Error Type 1:/ə/Adding a schwa sound

One of the most common errors for Korean learners of English is inserting a schwa sound or /i/ between or after consonants. 

This results in adding a syllable to the word and consequently affects the intelligibility of the learners’ speech.

Web(ə)site; prob(ə)lem; s(ə)plendid(ə); friend(ə)ly; cons(ə)truction; six(ə); five(ə) etc

Error Type 2: /ə/ Substituting schwa

Another factor that impacts the intelligibility of Korean learners is substituting the schwa sound for either a /ɔ/ or /ɑ/.

Since the schwa sound is the most common vowel in the English language, mispronouncing it has a severe impact on the learners’ intelligibility. 

For example in words such as [available], the first two schwa sounds are represented by letter [a], which are normally pronounced as vowel /ɑː/ in Korean.

Responsib(ə)le; Personality; Vegetab(ə)les; stationary etc.

Error Type 3: /ʌ/

As with the schwa sound, vowel /ʌ/ is classified as a central vowel which means that the tongue is situated in the center of the mouth.  As Koreans do not have a central vowel in their native language, they naturally replace it with /ɔ/ or /ɑː/.But; bus; cough; fudge; custard; rust etc

Error Type 4: /ɝ/

Once more, this vowel is quite close to the center and so Koreans commonly hear it as /ɔ:/. 

As this vowel contains an /r/ component, it makes it even harder for Korean learners to replicate.

First; service; burn; curl; work; learn; worm etc.

Error Type 5: /æ/

Korean learners systematically produce /æ/ as /e/.  Although /æ/ is categorized as a short vowel, it sounds slightly longer than /e/ as it is more tense. 

The jaw opens wider and the tongue falls lower inside the mouth.

Korean learners need to be trained on opening their jaw wider while keeping their tongue low and at the front.

Have; Cat; Fat; Rat; plaid; apple; advertising; address etc.

Error Type 6: /i/ & /ɪ/

As most learners of English, Koreans are quite confused with /i/ & /ɪ/.  It must be said that /ɪ/ is more familiar to Korean learners than an English /i:/. 

The learners should not be solely instructed to elongate /ɪ/ to produce /i:/ as this does not work and does not fix the root of the problem.  The core issue is that Koreans are not able to position their tongue at a point inside the mouth high enough to produce /i:/ correctly.

The aim is to help the students maintain their tongue at a very close distance from the hard palate.

/i:/ Need; read; treat; believe; meat; wheel; receipt etc./ɪ/: Knit; rid; tit; live; mitt; will; sit etc.

Error Type 7: /uː/

This vowel is also sometimes considered to be a diphthong as it almost ends with a consonant /w/.  For Korean learners, there are two issues with this phoneme. 

The first issue is related to the tongue position which is usually not high enough inside the mouth and the second is related to the lips which do not move forward and form a circle as they should to produce the /w/ component of the phoneme. 

The vowel that Korean learners produce instead is quite short and has no equivalent in native English.

Spoon; flute; cruel; fool; pool; move; drool; whose etc.

Error Type 8: /oʊ/

As in the case of /u:/, Korean learners are not able to produce the /w/ component of phoneme /oʊ/ so the result is often /ɔ:/. 

Please review the error description of /u:/.

Wrote; old; boat; coat; mode; road; showed etc.

Error Type 9: /eɪ/ & /aɪ/

Both of these vowels are again diphthongs comprising a vowel and a consonant.

Since, as we have already established, Koreans have trouble producing a proper /i:/ due to the height it requires. It’s extremely difficult for them as it is for most English learners to move the tongue down and then immediately back up to the highest point inside the mouth to produce consonant /j/. 

This leads them to omit the /j/.

/eɪ/: Name; date; wait; train; great; same; wage etc./aɪ/: right; fight; side; light; tried; hide; night etc.

Error Type 10: /j/

As consonant /j/ essentially requires positioning and sliding the tongue forward along the hard palate, Korean learners find it enormously challenging mainly before vowels /i:/ /ɪ/ or /e/. 

Koreans do not hear any difference between [year] and [ear].  Failing to produce the /j/ however also means that Korean learners are not able to perform any word liaisons as shown in the example.

Year; yeast; yield; me (j) and you; is he (j) in?; etc

Error Type 11: /w/

As in Japanese, this consonant exists in Korean but not performed in the same fashion.  Koreans are able to produce this consonant in most cases except before /ʊ/ and /u:/. 

When /w/ needs to be pronounced before those two vowels, it’s usually completely omitted and replaced with a glottal sound.  However, when it precedes /i:/ /ɪ/ or /e/, it’s normally replaced with /v/. 

As in the case of /j/, the major drawback of not being able to produce this consonant easily is that they will not be able to pronounce /w/ to connect a word ending with a vowel /u:/, /ʊ/ or /oʊ/ with another word starting with a vowel as shown in the example.

Would; wicked; with; women; do (w)I; situation; casual etc

Error Type 12: /ð/ & /θ/

Both of these consonants require that the speakers place the tip of their tongue between their teeth and produce a sound by letting their air escape from their tongue and teeth.

But Korean learners, as with most learners of English, seem to find this quite difficult to manage.

What happens then is that they keep their tongue inside and press the tip of their tongues against the teeth resulting in /d/ instead of /ð/ while they replace /θ/ with an /s/.

/θ/: thin; wrath; moth; thigh; Ruth; truth etc./ð/: weather; loathe; then; writhe; scythe; rather etc.

Error Type 13: /p/ & /f/

The consonant /f/ does not exist in Korean, but neither does /p/ as it is pronounced in English. This explains why Korean learners constantly confuse both of these consonants.

There are times when /p/ is heard as /f/ and vice versa. The reason being is that Korean learners produce /p/ as a semi-explosive and semi-fricative sound.

They then need to be instructed to close their lips completely and build pressure up inside their mouth. When lips suddenly open, the air bursts out of the mouth as consonant /p/.

/p/: Pan; pot; pawn; pool; cup; lap; warp etc./f/: fan; fought; fawn; fool; cough; laugh; wharf etc

Error Type 14: /v/ & /b/

Like consonant /f/, /v/ doesn’t exist in Korean, which is the reason that it’s constantly substituted for /b/.

Even when Korean learners are taught how to articulate it correctly, they de-voice it when it falls in the end of the word.

Love; have; drive; living; Victor; vest; van; valley etc.

Error Type 15: Voiced Vs. Voiceless

We’ve already mentioned that Korean learners de-voice /v/ at word endings even if they know how to position their lower lip correctly against their upper teeth.

This is, however, also true in the case of most voiced consonants such as /b/, /z/, /d/, /g/, /dʒ/, /ʒ/, and /ð/ as shown in the examples.

/b/: robe becomes rope
/z/: buzz becomes bus
/d/: rude becomes root
/g/: log becomes lock
/dʒ/: badge becomes batch
/ʒ/: casual becomes “cashual”

Error Type 16: /z/

Consonant /z/ doesn’t exist in Korean. Consequently, when Korean learners come across /z/ either in the beginning or the middle of
a word, they replace it with a Korean sound equivalent or similar to the consonant /ʒ/.

When /z/ occurs in the end though, it’s often de-voiced to /s/.

/z/ (beginning and middle): zero; zone; zeal; rising; advertising etc.
/z/ (end): he’s; rise; wise; dies; whose etc.

Error Type 17: /k/

The Korean [k] is definitely different from that of English. While /k/ is a consonant produced by bringing the back of the tongue into contact with the soft palate, the position of the back of the tongue when producing the English /k/ is deeper and lower.

There will not be any issues for Korean learners when they pronounce /k/ in the beginning of the words but in the middle and certainly the end, they clearly have trouble making it audible.

/k/ (in the beginning): cat; kilo; corn; cough etc.
/k/ (middle and end): Bacteria; ecstasy; secretary; rock; cake; soak; hook etc.

Error Tyope 18: /l/

Like Japanese and Chinese learners, Koreans struggle with consonant /l/. This phoneme poses different problems in different parts of the word. When /l/ is located in the beginning or the middle of a word, Koreans move both their tongue and lips simultaneously mixing /l/ with /w/.

The tip of their tongue doesn’t quite come into contact with the ridge either or at least the contact is not strong enough to create the sound. When /l/ is at the end of the word, Koreans often substitute it for /r/ or place their tip in the far end of the hard palate.

/l/ (end): fall; call; soul; deal; verbal; available etc.

Error Type 19: /r/

Perhaps one of the most well-known pronunciation errors for Koreans is /r/. This consonant, especially as pronounced in American English, doesn’t exist in the Korean language.

When /r/ is at the beginning of a word or follows another consonant as in consonant clusters like [pr] or [tr] or [fr], it’s either replaced with /l/ or by a quick tap against the ridge normally represented by symbol /ɹ /.

When /r/ comes at the end of the word, it’s sometimes substituted for /l/.

/r/ (beginning and middle): right; race; really;
problem; traffic; frog etc.

/r/ (end): car; meter; prefer; bear; shower etc.

Error Type 20: /n/

The English /n/ is made by placing the tip of the tongue against the ridge and blowing the air through the nose.

Korean learners seem to place the tip of their tongues between their teeth and push the air through their nose when /n/ is either found in the beginning or middle of the word.

When /n/ takes the final position in a word, Korean learners produce a nasal sound without moving the tip of their tongue up towards the ridge area.

/n/ (beginning and middle): new; nurse; Norway;
Wednesday; burning; fantastic etc.

/n/ (end): union; station; London; person; Italian etc.