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30-Day Challenge

30-Day Challenge: Day #29 – Why reading aloud and dramatizing your speech can improve your Korean


The above video looks like it features the current head of the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO): Charm Lee.

Mr. Lee is fluent in at least 3 languages – as he was born in Germany in 1954, became a naturalized Korean citizen in 1986, and as head of the KTO now also works and interviews well in English (see the interview below).

  1. CNN Interview with Charm Lee – part 1
  2. CNN Interview with Charm Lee – part 2
  3. CNN Interview with Charm Lee – part 3

Mr. Lee’s Korean acting brings up a great question: Have you ever dramatized your own voice in the foreign language you’re studying? Have you ever “voice acted” in Korean?

I think those are some great questions because honestly, most of the time, particularly when we begin studying a foreign language, we don’t dramatize our speech. We start off with the basics:

  1. The alphabet
  2. Vocabulary
  3. Learning how to sound out words as we read them
  4. Grammatical structures
  5. Basic reading material
  6. Some exercises or journal writing

And most of the time, when we read or speak aloud, we do so (at least I do so) with a rather straight, monotone, evenly spaced pronunciation of many of the words we read and speak. Or at least, we give our voices far less inflection than native speakers. Consider the following questions:

  1. Have you ever paid attention to the sound of your own voice as you speak a foreign language?
  2. Does it have the same flow and infection a native speaker’s would?
  3. If you read something aloud and find many new words, does it take you time to sound those out?
  4. Do you only read over those words once and then move on?
  5. OR do you read the words once for pronunciation and then re-read the sentence with proper intonation and inflection?
  6. Have you ever paid attention to a non-native reading aloud in YOUR native language?
  7. Have you ever just wished that they used more emphasis on some of the key words that you would use as you read it?

This is something I’ve only started to notice recently. Most learners of Korean (unless they are higher Intermediate or Advanced learners) don’t add emphasis and proper inflection or proper pauses in speech as they read things aloud (or even as they speak freely). The same is definitely true of most English learners. When students read something aloud, they don’t read with gusto and emotion, they just read the words on the page. 

However, since that’s not the way fluent Korean (or English) speakers actually speak, it’s also not an effective way to read things aloud. The following are the best tips for dramatizing your own speech and reading aloud to sound more like a native speaker:

1. It requires adequate LISTENING

You’ll never know what the proper pronunciation of words are, how they blend and flow together with preceding and later words, nor the proper pauses in speech unless you listen, listen, listen. The more you listen, the more you’ll start to hear the way words are supposed to sound. Then when you read those same words aloud, you’ll be able to do so with the same pronunciation you’ve heard over and over again. (This is similar to the concept of mimicking.)

2. Practice, practice, PRACTICE

A single reading is never enough to get the proper emphasis and inflection. Usually, the first reading is merely to help you 1) identify words, 2) understand the context, and 3) sound out new words. Re-read the same passage or sentence one, two, or three times until you feel that you’ve got the proper pronunciation and flow down.

3. REPETITION is key

The reason native speakers sound like natives is the simple fact that they’ve had hours and hours and years and years of repetitive practice. Likely, every phrase you hear coming out of their mouths has been spoken in the same way 10,000 times before.

This is a notion I’ve just picked up on as I’m reading my 2-year-old bedtime stories in Korean. We typically read the SAME stories every SINGLE night. But, I’ve noticed that the more I read them, the more comfortable I become with the same phrases used over and over again, and the more emphasis and inflection (and character voices) I can implement.

4. STORIES are the best practice

Typically, factual, informational, or news stories aren’t great for practicing inflection and dramatizing your speech because typically, those stories on TV news are read with little emotion or inflection. The BEST things to read aloud, practice with, and dramatize are stories. These stories can be:

  1. Children’s stories like fairy tales (kids love emphasis)
  2. Fictional stories (with lots of good dialogue)
  3. Example conversations (depicting story-lines of some kind) in textbooks or practice tests. Simply find the written conversation, listen to the audio provided, then re-read the written conversation with the same (or greater) inflection and emphasis. (Again, practice mimicking.)


#29: Choose a written dialogue or story to dramatize aloud. Learn it, listen to it from a native speaker, then practice speaking it again and again until your emphasis and inflection match the native speaker’s.

Hashtags today are:

#k2k3029 #voiceactor


1. Books with audio

Any number of textbooks (or storybooks) with audio MP3s or CDs included are great for this exercise. I’ve recently been using the scripts in the Appendix and audio from the Complete Guide to the TOPIK: Basic to re-read and practice my dramatic voice in the dialogues:

Complete Guide to the TOPIK: Basic

2. Story-telling websites

Additionally, children’s story-telling websites like Naver Junior are great. (Study categories | Stories site)

Screen shot 2013-07-20 at 6.35.36 AM

But, you should be sure that you choose a story with subtitles (자막) like the one below.

Screen shot 2013-07-20 at 6.38.01 AM

You can:

  1. Look for a story that is in the younger category of viewers (0-3세) – you can find the age listing in the upper left corner in the blue bubble.
  2. Watch the story over a few times to become familiar with it.
  3. Try to follow along with the subtitles.
  4. Eventually try to read aloud along with the subtitles (though some of them are quite quick).
  5. Finally, try to MUTE the sound and just read the subtitles yourself.

You might have to do a little looking for some good ones that you can follow along with well. Additionally, some of the stories do offer the ability to PAUSE, while some do not. You’ll just have to search.

3. Talk to Me in Korean’s Iyagi (Intermediate ~ Advanced learners)

Finally, I’ve recently stumbled across TTMIK’s Iyagi series which is a discussion between two people in 100% Korean. Each episode in the series includes an audio MP3 download as well as a full PDF of the entire discussion. I’m planning to start working on these immediately after the TOPIK test and this 30-Day Challenge are complete.

Screen shot 2013-07-20 at 6.53.57 AM

Have you ever tried to dramatize your voice in Korean? Have you ever practiced OVER-emphasizing your pronunciation?

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