How is Seoul pronounced?

I’m talking about the capital of South Korea.

I’ve always pronounced it as “sole” - a single syllable that rhymes with hole. This is how I’ve heard it pronounced.

But I was listening to an audio book this week and the reader pronounced it “sool” - it sounded like it rhymed with pool or maybe jewel. It wasn’t clear if he was pronouncing it as one syllable or two.

I figured he might be wrong. But his reading was presumably being checked by somebody so I figured maybe he was right and I’ve been wrong all these years.

I checked on Wikipedia and Google. I found that most people seemed to use the same pronunciation I do. But a few do seem to stretch the vowel sound, making the word into two syllables. And that seems to be the way Koreans pronounce it.

Below are audio of what seems to be native Korean speakers saying the word. It sounds like a combination of the two you mention- sa-ool or so-ool.

It is a combination of two sounds. The first is Seo (pronounced like “saw”) the next is ul (pronounced like “ool”). When spoken as a single word, there is only one noticeable syllable. The only time I’ve ever heard it pronounced as two separate syllables is during an FC Seoul soccer match, where sometimes they chant “F. C. Seo. Ul”. Otherwise, I’ve never heard a native speaker pronounce it any other way except in a manner best described as a single syllable, similar to Sole or Soul.

It’s pronounced the same as “soul.” Some native speakers will pronounce it as two syllables, “so-ool” but the vowels run together such that it is barely noticeable.

Yes, the vowel is a diphthong, but it has no English equivalent. I’d describe it as a “long schwa”, a lot like a “long o”, but less tense. Or like this: Koreans say /sʌʊl/, English speakers say /soʊl/. Rhyming it with the English word “soul” is fine, rhyming with “jewel” is wrong.

Yea, I agree that barely noticeable is a better description than not noticeable. Koreans do have a word identical to “soul/sole”, spelled 솔, which is a type of brush. When listening to both of these words pronounced, the separate syllables, and slight vowel differences in Seoul are more noticeable to me. Still much closer to soul that sool, though.

It’s more noticeably distinct syllables native speakers but to many foreigners it definitely sounds like a single syllable.

Rather than “saw”, the vowel in the first part ‘seo’ is more of a schwa that is almost but not quite ‘uh’ and the second part ‘ul’ has a vowel sound somewhere between ‘ew’ and ‘oo’ but not quite either.

A long ‘o’ like in sole is pretty much right out, though, even if the end result sound a lot like it to an English speaker.

Korean is full of ‘barely noticeable’ pronunciation differences. In fact in some cases native speakers debate how significant they are v whether even they differentiate based on context rather than a really clear pronunciation difference.

However along the spectrum of cases, I don’t see this one as that subtle relatively. Non-Korean speakers usually pronounce it ‘Soul’, but Korean speakers ‘Suh-ool’, not with a distinct space between the syllables, but it’s definitely two 서울, not 솔 as in ‘brush’. And in general the idea in Korean is that things are pronounced as written in an alphabet which was designed to match the language (although of course not absolutely 100% of the time).

Also it would be strange from a Korean perspective to think of Seoul as having practically one syllable when almost all Korean place names have two syllables. Although, Seoul is already unusual as a Korean place name in having no official Chinese character equivalent (it has a probable relation to an older Chinese-derived term), which almost all other Korean place names do. Those names IOW have a meaning via the characters which makes it even more difficult to conceive of the two separate syllables as not being significant.

So true. I think words that have vowels without any intervening consonants are especially troublesome. Native speakers might be thinking “two syllables”, because the written form has two syllables, but the verbalization sure sounds like a single diphthong to me. That is, slow enunciated speech closely follows the written form, but spoken at a normal pace changes things. No different than any other language, I think.

Maybe to a non-native speaker, but as mentioned above, this is actually a very poor example of that. To native speakers it really is two distinct syllables even when spoken at a normal pace (but becomes much more obvious when slowly enunciated). It’s just the sound is either incredibly uncommon or nonexistent in English.

You can’t trust audiobook pronunciation. It’s not checked. Audiobooks suggest that the WILLamette River runs through Orogahn.

I’ll go on record. The reader I’m talking about is Nelson Runger.

Another hard one is the double - L sound. For example, 실례 is pronounced “shil-lay” (although it’s a weird hybrid of an “R” sound and an “L” sound). In English, if you put two L’s together they form a single sound. In Korean there is a subtle but definite stop between the two consonants that a novice might not hear.