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.