Barriers in Learning Foreign Languages - The UOS Times
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Barriers in Learning Foreign Languages
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[0호] 승인 2006.06.08  
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We have heard about difficulties in studying English. Generalized in a broad perspective, they seem to stem from three barriers in the process.

It is reported that a significant gap intervenes between speaking and listening; sounds the native speaker use appear to be different from what they think of them. The aspect is often ignored, and may be overcome with unconditioned exposure to the language.

In addition, as far as English is concerned, the spoken version quite differs from the written one. But what we have learned from reading is assumed to be the main key to speaking fluently. It is also true that structural systems interfere with effective learning between Korean and English. They, however, are even dismissed from school classrooms. These myths often blocks us from learning a foreign language, especially English.

We have had prejudice on speaking and listening; they are nothing more than just the different sides of the same coin. A couple of misled assumptions arise from the bias. First, the phonetic values of sounds in the target and native tongues are assumed to be symmetric. Put in terms of the phonetic jargon, they are to be articulated at the same place, and manner.

For instance, Korean ‘¤²’ is assumed to be very similar to ‘b’ in English. But they are different in manners of pronouncing. In addition, sounds change when they are inserted into a context. In other words, sounds vary depending on neighboring sounds. The ‘p’ of English, for example, should be pronounced in three ways: an aspirated ‘p’ in the initial position of a word, an unaspirated ‘p’ after the initial ‘s’, and an unreleased ‘p’ at the end of a word.

They are quite distinctive units in the light of the Korean sound system, but native speakers of English treat them as an one sound. This shows that spoken phones can be divergent from the listened ones.

However, this is not reflected in the education of English. As a natural result, the students are lost between speaking and listening. Another important problem is that we teach how to speak with reading materials. When it comes to certain limited expressions, reading parallels speaking. But it is not the case at all situations. Typical counter evidence is the length of a sentence.

Let’s have a look at the following sentence: Against that dreary background of official hubris, myopia and duplicity, it seems odd that former Senator Bob Kerrey is hitting newspaper headlines and television screens because of the revelation that his team of Navy SEALs killed innocent women and children while on a mission in the Mekong Delta.

The sentence consists of 47 words. It is not easy to find such a sentence in a normal discourse. In addition, highly sophisticated words are to be employed to avoid repetition of the same words in paragraphs, while the same words are freely used in speaking.

The following is an example. Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy deepened our involvement, reiterating the “domino theory”, the dubious notion that the collapse of Vietnam would spark a global wave of communist triumphs.

As he escalated the commitment, Lyndon Johnson cautioned, in his typically gaudy rhetoric, that defeat would compel us to retreat to the beaches of Waikiki; In this passage, ‘involvement’ and ‘commitment’ mean almost the same thing. Those words are chosen since it is not desirable to repeat the same word in a paragraph and it is recommended to select a synonym. All in all, it would be very awkward if you use such a long sentence and various synonyms in a conversation.

The structural system of a language, often called the grammar, reflects the syntactic characteristics of the language. It is an useful tool, like a map or compass, with which you can find a route in a deep jungle. Suppose you walk into a primeval forest without it. You may go astray within a few minutes. Grammatical knowledge is a kind of a helpful instrument in the primitive jungle of decoding what English people deliver through speaking and writing.

It is also true in encoding your message in the language. Syntactic gap is deep between Korean and English. It is necessary to overcome the obstacle of English grammar in order to arrive at the goal of learning English. Assume you are asked to describe semantic differences between the following simple sentences.

(a) John eats breakfast.
(b) John is eating breakfast.

How can you point out them? You have to depend on the grammatical information of the tense system in English. Much attention should be paid on grammatical modes of English that are significantly different from those of Korean.

We have discussed about three factors which should be taken into consideration while studying English. Each appears to play like a building block in acquiring linguistic competence of the language. However, it is more important to keep balance or harmony between the modules to attain the summit.
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