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Korean overview

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Joined 4940 days ago

94 posts - 18 votes

 Message 1 of 35
10 January 2005 at 5:22pm | IP Logged 
I've just read your profile of Korean and must say I was positively surprised: there's so much wrong information out there (but this was a nice change). Well done!

Nevertheless, a few things I think you could improve:

Usefulness: if you're doing business (as with any language), a few phrases will often do the trick (you can then do the deal in English).

Regional variations: The Chinese character (Hanja) are *not* going to disappear in South Korea. They are still taught at school, but for a learner, of course, they are not needed...

Syntax: the -hamnida form is fine with strangers, but if you have made Korean friends of similar age to you, this form is far too polite, maybe try -yo.

Ortograph: The importance to learn the Korean script (Hangeul) cannot be stressed enough. It'll only take an evening or two since it's very regular and phonetical... Korean people struggle when read their own language when written in romanizations.

Links: There's a free online course available: (you need to register). It's not a great course in the sense that Pimsleur is (but then there are only 10 lessons out in Korean yet), but a nicely done *old school* text book (dialogs, grammar, vocabulary) turned multimedia.
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United States
Joined 4938 days ago

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 Message 2 of 35
12 January 2005 at 9:54pm | IP Logged 
I believe you are seriously underestimating the difficulty of Korean.

The FSL courses grew out of the US army's need to rapidly develop translators for various "exotic" langauges for the first time ever around the period of WWII. Based on this experience training some soldiers to speak languages the way they trained others to shoot rifles, they at some point developed a chart of difficulty of languages based on the number of hours it took for American GI's to master them. I came accross that chart many years ago, but stupidly did not copy it and have subsequently been able to find no reference to it. Does anyone out there know of it? At any rate, Korean was listed in the very highest level of difficulty, a notch above both Japanese and Chinese in fact. Primarily for this reason, I set out to learn it by going to live in the country. I spent nine years there, in fact married a Korean lady, and am certainly what I would term "functionally fluent for a foreigner." I have even authored a few books on Korean linguistics (a guide to Korean Verbal Conjugation, available from Dunwoody Press, and A Historical, Literary, and Cultural Approach to the Korean Language (with tapes), available from Hollym Press).

I know many other foreigners who have lived in the country for ages. All of them made some effort at learning the language initially, but only the smallest handful ever made any progress.

While you do not need to know Chinese characters for basic literacy in Korean, you simply MUST know them to make any progress in vocabulary acqusition beyond the beginner's level.

Everyone I have ever met who has learned both Korean and Japanese agrees that their grammars are almost as similar as those of any two Romance languages, but that that of Japanese has been streamlined, while Korean remains comparatively much more complex.

I have made good progress in a number of other "difficult" or exotic languages such as Russian and Arabic. Compared to Korean, both of these languages are much easier, i.e., if you apply yourself well, consistently, and intelligently every day for a number of years, after a single handful you will be rather advanced. However, with Korean you will still be in a fog. I have studied scores of languages, and Korean is unquestionably the most difficult one I have ever encountered.
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Joined 4940 days ago

94 posts - 18 votes

 Message 3 of 35
13 January 2005 at 7:58am | IP Logged 
I find that there's almost no good teaching material for Korean. From that point of view, it's more demanding on the learner.... but things may be getting better - at least more is being published these days.

Can you explain what you mean by a streamlined grammar?

Also am I interested in why you consider Chinese characters (Hanja) essential for vocabulary. I think as a learner you probably naturally become interested in the Hanja... but you don't *need* them.

Finally, as pointed out in another post, the difficulty of a language cannot be measured in absolute terms: your linguistic background matters a great deal. So, the chart you've seen will be for Americans...

Edited by manna on 13 January 2005 at 8:00am

United States
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 Message 4 of 35
13 January 2005 at 7:32pm | IP Logged 
You are 100% correct, the difficulty of learning a foreign language is always subjective and is based on your own linguistic background and experience. For Japanese, Korean is probably the easiest language to learn, and vice versa, but for Westerners, they are both major challenges. You are also quite right in that another major difficulty in this case is the lack of good learning materials for Korean. Thank you for your reaction to my other posting as well, but I cannot share your optimism about the possibility of more good things to come from the market simply because it is being flooded with methods. If you are seriously interested in Korean, I would heartily recommend Wilfied Hermann's Lehrbuch der modernen koreanischen Sprache (Helmut Buske Verlag, Hamburg, 1995) as far and away the most systematic approach. Might I also humbly again ask you to look at my own method published by Hollym press?

I got the term "streamlined" grammar from a doctoral student who had previously mastered Japanese and was engaged in a full scale comparative study of Korean, and though my own knowledge of Japanese is more limited, what he said immediately resonated, and was subsequently confirmed or seconded when I discussed it with a number of Korean linguists who knew Japanese and with one Japanese linguist who knew Korean. The point is this: the grammar of the two languages is amazingly similar given the fact that Western linguistics holds them to be genetically unrelated (Japanese and Koreans unquestioningly believe that they are related, largely because of this fact). However, and although Japanese is still quite complex and contains ample synonymous constructions, if you compare them on any specific point, you will almost surely find that Korean has more variants than Japanese, e.g., the conjunctive endings that verbs and adjectives can take in these languages, or the verb endings themselves: there may even be several hundred in use in Japanese, but there are certainly nowhere near the 600+ that can be attached to any given Korean verb. The feeling among all these linguists was that Japanese had probably had just as many until the fairly recent past, but that the developmental course of the history and society of the two countries in the past 150 years had caused the disparity. The Japanese language was regimented and thus "streamlined" along with the rest of the society, while the Korean language was not, was in fact even prohibited and fragmented by the occupation and partition of the country.

As to Hanja, I maintain absolutely that any serious student of Korean truly does need them. What do we mean by *need*? If you just want to converse, you obviously don't need to read at all. It is also true that you don't often encounter them in the modern literature or in letters that Korean friends might write to you or in the kind of informational brochure you might need to read at the airport. However, they are still omnipresent in the society. You cannot read a newspaper without them. You cannot read historical markers without them, let alone understand the signs and storefronts around town without them. Scholarly books in many disciplines employ them quite heavily, and older and classical literature is replete with them. More than this, though, the fact is that the etymology of Korean is 70% Hanja and so you can only understand why most words mean what they mean if you know Hanja. I recall that I myself hit my first wall or plateau in the leaning curve after a year or two in the country. Like most learners, I had neglected the study of Hanja to that point. As soon as I began memorizing the 1800 characters that all educated Koreans themselves are expected to know, my vocabularly and overall command immediately began to snowball. After you know even a portion of these Hanja, you can begin to figure out what new and previously unknown words mean from context, even when they are only written in Hangul, whereas without them you must have recourse to a dictionary. Thus yes, one does NEED Hanja in order to learn Korean well.
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Joined 4940 days ago

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 Message 5 of 35
15 January 2005 at 5:31am | IP Logged 
Thanks for this extended reply. Of course I don't maintain that more language courses necessarily means better courses, but it does mean more of a choice. I'm probably optimistic since Pimsleur released their first bit for Korean (of course there's more needed than 6 hours of a good audio course).

Thanks for explaining what you mean by *streamlined*. I was aware of the differences, but the word streamlined connoted something something deliberate to me. Now it's all clear.

As for the hanja, you're right of course. I'm amazed how you lived in the country without developing an interest in the Chinese characters... - My point probably is that a *beginner* would be discouraged when you add the Chinese characters. If you're serious about the language, however, then no doubt... I only thought that that would come natural.

United States
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 Message 6 of 35
03 February 2005 at 2:32am | IP Logged 
Sorry for the delayed response. I’ve been ill and swamped with work – it is finals time here in Lebanon (an odd season of the year for that, I know), and I have had to get all my grades in. I’m glad to help with some more answers for your description of Korean, but I see that manna has once again beaten me to the punch with some very apt answers, and I note that he seems to have a very solid foundation in the language so you should certainly always solicit his second opinions. Well, here are my more verbose replies:

1) It is no more possible to give the total number of hanjas used in the language than it is possible to give the exact number of words used in any language. There are tens of thousands, certainly, but most of them are quite rare. Still, we can probably do something with figures like 1000, 2000, and 3000. If you know the 1000 most common, you should be able to begin to read newspapers. If you know the 2000 most common, you are better educated than most. If you know 3000, you are quite well versed in the system and should be able to tackle any text – albeit with an Oakpyun at your side, just as Chinese scholars tackle them.

2) Yes certainly you can describe getting a foothold in basic literacy as infinitely easier in Korean than in Chinese or Japanese. For that reason, I very much view Korean as the “gateway” language to the Far East for scholars of a comparative bent who would like to learn all three. However, just be sure that you always stress that knowledge of hanja is as integral a part of full knowledge of the language as it is for either Japanese or Chinese.

3) I’ve conferred with some truly bilingual friends on this one and one of the best nouns we can think of is 'noonchi' 눈치, which refers to the non-spoken language that one must be quick to recognize in Korean society with its indirect way of communicating. The dictionary I have defines it as "sense, tact, intuition," etc, but the way it's used doesn't quite fit those definitions. Unlike most Korean words, this is not a Chinese character loan word, but an indigenous term. I am not 100% of the etymology, but I would be willing to bet quite a bit that ‘noon’ is ‘eye’ and ‘chi’ is ‘hit or attack.’ Here are some examples.

Noonchirul poda 눈치를 보다: to look for hints on what's really going on behind the more obvious words and actions
Noonchiga pparuda 눈치가 빠르다: to be very good at picking up these subtle signals
Noonchiga opsda 눈치가 없다: to be a bit dense when it comes to picking up the signals
Noonchirul chuda 눈치를 주다: to give someone a subtle signal
Noonchibapul mokda 눈치밥을 먹다: to live in a situation where one is being bombarded with indirect communications intended to keep one constantly on one's toes, like when one is the daughter-in-law in a traditional Korean family.
Noonchirul chaeda 눈치를 채다: to 'see' something that was intended to be hidden.

Another unusual and very useful word in Korean is the verb ‘chaenggida’ 챙기다, referring to the action of properly using or collecting certain necessary material things for oneself OR taking care of another person, but even though we use it for these two seemingly very different situations, we still think of it as the same word. I haven't thought carefully enough to see what the relationship is between these two actions, but perhaps it has something to do with the responsibility or duty of taking proper care of oneself and others.

Korean also has an abundance of 'onomatopoeic' adverbs that are often overlooked in language books. I've placed quotes around *onomatopoeic* because, some of these actions don't have sounds, but it's like if the action DID have a sound, that word is what it would sound like. Note also how the change in vowel changes the weight or use of the word. For example, moorokmoorok 무럭무럭, morakmorak 모락모락, deerukdeeruk 디룩디룩, phidungphidung 피둥피둥, and phodongphodong 포동포동 used before stating that someone or something is fat all mean that that thing or person is very fat, but there are untranslatable nuances that transcend ‘plump,’ ‘portly,’ ‘hefty,’ etc., for they all imply the same degree of fatness, but impart to the concept a degree of cuteness, softness, lumpiness, hardness, etc.

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United Kingdom
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 Message 7 of 35
03 August 2005 at 5:56am | IP Logged 
Ardaschir wrote:

The FSL courses grew out of the US army's need to rapidly develop translators for various "exotic" languages for the first time ever around the period of WWII. Based on this experience training some soldiers to speak languages the way they trained others to shoot rifles, they at some point developed a chart of difficulty of languages based on the number of hours it took for American GI's to master them. I came accross that chart many years ago, but stupidly did not copy it and have subsequently been able to find no reference to it. Does anyone out there know of it?    

Are the following related to the chart you are referring to above ?

towards the bottom of the text... 7_bilingual/content2c.html

and s.html

Senior Member
United States
Joined 4876 days ago

395 posts - 4 votes
Studies: English*

 Message 8 of 35
03 August 2005 at 12:20pm | IP Logged 
Has anyone used the book Speaking Korean? It is built like an FSI course and written totally in Hangul. There are two volumes it looks pretty old but the author has constantly came out with new revised additions.

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