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Steve as written in Hangul

Steve as written in Hangul

There are quite a few questions I get asked about life in Korea. One surrounds the notion that all Asians are thin and the other goes to how Koreans speak English. So one this Friday night, I thought I’d tackle both in one blog post.

First, let’s try to tackle English pronunciation. The first thing one must realize when coming to Korea to teach, is that not all English consonants are used within the Hangul construct. This is why Koreans (and many other Asians) have troubles with the letter r and z. This is easily addressed in class, but one of the more challenging things to work on with students is the tendency to add a vowel sound to the end of an English word when none is present. For example, finished becomes finish-ed; age becomes age-e; Cass becomes Cass-uh.

While I am no expert, I believe I have found the most likely reason or this during my own language lessons in Korea, Philippines, and Indonesia. It has its routs in how the native language is written and spoken and forced into English rules. To get a full understanding of what I mean, I took the opportunity to write my name in Hangul on the left.

While in English, “Steve” is pronounced as a one-syllable word, the construct doesn’t exist in Hangul. Steve becomes a three-syllable word that does a great job of showcasing this speaking phenomenon. First, in Hangul, words are formed by joining characters to form syllables. They are pairs or triplets consisting of at least one consonant and one vowel. Each syllable must have at least two Hangul characters to work within the parameters of the language. The Hangul “-” vowel is pronounced as an “uh” sound and is also used as a place-holder of sorts when two different consonants are going to be pronounced back-to-back. So let’s take a look at Steve.

My name starts off with ST, but in Hangul, there must be a vowel inserted between the consonants; therefore the “-” is used after the “S” sound, represented by the ㅅ, and giving the initial syllable an “suh” sound. The next syllable creates the “tee” portion of my name. Since there is no letter “V” in Hangul, ㅂ is used to approximate the sound (a soft b/p). Just like the fist syllable, a consonant cannot appear by itself so it is joined with – . This gives is “Suh-Tee-Buh” as the Korean cognate. Given this two character rule, it becomes obvious why many Koreans add an extra syllable.

I often find myself interjecting English rules into Tagalog or Korean and making a mess of things. My students are simply doing the same and some extra time working on pronunciation is all that is needed to reinforce the differences between Hangul constructed words and those formed in English.

The second topic I want to address is the notion that people think that all Asians are thin. While it is true, fitness is a priority in many Asian countries, Korea included. However, Korea is quickly joining many nations around the world with larger and larger populations. I think this stems from a growing use of computer games and poor eating habits. Fried food is everywhere and the only thing that is more prevalent is alcohol. Adding those two items together is a recipe for obesity. The situation is getting so bad, that I routinely see stories on the morning news about how to curb the calories and eat healthier. However, what I was most amazed to discover today was a television show entitled Diet War. It sounds just like it is, the Korean version of Biggest Loser. This was something I was not prepared for and was quite startled to see.

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Written by Steve Miller

July 31, 2009 at 7:58 pm

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