Sounds not to forget – work on producing Korean sounds

My tutor is working so hard to get me to stop speaking Korean words like they are American English.  I learned ‘nara’ is country long before I had heard the word pronounced by a Korean or knew the Hangul was 나라.   The romanized word ‘nara’ pronounced with a Massachusetts accent has nothing to do with the Korean word.  It doesn’t sound even a little bit alike.  I can at least HEAR that.

Today we worked hard on sound.  Exhausted both of us by the end of the hour.  So I want to work really hard to remember and practice what we covered.

1.  Pronounce these vowel combinations

I knew Rob in class 21 went over that 돼 and 되 are the same sound, but I remained stubbornly skeptical and attached to the pronunciation I thought was right, until my tutor corrected me AGAIN on these.  Get it right, Julia!  둬 and 뒤 are NOT the same sound.  뒤 is sort of ‘dwee’ or ‘dwi’.   되 is not ‘dwi’ but ‘dwae’.

2.   ㄹ like an ‘L’ sound at beginning of word

라디오 and 라면 are radio and ramen, but they have an l sound when pronounced in Korean correctly.

3.  pronouncing ㄹ

This sound is quite perplexing.  ‘r’ is a sound I make in the back of my throat and involves no use of the tongue, roof of my mouth, force of breath, or rolling.  I feel like I have made great effort to try to learn how to make an r sound with my tongue, except ‘r’ isn’t quite the right sound for ㄹ.

Tutor described it many times.  He used hand gestures.  He talked about scraping my tongue against the roof of my mouth, first forward, then backward.  He discussed how I should scrape the tongue stronger.  He told me to use more force of my air.  We discussed where my tongue should end up.

It seemed like the closest I came to making a sound that was somewhat better involved the scraping my tongue back, while generating a little bit of resonance like a rolling r, but not too much. It quite frankly is a spectacularly difficult sound for me.  I feel like a tongue contortionist.



Tutor made me laugh when he said something like “when you say it like an L you are wrong, and when you say it like an R you are double wrong.”  Yep, that’s me, double wrong.  Haha.  (Tutor said it kindly, as a joke.  He is a great encourager.)

I’d like to believe I am making some progress with pronunciation, but I think it is clear that every sound that comes out of my mouth still sounds like an American butchering the Korean language.  If I ever get to Korea, I will have to keep a pad of paper handy to write down what I want to express, because no Korean would be able to decipher my sounds into Korean words.

tdnl r

In desperate searching the internet to try to find something that will teach me this ㄹ, I came upon r/l lessons for English.  “In teaching the difference between /l/ and /r/ I have found that there is little value in trying to explain the position of the tongue relative to the palette. Most learners do not have a firm grasp of exactly what they are doing with their mouth as they speak.”  Yep, that’s me.  The same article went on to say:

“The whole process should not take long. It is important the students know that you value accurate speech production, but only to the extent that it facilitates communication. If the teacher spends to much time trying to correct pronunciation, some learners will start to lose confidence in their speaking ability. Instead focus intensively on it for these sixty seconds and then focus on communication for the rest of the class. One minute of conversation each week will be enough to remind most students of how to produce the target sounds and they will begin to monitor their own speech during pairwork and group conversations.”  Yep, loss of confidence is me too.

I’m trying hard not to curl up into a little ball and stop talking altogether.  Not a surprise that I don’t want to make recordings or videos of this terrible sound, not torture native Koreans with attempts to speak.

4.  Pronunciation rules

I got these wrong, and I should understand the pronunciation rules that come into play.



놓고 [노고 with a k sound]

5.  에 네 넨

I can say 에 네 but then come up with a totally different vowel sound when I say 넨.  I must practice and try to say 넨 so it doesn’t rhyme with ‘ten’.  In English ‘nen’ would rhyme with ‘ten’ not have a vowel sound like ‘play’.  I know 네 very well, so I just have to figure out how to put an ㄴ to make 넨.

6.  ㅆ

The ㅆ in the batchim position is never going to sound like a double ss.  It will sound like a t.  My brain knows this, but keeps trying to make it ss.  This is just something I need to beat into me until it is reflex.

How to Study Korean’s pronunciation guide has samples of ㅅand ㅆ in the batchim.

7.  The dreaded 어 and 여

I worked on this.  I think I am getting better.  It is breaking a habit, because I said this wrong for a long time.  Still, I was corrected on words with this vowel sound, so I must not have it mastered yet.

9.  되 sound

I tend to pick on unfamiliar sounds in Korean.  I poke at them and complain.  With typical American hubris, it is like I expect the entire Korean nation to change the use of sounds I find difficult.  Haha.  After putting up with this for 2 months, tutor finally pointed out to me today that I had best get use to the dwae sound because it is quite common in Korean.  Humbly, I admit my complaining has to stop.  It is me who has to adapt.  되겠지 and 되었어요 are two examples of this from the story.  I was feeling hostile toward 되다 because it is a vocabulary word from KDA class 21 this week.  But it does no one any good for me to whine about my troubles.

10.  When the final consonant of one syllable is ㅇ and the first consonant of the next syllable is ㄹ, the ㄹ gets pronounced as ㄴ.

11.  When the final consonant of one syllable is ㄴ and the first consonant of the next syllable is ㄹ, the ㄴ gets pronounced as ㄹ.

12.  ㅎ causes the accompanying consonant to be aspirated.  You have to expel air when you voice it.

13.  ㄹ  tends to soften the previous character and usually changes to an “L” sound. That’s why the name “Henry” is pronounced “Helli” in Korean.

Let’s Korean has a post about pronunciation advice.  As does Mynihongo.
Video How to pronounce ㄹ.
italki pun about ㄹ


Trying to keep a sense of humor about ㄹ, I can tell you that an American saying r rounds her lips and keeps her tongue still, all ready for a polite kiss.  When my tutor says to say r and describes tongue gymnastics involving the powerful tongue scrapping the roof of the mouth and vibrating, I am left with a combination of confusion and a sudden desire to kiss a Korean to see how their tongues can be put into action.  Haha.

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2 Responses to Sounds not to forget – work on producing Korean sounds

  1. I think that if you know how to pronounce the simple “r” sound of Spanish, you will be able to do it for Korean (just put the tip of your tongue on the hard palate and try to voice it). An interesting tidbit on 되/돼 is that they are no longer able to distinguish between the sounds. Hope that helps and 화팅!~

    Liked by 1 person

  2. waterlillied says:

    I know this was literally years ago – but great post! I learned a lot from this too 🙂


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