The hardest Korean word to pronounce?

When learning a new language, it is inevitable that you’ll come across words where you’ll think “How on earth do I pronounce that?!” It happens to everyone. You’ll even find words in your own native language that you struggle to verbalize and question if it’s actually a real word. Seriously, HOW do you pronounce “antidisestablishmentarianism”?

We are curious to find out which Korean word our students find the most difficult to pronounce overall and we want you to have your say. We’ve compiled a list of the most common words and phrases that we’ve found our students struggle with in our 1:1 lessons.

종류 = Type, Sort, Kind
You’d be forgiven for pronouncing this word how it’s spelled – as 종류. However, to make it easier to pronounce, its sound is changed to 종뉴. It may make it a tiny bit simpler to sound out, however, the combination of the ㄴ and ㅠ doesn’t make it roll off the tongue, and it can take a few tries to perfect the pronunciation.

종류

꽃 = Flower
If the tensed consonant ㄲ doesn’t give you any pronunciation trouble, the last letter of the word might. Despite it being ㅊ, it is actually pronounced like a cut-off “T” sound.

관리인 = Housekeeper
This is another word that is pronounced differently to how it’s spelled and due to this, it can cause confusion when first encountering the word. While it’s written as 관리인, it is actually pronounced as 괄리인.

관리인

일요일 = Sunday
Although pronouncing this word slowly is rather easy, saying 일요일 at normal speed can be a little bit of a tongue twister. You can thank the combination of the ㅛ sound being placed directly after the ㄹ sound for that.

일요일

지체된 = Delayed
It won’t be surprising if it takes you a couple of attempts to sound out this word perfectly. There may not be any over-complicated letter combinations in this word, but it still feels like a mouthful trying to enunciate it.

지체된

의학 = Medicine
The second syllable of this word is simple to pronounce. However, the trouble usually comes from the diphthong 의. Pronouncing 의 should be like saying the “u” in “pull” and “ee” in “feet” quickly following each other as one sound. When first trying this sound, it is not uncommon for it to be mispronounced as “우이.”

의학

관광객 = Tourist
When trying to sound out this word at first, it can certainly seem like a tongue twister. Although each syllable begins with the same letter, the endings of each syllable is what will catch you out.

관광객

쥐 = Mouse
This word may be short, but that doesn’t make it easy to pronounce. The consonant ㅈ is a cross between the English “J” and “Ch” sound. Combining that with the diphthong 위 which has a similar sound to the “whea” in “wheat” often leads it being wrongly sounded out as either 주이 or 지.

최애 = Bias
When standing alone, 외 has a similar pronunciation to the “we” in “wet,” but combining it with the aspirated consonant ㅊ makes it a little tricky to vocalise correctly. Following this is 애 which is pronounced like the “ai” in the word “main,” but with a shorter sound.

최애

으스스한 = Spooky
Even though 으스스한 is a fun word to say, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to say too. If you can perfect vocalising the vowel 으 correctly, you’ll more than likely sound like a native when pronouncing this word. A tip for this is to pull your lips wide to both sides of your mouth when you voice this letter. However, it is not uncommon for people to make their mouths rounded and pronounce this incorrectly as 우수수한.

으스스한

주원료 = Main Ingredient
Another word that is pronounced different to how it is spelled. Actually pronounced as “주월요,” this can be confusing at first.

주원료

뜻 = Meaning
As if trying to tackle the tricky tensed consonant ㄸ wasn’t hard enough, this letter is followed by the difficult vowel 으 and finished off with a cut-off “T” sound disguised as a ㅅ.

어려워요 = It’s Difficult
This isn’t a word that is composed of hard to pronounce syllables, but it is made up of vowels that are close in sound. Therefore, when saying 어려워요 quickly, you may find that you have trouble differentiating between each of the vowels.

어려워요

신뢰 = Trust
You only have to listen to the native pronunciation to understand how tricky this word is. The consonant ㄹ is hard enough on its own to pronounce without it being joined to the diphthong 외. The troublesome syllable 뢰 is often mispronounced as 루왜.

신뢰

회의 = Conference
Diphthongs are once again the culprit of this word being difficult to articulate correctly. The two syllables contain different sounding vowels, yet it is often incorrectly pronounced as 회외.

회의

경찰청 = Police Station
This is another word that can feel like a bit of a tongue twister. Sounding out each of the syllables on their own shouldn’t cause any issues, but the medley of similar sounding consonants and vowels can make it hard to pronounce when the word is used in a sentence.

경찰청

뇌우 = Thunderstorm
The first syllable of this word can cause you trouble. On its own, the diphthong 외 has a similar pronunciation to the “we” in “wet.” However, trying to pronounce this when combined with ㄴ is a lot more difficult to sound out. Even natives sometimes struggle with this pronunciation.

뇌우

쉽다 = To be easy
다 may be easy to enunciate, but 쉽 is not as effortless. It has a cross between a “shwip” and “sip” sound that makes it hard to nail.

쉽다

가깝다 = To be close
This word may be no trouble for experienced Korean speakers, but when you’re a newbie to the language, this collection of syllables could cause you trouble. When first learning how to sound out double consonants like ㄲ, you may practice pausing for before articulating the sound to give it the tensed sound you’re after. However, as this consonant is placed in the middle of a word, you aren’t given a chance to do so. The fact that the word starts with the plain consonant ㄱ doesn’t aid any help either.

가깝다

어느 = Which
This looks like a pretty straightforward pronunciation, but looks can be deceiving. 어느 includes the tricky vowels 어 and 으 which aren’t found in other languages, leading it often being mispronounced as “오누.”

어느
Do you also find them tricky to get your tongue around? Vote for the three words you find the hardest to articulate in our poll below.

What is the most difficult Korean word to pronounce?

Is there a Korean word that isn’t on the list that you’ve found particularly difficult to pronounce? Let us know in the comments below!

December 4, 2016

2 responses on "The hardest Korean word to pronounce?"

  1. Profile photo of Aaliyah

    Most Korean words are difficult to say!! haha

  2. Profile photo of Anna Katrina

    I know how to read hangeul but this words makes trouble to pronounce. It’s hard that I read it but this is not the right pronunciation

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