Commonly Confused English Words in Korea #1

As I’ve been teaching in Korea for the past nine years I still come across words and phrases that students consistently get wrong. Being that I’ve studied some Korean, I began to realize why students got them confused. Today, I’m going to give you five examples of some mistakes you will definitely hear from time to time due to the fact that both of the words mean the same thing in Korean.

1. look for vs. find

This is one of the most common mistakes that I hear especially when searching for a job. Over the past three weeks, I’ve heard this mistake at least three times. Usually students will say “I’m not a student and I’m not working but I’m finding a job.” In English, you cannot actually find something until you look for it first.

2. neighbor vs. neighborhood

When students talk about their home, I hear this pretty often. Sometimes you will hear a student say “My neighborhood is nice” but then you find out they were talking about people. In English a neighbor is a person that lives next door to you or just down the hall. But the neighborhood is the surrounding area around your home. For example, “My neighbors are very loud. I had to call the police.” Or “I like my neighborhood because there is a park, a shopping mall, and a school nearby.”

3. make/let

This is one of the hardest rules to explain to a student. I don’t understand how these two words can have the exact same meaning in Korean but they do. Sometimes you will hear a student say “My mother lets me study.” Now in the U.S. this is just completely crazy. I would have never asked my mom for permission to study. In Korea, maybe it’s possible because people are obsessed with studying but NOT likely. I’m sure people would still like to spend time with their friends! Or you might hear a student say “My mom doesn’t make come home late.” No parent will ever force their children to come home late. In English “make” means to force while “let” means to “allow.”

Examples: a) My professor makes me write many research papers.
b) My mom lets me go out with friends on weekends.
c) My father doesn’t let me drive his car.
d) My parents don’t make me study all night long.

4. on vs. above

I was going through prepositions today and a student asked me what the difference is between “on” and “above.” Yet again, these two words mean the same thing in Korean. However in English they are a bit different. For example, “The painting is above the TV.” Is the painting actually on the TV? No, the painting is on the wall, right? Or “The airplane is flying above the city.” “Above” technically means “higher than” which is why Koreans also have a problem with the word “below” which doesn’t exist in the Korean language. The river is “below” (lower than) the bridge.

5. date/ have a date

Now these two phrases don’t mean the same thing in the Korean language but students just automatically assume that they do. For example if I said “I had a date on Saturday,” my students then assume I went out with my girlfriend on Saturday. But if it’s a date, she isn’t necessarily my girlfriend. Also if I say “I’ve been dating someone for five years,” students might understand this based on the fact that I mentioned five years but students might say “My boyfriend and I dated last weekend” which is obviously wrong. This can really cause problems in dating relationships if you’re explaining to your girlfriend about previous experiences. The best way to avoid this is to not even talk about your past dating experiences! This is a wise decision in ANY country!

Scott (L.A./Seoul Guy)

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  1. Pingback: Commonly Confused English Words in Korea #1 - from the LA Seoul Guy | Liam Lusk

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