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Why do most Koreans not speak English?


Korea has been known for its unique culture, language, and traditions. However, despite the country’s technological advancements and economic growth, most Koreans still struggle to speak English fluently. This article aims to delve into the reasons why most Koreans do not speak English and what factors contribute to this phenomenon.

Historical Background

Korea has a complex history that has played a significant role in its people’s ability to speak English. During the Japanese colonial era, the Korean language was suppressed, and Japanese became the primary language for education and communication. After World War II, English became the dominant language in many parts of the world, but Korea remained isolated from western influences until the 1980s.

Cultural Differences

Cultural differences can also make it challenging for Koreans to learn English. The Korean language has a different sentence structure and grammar rules compared to English, making it difficult for Koreans to grasp the language’s nuances. Additionally, many Koreans find it challenging to overcome their shyness and speak English in public, which hinders their ability to practice the language.

Education System

The Korean education system is often cited as one of the main reasons why most Koreans do not speak English fluently. The focus is on memorization and rote learning rather than practical application, which makes it challenging for students to learn how to use English in real-life situations. Moreover, English education in Korea is often seen as a means to an end rather than a tool for communication.

Economic Factors

In recent years, Korea has become a global economic powerhouse, with companies like Samsung and Hyundai leading the charge. However, many of these companies operate primarily in Korea or other non-English speaking countries. Therefore, there is less emphasis on learning English as a means of communication with international partners.

Language Barrier

The language barrier is also a significant factor that contributes to Koreans’ inability to speak English fluently. Most Koreans do not have regular exposure to native English speakers, which makes it challenging to practice and improve their language skills. Additionally, many Koreans find it difficult to understand English accents, which can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunications.

Perception of English

In Korea, there is a perception that speaking English fluently is a sign of intelligence and success. However, this perception has also led to a fear of making mistakes and being judged by others. Many Koreans feel embarrassed or ashamed when speaking English in public, which can hinder their ability to practice and improve their language skills.

Government Policies

The Korean government has made efforts to improve English education in the country. However, some policies have been criticized for being too focused on test scores rather than practical communication skills. Additionally, there is a lack of emphasis on developing critical thinking skills, which are essential for effective communication in any language.


Technology has made it easier than ever to learn English from anywhere in the world. However, many Koreans still rely on traditional methods of learning, such as textbooks and lectures. Additionally, the prevalence of Korean technology companies has led to the development of Korean-language software and apps, which can make it challenging for Koreans to practice their English skills.

English as a Second Language (ESL) Teachers

ESL teachers play a crucial role in helping Koreans improve their English skills. However, there is often a shortage of qualified teachers in Korea. Additionally, many teachers are not given the resources or support they need to be effective in the classroom.

Gender Differences

There are also gender differences when it comes to learning English in Korea. Women are often encouraged to learn English as a means of improving their marriage prospects or career opportunities. However, men are often seen as being less motivated to learn English, which can lead to a lack of emphasis on language learning in the workplace.


In conclusion, there are several factors that contribute to why most Koreans do not speak English fluently. Historical background, cultural differences, the education system, economic factors, language barriers, perception of English, government policies, technology, ESL teachers, and gender differences all play a role. Addressing these issues will be crucial in helping Koreans improve their English skills and compete on a global scale.

Why do Koreans not speak English well?

For Koreans used to two distinct modes of expression, high and low, English is a foreign and awkward language. This may be why even if two Koreans are fluent in English, they may not be able to communicate in it if they come from different social classes. This was noted in 2009.

What percentage of Koreans speak English?

Approximately 43-44% of the population in Korea has maintained their English proficiency, meaning they can speak English fluently and also at least one other language.

Do a lot of Koreans speak English?

While not commonly spoken in South Korea, you will likely have more success finding locals who can speak English in popular tourist areas like Myeongdong, Dongdaemun, and Hongdae.

Can you live in Korea if you only speak English?

In short, it is possible to live as an expat in Korea without knowing the language, but it can come with challenges that may leave you at a loss for words.

What English sounds do Koreans struggle with?

Korean language does not have some sounds like /f/, /v/, “th” (voiceless), “th” (voiced), /z/, “sh”, “ch”, “zh” (as in “measure” or “vision”), “j” and “r”. Korean consonants are identified based on their degree of tension and aspiration, while /b, d/ and /g/ are often pronounced without voicing.

Why is Korean so hard to speak?

Korean is considered more challenging than other languages for several reasons. One factor is its distinct grammar structure compared to other languages, along with its use of unfamiliar vocabulary. Additionally, honorifics and subtle differences in verb conjugation contribute to the language’s complexity and potential confusion.

Opportunities for Improvement

Despite the challenges, there are opportunities for improvement in English education in Korea. Many schools and universities are beginning to shift their focus towards more practical, communication-based English programs. There is also a growing demand for qualified ESL teachers in Korea, which presents an opportunity for native English speakers to teach and make a positive impact.


As Korea continues to become more integrated into the global community, the ability to speak English fluently will become increasingly important. With the rise of remote work and international business opportunities, being proficient in English can open up new doors and provide a competitive advantage.


It’s important to note that speaking English fluently is not the only marker of success or intelligence. Multilingualism is highly valued in many parts of the world, and Korea is no exception. Encouraging the learning of multiple languages, including English, can help create a more diverse and globally connected society.

Supporting Language Learning

To support language learning in Korea, it’s important to provide resources and opportunities for practice. This can include language exchange programs, online resources, and language immersion programs. Additionally, creating a supportive and non-judgmental environment can help reduce anxiety and encourage students to practice their language skills.

Embracing Mistakes

Finally, it’s important to embrace mistakes as a natural part of the language learning process. Making mistakes is an essential part of learning any new skill, including language. By encouraging a growth mindset and celebrating progress rather than perfection, Koreans can feel more confident in their ability to learn and use English effectively.

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