In Korea, like many other non-English speaking nations, English is not an elective but a required course, as it has become the dominant lingua franca of the world of commerce and information. In particular, for many jobseekers in university, English-language proficiency is a crucial requirement for improving your future prospects.
Foreign language test scores - e.g., TOEIC(Test of English for International Communication) and TOEFL(Test(ing) of English as a Foreign Language) - on your resume will provide evidence of your linguistic ability. After entering a company, you also need to study English to pass an for promotion.
To a great extent, English education focuses on exam preparation, rather than real communication. So, the more we spend our money on English institutes and private tutoring, the less the students become fluent in English. What a bizarre situation it is!
As we learn English as a foreign language - in a situation where our mother tongue is not English and we learn English in a non-English speaking community - we must reconsider the purpose of this study once again.
So, what is our main purpose in struggling to attain English competence? Simply to communicate with people of other nationalities both literarily and colloquially. In this column, you can find two ways of acquiring living English. First, listen to and produce English pronunciation correctly. Next, learn about English-speaking cultures.
Give your ear to English
Every language has its own arbitrary symbols or words to express the meaning of an object or an idea. English has its unique phonetic system and it is considerably dissimilar from that of Korean. Nevertheless, when we hear English speakers say something, Koreans tend to listen to it through the phonetic system of Korean. The purpose of practicing correct English pronunciation lies, of course, not in practicing itself but in communicating in English more effectively.
You can test whether your English pronunciation is controlled by your mother tongue by the following example tests. First of all, freely pronounce the name of the Beegees’ song, ‘How deep is your love’. And remember or record the sound of your utterance of it. You may read the title like or The latter pronunciation is not appropriate in English. In this case, you cannot change the sound [p] into [b] in the intervocalic position. However, Koreans are apt to read it like the latter example. Secondly, read the following phrases: summer vacation, running dog, and prosecutors say... If you read the word summer like and running like you pronounced them right.
But some of you may mispronounce those words: for a word summer and for the word running. In English, when you articulate double consonants in a word, you don’t need to read the same consonant twice but just once. This principle can be applied to more extended boundaries, that is, at the sentence level. In the third instance above, when native speakers speak, we can hardly hear the final sound of the plural [s] in the word ‘prosecutors’.
Thus, in spoken English, even across the boundary between two words, geminate consonants can be realized no more than once. You also need to acknowledge the fact that in American English, words are not pronounced one by one. Usually, the end of one word attaches to the beginning of the next word.
On a broader level, communication through the use of the spoken language means understanding and reacting to what someone says.
Therefore, on the basis of your listening ability, you can respond or make a statement as a reaction. In the course of speaking, you can feel the rhythm of speech of English, which is somewhat different from ours. For example, English language is characterized by stress, rhythm, pauses, and intonation while Korean rarely includes rhythmical units. Second language learning means practicing the language’s way of using the vocal tract consistent with its vowel and consonant inventory and its phonological rules.
Read up on the background of the English language
Language learning includes not only developing speaking skills but also acquiring culture, gestures, and spoken expressions which give added meaning to the words and sentences. For example, one English expression, ‘That is (all) Greek to me’ means ‘I can’t understand what you are talking about.’
Maybe most members of the English-speaking community have a little information about the Greek language but not enough to master this language of a far away place on the Balkan Peninsula.
One more English expression, ‘Every Jack has his Jill.’ In this proverb Jack carries the meaning of an ordinary man, like Gapdori in Korean. And, as you may already have guessed, Jill means an ordinary woman, like Gapsooni in Korean. Language is a specific feature of a community’s culture and it reflects the life of its users.
In our life here in Seoul in this year of 2002, our society places a high value on things that bring back an immediate payoff. But in this merry-go-round world, ironically, the best way to gain an enviable command of English as a foreign language is to constantly persevere in your efforts to obtain an extensive knowledge of English and knowledge of the culture of English language communities.
We must be encouraged to study foreign languages indefatigably even if progress seems glacially slow.
All things are difficult before they become easy. Dive into the world of exotic languages and enjoy yourself!