Forum – January 25, 2019

Daniel R. Isbell

What’s so hard about Korean pronunciation?

If you asked a learner of Korean “What’s so hard about Korean pronunciation?”, you would certainly get an answer. It would probably involve some mention of Korean’s ‘double consonants’ (i.e., tense consonants such as ㄲ /k*/) and maybe a tongue-tricky sound like ㄹ(/r/). But there is more to Korean pronunciation that can trip-up learners, and ultimately these pronunciation difficulties can lead to difficulties and misunderstandings in real communication: Korean learners are just one vowel away from their taxi driver dropping them off at Sincheon-dong instead of Sinchon-dong. Despite the importance of pronunciation for successful communication, language classes often treat it secondarily (if at all) and learners may not get helpful feedback in their self-study or from friends. With a rapidly growing population of Korean language learners in Korea and abroad, my research addresses learner pronunciation challenges and evaluates the usefulness of an assessment tool to help learners better understand their pronunciation difficulties.

In this 40-minute talk, I will provide an overview of second language (L2) Korean pronunciation, including a review of Korean phonology, the role of pronunciation in intelligible speech, and a summary of theory and research on L2 pronunciation development. Then, I will introduce my assessment tool and lay out the scope of my research. The last part of the presentation will highlight my initial findings related to (a) the pronunciation difficulties of 198 Korean learners and (b) the relationship between learners’ self-assessments of pronunciation difficulties and their actual difficulties. After the talk, 20 minutes will be available for questions and comments, and, for the curious, an opportunity to try out the pronunciation assessment tool.

Daniel R. Isbell is a PhD candidate in Second Language Studies at Michigan State University. As a 2018-2019 Fulbright Junior Researcher, he is affiliated with Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Dan first became interested in Korean and second language acquisition when he began teaching English in Suwon ten years ago. Since then, Dan earned an M.A. in TESOL at Northern Arizona University, taught adult ESL in the U.S., worked in language testing, and published research on language learning and testing.