Any native English speaker who has tried to learn Korean can most likely agree with one simple point: there are definitely some hurdles to jump along the way. However, let’s think about the flip side for a moment. There are also problems that students who are trying to go from Korean to English have to face at times. Likewise, the Korean-English language pair is a difficult one for electronic translations, further complicating the acquisition of either language for non-native speakers.
As with any language, there are plenty of simple aspects good students can pick up on quickly; however, we cannot ignore the possible problems that language students face. One big problem that some English teachers notice in their Korean ESL students is stress. The English language has a complicated stress and rhythm system whereas Korean does not focus on the same types of patterns. Many Korean ESL students, especially if beginners, sound monotonous when speaking English. This is most likely because Korean is a syllabic language and does not place the stress on any certain word. Content words and function words can sound the same in Korean. The stress patterns of English can be hard to adjust to when a native Korean speaker begins learning English. While native Korean speakers may sound a little off when learning to speak English, it is likely that native English speakers also sound off when learning to speak Korean. Although this is a common problem faced by both sides, it is certainly a problem that can be corrected through practice. Listening to native speakers of either language can drastically improve the sound of your speech in the language you are learning. Having a speaking partner who is a native speaker of the language you want to learn, whether it is Korean, English, or any other language, can also greatly improve how you sound. This is one of the best ways to achieve a native-like fluency.
Another issue facing students transitioning from Korean to English is culture. World cultures vary greatly from one another, so this poses a problem to anyone who learns a foreign language. Korean students struggle with English idioms, historical allusions, and western teaching methods just as English students struggle with the Korean equivalents. It is just as hard to translate phrases like “It’s raining cats and dogs” into Korean as it would be to translate similar saying from Korean to English. Historical and cultural contexts also can be hindrances to one’s acquisition of language—there is actually so much more to learn than just words and grammar. To fully understand a language, you must also learn the culture and history behind the words. For English speakers, this can mean getting used to the honorifics, idioms, and big historical happenings of Korea. Likewise, Korean speakers must adjust to a language that lacks polite forms, has different sayings, and possess very different historical references.
Different teaching methods can also play a role in learning a new language, especially if you are learning a language in a country where it is the official language. The way Korean students are taught and the way English or American students are taught are two very different methods, so placing either type of student out of their element can make it more difficult for them to effectively learn the new language.
As evidenced by the problems that can face English students who wish to learn Korean and Korean students who learn English, there are also problems with electronic translations of Korean to English and vice versa. This is unfortunate, because good translation software that did not require a native speaker for either language would be extremely beneficial to both Korean and English students. Several types of electronic translation software exist, but none of them can effectively translate Korean to English or vice versa. There are free electronic translators online and there are also services you can buy, but in reality, none of them effectively get the job done. The Korean-English language pair is a difficult pairing because in order for a good, accurate translation to be attained, native speakers are necessary. Electronic translators that do not use human translation end up mangling the language you are translating into. This is slightly less of a problem when translating English into European languages and vice versa, since there are many similarities in these languages. Since Korean and English are grammatically very different, it is best to avoid full electronic translations.
Lack of good electronic translations that do not rely on native speakers poses a great problem to some students, especially those who do not have access to a native speaker. Some good advice is to rely on the translations of native speakers if you can find them online, and in the meantime, consult good online or paper dictionaries to help you understand new words. There are also websites that can help connect you with native speakers of different languages, so this is a great option if you do not have access to one in real life. Occasionally, you can find online lessons written by native speakers and online colleges that offer classes taught by native speakers. These are even better resources to help you overcome your learning difficulties.
Yes, there are definitely problems that can arise for students learning English, Korean, or any other language. The good news is most problems will fix themselves with plenty of practice and interaction with native speakers. Immersion is the best way to learn a new language fluently, so reach for that! Also, it is important to remember that everyone is different. Some students will have problems where others have none, and others will encounter very few problems. The Korean-English language pair, while difficult for electronic translators, can actually be fairly easy to learn with the right kind of studying and some dedication. There are also some things about going from Korean to English and vice versa that are easy, especially the writing systems. It’s important to be aware of possible problems, but don’t let that stop you from attaining your language goals.