Levels of English in Korea – Park Yoochun in “Miss Ripley”

It’s always a plus for Korean celebrities if they can speak English well. At least, a glowing article about it always seems to surface, commenting on how impressive the actor or actress is. I remember spotting something a few years ago when Andy, the youngest member of boy band Shinhwa, had his own ten-second segment of English.

The most recent fuss has been over Park Yoochun, former Dong Bang Shin Ki (DBSK) and current JYJ member. For those who don’t remember, DBSK was the biggest boy band of the current K-pop generation until three of the members, including Yoochun, decided to engage in legal action against their entertainment company. Since then, the three boys have been effectively barred from music activities and Korean broadcast. Having been forced to turn to other outlets, each has been venturing into different fields, and Park Yoochun has been fairly successful having entered into the world of Korean dramas. Acting is not at all a bad choice though. While  most Asian pop stars have a finger in all parts of the entertainment pie, the move from music to acting seems almost necessary in Korea with idol careers having such short life spans.

To be honest, as a past fan, Park Yoochun has always been my least favorite member of DBSK. But it’s interesting, and a good thing, I think, to see how these three are doing outside of and in spite of the antagonism from their former entertainment company, the ever-looming SM. So I watched his English speaking clip for fun, and while his accent isn’t bad! (he spent a few years in the USA), it always gets me, the way he pronounces his r’s. Things like “fur” or come out sounding like “fer.” It’s just so pronounced, and I suspect it might be because of the general difficulty Koreans (and Japanese) have with pronouncing r’s, as differentiated form l’s. This particular pronunciation comes out like an overcompensation from someone who’s tried to, or been trained to, overcome that phonetic hurdle.

Just to clear any potential air, this post is not meant to be malicious and is not to belittle this person’s English (even if I am amused) or Koreans’ English in general, at all. As you can see from the video clip, some of his gestures and emphases are off as well… but it makes me wonder how cautious and/or horrified I should be about how my own Korean may come off to the native Koreans around me.

Anyway, to conclude in a slightly more academic way :) – just another instance of the English language and its pedestal-ized place in Korean society (in the drama, associated with wealth, power, position, status; also approved and continued with article and viewers’ reactions). Also evidence of why it’s so difficult for Korean pop stars who aspire to make it in the US market; even for those considered to have an impressive grasp of English, the accent and language usage comes off as awkward to native English speakers, in a way that is generally “unsexy,” an opposite impression compared to people of European origins. I wonder if it is that difficult or overlooked to get a proper language consultant for these Korean celebrities (I’m serious – language and mannerism is such a big factor in the impressions of Korean pop stars who want to “make it” in America.)

For the original article I read, taken from soompi.com: Park Yoochun Impresses Viewers with his English on “Miss Ripley”

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Posted on June 2, 2011, in articles and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Yoochun’s English in the video was a lot better than I was expecting, but yeah, the pauses in his sentences and his gestures were off-putting.
    Keep writing more posts! I like your analyses! :)

    • Haha, someone else had a similar comment when I showed him the video too! I guess it’s the level of expectation. People more familiar with English as spoken by native Koreans may expect something much more incomprehensible, I guess. Yoochun did spend a few years in junior high or high school in the USA, which probably helped him out a lot. But I think for someone who wants to get in the mainstream market, the traces of “awkward English” are a big impediment, because the English-speaking public wants to be able to understand what you’re saying, not to have to work at understanding you. Then again, I can be more critical than most when it comes to language usage, like when I find grammatical errors in the books I read, though that too may be the fault of the printer…

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