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120 Days to TOPIK #8 – Fix your Accent by learning the right WAY to pronounce words


An accurate accent is powerful because it is the ultimate gesture of empathy. It connects you to another person’s culture in a way that words never can, because you have bent your body as well as your mind to match that person’s culture…

People with strong foreign accents are frequently treated as less adept at the language (and less intelligent as a person) than they are…

Impressions matter, and your accent makes your first impression in any language. A good accent can make the difference between a conversation that starts in [Korean] and ends in English, and a full conversation in [Korean].
Fluent Forever

Yesterday, we talked about ear training to improve your listening. Today’s post is about mouth training to remove or significantly reduce your foreign accent.

Side note:


And just as a side note, bad accents is one of my biggest pet peeves from any foreign language learners. It absolutely drives me nuts when my bi-lingual high-schoolers start speaking in Konglish to each other – or me – when they have already developed perfectly good North American English accents. Rather than “Teacher, sorry, I forgot my homework” they say, “Tee-chuh, Ah-ee, poe-got-eh, mah-ee, ho-muh-ke.”

In the same manner, intermediate and advanced Korean learners who never unlearned bad speaking habits they learned as a beginner and still speak with a thick foreign accent also make me flinch every time they speak. It’s like, “Well, you know a ton of good STUFF to help you string together long phrases – but you still sound like you don’t really know how to communicate well.”

So… let’s get that foreign accent worked out from the beginning.


THREE muscle areas train your mouth:

Effective mouth training will help you learn how to position and use three parts of your body that help produce sound:

  1. Your lips
  2. Your tongue
  3. Your vocal chords

THREE effective methods to train your mouth:

To learn the proper shape of your lips, placement of your tongue, and use of your vocal chords, the following two methods will help immensely:

  1. Carefully observe native speaker mouths and the position of their lips and tongues as they speak – do your best to mimic their mouth movements as they produce sounds and sentences
  2. Learn the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and how it can help you appropriately position your mouth to produce the correct accent
  3. Back-chain long words, difficult phrases, or even tongue twisters together to help learn them more easily and efficiently

#1: Mimicry

I’ve previously written a Post on the power of mimicry and how to put it to use to learn a language.

Check it out in the 30-Day Korean Speaking Challenge here:

#2: The International Phonetic Alphabet

Why learn ANOTHER new alphabet? Here’s a good example as pointed out in Forever Fluent:

English has more than TEN ways to spell the “oo” sound in “too”, but in the IPA, there’s only ONE spelling – it’s always “u”:

  1. food → fud
  2. dude → dud
  3. flu → flu
  4. flew → flu
  5. fruit → fɹut
  6. blue → blu
  7. to → tu
  8. shoe → ∫u
  9. move → muv
  10. tomb → tum
  11. group → grup
  12. through → Ɵɹu

So, although you would need to invest some time into learning the IPA, in the end, it should help to make your learning happen faster and more efficiently – because once you KNOW the proper pronunciations (and lip, tongue, and vocal chord actions for each), you’ll be able to learn new words correctly the first time through.


Source: Korean Wiki Project
  1. Fluent Forever provides an excellent guide to the IPA in Appendix 4
  2. The Korean Wiki Project has an extensive table with the IPA pronunciation guide
  3. Wikipedia has a (long, academic) article on Korean phonology
  4. The standardized Korean pronunciation guide (in Korean) is available on the Korean Wiki Source site
  5. There’s also a Memrise Course on the Korean pronunciation IPA
  6. KafeChew provides more IPA tables AND a lengthy list of Korean words (in alphabetical order) to show the full combination of sounds
  7. The Korean Wiktionary also has a good guide (in Korean) of IPA pronunciation guidelines

#3: Back-chaining Words

Usually when we come across a new (long) word we don’t know (like “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious“), we start at the beginning and try to work our way through the pronunciation to the end. Gabriel Wyner in Forever Fluent says that this is actually the OPPOSITE of what we should do:

Go backward. Say the END of the word, and then add one letter at a time until you can say the whole thing.

Why start at the end?

This makes it easier and easier to finish the word correctly and automatically… By making the END of a word as easy and familiar as possible, you’ll never get lost on the way there.

Additionally, as he points out, this kind of “back-chaining is the cheat code for tongue twisters.”


  1. Here’s a VERY interesting page with Korean pronunciation practice using both minimal pairs AND tongue twisters (we found it yesterday while searching for minimal pairs)
  2. Check out our Expressions pages for useful Korean idioms to try this back-chaining process with


Using one (or more) of the Resources listed above, work on your pronunciation and Korean accent today.

Generally, we all know our weaknesses, so ask for help specifically on those things you know you need to improve. But there also may be some things you THINK you pronounce well that a native speaker would disagree with you on. So, ask a Korean friend to listen to your pronunciation and coach you.

Over to you

How is your Korean pronunciation? I know mine stinks when it comes to ㅅ/ㅆ so I asked for specific help on that yesterday. My wife ran me through some of the tongue twisters on the afore-mentioned page and double-checked my pronunciation (and corrected it) for all of them. How are you going to improve your pronunciation?

Let me know in the Comments below or on social media using the hashtag: #120TOPIK

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3 thoughts

  1. You are right- one of the best ways to get rid of an accent is by mimicry! The best way to develop a real ear for the language is to watch a lot of movies and listen to music. I did this with Russian and began to notice different accents within the language itself! Mastering an accent is one the hardest things to do in a language, but with time and patience, you can accomplish anything!

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