Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Seoul: how do YOU say it?

If you're a migukin like I am, chances are South Korea's capital rolls off your tongue sounding just like sole or soul. But actually, there should be no mistaking the city for the bottom of a shoe because, in Korean, Seoul is spoken in two syllables (서 울). The closest I can come to a phonetic Roman alphabet translation is "suh-ool", but even that probably won't come out just right if spoken by a non-native. Although the Korean word is two syllables, it still sounds like one when spoken by native speakers (at least, that's my impression), but it doesn't really sound like sole or soul.

My life here has offered a daily dose of humility as I stumble my way through pronunciations of Korean words and phrases. I suppose having my snafus broadcast around the world makes that slice of humble pie even bigger. I realized my pronunciation of Seoul wasn't quite right as soon as I started at KBS, which is why I'm proud to report a personal accomplishment that occurred yesterday. As I delivered my standard sign-off concluding my afternoon newscast ("And that's the news from the KBS World Radio news center in Seoul. I'm Abby Rhodes") and exited the studio, an approving Mr. Kim said, "I like your pronunciation of Seoul." At first I thought he meant "like" in the, "I find it really humorous that your pronunciation is so wretched" way, but Mr. Kim was actually offering a genuine compliment. This conversation was a far cry from one we had about eight months ago when I still pronounced Seoul with one syllable.

Mr. Kim: Actually, it's "Seh-ool" (but it still sounded like sole to me!)

Abby: Right. Seoul. (one syllable)

Mr. Kim: No. "Seh-ool".

Abby: Okay. Seoul. (still one syllable, still sounding like sole)

Mr. Kim: (gives up)

And if Seoul has given me this much trouble, just imagine what Koreans think when I rattle off the names of newsmakers and other major cities. I find solace in the fact that around here, I'm still called A-bee Ro-jew.

5 comments:

Yoon Ho Um said...

Hi A-bee ; P

That is SO funny! I just asked my mom about how she says Seoul... I say it like it's one syllable(I'm Korean by blood, but raised in Western Canada & have NO Korean friends) just like you ... one syllable, soul or sole...

Mom: No, it's "So-ool"...

& then I mentioned A-bee Ro-jew & she's trying to give me the "A-bee is dad, but you can't call him that... etc, the whole history and usage... you can use 'a-bum', newly born kids, wife is called... ETC, ETC, ETC." to which I started tuning out... ; P Gee... sung nu mah??? <== said repeatedly...

God Bless,
Yoon

Abby Rhodes said...

Hi, Yoon!

Thanks for your reply. I'm glad someone shares my confusion! These days, I usually pronounce Seoul with one syllable in regular conversation, but try for a more accurate pronunciation in my newscasts.

Thanks again for writing. I always enjoy hearing from our listeners and readers!

Abby

yossry sawaby يسري صوابي said...

HI ABBY
IT IS CONFUSING IN ARABIC WORLD AS WELL , SO PLEASE FEEL FREE TO PRONOUNCE IT WHATEVER YOU LIKE!
ACTUALLY THERE ARE 3 "SEOUL" PRONOUNCEATIONS IN ARABIC WORLD :
1- SIOL
2- SI- ALL
3- SOUL
WHEN I CAME HERE I HAD THE SAME EXPEREINCE , AND STILL CAN NOT GET THE ACCURATE PRONOUNCE ...BUT I THINK IT IS VERY NEAR TO THE ENGLISH WORD "SOUL"

Abby Rhodes said...

Thanks for your support, Yossry! It's nice to know I'm not the only one with the dilemma. I sometimes worry that if I pronounce it the way Koreans do, my English-speaking audience won't understand me. Most of them would be confused by "Seh-ool".

Have a good day! :)

wojtek said...

Hi, Abby.

I came across your blog because I have the same dilemma re Seoul pronounciation. I was born in Poland but live in the US, and I like to pronounce geographic names the way the locals do. Seoul always confused me, but now that I am going there, I want to pronounce it correctly. In Poland we pronounced it Seh-ool, which turns out to be pretty close to correct. But the airline booking agent in the US barely understood it, and said - "Oh, Soul"... It did not sound right to me, but I did not argue...