Secrets of an English American accent for Koreans

You want to speak with an English American accent, but you’re having a hard time figuring it out. You’re not alone! In 2003, 74.2% of people polled in a government survey in Korea admitted that they had difficulty communicating in English.

And it’s not all in your head. The Korean accent is particularly difficult for listeners to understand. A survey taken by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy in Hong Kong asked foreigners to rate how easily they could understand speakers of English from 12 different Asian countries. Koreans ranked at the bottom of the list.

So, now what? You know you have a hard time speaking English clearly and that others have a hard time understanding you. But what can you do about it? I’m going to share with you some secrets to an English American accent that you would normally only get when you work with me one on one to improve your spoken English. So, practice these techniques on your own, but be sure to get in touch with me if you get stuck. I’m available for further help over Skype no matter where you live.

And now for the secrets to being able to speak like an American:

Secret #1: You must understand the difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds.

K and G are almost the same sound, but G uses voice and K does not. What do I mean? Put your hand on your throat and say “ahh” Feel the vibration? Your voice is on. Now say k-k-k-k. You should not feel vibration. Now try saying g-g-g-g-g. You should feel the vibration again. This voicing is the only difference between the word coat (a piece of clothing) and the word goat (an animal).

Secret #2: You must learn to hear the difference between the f, v, b, and p sound.

This is a difficult concept for many Koreans because the f and v don’t really exist in your native language, and the b and p are often interchangeable. However, in English each of these sounds is distinct, and using the wrong sound can easily change the whole meaning of a word. Here is a very simple example:

fan — something that blows air to cool you off

van — a vehicle you can drive

ban — to prohibit or not allow something

pan — a cooking utensil

The only difference in each of these words is the first letter, but it completely changes the meaning of the word. So, you can see how easily an English speaker would be confused if you substituted one of these sounds for another.

The difference in these sounds is in the lip and teeth placement, and also in the voicing, like we talked about earlier.

F and V are both produced by putting the top teeth on the lower lip and blowing. The V uses voicing and the F does not.

B and P are both produced by pushing the lips together and releasing. The B uses voicing and the P does not.

Try saying the words fan, van, ban, and pan. When you master the four sounds, each of those words will sound different.

Secret #3: You must understand the difference between short and long vowels.

A common confusion is between the long e as in sheep and the short i as in ship. To make a long ee sound, pull your lips back into a smile. Practice saying words like sheep, sleep, team, green, and street.

The lips are not pulled back as far when saying the short i sound. This is the sound in words like ship, slip, Tim, grin, and swim.

Secret #4: You must learn to hear the difference between the w, r, and l sounds.

You are probably aware that this is a challenge, as once again, your native language does not really distinguish between these sounds and English does. The w is produced by rounding your lips, turning on your voice, and releasing the sound. It comes out as “oooh -uh” at first. The l sound is made by placing the tongue behind the front teeth and turning on the voice. The r is made by producing the l sound, then pulling the tongue a little farther back in the mouth, keeping the tip up but no longer touching.

These four secrets are some of the biggest reasons that Korean speakers struggle with their English American accent. Now that you know the secrets, I want you to practice the sounds until you can hear and say the different English pronunciations.

If you cannot hear the differences on your own, or you want individual help to practice, please feel free to contact me at I offer a free 20-minute consult over Skype so you can decide if you are comfortable working with me. I want you to have all the support you need to feel confident speaking English!