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What pronunciation problems distinguish native speakers of English when they are speaking in Korean? I'm especially interested in the things that non-beginners of Korean use. There are two aspects of non-native pronunciation that are important:

  • What makes it hard to understand an intermediate-advanced learner of Korean from an English background?
  • What makes it obvious that someone with decent Korean pronunciation is not a native speaker of Korean, but of English?

Edit: I'm talking about just pronunciation. Let's pretend that what I speak is perfectly correct grammatically and natural - but what pronunciation features will make it hard to understand, or if that's not a problem, will make it obvious I am not a native speaker.

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    I've been told my Korean sounds like English that was translated into Korean. Native Koreans would choose to convey the same ideas in a completely different way (even though I didn't make any grammatical mistakes). Even if I had perfect pronunciation/intonation my choices of words and phrases could give me away. I can definitely sense this in the reverse: when Koreans speak English. – Leftium Jun 24 '16 at 6:12
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It is not an easy question to answer, but I will try.

Korean is a syllable-timed language while English is a stress-timed language.

As a definition of each, we can say that in syllable-timed languages, syllables tend to follow each other at regular intervals, with an equal amount of time being allocated for each syllable. In stress-timed languages, on the other hand, stresses tend to occur at regular intervals, with the result that the remaining unstressed syllables, no matter how many in number, have to be squeezed in between the stresses to accommodate the regular beat of the stress.

[Source: Intuition Languages.com]

When people who are accustomed to speak a stress-timed language such as English speak a syllable-timed language such as Korean, it is not easy to drop their habit and they tend to stress some syllables that are not usually stressed in Korean. It is one thing that stands out.

Also, conjugation of verbs is one of the most difficult parts in learning Korean. It usually takes a long time for many English speakers to master it perfectly as it is much more complicated than that of English.

There are many Korean words which are derived from Chinese characters. They are very difficult to understand and use unless you are familiar with Chinese characters. Some of them are difficult to pronounce, too.

The Korean language sounds flat compared with English or Chinese as it doesn't have much intonation (except for a few dialects). It is difficult for Koreans to use intonation when speaking English and it is difficult for English speakers to drop intonation when speaking Korean.

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"The prosodic patterns of Korean and English are fundamentally different."

  1. English speakers will fail to highlight the first syllable of words with a higher pitch.
  2. Instead, English speakers will incorrectly highlight a middle syllable with stress (making the other syllables too weak).
  3. English speakers will will incorrectly make the final syllable of a sentence too short and weak.

From The Sounds of Korean by Miho Cho and William O'Grady, pg 97-99:

Korean does not have the English-type stress... However, there is a difference involving pitch... In particular, the first syllable of a word tends to carry slightly higher pitch. So, despite the differences in length of the following words, the first syllable is prominent in each case.

  • 적 'dramatic'
  • 수적 'conservative'
  • 자연적 'supernatural'

Notice how different this is from English, in which the second or third syllable from the end tends to be stressed and therefore more prominent in longer words.

  • draMAtic
  • conSERvative
  • superNAtural

Because of this, English speakers tend to mispronounce longer Korean words by incorrectly highlightling one of the middle syllables and pronouncing the remaining syllables too weakly.

A second important feature of Korean is that the final syllable of a phrase or a sentence is longer and therefore more audible than any of the others.

  • 소파에서 일어나 . 'Get off the sofa.'
  • 하얀 코끼리 봐요 . 'Look at the white elephant.'

In English, in contrast, sentences often in a short, weak syllable, with stress falling on the second- or even the third-to-last syllable.

  • Get off the SOfa.
  • Look at the white ELephant

Because of this, English speaking students often give this final syllable of Korean sentences a short, weak pronunciation. This is a problem; your Korean will not sound natural if is is pronounced with an English stress pattern.

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