What did you think of Daniel Dae Kim's pronunciation of Korean in Lost? Given that he didn't grow up in Korea, how was his accent?
The Korean watched exactly half an episode of Lost so far, pretty much by accident. From that half an episode, the Korean recalls that Mr. Kim's Korean accent was really terrible.
But the Korean is willing to give a fair assessment, so he reviewed these clips:
And the Korean's verdict is...?
Mr. Kim's accent is a lot better than the Korean remembered. Judged only based on these clips, Mr. Kim's Korean is solid. He will have no problem getting himself understood in Korea.
But one can easily tell that Mr. Kim did not grow up speaking Korean. There are three major indicators to that effect. First is that -- and this is probably not Mr. Kim's fault -- sometimes, Korean phrases that Jin is speaking are awkwardly written. For example, in the second clip when the caption reads "How do I lose to both Hurley and Mike?", Jin is saying: "헐리하고 마이크한테 어떻게 질 수가 있어?" This is not incorrect, since Korean phrase literally means "How do I lose to Hurley and Mike?" But the phrase sounds as if Jin is actually looking for a way in which he can lose to Hurley and Mike, not as if Jin cannot believe that he lost to Hurley and Mike. (The Korean's suggested translation: "헐리하고 마이크한테 진다는게 말이 돼?", which would mean "How is it possible that I lost to Hurley and Mike?")
Second, Mr. Kim's rhythm of speaking the language is really, really off. This is more obvious in the second clip: Jin is screaming, but he is not accentuating the right words in the sentence to convey that he is royally pissed off. At some points in the clip, Jin sounds like he is reading a book at the top of his voice. (And the awkwardly written sentences, again, do not help. Because few Koreans would say such phrases, it is not easy to figure out where the proper emphasis should go.) Unfortunately for Mr. Kim, there is really no way to learn that rhythm other than simply being around Korean speakers all the time and picking it up, since the rhythm in Korean speech is not exactly a standard grammatical point.
Lastly, Mr. Kim is having trouble pronouncing certain consonants that are really difficult for English speakers. The most obvious incidence of this is when Jin says in the first clip: "총 맞으면 다 그래." ("That's what happens when you get shot.") Mr. Kim pronounces the word "총" ("gun") like 쫑. Of course, this differentiation is one of the toughest parts about Korean -- personally, the Korean has never seen a English-as-first-language, Korean-as-second-language person to be able to perfectly distinguish ㅈ, ㅊ and ㅉ sounds.
Of course, none of this should take away one bit from Daniel Dae Kim's achievements in Lost. Mr. Kim is a pioneer in successfully providing an image of a strong Asian American male on television, and all Asian American men -- and in particular Korean American men -- owe a little bit to him.
As an aside, Yunjin Kim's Korean accent is pitch perfect, mostly because she is a rare breed who has appeared in both Korean and American movies and television shows.
Please, no spoilers in the comments. The Korean plans to watch the entire show in one sitting via Netflix one day.
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.