|Korean Language Profile|
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In Korea, a command of Korean is not as useful
as you would expect . Many Koreans speak English and are
eager to practice it with foreigners, which makes practicing your Korean quite
difficult. Reading advanced material is rather difficult but can be very
fulfilling, as is watching the many excellent Korean films. Outside Korea, you
can often exchange a few words in Korean in shops. In the US,
you might get a generous portions of food from pleasantly surprised cooks
in Korean restaurants, especially in the US.
If you decide to take up Korean, you should have a love for Korean and all
things Koreans. Then the language will bring its own reward by providing a
unique window into this fascinating culture. But if you want to learn it for
monetary reasons, Chinese is probably a better investment.
|Chic factor||Since Asian languages are all considered to be difficult by most non-speakers, saying you peak Korean has some chic appeal, especially if you are not of Korean descent. The fact that you attempted to tackle a language so different from English or any western tongue will gain you respect in most circles.|
|Countries||South Korea and North Korea.|
48 millions speakers in South Korea and 22 millions in North Korea. There are large Korean communities in China, the former Soviet Union and the US where every corner deli seems to have been taken over by these honest and hard-working people.
The use of Korean for travelling is presently
limited to South Korea, as North Korea is barred to tourists.
The dialects of North Korea (Joson) and South
Korea (Hanguk) are still mutually intelligible but are gradually getting different, mainly
North Korea has completely eliminated older Chinese characters from
writings, but they are still very much present in South Korea (see below).
If you learn Korean, learn the standard Seoul dialect of
South Korea. It is the most prestigious dialect and is easily understood among
Korean speakers throughout the world.
If you are a Westerner, learning Korean, as with many Asian languages, will
expand your cultural horizons, including the way you think about life, as well
as how you interact socially with the native speakers of your target
Culture in the land of the morning calm offers traditions, poems, parables,
and historical writings dating back at least a thousand years. The Korean
language also offers unique concepts such as the reluctance to leave old hopes
and memories behind, and some interesting Buddhist-based proverbs.
Korean cinema is excellent, with many big budget action
movies with original and compelling plots. Some of my favorites include Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, 2009 Lost Memories and Joint Security Area. These movies are available on DVD with English subtitles
and excellent DTS soundracks. Even if you are not contemplating learning the
language, I strongly encourage you to watch them only for the high-quality break
it offers from mainstream Hollywood movies.
Korean culture also offers a lively nightlife of spicy food and fun bars and discos and excellent
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There are two levels of difficulty in learning Korean.
If you want to be able to read Korean on the Internet, send emails and have
basic oral fluency, the language is much easier than Japanese or Chinese and can
be rated - difficult to learn.
If, however, you want to read newspapers, books, street signs and have
complete fluency - the language is probably the hardest you can find, harder
than Chinese or Japanese. It deserves - very
difficult to learn.
When compared to Chinese, Korean seems at first an easy language to
pronounce, as there are no tones in Korean. However, as the student progresses he discovers that there are many,
many unique sounds in Korean, and that they escape our ear. You can listen and
listen for hours to pairs of contrasting consonants and hardly get the
difference - not speaking of reproducing it.
Korean is an agglutinative language, like Japanese or Turkish. If this is your first agglutinative language, you will need time to get used to building your phrases backwards. One benefit is that there is no case system.
Korean conjugation is very complex, with every verb having more than 600 possible different endings depending on degree of politeness, age and seniority. Most learners concentrate one one standard textbook politeness form.
Korean adjectives are also conjugated, with more than 500 possible endings.
|Vocabulary||An easy aspect is that many
English words are easily recognizable: taxi, whiskey, ice cream,
hotel, etc. The more difficult aspect is that unless you know Chinese
or Japanese, the non-borrowed Korean words will seem long and
unrelated to other languages. Learning numbers requires that you
learn two sets of Korean numbers and know when to use them, although
one set is derived from Chinese and will be easily recognizable to a
Chinese, Japanese, or Thai speaker.|
The chinese characters used in Korean are very similar to those used in both Chinese and Japanese. Even more interesting for the polyglot, they are often pronounced in a similar way. For example, the word for "history" in Korean is "(r)yok sa," while in Japanese it is "reki shi"; "teacher" in Korean is "son saeng," while in Japanese it is "sen sei".
Korean is written with a combination of an alphabet (Hangul) and Chinese characters (Hanjas). Many students assume they can afford never to bother with the Chinese characters and only work with the alphabet, which you can learn in a day. But one must understand the limitations of this scope of study.
In South Korea, Hanjas are everywhere and especially in newspapwers. Although you can read the Internet only using Hangul, you need to know a considerable amount of Hanjas characters to read a newspaper. Exactly how many? With a 1000 hanjas, you can already read a newspaper and with 2000 you are better educated than most Koreans. Reading historical or litterary texts is another story algother.
You can reach basic written and oral fluency within 12 months of study at
one hour a day. From this stage up the learning curve becomes flat and you
are looking at several years of study before you master all the politeness forms
and the hanjas you need to read newspapers.
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If you speak German, the best program out there
is Wilfied Hermann's Lehrbuch der modernen koreanischen Sprache (Helmut Buske Verlag,
For an introduction to only
speaking Korean, I recommend the following:
Making Out in Korean, by Peter Constantine, 1995 Yenbooks (slightly
racy terms included, but very fun, trendy and colloquial).
Korean in Plain English, by Boye De Mente, Passport Books, 1988.
Korean in a Hurry, by Samuel E.Martin, Charles E. Tuttle Company
A formal and more comprehensive guide to learn to speak, write and
read, I recommend:
Mastering Korean, by B.Nam Park, with cassettes, Barron's, 1988, this
is the Foreign Service Institute guide developed by the U.S.Government,
and it is effective though dull (no pictures or illustrations).
Also highly recommended are:
Colloquial Korean; A Complete Language Course, with cassettes, by A.I. Kim,
Korean: Instant Vocabulary, Vocabulearn, Levels I and II, 1986.
Pimsleur Language Program by Sung-Hyun Kirk Kim, 1998. Only 10
lessons are available so far, but eventually the full 30-lesson
package would be most beneficial.
If you can read Japanese, there is an excellent book with cassettes to
teach vocabulary and writing for beginners: Kankokugo Kihontango
purasu 2000, by Kim Dong Hahn, Goken Publishers.
In buying a dictionary, you have
to decide if you want to get one that uses one of the romanization systems
listed above, which are confusing and incompatible with each other. I
strongly recommend instead that you learn the script and get a good Hangul
(script) dictionary, which may have pronunciation guides, but does not rely on a
|Schools||I am aware of a school in Ohio,
U.S. which teaches speaking, reading, and writing Korean: Korean
American Community School of Central Ohio: http://www.kals.net/ The following program will set you up with a South Korean homestay
family and enroll you in Korean classes, but shop around in Seoul if
you can, you may find a better bargain: Languages Abroad, 502-99
Avenue Rd, Toronto, ON, Canada, M5R 2G5|
Also these two programs will arrange for you to home-stay with Korean
families, but do not provide language classes:
ANDYOU Korean homestays http://homestay1.andyou.com/cgi-bin/w3-msql/homestay.html
Ace Homestay http://www.ace-homestay.com/
Many large U.S.cities feature some Korean programming on cable TV or
radio, and the internet and shortwave radio also provides Korean
|Links||Many large U.S.cities feature
some Korean programming on cable TV or radio, and the internet and
shortwave radio also provides Korean broadcasts. Go to www.yahoo.co.kr
for a wide variety of Korean links, including news and current events
in South Korea. The Human Languages Page offers some other good
Korean language sites: http://www.june29.com/HLP/ |
To read the links for Korean on the internet, you will need a browser
capable of reading Hangul script, and will need Korean language
support software if you want to type in Korean.
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