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Leon's Blogs

Konglish = Korean-EnglishInterlanguage

Konglish1 = Korean-English Interlanguage
(The focus is on Grammar & Usage)

© 1997-present, by Leon of Leon's Planet

Purpose of This Page

This page is NOT intended to ridicule.  It is a report based upon a 10-year ethnographic, unbiased, and scientific study of Korean-English Interlanguage.  This page is intended to elucidate the common errors that Koreans make when attempting to acquire English as a second or foreign language, and thus, help my beloved Koreans more efficiently and effectively acquire English.  It is specifically hoped that Korean English Teachers view this page and stop perpetuating the errors.

When you are finished with this page, please visit my other Korean-related pages. >>>





My Expat Blog
  (Re: My 10-yr Life in Korea)

Korean Food Translated
  (fairly comprehensive list)

Korean Origins
  (Where did they come from?)

Konglish 1
  (Konglish Interlanguage (This page)

Konglish 2
  (Konglish Lexis)

Konglish 3
  (Konglish Pronunciation)

Korean Dictionary Errors
  (quite the list)

Korean Language Lessons
(by Leon)

 Permission to copy for educational purposes granted, but give credit to me for compiling this list.


Foreword:  What is "Interlanguage"?

Interlanguage is a language created by learners of a second language which is between the target language and the learner's first language (L1).

        There are three parts to interlanguage:

1.  The correct part:  (i.e., the part that is composed of lexis and grammar which is in the target language)

2.  'L1 interference' part:  (i.e., the part that is composed of lexis and/or grammar which is translated directly & incorrectly from the mother tongue (called 'L1 interference')

3.  The fabricated part:  (i.e., the part that is composed of items or "chunks" of language which are neither in the target language nor from L1 interference.

There may be several reasons for fabricated second language:

          3a.  Incorrect hypotheses (틀린가설)

          (hypothesis = a guess about how the target language works)

          3b.  Incorrect reference materials  (틀린 참고서)

          (Example:  incorrect bilingual lexicons)

           3c.  Perpetuation of the misconception about the L2

          (I mean: Incorrect teaching of the Target Language)




Important Notice:

This page contains Korean-English-Interlanguage that cannot be explained by incorrect reference materials (3b above).   Based solely upon my ten years of observations regarding the frequency of the error in collective utterances of English by Korean people, I present the following list, which MUST be accounted for by either L1 interference or incorrect hypotheses about English, and/or the perpetuation of the misconceptions about English.

I have a special page for incorrect reference materials:

Bilingual Dictionary Errors





Interlanguage Item
Why is this a K1
interlanguage item?
The Correction
(correct English)
to be sick Koreans generally think that 'to be sick' = 'to hurt' v.i. =
아프다.  This is strange because the bilingual dictionaries are actually correct in the #2 sense of the item (next box) 
1. have a cold, flu, or upset stomach (감기 걸리다 나 배가 아프다)

2.  have a disease (병이 있다)

*   Correction
public officer Koreans generally think that 'public officer' means 'public official' = 공무원.  This is also strange because the bilingual dictionary is correct. officer = level in military or police force (장교)

official = 1.usually high ranking civil servant (고급 공무원); 2.  a judge in a sports event (경기 임원)

*   Correction
senior Koreans have a word which has a broader usage than that of "senior".

It is 선배 (seon-bae).

It is a Sino-Korean word composed of two morphemes: 선 (first) & 배 (fellow, mate)

The Korean word seon-bae can be used in place of any of the words to the right

elder (generally (but not always) used in a ecclesiastical or theocratic setting)

senior (generally (but not always) used in a business company setting)

superior (generally used in a business setting)

predecessor (generally used for one who is dead, or no longer practicing a particular profession)

upper classmate (used for a mate who is in the same university as you, but has more years of study under his belt)

elder alumnus /alumna (used for a mates who graduated from the same university as you, but graduated earlier)

*   Correction
junior Koreans have a word which has a broader usage than that of "junior".  It is the opposite of 선배.

It is 후배 (hu-bae).

It is a Sino-Korea word composed of two morphemes: 후 (after) & 배 (fellow, mate).

The Korean word hu-bae can be used in place of any of the words to the right 

younger generation (used quite broadly for those of at least a 10-20 year age gap)

junior (generally used (but not always) in a business company setting)

inferior (not commonly used in any situation)

lower classmate (used for a mate in the same university, who has less years of study under his belt)

younger alumnus /alumna (used for one who graduated from the same university, but graduated later than you did)

to have  For some reason, Koreans have been taught that "have" means "eat".  So, it is not uncommon to hear a Korean say, "What did you have today?"  or "Let's have something."  Of course, the native speaker doesn't understand these sentences, because have does NOT mean eat. "Have" means "have" (가지다).  So, one should say, "What did you have for lunch today?"  or "Let's have something to eat."
training (or sometimes:  "O.T.", which stands for Orientation Training, but often is reduced to "training").  A Canadian acquaintance of mine was told before coming to Korea that he would receive training about teaching.  He had had no experience in teaching before.  So, he really needed training.  When he arrived in Korea, the 'training' that he received was nothing more than 'orientation'. Korean "Training" = English "Orientation"
I'm gonna Italy next month. This a funny one!  Makes me laugh every time I hear/read it.

Of course it is an overgeneralization of the reduction:  going to = gonna.

gonna = 'going to' ONLY when followed by an infinitive verb.

Example:  I'm gonna eat Italian food tomorrow.

He's a bad boy.  (meaning:  He was a bad boy). Another overgeneralization.  This time it is an overgeneralization of English contractions. Sorry, folks, but there are no past tense contractions (like the one to the left)!!!

*Well, it is possible to contract auxiliary verbs with the negative adverb "not", (like: didn't, couldn't, wouldn't, etc.)

But, you cannot (can't) contract a subject with a main verb in the past tense.

I don't have to + infinitive verb
{meaning:  I have to not + infinitive verb}
Improper syntax for the meaning intended (it is probably a result of incorrect hypothesis regarding the Target Language) The following structure:

subj. + don't/doesn't have to + infinitive verb

means:  안 해 도 된다

But the following structure:

subj. + have to not + infinitive verb

means:  하면 안 된다

NOTE:  the following structure:

subj. + must not + infinitive verb

is much more commonly used.

    Correct Definition
I became to + infinitive verb
{meaning:  I came to + infinitive verb}
Improper lexical item (it is possibly a result of L1 interference, or improper teaching, or both) "Become" functions like the verb "Be" in that it must collocate with a an adjective or noun [Become + adjective or noun].

If you wish to collocate with a verb, you need "come" [come to + infinitive verb].


I became angry.

I became a Korean (in heart).

I came to hate Western food.

I came to like kimchi.

inform sth improper direct object the direct object (which in this case (and usually) MUST come first) is a person or group of persons.
enjoy-하다 Koreans sometimes say:

"enjoy hada"  (combining the English verb "enjoy" with the Korean verb "do")  When this is done, it means "have sex".

First of all, you can see that combing two verbs thusly is a grammatical atrocity.  Secondly, the meaning of "enjoy" is construed to signify a very specific meaning.  So, it is not uncommon for a Korean to misunderstand a native speaker when he/she says, "Let's enjoy ourselves."
several Koreans sometimes use the word "several" to mean:


"something to the nth degree"

"unspecified number of"

This is not necessarily because the bilingual dictionary is wrong, because the closest definition is given, however the Korean words, "myeot myeochi" or "su-gae-eui"  have a much broader usage than the English word, "several".

Several and Few mean a specified number (ie, from 3 to 5)

The difference between the two words in NOT in the number, but in the "feeling"; "few" carries a negative connotation and "several" has neither a negative nor a positive connotation.

Hence it is usually said,

"I have only a few ((sth))",

meaning I should have more, or would like to have more.

While, when one says,

"I have several ((sth))",

it means I have enough.

I cannot listen to English. This is partly from a bilingual dictionary error, and partly from the fact that "listen" doesn't really have an equivalent word in Korean. I personally think it unlikely that any language has an equivalent word to "listen".  Any one who can hear, can listen.  "To Listen" means to hear AND try to understand.  It does NOT necessarily mean that one understands.

Koreans have a compound verb:
"know-hear", which means to hear and know what is being communicated.  They often think that "listen" has the same meaning.  Unfortunately, English has no compound verbs, so we have to say, "Listen and comprehend".

first, second, third grade of middle or high school This is from L1 interference. In the English-speaking West, we do not start over counting grades in middle or high school.  We go straight 1-12.

The only difference between US and Canada is the grammar:

US:  first grade, second grade, etc.

Canada:  grade 1, grade 2, etc.





"Why Koreans Can't English"

by Leon

If you are an English teacher in the Republic of Korea, how many times have you heard, "I can't English" or "I can English a little."  I have heard those two expressions too many times for it to be an individual error.  I have come to discover that it is a form of interlanguage which is caused by collective faulty teaching in Korea.  Let me show you what has happened and is happening.

Koreans love to use their L1 (mother tongue) to explain English grammar.  That's not the problem, necessarily.  The problem is how they use their L1 to explain various English grammar points.

You see, they will translate certain phrases with what's called "free translation" and tell their students that it is what's called a "literal translation".  At this time, I have to stop and explain these terms.

There are 3 kinds of translations:

1.  word-for-word translation

2.  literal translation

3.  free translation

Let me give you some examples:

Let's use the following Korean sentence:

          " 수영할 있다."

I'll transliterate that for you expats that cannot read it:

          "Naneun  suyeonghal  suga   itda."

1.  A word-for-word translation would look like this:

          "Myselfswimming  capability  exists."

2.  A literal translation would look like this:

          "With regard to myself, a swimming capability exists."

or equally:  "In my case, there is a swimming capability."

3.  A free translation would look like this:

          "I can swim."

As you can plainly see, the word-for-word translation doesn't make a lot of sense.  The literal translation makes sense, but we don't use that particular structure in English.  In the free translation, surface structure is completely disregarded and only meaning is translated.

So, as aforementioned above, Korean English teachers collectively and grossly erroneously teach their students that "naneun" is the subject of the sentence above.  Then, they grossly erroneously teach that the phrase "~hal suga eopda." means can't.

So, why do Koreans say, "I can't English"?  Because in the Korean language, it is said,

          "  엉어 할    없다."  (naneun yeongeoreul hal suga oepda.)

1. word-for-word trans:

          naneun = myself +neun (the emphatic particle)
          yeongeo-hal = English-doing
          suga = capability +ga (
the subject particle)
          eopda = doesn't exist.

2.  literal translation:

          In my case, English-speaking capability doesn't exist.

3.  free translation:

          I can't speak English.

So, what's the problem?  The problem is two-fold:

1. Koreans are taught that "naneun" is the subject = "I"

2. Koreans are taught that  "~hal suga eopda" means "can't"

So by default, the subject of the sentence [the true subject] becomes the object.  And you get:  "I can't English."

If you are confused out of you gourd, I understand.  You have to pretty much be bilingual in English and Korean to see my point.

I put neun in italics (above), because it is what's called a particle.  A particle has no meaning by itself.  It must be attached to something.  It is also a kind of suffix, which means it can only be attached to the end of a word.  Many Koreans think that it is a subject particle, but it isn't!  According to a Dr. of Linguistics (Dr.C.J.Ramstedt), it is called the emphatic particle.

I put ga in italics (above), because is the subject particle.

I put reul in italics (above), because that is the object particle.

So, what some KOREAN ENGLISH TEACHERS were trying to tell me once, was that in the above example, the Korean people defy all rules of linguistics and Universal Grammar, and suddenly change their emphatic particle to a subject particle, the subject to an auxiliary verb, and the object of the present-participle-adjective into the the object of the sentence.

Nice try, guys, but I DON'T THINK SO.

I'm sorry, but the rules of YOUR OWN grammar do NOT change so drastically just to fit your personal world view of language.

Korean English teachers confuse the sense out of them with faulty grammar explanations AND do them great disservice by omitting the word-for-word and literal translations.

Dr. C.J.Ramstedt, who has written a book, entitled:  "A Korean Grammar", originally published in 1939, explains what I just explained about all the particles.  [I have the 1997 English edition, published by The Finno-Ugrian Society, in Helsinki.]

So, what I'm suggesting is that if a teacher of English wishes to use translation in order to convey meaning, he/she SHOULD teach in a progression from...

word-for-word translation literal translation free translation.

The reason I suggest this, is because it is imperative that Students SEE and COMPREHEND the capacities of a language in all its variableness.  It is not wrong to say, for instance,

"In my case, there is a swimming capability."

And if I were to hear that sentence, I would praise the student for making a grammatically correct sentence.  Then, I would explain that there is another, more-common way to express that thought: "I can swim."

Yet, not once in my eight years of TEFL in Korea have I ever heard a Korean use the structure:

"In my case, there is [present-participle adj.] capability."

Instead, I hear the following structure:

"I can (or cannot) [+ object]" (no verb)

...all the bloody time.  And, frankly, it still hurts my ears to hear it.

The problem of using a free translation ONLY, of course translates to a whole slew of English errors.

I hear stuff like:  "I am hard to English."

Well, I'd better save that for another essay.

Cheers, Leon
July 5, 2003
updated:  Jan. 7, 2004



"Why Koreans are hard to English"

by Leon

The problem is unintelligible English.

The cause is wrong teaching regarding subjects and objects of a sentence.

AND, the cause of such erroneous teaching can be traced back to a small particle that does not exist in English.  However, although it does not exist in English, It is not untranslatable, but Koreans just don't know how to translate it.  The particle that I refer to is the ~neun / ~eun particle.  (After a vowel, ~neun; and after a consonant, ~eun).

Before I go any further, it would expedient for me to explain that Korean is a SOV language and English is a SVO language.

SOV = Subject, Object, Verb
SVO = Subject, Verb, Object

The ~ / ~ (~neun / ~eun) particle is linguistically classified as the 'emphatic particle' (C.J.Ramstedt, 1939).  In English class, Koreans are taught (much to the chagrin of the Korean Grammar teachers, I'm sure) that it is the 'subject particle'.

(I don't even think it can even be attached to a subject). [See addendum/erratum below].

Let me show you with a very common example:

"내가  너를  사랑해요."

("Naega  Neoreul  saranghaeyo.")

Now, if you recall from the previous essay, ~ga is the subject particle and ~reul  is the object particle.

Word-for-word translation:

"I [+subject particle] you [+object particle] love [v.t.]."

BUT, before I go any further, it is imperative that you understand that in Korean, one can drop the subject (anytime) and drop the object (when known).

So, it would be entirely correct to say:  "saranghaeyo."

translation:  "... love [v.t.]."

...and if there are only two people in the room, the speaker and the interlocutor, it is obvious what the subject and object are.  To actually speak the subject and the object in such a situation would be so unnecessary that it would actually hurt the interlocutor's ears.


It is also said:

"나는  너를  사랑해요."

("Naneun  neoreul  saranghaeyo.")


- Korean English teacher's word-for-word translation:

"I [+emphatic particle]  you [+object particle]  love [v.t.]."


- Korean English teacher's explanation:

In this case, the ~neun particle is functioning as a subject marker.


- My word-for-word translation:

"In my case, you [object]  love [v.t.]."

[italics for emphasis]


- My explanation:

In this case, the actual subject of the sentence has been dropped,
which is perfectly grammatical in the Korean language.


- My literal translation:

"In  my  case,  love  you." 

[You see, in English it is NOT appropriate to drop the subject, with very few exceptions, which I won't bother going into right now.  Italics are for emphasis].


- My free translation:

 "  love   you."

[Italics signify emphasis]


With my explanation, Korean English students won't be saying unintelligible crap like:  "I am hard to English."

Let me explain why Koreans say that.

It is basically because their teachers have taught them that the ~neun particle functions as a subject sometimes.

In Korean, it is said:

"나는  영어가  어려워요."

("Na-neun  yeong-eo-ga  eoryeoweoyo.")


correct WORD-FOR-WORD translation:

Na-neun = First person (+ emphatic particle)

yeong-eo-ga = English-language (+ subject particle)

eoryeoweoyo = be hard (be difficult)


correct LITERAL translation:

"In my case, the English language is hard (is difficult)."


correct FREE translation:

"English is hard for me."


You see, the place where Koreans go wrong, is that they think that the ~neun particle functions as a subject in English (which it doesn't), then by default the true subject becomes the object of the sentence.  Now is that f-ed up or what?

This what goes through the Korean's mind when they translate from Korean to English:

Korean's WORD-FOR-WORD translation:

     Na-neun = I (subject)
     yeong-eo-ga = English (orig. subject, but becomes object by default)
     eoryeoweoyo = am hard ("am" chosen for subject-verb agreement)

Then, Korean's LITERAL translation:

     I am hard to English.  (because they know English is a SVO language.)

Forget about FREE translation.  The concept of a "free translation" does not exist in the Korean collective mind.

[Interpolatively, I'd like to clarify something.  It might sound like I'm railing on the Koreans.  I am NOT.  I love the Korean people with all my heart.  I'm just explaining in a purely objective manner why they make the errors that they do.  The screwed up part of it all is that nobody in fifty bloody years has analyzed these egregious collective errors in the Collective Korean Interlanguage System.]

Hopefully, you can see what a disservice it is to teach ONLY a FREE translation, without first teaching a LITERAL translation (and I mean a CORRECT literal translation).

More often than not, the literal translation is fine (if it is a CORRECT one).  Often, it need not be (and sometimes verily cannot be) reduced into a free translation.


Cheers, Leon
July 15, 2003
updated: Jan. 7, 2004


Addendum / Erratum

I must apologize and correct an error above.  I wrote:  "I don't even think it [-eun/-neun particle] can even be attached to a subject."  Well, there is ONE case where it IS attached to a subject.  That is the case with the copula (the "coupling").  The copula couples two nouns and equates them.  In case you haven't figured out which word I'm referring to, it's the "be" verb (or in Korean: "ida").

Now remember that Korean is a SVO language.

So, the sentence: "I am a student." would roughly look like this in Korean:

     I+neun (emphatic particle) student+i (subject marker) am (copula).

In such a case where the copula is used, the subject of the sentence uses the emphatic particle and the subject compliment (predicate nominative) uses the subject marker.

This is the ONLY exception that I can find (after eight years of searching) to my aforementioned declaration: "I don't even think it can be attached to a subject".

Even so, I still wonder if the real subject of the sentence just hasn't been dropped (and completely lost over time).  Or perhaps it never existed.  I don't know.  But, I'm not all that opposed to exceptions to linguistic "rules", because English is full of them.



My Expat Blog
  (Re: My 10-yr Life in Korea)

Korean Food Translated
  (fairly comprehensive list)

Korean Origins
  (Where did they come from?)

Konglish 1
  (Konglish Interlanguage (This page)

Konglish 2
  (Konglish Lexis)

Konglish 3
  (Konglish Pronunciation)

Korean Dictionary Errors
  (quite the list)

Korean Language Lessons
(by Leon)


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