The Differences Between the English & Korean Languages


English is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world, along with Mandarin Chinese and Hindi, and is the most common second language. Korean is a language spoken by approximately 80 million people in South and North Korea. These languages have a few things in common, but they differ more than they resemble each other because they do not share a common root.


  • The English language has 20 consonants, 6 vowels, and 1 letter that can stand as either a consonant or vowel, depending on the situation. It was developed to the form that is used today in the 16th century, although its roots go back to the Latin alphabet (which itself can be traced to the Greek alphabet, the source of the word "alphabet" because of the first two letters, alpha and beta).

    Hangul is the name of the Korean alphabet, consisting of 14 consonants and 6 vowels, although there are compound forms of each of these. Unlike English, it is proper to write it both horizontally (left to right) and vertically (top to bottom), though the left-to-right style is more common. It was developed in the 15th century in an attempt to increase national literacy and is considered one of the easiest alphabets to learn.


  • There are a number of phonological, or linguistic syllable, differences between the languages. English relies on accents, while in Korean the accents on different words do not change their meaning or the difficulty in understanding them. This leads Korean speakers of English to sound monotone and English speakers of Korean to sound over accented. In addition, there are a number of sounds that don't exist in the Korean vocabulary, making pronunciation of certain words in English difficult. Among these are the /th/ sound, the /v/ sound pronounced as /b/, and the /f/ sound.


  • There are three primary differences in grammar between Korean and English. The first is that English is a subject-verb-object language, in which a speaker addresses what a subject is going to do to an object. Korean is a subject-object-verb language, in which the speaker addresses the subject, then the object, then the thing that is going to be done.

    In addition, information is added to the end of the verb to make it contextual (such as mood and tense) instead of contained within the sentence. This method of adding information is called "agglutination."

    Korean lacks the requirement of verb tenses to agree with subjects, leading to some difficulty when Korean students mix up tenses in English. There is a similar problem in that Korean does not use the articles "the," "a," or "an." As a whole, grammatical categories and classifications do not directly match up because of the lack of common background, unlike similar languages like English and Spanish or Korean and Chinese.


  • Korean, like many Asian languages, uses a number of honorifics in language to denote social context in conversation. In English this is often handled through tone and body language. As such, while it slightly simplifies the language itself for Koreans because of lack of new vocabulary in this area, it may cause problems to convey social meaning because of the relative monotonicity of their English accent.

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  • 'Basic Korean: A Grammar and Workbook (Grammar Workbooks)'; Andrew Sangpil Byon (2008)
  • Photo Credit alphabet image by Blue Moon from
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