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Can Koreans Read English?

Jason Park
Published by: Jason Park
Last updated:

English is a required course for students in South Korea. However, since it is very different from the Korean language, not many South Korean people feel confident with their English speaking.

It is much easier for them to read and write a foreign language than speak it. Korean students are very intelligent, so they can understand the language when written.

English is introduced to Korean students in the third grade. They are usually taught by a fluent English speaker who can help them with their vocabulary and pronunciation. This makes it easier for them to learn a new language. Most Koreans find reading English easy to learn, but many have difficulty speaking the language.

Have you ever wondered how Korean culture introduces the English language to its students? While English is a compulsory class in South Korea, most Koreans are not English speakers. On this page, we’re going to discuss how Koreans used English. Keep reading to find out more.

Is Learning English Hard for Koreans?

Learning a new language is challenging for anyone, no matter where they come from. However, English is introduced to Korean students at an early age. After grade 3, learning to read and speak English will be part of their regular education.

English isn’t introduced to Korean students until third grade because students should learn Korean grammar first before learning new languages. This way, learning a new language won’t interrupt the student’s grasp of their native language.

Many Korean people who are fluent English speakers believe it is easier for a Korean to learn English than it is for English native speakers to learn Korean because of the early introduction.

Years ago, it was more difficult for Koreans to learn English because it wasn’t introduced until later in their education. This made it more difficult to learn the basics of the language, like letters, pronunciation, and grammar. In 1997, English was added to the Korean curriculum for students in grade 3 and above.

The Importance of Being Able to Speak English

English is very important in Korea, so most students attempt to learn as much as possible. In order to get into a good college or university, students must have good grades in English. It is the first foreign language introduced to students in school, even before languages like Chinese and Japanese.

Even the corporate world of Korea is beginning to require more employees that can read, write, and speak English. Many workers in Seoul get evaluated on their English skills as part of their job performance. It is important for a lot of corporations in Korea to have English speakers on board so they can make more international connections.

K pop is a big part of Korea, and when an idol becomes successful, they could have opportunities all over the world. Many Westerners are fans of Kpop, which means these idols are likely to tour in English language countries.

What Are the Difficulties in Language Learning for Koreans

English and Korean come from two different language groups. While English is part of the Indo-European Language Group, Korean is part of the UralAltaic Language Family. These language groups present the fundamentals of how the language is approached. Even the alphabet is different because Koreans follow Hangul characters.

This means that some of the rules for language learning are very different. Let’s take a look at some of the difficulties Koreans have when learning English.

How do we pronounce that?

Learning English does present some difficulties for Korean students. When they study Korean language, every word is pronounced who it is spelled out.

When they see the letters in a Korean word, they know exactly how the word should sound. However, English has a different set of rules that makes forming a sentence for a Korean person more challenging.

For example, there are two pronunciations and meanings for the English word tear. When it’s presented in sentences, native English speakers know exactly how it’s pronounced. A Korean will be confused by words like this with multiple meanings and pronunciations.

Different consonants

The way English used consonants is a lot different than what Korean people are used to. Many consonants that are basic to the English alphabet aren’t used in Korea, like “f” and “v”. The English language even pairs verbs together that Korean students aren’t used to hearing or saying out loud.

One struggle that a lot of Korean people have with learning English is that certain consonants sound similar to them, and they often get them mixed up with one another:

  • P & B
  • F & V
  • R & L
  • T & D
  • J & Z

Pronunciation of vowels

In Korea, people put stress on vowels when speaking. However, this isn’t common at all in the English language. Many Korean students feel uncomfortable attempting to speak basic English words without putting stress on the vowels.

Putting sentences together

A Korean student can make a point of expanding their English vocabulary, however, they have trouble when they form these words in a sentence. This is because in Korea the sentence falls in a pattern of subject, object, verb. In English, the sequence goes subject, verb, object.

For example, in English you would say “I will be there quickly”, were in Korea it would be worded “I will quickly be there”.

Is English Widely Spoken in South Korea?

While English is a required part of the education system in Korea, it’s rare that an English tourist will find a Korean to have a fluent English conversation with. English is not commonly spoken in South Korea, except for in the city of Seoul.

Many middle aged and older people in Korea did not receive the same English education as the younger generations. They may be able to comment a few English words, but not enough for a spoken conversation.

Can You Get Around Seoul without Speaking Korean?

Seoul has the most English speakers in all of South Korea. In this city, you will find people who speak both languages. Many English tourists visit Seoul to get a taste of Korean lifestyle with confidence that they will still be able to get around speaking English. This is the only Korean city that isn’t hard for English people to get around.

In many bigger shops and restaurants, employees will know basic speech in English to assist tourists. However, locals will likely avoid eye contact so you don’t attempt speaking English with them. Even if they are skilled at reading written English, they find it hard to have a talk one on one with an English person.


Many Korean people are very good at reading and writing in English. The difficulty that they have when learning the English language is spoken. This is because the language rules are a lot different than what they are used to, presenting difficulties with pronunciations.

English is the first new language introduces to students in Korean schools, and they must have a good understanding before choosing new languages to learn as electives. Many Korean students will have a full understanding of English before they approach other languages, such as Chinese and Japanese.

Since English is very important for university and a good career in South Korea, many students take their English classes very seriously.

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    About The Author

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    Jason Park

    Jason has been living in Seoul for over 4 years, and during that time, he has experienced many of the city's hidden stores. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others. Jason has been quoted and referenced by different major media companies like Mashed, Distractify, ThePrint and TastingTable. In his free time, he likes to watch Korean dramas and learn more about Korean culture.

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