound when pronouncing any word that is an â€œsâ€ followed be an â€œeeâ€ sound. This is most prevalent when a student turns â€œseeâ€ into â€œshe.â€ Words ending in an â€œsh,â€ or sometimes any consonant at all, will receive an â€œeeâ€ sound in Konglish (my favorite example is Bush [as in George Bush] becoming â€œBusheeâ€). Other common ones are large becoming â€œlarge-eeâ€ and orange becoming â€œorange-eeâ€).
Another common error is students pronouncing the â€œuhâ€ placeholder when using consonant blends. This stems mostly from the fact that, because consonant blends don´t happen in hanguk mal, their natural reaction is to place the â€œuhâ€ between the consonants so it sounds more natural to them.
The most obvious issues when teaching English to new students is introducing them to completely new sounds that are associated with common English words. Much time is invested in teaching students how to place their tongue to pronounce a â€œth,â€ or a â€œvâ€ or â€œf.â€ Oddly, there is rarely an issue with pronouncing the â€œquâ€ sound.
All of these instances cause a good deal of stress and work in the classroom, but they also offer an interesting opportunity to see the differences and similarities between English and Korean. I consider it a positive experience teaching in Korea and getting to learn a completely different alphabet and language from the ones I´m used to.