Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Common English mistakes made by Koreans

Here's the question:

I read somewhere that you teach adults. I'm getting ready to start teaching adults in about a week and am worried about my ability to teach them well. What are the most common mistakes they make?

Yes, I do teach adults. I don't, however, teach English conversation anymore. I used to though. When teaching adults, you've got to play the expectations game and identify not only what they want, but what you want for them. This is important. Don't let anybody get away with telling you that they want to be fluent. I don't and they appreciate my honesty.

There were some pretty common mistakes that used to really irk me, but the problem with being a long-term teacher here is that you get used to incorrect English and even Konglish sometimes starts to make sense. That's a problem, so let me give you a quick list of expressions that adults say incorrectly.

The Top Ten

10. "He was died."

9. "I'm going to home."

8. "Are you drunken?"

7. "I was today tired."

6. "I had a lunch/dinner with my friends" or "I took a medicine."

5. "Yesterday I got stress" or "I was stressful in the meeting."

4. "She looks like fat."

3. "Here is a notebook, not a folder."

2. "I have an appointment/promise with a friend." (disputed and possibly okay)

1. "I took a rest all weekend." (disputed)

The most common one that I hear is easily "I took a rest". I don't know who is responsible for it, but I've asked teachers from every eligible nation (minus the Irish) and they always thought it came from some other English-speaking nation. I blame Canada.

We all know the problems with B, V, P, F, R, L and Z, so no need to mention those here.

Any additions? Make sure to check the comments for more.


holterbarbour said...

"Almost Koreans love kimchi."

조안나 said...

I don't teach many adults, but I'm sure kids problems are similar.

"I am go" "She is buy"
"I am interesting for this movie" (interesting/interested, disgusting/disgusted)
"I have a promise with my friend tonight" (because appointment and promise are sometimes used interchangeably in Korean)
Constant confusion between using "a" "the" or omitting the article all together
Plurals (because they are not usually necessary in Korean)
R/L pronunciation (obviously)

but that's just a few... I could go on for days about the errors that they make. It usually has to do with them trying to literally translate Korean into English and it doesn't work.

The Expat said...

Thanks for the additions guys. I'll add them to the original post a little later.

Gomushin Girl said...

Is "I took a rest" incorrect? I've used this most of my life, and I'm a native speaker. Of course, in example one, with the time span of "all weekend" it sounds awkward, but to take a rest seems unproblematic to me in and of itself.

Gomushin Girl said...

I would also say that "I have an appointment with a friend" is also correct usage. Using "promise" sounds odd, but while apointment seems a bit formal, it's not incorrect, either.

The Expat said...

Both "take a rest" and "appointment with a friend" are akward. "I rested/relaxed" is better and "I took a break/nap", while following the same pattern as "take a rest", is much more common and proper.

And of course you can have an appointment with a friend and I guess if you're mentioning your plan to meet a friend while in a formal situation, it would be okay, but again, it's just plain awkard.

Maybe I'm wrong though.

The Expat said...

Alright, I think "take a rest" is more common than I thought.


"Regulars take a rest, but Phillies get win."

"The Bull Market About To Take A Rest..."

"US venture fundraising is going to take a rest for a while."

I wonder why I think that is incorrect. Is it because I hear Koreans say it so often that the reverse has happened and I automatically think it's wrong?

Roboseyo said...

When he said that I was funny.

The movie was long, so I was boring.

my personal favorite:
"Homework makes me feel hard."

The Expat said...

Ha! Well, homework DOES make me feel hard.

I totally forgot about the "I was boring" and "The park was funny" lines. Classic.

kushibo said...

Similar to "he was died" is "He was dead." Either add "to me" and talk about a past conflict, or be discussing Jesus.

Gomushin Girl said...

Of course if you add a time component to "take a rest" it becomes odd, which is probably why it triggers your "this is wrong" response. "I'm going to take a rest" or "It was really hot outside, so I took a rest" are fine, but adding "all weekend" makes it too long a span to be taking "a" rest. In that case you're just resting. "Take a rest" implies a short duration.

saharial said...

"I am boring" is definitely a common one - one of the guest kids on sunday kept saying that (my fault entirely for be unprepared of course lol)

I help some of my friends who are here to study English in the UK so i'll try to make note of anything that comes up ;)

some examples of one who has been here over a year. Ability to learn really does vary...

"when will you come back in YouTube?"

"so I have been feeling very illness."

huangsy said...

"I am boring." is a very common one and I always warn Koreans of the danger of asking "Are you boring?" when they meant "Are you bored?".

Koreans use "to" unnecessarily because of their transliteration of 에게, 한테.

Apart from common mistakes, Koreans tend to be weak in prepositions and particles found in the English language but not in the Korean language.

Just to share, a Korean guy once said "I've not touched you for a long time" when he meant "I've not kept in touch with you for a long time". Dangerous stuff to say to foreign female friends !

kushibo said...

huangsy wrote:
Just to share, a Korean guy once said "I've not touched you for a long time" when he meant "I've not kept in touch with you for a long time". Dangerous stuff to say to foreign female friends !

Heck no. Could be an "innocent" way of finding a way in. If she says "WTF?" you have the "whoops, my English is bad" as a cover. :)

The Expat said...

That's good thinking, Kushibo. Are you saying that you've made that "innocent" mistake before in Korean?;)

J.Han said...

my father, who's lived in the U.S. for 30 years and is fairly fluent in English says "that is DICKLESS!" for (ridiculous) because he finds that word too hard to say. When we (my brother and I) try to correct him, he says "You know what I mean!"

stella said...

i think 'all weekend' is awkward because its supposed to be 'whole weekend' ? correct me if im wrong, reading this post makes me laugh in front of my pc screen like an idiot, reminds me of those day when i just started learning english.

stella said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CactusMcHarris said...

And then there are common English mistakes by native speakers - see if you can find it:

'You don't want to wake up one morning with an extremely soar throat and have to teach all day.'

kushibo said...

Careful there, Cactus. Last time I pointed out that kind of thing, I nearly got my head chewed off. ;)

The Expat said...

Thanks for the correction, Cactus.

I like the blog as well. It's on the sidebar now.

OysterCafe.com said...

A great list.
At OysterCafe.com we have spent many years researching the common mistakes Korean speakers make and we think you have hit the nail on the head with many of your points.
You could add:
"I need to lose my fat."
"I ate delicious food." (Sure, we say it, but not in every context or everyday)

There are so many more, but in general Korean speakers have a great command of grammar, however we would suggest a little more time spent watching TV (no subs) or engaging with native English speakers to help them with their small, but troublesome speaking mistakes.

We would love to hear any ideas you guys have for correcting Korean speakers. If we all work together we can really help the Korean student master English.

If you teach Korean adults and want free materials to help your students then check out our site (www.oystercafe.com) from August 2013.

Keep up the great work and informative posts.

Unknown said...

When asking a Korean a yes or no question, they often answer "Okay!"

This means "Yes!" in Korean-English.

(note: I tried to comment before, but it didn't save, so here it is again. Hope it's not a double up.)

Unknown said...

I think "take a rest" is fine, but treat it as an idiom and maybe it will be easier to understand.


"[uncountable and countable] a period of time when you are not doing anything tiring and you can relax or sleep:
have/take a rest
Why don't you take a rest?"


"rest: [countable, uncountable] a period of relaxing, sleeping or doing nothing after a period of activity

I had a good night's rest.
We stopped for a well-earned rest.

rest (from something)

to have/take a rest from all your hard work"

On another forum someone pointed out:

"It's the same pattern like

take a break
take a trip"


I think "all weekend" sounds weird though. I think it is not used that way in English.

"I took a 5-minute break" or "I took a break for 5 minutes" and
"I took a rest for a few minutes", or "I took a short rest".

Instead of "I took a rest all weekend," one would say "I rested all weekend" more commonly.

Probably there are many more examples one could think of and work out what is the most common usage of "take a rest".

My guess is the most common correct usage is an order/suggestion "(You) take a rest!"