The Effect of Language Attitudes on Learner Preferences: A Study on South Koreans’ Perceptions of the Philippine English Accent

by Maria Corazon A. Castro


Teri Rose Dominica G. Roh

University of the Philippines Diliman (Quezon City, Philippines)

Keywords:  language attitudes, perceptions, Philippine English accent, Koreans in the Philippines



The global use of English has amounted to variations in the language, as well as different perceptions towards the linguistic variations. In this study, a Philippine English (PhilE) speech sample is used to elicit and analyze the particular sound segments and suprasegmental features that Koreans perceive as variations from a standard variety of English. The study also explores whether the respondents would choose the same speaker as their English teacher. The results show that Koreans are especially sensitive to certain vowel and consonant variants of PhilE. As for suprasegmentals, the respondents’ neutral ratings suggest that they do not have well-defined opinions towards the speed, pauses, stress, and volume exhibited by the PhilE speaker, but some degree of doubt is evident in relation to their perceived correctness of the speaker’s intonation, which is possibly due to a preconceived notion that variations from a norm-providing variety of spoken English indicate incorrectness. When confronted with the choice of having the speaker as their English teacher, more than half of the participants gave a negative response. Such results pose implications on the use of English as an international language.



Koreans are known for their determination to learn English. Reports show them spending billions of dollars per year just to achieve their desired proficiency in English (J. Cho, 2007; E. G. Kim, 2008). Statistics from 2007 to 2008 estimate about 115,000 Koreans studying in the United States (Fulbright U.S. Education Center, 2008), and about the same number have also enrolled in English immersion programs in the Philippines (Domingo, 2008). While the proven popularity of American English in Korea serves as one of the main reasons why the U.S. remains a top destination choice for education, the reasons why Koreans also choose the Philippines are still unclear. This article, however, does not venture to discuss these reasons in detail. Instead, it focuses on Koreans’ perceptions of the variety of English that they hear during their stay in the Philippines.

The purpose of this article is to increase awareness among bilingual teachers in the field of teaching English to Koreans, as well as those who simply wish to communicate effectively with Koreans and other communities from similar linguistic backgrounds, so that they may know which aspects of their speech specifically need to be worked on to achieve better intelligibility, and which ones are actually considered as positive points. It particularly focuses on the perceptions held by Koreans who have been directly exposed to the variety of English used in the Philippines (i.e. Philippine English, PhilE onwards).


The phonological features of Philippine English in contrast to American English

The English language spoken in the Philippines today has acquired characteristics that differ from the variety originally brought by the American colonizers in the mid-1900s due to the mixture of historic socio-political, cultural, and linguistic events. It is precisely because of these unique features, which have spread across many domains in the Philippines such as public administration, broadcast and print media, religious practices, social events, and sometimes in the household, that Philippine English has become recognized as “a legitimate nativized variety of English” (Dayag, 2012, p. 91).  

“Variations” in language are not necessarily sub-standard— dictionary definitions associate the word, as well as its relatives “variety” and “variability,” with terms like “discrepancy,” “difference,” or “deviation” from one’s perceptions of what is standard and correct (Jenkins, 2000, p. 25). This study therefore operated under the assumption that the respondents would intuitively compare the recording presented to them during the survey with another norm providing variety of English, such as American English (AmE). This is the variety learned by “most Korean students” (B. E. Cho, 2004, p. 33), and it is also the same one that is still widely used as a “major point of reference and contrast” in pedagogy (Baugh & Cable, 2002, p. 381). Koreans’ growing exposure to AmE is unquestionable, strengthened by looking at recent immigration and employment statistics. Brender (2007) notes, for example, that “Koreans make up the third largest group of college students” in the United States. Also, according to the same author, a leading Korean university in terms of using English as the medium of instruction has employed mainly professors with degrees from the U.S.A.

There are striking contrasts between AmE and PhilE. In the PhilE pronunciation of consonants, stops may be articulated without aspiration (as in [p˺εt˺] for pet); dental fricatives seldom occur and may be substituted with stops (as in [paɪb] for five); voiced alveolar and palatal fricatives may be realized as voiceless (zip and sip sometimes become homophones) and the use of a flap ([bɾεd] for bread) is prominent (Gonzalez, 1997, p. 32; Dayag, 2012, p.93). In the case of vowels used by Filipinos, [i, u, e, ε, ɤ, a] are primarily used, while [ɪ, ʊ, ə, o, æ] are used only at varying degrees and for some speakers, not at all (Gonzalez, 1997, p.32). McArthur (1998) gives examples of “varying success with the vowel contrasts in sheep/ship, full/fool, and boat/bought” and adds that “few Filipinos have the [near-low front unrounded vowel] in AmE mask; instead, they use f[a low back unrounded vowel] as in AmE father.” As for suprasegmentals, polysyllabic words in PhilE especially “carry a distinctive pattern of word stress […] compared to [American English]” (Tayao, 2004, p. 84). Examples include elementary, which is stressed on the fourth syllable, and eligible, which is stressed on the second syllable. The combination of all these phonological features constitute what is commonly referred to as “accent” and result in a language variety that is phonetically and/or phonologically different from other varieties (Chambers & Trudgill, 2004).


Aspirated and unaspirated Korean consonants

A few consonants in the Korean language carry aspects discussed by previous researchers (e.g., Goddard, 2005) that need to be noted here because they pose the implication that certain phonological features of Philippine English may be easily recognizable to the Korean ear based on the contrastive sounds in their native language.

In Korean, voiceless stops are distinguished in three series: (1) the heavily aspirated [pʰ, tʰ, kʰ]; (2) the tense unaspirated [p˺, t˺, k˺]; and (3) the lax [p, t, k] (Goddard, 2005, p. 157). For example, to Koreans, the difference between the initial consonants is so distinct that when such sounds are produced either in Korean or another language, they will most likely be sensitive to the differences in aspiration because in their native language, these differences carry a change in the meaning of the word as in [tʰal] “mask,” [t˺al] “daughter,” and [tal] “moon” (Lee & Perkins, 2009, p. 1). They may know that, in English, the non-/aspiration in voiceless stops does not necessarily lead to any distinctions in meaning, but they can still be very sensitive to the sound variation, for example, between [pʰεn] and [p˺εn]; [tu] and [t˺u]; and [kʰæn] and [k˺æn].


The impact of accent on listeners’ perceptions

Variations in language are stimuli that “yield or ‘give off’ information to receivers” (Berger & Bradac, 1982, p. 54). Therefore, accents, when perceived by listeners in communication, give away the idea that the speaker is from a different linguistic background, and listeners respond by associating the speaker with a particular region. The accent may also be used to form judgments about the speaker (Weinberger, 2011). These judgments may fall on the positive, negative, or neutral side, but some of them are strong enough to either hinder or facilitate opportunities for both the speaker and the listener as they extend to a social psychological level. This means that the listeners form perceptual biases, and along with their communication goals, they make judgments about the speaker in relation to the society that the latter is known to represent, and then evaluative reactions or impressions about speakers of that accent may follow (Edwards, 1982). These reactions are called “language attitudes.” A concrete definition of the term can be attributed to Preston’s (1989) reference to “the responses made by hearers of language in relation to the personal, ethnic, national, gender, class, role, age, and other identities of its speakers” (p. 50). Others even extend the meaning to include a summary of responses toward different language varieties or their speakers that can bias social behavior (Bohner & Wanke, 2002; Rodriguez, Cargile, & Rich, 2004; Ryan, Giles, & Sebastian, 1982).

Empirical research in the area of language attitudes usually takes into account at least two areas of evaluation. First, there are evaluations in terms of competence, or perceived traits relating to “intelligence” and “self-confidence,” among others. In this dimension, speakers of native Englishes are found to have “significantly higher” ratings than speakers from other groups, such as the case in McKenzie’s (2006) dissertation that showed the speaker of MidWest United States English ranking first, and the speaker of a heavily-accented Japanese English ranking last among six speakers (p. 142). Second, there is an affective side of speaker evaluation, which considers the speaker’s social attractiveness, desirability and integrity, and looks at personality traits such as “friendliness” and “warmth” (Birch & McPhail, 1997, p. 5). Melander’s (2003) study, for example, showed how Swedish listeners had evaluated bilingual speakers using Swedish and English guises. The study demonstrated the Swedish guises being favored on personality traits like self-confidence, sense of humor, and extroversion. Meanwhile, another speaker who spoke in English was judged more positively on all traits related to competence. The positive evaluations stopped when the same speaker’s sense of humor was in question.

With the increasing number of Koreans overseas using English as the major means of communication, studies that focus on Koreans’ attitudes toward different English accents have flourished, mostly showing that AmE is still the accent that yields the most positive feedback (see Albela, de Guzman, Ferrer, Nieto, & Santos, 2006; Butler, 2007; McKenzie, 2006; Pollard, 2010; Roh, 2010; Sewell, 2005; Y. S. Kim, 2007). Notwithstanding the established preference for an AmE model, Pollard (2010) and Sewell (2005) have emphasized the need to widen Koreans’ communicative competence on a global standard with the use of accented English instructional materials. According to Butler (2007), a “teacher’s oral communication skills in English (including pronunciation) have become a major concern” and while she also proves that AmE is the preferred variety, no differences were found in the students’ performance in terms of their comprehension of AmE and Korean-accented English speech samples in her survey of 312 Grade 6 Korean students. The students’ familiarity with the accents in the said study may have played a role in the students’ comprehension, but the question of what perceptions Koreans have towards less familiar varieties still remains.


The present study

Previous research shows a survey of Koreans’ attitudes towards selected English varieties, strengthening the status of AmE as the preferred variety. Much focus has been given to how different speakers’ status- and solidarity-related characteristics are evaluated based on their English accents. Yet, there is a lack of research that allows Koreans to actually pinpoint certain segments or features from an accented English speech sample that they perceive as

“different.” A more detailed discussion on non-American speech samples is especially needed since communicating in English today no longer warrants the presence of a native

English speaker (Jenkins, 2009). Korea is an outstanding example as Chang (2008) describes, “in business context Koreans use English to communicate with other people whose mother tongue is not English” (p. 3). The present study therefore investigates the consonants, vowels, and suprasegmental features characteristic of PhilE that Korean listeners are more likely to notice. In addition, it asks respondents to indicate whether they would still prefer a speaker using such features to be their English teacher.



An interview-based survey was administered in groups within Metro Manila, the Philippines. Through “snowball sampling,” i.e., a method that uses networks to reach more and more individuals from the same group, directors of language schools and private English tutors were contacted by the researcher to request an introduction to prospective participants (Kumar, 2005, p. 179). With the aid of an English-Korean questionnaire cover letter, the researcher was able to obtain consent from the Korean students to stress the importance of meeting them in their classrooms, residence, or other venues similarly conducive to listening and writing tasks, and to set an appointment to conduct the survey with them soon after the initial contact. The list of respondents then grew as other individuals were nominated by the previous contacts. Only minimal risk was involved in terms of the responses being similar between the nominated and the nominees as a result of the connection since most of them did not interact on a day-to-day basis (not even those who lived in the same block or in the same building). In other words, the relations between the groups were more of acquaintanceships rather than friendships, not to mention that they came from different districts in Korea (see distribution below).

The study was conducted from December 2009 to January 2010, with 120 Korean participants. To guarantee that each respondent met the criteria required for contributing data to the present study, personal information such as date of birth, native language, and nationality was collected. The participants were screened on the basis that they were: (1) native Koreans aged 13 years or above, and (2) currently residing in or touring the Philippines with at least part of their reason being the desire to improve their or their children’s English abilities. Those in the younger age bracket (i.e., below 13 years old) had to be excluded, following Labov’s (1967a) claim that awareness of the implications (i.e., social stratification) of dialect only begins at early adolescence (as cited in Bouchard, 1969; also supported by Shuy, Wolfram, & Riley, 1967).

The demographic data of the participants showed a representation of different regions in Korea, including 23.5% from Seoul, 5% from Busan, 5% from Daegu, 8.4% from Incheon, 2.5% from Gwangju, 1.7% from Daejeon, 0.8% from Ulsan, 26.9% from Gyeonggi-do, 1.7% from Gangwon-do, 1.7% from Northern Chungcheong-do, 2.5% from Southern Chungcheong-do, 3.4% from Northern Jeolla-do, 6.4% from Southern Jeolla-do, 4.2% from Northern Gyeongsang-do, 5.9% from Southern Gyeongsang-do, and 0.8% from Jeju-do. The participants’ period of stay in the Philippines at the time of the study revealed that 19 months was the mean length, with 65% having stayed in the Philippines for 19 months or less, and 35% having stayed in the country much longer. Their ages ranged from 13 to 50 years old, with 36.7% from the 13-18 year-old age group, 33.3% from the 19-29 age bracket, and 30% from the 30-and-above age group. Females constituted 48.3% of the total sample, while males represented 51.7%. All participants were native Koreans educated in Korea before coming to the Philippines.

The text used by the speaker was brief and neutral, and did not contain any words displaying strong emotions or personal opinions. The script originally appeared in the Speech Accent Archive (SAA) website, uploaded by a user named Ail’s. The text is short, taking only about 25 to 35 seconds to read aloud, so there is little risk of causing any weariness to the participants, but the most significant feature is that it contains “a variety of difficult English sounds and sound sequences” and “practically all of the sounds of English” according to SAA administrator, Steven Weinberger (2011). The passage goes:

Please call Stella. Ask her to bring these things with her from the store: six spoons of fresh snow peas, five thick slabs of blue cheese, and maybe a snack for her brother Bob. We also need a small plastic snake and a big toy frog for the kids. She can scoop these things into three red bags, and we will go meet her Wednesday at the train station.

The data elicitation instrument used was taken from the website,, which contains audio files recorded by its users. The privacy policy of the website states that the files “are all public information, and can be seen, listened, or read by anyone,” especially language learners ( Privacy,2007). The particular recording used in this study was chosen on the basis that it contained actual features of Philippine English that have already been discussed by several scholars (Gonzalez, 1985; Llamzon, 1997; Tayao, 2004), and compiled in Roh’s (2010) Contrastive Analysis Chart, which lists the sound segments produced by Filipino speakers, among others. Some examples from the chosen recording include the unaspirated stop in peas; dental fricatives substituted by a stop in thick, brother, and the; the vowel [æ] pronounced as [a] in bags; final consonant cluster reduction in ask; and others. The speech sample yielded the following phonetic transcription:

[plis kƆl stɛlə // as həɹ tʊ bɹɪn ðɪs θɪ s wr  həɹ fɹəm ðə stɤɹ // siks p˺ʊns Ɔf fɹɛʃ nɤ p˺is / faɪb t˺ik sləbs ɤf blu tʃɪs // ɛn meɪbi ə snak˺ fəɹ həɹ brədəɹ bab // wi Ɔlsɤ nid a smɤl plastik sneɪk / ən a bi:g tƆɪ fɹæg fɤr də kɪds // ʃi kən skʊp ðɪs θɪ s ɪntu tʃɹi ɹɛd baɡs // ɛn wi wɪl ɡo mɛt həɹ / wɛnsdeɪ at dəs tʃɹeɪn steɪʃən // ]

The audio file was administered to the participants in groups. In bigger classes, the data elicitation activity was done with audio facilities provided by the school coordinator in their English laboratory. Sound tests were conducted prior to the arrival of the participants to ensure that the sound file was audible. In smaller groups gathered in the participants’ residences, speakers connected to the researcher’s personal laptop were utilized.

The study considered both quantitative and qualitative data. The accompanying questionnaire (see Appendix), written in English and Korean, included a segment which asked listeners to encircle certain words or letters in the paragraph (that is, the text used in the speech sample) that they thought were pronounced differently as the recording was being played. The second part of the questionnaire involved a rating scale ranging from positive to negative for the respondents to conveniently express their perceptions of the suprasegmental features used in the sample recording. The respondents were then asked to indicate their preference or nonpreference to have the same speaker as their English teacher. Open-ended questions were also included to allow the respondents to express their opinions more freely. The final part of the questionnaire included questions on the participants’ demographic data. The questionnaire was pre-tested on two male Filipino adolescents who were also in the stage of enhancing their English skills for academic purposes. A practical insight gathered from the pre-test was to give the participants ample time and opportunity to understand the task before playing the recordings for them to hear.



For the first task, only 75 out of the 120 participants responded, while the rest gave no reply. A possible reason for this response rate might be a limited knowledge of English sounds in general due to either the participants’ lack of exposure to or proficiency in the language. This was supported by the personal data gathered from the participants, showing that 59.2% perceived their proficiency in English as “poor.” The statistics presented in this segment is therefore relevant to only those who responded to the task.

The paragraph had a total of 69 words, 37 of which were marked by the respondents as variations. Most words and letters were encircled by only 1 to 8% of the population, indicating the listeners’ low sensitivity to the corresponding linguistic features exhibited by the speaker. However, five words from the text were encircled by more than 10% of the population, suggesting that the manner in which they were articulated by the speaker had a high impact on the listeners. The five words are three (30.8%), meet (25%), frog (18.3%), train (12.5%), and ask (11.6%). It is important to note that a majority of these words represent actual, well-documented features of PhilE (see Tayao, 2004; and Gonzalez, 1985 for other features of PhilE). In pronouncing the word three, for example, the speaker interdentalized the fricative consonant in word initial position. Although most of the respondents simply said that they thought the speaker sounded like their Filipino tutors and did not mention any particular sounds when given open-ended questions, one respondent specifically expressed that “the pronunciation is wrong especially ‘th’ that she didn’t say correct” [sic]. The other three features noticed by the respondents involved what was discussed by Lockwood, Forey, and Price (2008) as the Filipinos’ tendency to approximate the eleven vowel sounds of AmE to “five options in Filipino” (p. 14). In the sample, the participants noticed the speaker’s pronunciation of the vowels in meet as “met,” frog as “frag,” and ask as “ask” (with a back vowel). One final aspect of the speech recording noticed by the respondents was when the speaker added a consonant sound ‘s’ at the beginning of the word “train.” This is not a common occurrence in the speech of educated Filipinos, and may be treated as an error instead of a feature of PhilE.

When asked to rate the speech sample in terms of the suprasegmental features, well-defined opinions were not apparent as a majority chose to give “neutral” ratings in relation to 4 out of 5 categories: fast reading speed, many pauses in between words, proper placing of stress, and loudness of voice. The remaining category, namely, correct English intonation, was assigned one rank lower. Again, this could be attributed to the perception that there is a correct and proper variety of English, e.g., AmE, and that any perceived variations from it would indicate incorrectness (Jenkins, 2009).

When the question of whether the respondents would choose to have the speaker as their English teacher was asked, more than half of the participants gave a negative response, while about a quarter gave an affirmative one, and the rest were still undecided. This was probably related to the neutral-negative observations they expressed upon listening to the recording. One female university student from the sample wrote to explain the reason behind her choice,

“I think she is not native speaker. If I study English with English teacher, I want to correct my pronanciation and internation and etc. I think she is not perfect yet” [sic]. This tendency to view the speaker as “non-native” was echoed in other participants’ responses as well, and a common reason given was that they would not want to acquire the same accent that the speaker used. These sentiments reflect those derived from other previous studies done on the subject, including those held by parents against the decision of a Massachusetts school board to hire bilingual teachers as regular classroom teachers. Lippi-Green (1997) related that “the parents feared not so much that the teachers would be incomprehensible, but that their children would pick up the teacher’s accent” (p. 123). These views are clearly influenced by a sociostructural context that still upholds a “native” speaker’s variety as “standard,” correct, prestigious, and therefore, acceptable (Giles & Billings, 2004, p. 188).

Nevertheless, the nearly 25% of the respondents who said “Yes” to having the PhilE speaker as their English teacher cannot be disregarded, thus indicating a possible acceptance of a non-American (i.e., commonly perceived as “non-standard”) variety. The reason provided by a 50-year-old male respondent to account for his positive preference towards the PhilE speech sample was due to the speaker’s voice quality as he shared that “her voice is very friendly. and comfortable. my heart just following the voice…” [sic]. Another 35-year-old male respondent commented that “she seems to explain things in her own way of speaking, Maybe she’s reading slowly on purpose. So if she were a teacher, she could answer my questions gently even if I asked questions again and again” [sic]. The two comments lean towards the affective dimension of accent evaluation, which moves listeners to notice the emotional dispositions and/or behavioral tendencies like “friendliness” and “kindness” rather than the “correctness” or “goodness” of a speaker’s pronunciation.



The results from the first part of the study suggest that the respondents were generally objective in their observations as they recognized well-known features of PhilE in the speech sample. The respondents’ ability to notice the speaker’s addition of a consonant to the beginning of a word also indicates a high tendency for the listeners to notice deficiency deviations from notable English varieties in the speech of a particular individual. In terms of the suprasegmental features, the results imply that most respondents had a greater tendency to give negative, if not neutral, ratings. The participants’ responses in terms of their preference to have the speaker as their English teacher are controversial because, despite the negative ratings they gave, the number of Koreans coming to study in the Philippines continues to increase each year. This implies a sense of willingness on the part of Koreans to look beyond the differences they perceive in the speech of the Filipino speaker in exchange for what might still be a gratifying experience due to affective, social, cultural, or economic considerations. Nonetheless, this should only push both Koreans, Filipinos, and others who find themselves in similar situations to heighten their awareness of phonological, as well as other linguistic and cultural differences, and be more vigilant in working towards becoming “internationalized users of English,” which means striving to be more “intelligible and willing to understand” (Podorova, 2004, pp. 10-12).

Following Crew and Bodycott’s (2005) belief that “positive changes […] far beyond language development” are likely to happen especially in contexts where students go overseas to engage in language learning activities, a two-way recommendation toward the improvement of instruction and communication in English is proposed:

  1. Koreans and other language learners must realize that speaking English fluently does not only mean speaking the American variety. It helps to be aware of the differences in accents, and also acknowledge that one can still be an effective communicator, or a good teacher, even if linguistic features that are different from a “standard” variety are perceived in his or her speech. Keeping this realization in mind will help English language learners feel more comfortable about the accent that they speak, appreciate the exposure to a different language variety that their teachers provide, and fully enjoy all aspects of learning the language.
  1. Language instructors, on the other hand, must note the individual characteristics of language learners who have their own biases and communication goals. It is important to know what these characteristics are while introducing various speaking and communication styles so that the students may benefit from this rich diversity. Having a solid background in phonology, finding a common ground amidst linguistic diversity, and adjusting one’s pronunciation depending on the particular sounds that elicit positive or negative attitudes from language learners are some important things to remember as the communication context now involves people from different sociolinguistic backgrounds. By equipping oneself with the right knowledge and attitude towards linguistic variation, the language instructor will be able to remind learners that the single, correct way to speak English remains but a perceived notion and will always be relative from one context to another.



Future studies may come up with more valuable insights by collecting data using a set of speech samples from both male and female speakers or speakers of different voice qualities and accents because it is truly difficult for one speech sample to represent all the features of a variety of English. As per the remark of a few respondents in this study, they actually recognized that Speaker 1 was a Filipino, but they were also aware that other Filipinos have different speech styles. Therefore, the judgments they made were not regarded as applicable to all speakers of PhilE per se, but only in relation to the particular speech sample used in the study.

It would also be a worthwhile undertaking to keep track of the changing attitudes of Koreans toward PhilE through parallel studies between now and the future, as it seems that the Korean wave in the Philippines will keep rising in the years to come. Accent should still be an appropriate object to tackle since, according to Kachru (1986), “the largest number of attitudinal comments” is related to this particular aspect of language, although future studies may also consider that “all of the levels of language (i.e., phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics) affect message recipients’ beliefs about and evaluations of message sources” (Bradac, 1990, p. 405).

Future researchers aiming to improve pedagogy for a specific group of learners could also recruit a more homogenous group of respondents. Concentrating on the language attitudes of learners belonging to only one age group, and considering their specific reasons for coming to the Philippines to study English, for instance, might help the researcher to gather more indepth analyses of correlations between the participants’ demographics and their responses, and come up with additional suggestions or instructive approaches to teaching the target group.



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About the authors

Dr. Maria Corazon S.A. Castro is a Professor of English at the Department of English and Comparative Literature, University of the Philippines. She teaches courses in Phonetics and Phonology, Morphology and Syntax, Pragmatics, Discourse Analysis, Language Theories, and Language Teaching. She has written two books and has published articles in reputable academic journals.

Teri Roh finished her M.A. in English Language Studies at the University of the Philippines, and taught courses on English language education at Saint Paul University Quezon City. She recently moved to Seoul, continuing her teaching career with the vision to increase learners’ awareness of the different features of English used in a global context.

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