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English Language Institute

Tips for Korean Speakers Learning English

Korean and English are very different languages, which can make it challenging for Korean speakers learning English.  I have taught hundreds, if not thousands, of Korean students over the years.  Based on my experience, here are some tips I have to help Korean speakers learning English.

#1 Sounds that are difficult to make

There are some sounds that either don’t exist or are the same sound in Korean, but are different in English.  It is important to know that there is a difference and to know how to make the different sounds in English.  Many times if you say the sounds the same, people will understand, but there are times when saying the sound wring can affect understanding or create a different (and occasionally even embarrassing) meaning.

Examples include:

how to say o in englishShort /o/ vs. long ‘oh’ sound

The first is very short sound, almost cut off, as in ‘stop’. You mouth is open but quite narrow when you say this sound.   The second is a long sound, as in ‘phone’.  Your mouth is wider when you say this to allow for the longer sound. 

If you say ‘fon’ instead of ‘phone’, people will understand.  But you want to make sure you are saying the correct sound when ordering a Coke!

/v/ vs. /b/

There is no distinction between these sounds in Korean, but there is English.  To make a /v/ sound, your top teeth touch your lower lip.  To make a /b/ sound, you top and bottom lips touch each other. 

Both of these sounds are voiced sounds, which means that your vocal chords vibrate when you say them.  Put two fingers across your lower throat (where your vocal chords are).  You should feel a vibration.  

/f/ vs. /p/

These two sounds are similar to /v/ and /b/ and your lips and teeth are in the same positions for /v/ and /f/ and for /p/ and /b/. The difference is that these two sounds are unvoiced (or voiceless).  So your vocal chords do not vibrate.  Put your fingers across your vocal chords and you should not feel any vibration.

You can see a demonstration of this on YouTube.

Do you want to learn more tips for learning the sounds of English pronunciation?  Come to New York and join our Conversation & Listening course.  Study in New York City or Westchester county (45 minutes north of NYC).


#2 The Rhythm of English

When it comes to rhythm, most languages fall into two categories – syllable-timed languages and stress-timed languages.  Korean is a syllable-timed language and English is a stress-timed language.

syllabic-vs-stress-timed-languageWhen you speak a syllable-timed language, the time it takes to say each syllable is the same, so the time it takes to say a word depends on the number of syllables in the word.  In a stress-timed language, some syllables are stressed more heavily than others.  The time is takes to say a word depends on how many stressed syllables there are.  Unstressed sounds can often be so short and quiet that they are difficult to hear and sometimes difficult to say.

When Korean speakers speak English using a similar rhythm to when they speak Korean, they can sounds ‘flat’ to native speakers of English.  They also often fail to hear very weak, unstressed sounds, which can affect their listening comprehension.  Being aware of word stress and sentence stress is very important.  When you learn new vocabulary, always learn and practice the stress, so that you start to get used to speaking and hearing the rhythm of English. 

Do you want to learn more tips for learning the rhythm and stress of English pronunciation and for improving listening skills?  Come to New York and join our Conversation & Listening course.  Study in New York City or Westchester county (45 minutes north of NYC).


#3 Talking about the past

When talking about the past, Korean speakers usually use one past tense.  So it can be difficult to know when to use all of the different tenses that are used in English to talk about the past (past simple, past continuous, present perfect, past perfect continuous, etc.)

Present perfectOne of the trickiest tenses is present perfect.  Perfect tenses are used in English to talk about something before.  So ‘present perfect’ is used to talk about something before the present (and past perfect tense is used to talk about a past event that happened before another past event, etc.). This is the basic meaning, but there are many uses for the present perfect tense.  Talking about our experiences is one of the most common. 

Be aware that American English tends to use simple past much more than present perfect, whereas British English uses the present perfect tense much more.  So if in doubt, use simple past and sound like an American!

Do you want to learn more tips for learning English grammar?  Come to New York and join our Grammar & Writing course.  Study in New York City or Westchester county (45 minutes north of NYC).


Do you want to learn these tips and more? Come to New York to study English (or study online):  visit the ELI websitecontact the ELI  or apply here.


WRITTEN BY: JAMES STAKENBURG