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Why is Korean so hard for English speakers?

Why is Korean so hard for English speakers?


Korean is a fascinating language that has gained popularity in recent years, but it is also known for being one of the most challenging languages to learn for English speakers. In this article, we will explore why that is the case.

The Korean alphabet

One of the main reasons why Korean is difficult for English speakers is its unique writing system. Unlike English, which uses the Latin alphabet, Korean uses its own phonetic writing system known as Hangul. Hangul has 24 letters, each representing a distinct sound, and is written in blocks of syllables.


Another challenge for English speakers learning Korean is the pronunciation. Korean has several sounds that do not exist in English, such as aspirated consonants and double consonants. Additionally, the emphasis on certain syllables can change the meaning of a word entirely.

Sentence structure

The sentence structure in Korean is also quite different from English. While English follows a subject-verb-object (SVO) pattern, Korean follows a subject-object-verb (SOV) pattern. This means that the verb comes at the end of a sentence rather than in the middle.


Korean culture places a great emphasis on politeness and respect, which is reflected in its language. Korean has several levels of honorifics that are used to show respect to others. This can be challenging for English speakers to master since there are many different forms to learn.


Another hurdle for English speakers learning Korean is the vocabulary. While many Korean words have been borrowed from Chinese, there are still many unique words and phrases that can be difficult to learn and remember.

Cultural context

In addition to language, Korean culture also plays a role in making the language difficult for English speakers. Many Korean words have multiple meanings depending on the context in which they are used, and understanding the cultural context is essential to understanding the language.

Regional dialects

Korean also has several regional dialects that can be challenging for English speakers to understand. The most widely spoken dialect is Seoul dialect, but there are many other dialects spoken throughout the country.

Grammar rules

Korean has many complex grammar rules that can take years to master. These include verb endings, particles, and conjugations.

Idioms and proverbs

Korean is rich in idioms and proverbs that can be difficult for English speakers to understand since they often do not translate directly into English.

Language immersion

One of the best ways to learn Korean is through immersion in the language and culture. This can be done by living in Korea or by finding a language exchange partner who speaks Korean.


In conclusion, learning Korean is a challenging but rewarding experience for English speakers. While there are many hurdles to overcome, with dedication and practice, anyone can master this unique language.

Is Korean hard for English speakers to learn?

According to the FSI, Korean is classified as a Category V language, meaning it is one of the most difficult languages to become proficient in. They estimate that it takes 2200 hours of study or 88 weeks of extremely intense studying to achieve fluency in Korean.

Why do Koreans struggle with English?

The phonetic system, grammatical structure, and pronunciation of English and Korean languages are vastly different. Many sounds in English are absent in Korean, which poses a significant challenge to Korean learners when it comes to pronunciation.

What is the hardest part of learning Korean?

The Korean language presents a challenging aspect to learners in the form of particles, which have no direct equivalent in English grammar. This can make the concept all the more puzzling to newcomers. Particles in Korean grammar are used as markers for sentences.

What Korean sounds are difficult for English speakers?

Korean does not include sounds like /f/, /v/, voiceless and voiced “th” (as heard in “bath” and “bathe” respectively), /z/, “sh”, “ch”, “zh” (as in “measure” or “vision”), “j” and “r”. /b, d/, and /g/ may not always be voiced.

Which is harder Korean or Japanese?

When you compare Korean and Japanese, you will see that both languages are equally difficult. Learning Korean’s writing systems can be tough, while the Japanese alphabet is intricate. However, Japanese has 40 alphabets, which makes constructing and comprehending sentences simpler due to its simpler writing system.

How many years does it take to learn Korean?

Achieving fluency in Korean requires approximately 1200 hours of study to reach a high intermediate level. However, to become truly fluent, an additional 2400 hours of practice may be necessary. This equates to roughly 23 hours of study per week for two years.

Resources for learning Korean

Fortunately, there are many resources available for English speakers who want to learn Korean. These include textbooks, online courses, language exchange programs, and language schools. It’s important to find a resource that works best for your learning style and budget.

Practice and patience

Learning any new language takes practice and patience. It’s important to practice speaking, listening, reading, and writing in Korean regularly to improve your skills. It’s also important to be patient with yourself and not get discouraged if progress is slow.

The benefits of learning Korean

Despite its challenges, there are many benefits to learning Korean. Korea is a rapidly growing economy with a rich cultural heritage. Knowing Korean can open up new career opportunities, allow for deeper cultural understanding, and even make travel to Korea more enjoyable.


In summary, while Korean may be a difficult language for English speakers to learn, it is also a fascinating and rewarding one. With dedication, practice, and patience, anyone can master this unique language and gain a deeper understanding of Korean culture.

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