5 Tips for Native Korean Speakers

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In this article we are presenting tips for native Korean speakers: There are thousands of languages around the world. It is not surprising that they all differ on different levels – whether in sentence or word construction, and the same for pronunciation. There are many linguistic differences between German and Korean. This also results from the fact that both belong to different language families. German belongs to the Indo-European language family and is part of the West Germanic language group. The linguistic categorization of Korean, on the other hand, is not that easy. The majority of linguists see it as part of the isolated language family, which means: No relationship can be drawn to other languages, including German.

by Jacqueline Grünberger

Which are the most important differences between German and Korean pronunciation? What do Korean learners of German have to watch out for? In the following, we present 5 tips for native Korean speakers.

Tip #1: The ich- and ach-sound

The ich- and ach-sounds [ç] and [x],  and in consequence the distinction between the two sounds, are also unknown in Korean. That’s why the ich-sound is often realised as an s-sound and the ach-sound as a k-sound (if you don’t know the sound, you have to get creative!). 

Tip #2: The [v]- and [f]-sound

There is a second danger of confusion: [v] and [f] do not exist in Korean, which means that [v] is often pronounced like a [b]. In this case, Wein [vaɪn] ‘와인/wine’ can quickly become Bein [baɪn] ‘다리/leg’. This is not easy, especially in the beginning. We have designed a special lesson for this issue as well: “Die Bar”.

Tip #3: The difference between the letters l and r

By the way, the letters r and l can change the meaning in German words, but not in Korean. This can lead to some confusion. In Korean, the l-sound only appears at the end of the syllable  and the r-sound at the beginning of the syllable. So that German words that begin with the l-sound result in pronunciation problems. This way, the word Lachen [laxən] ‘웃음/laughter’ can become a real challenge and a r-sound can be pronounced instead of the l-sound: The consequence is the word Rachen [ʁaxən] ‘목구멍/throat’, which means something very different to lachen. In contrast, the l-sound in the word Ball [bal] ‘공/ball’ is not a problem at all. If you want to try it out yourself, have a look at our lesson “Blumen klauen”.

Tip #4: Consonant groups

Something to which many learners of German are not used are consonant groups (two or even more consonants in a row). In Korean, there are only a maximum of two consecutive consonants,. Therefore consonants of many German consonant groups are often omitted or vowels inserted between them. Therefore, the word Angst [aŋst] ‘공포 /fear’ with all its consonants grouped together can be quite scary! But not scary anymore after a training with sylby: We offer many lessons to train consonant groups. Also for the other challenges, sylby is happy to support you and together we can do it!

Tip #5: Vowel length

Korean does not distinguish between short and long vowels. The difference between, for example, All [al] ‘모두/space’ and Aal [aːl] ‘장어/eel’ can be a challenge. The two words are pronounced almost the same way. The only exception is that the a-sound is pronounced short in the first word and long in the second. And suddenly it means something completely different! With sylby we have just the right exercise for that issue, just take a look at our lesson created for this specific issue: “Skandal”! 

* In this article we use IPA-symbols. These are the symbols you also find in a dictionary that indicate how a word is pronounced. If you want to know more about it please read our article here or visit the International Phonetic Association.


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