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The ’I Hate Korean’ Thread

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IronFist
Senior Member
United States
Joined 4545 days ago

663 posts - 941 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Japanese, Korean

 
 Message 97 of 131
28 January 2012 at 6:59pm | IP Logged 
Minya wrote:
I don't think Korean is hard if you love it.


False.

I love Korean. It's why I keep coming back to it over the last 15 years.

But it's still hard. Much harder than languages I've studied that I didn't really like.
3 persons have voted this message useful



IronFist
Senior Member
United States
Joined 4545 days ago

663 posts - 941 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Japanese, Korean

 
 Message 98 of 131
28 January 2012 at 7:19pm | IP Logged 
I read this entire thread and enjoyed it thoroughly. I agree with everything Kitchen.Sink has said.

There are too many posts in this thread that begin with "I've never studied Korean, but [I don't think it is as hard as people say]."

Re: the comparisons with Japanese. I started studying Japanese and Korean within about a year of each other, when I was about 15 years old, so my brain was in about the same level of development. I am not exaggerating when I say that I made more progress in 6 months of Japanese than in 2 years of Korean. I fully admit that part of this is due in fact to the lack of good Korean learning materials. I bought at least a dozen Korean courses in the mid 90s and nearly all of them were worthless for many reasons which I have mentioned in other threads so don't want to repeat here.

It wasn't until the early 2000s that I found some Korean learning materials that were decent, and I have found exactly 3, which I will list here:

1) Pimsleur Korean - the 30 lesson course. In the mid 90s they released a 10 lesson (or maybe it was 30) course that was weird. It was SUPER formal, and didn't "sound like Korean." Pimsleur has recently released level 1 and 2 30 lesson courses that, *gasp*, actually sound like the Korean you hear spoken on TV and on the street!

I know many people hate Pimsleur, but I find it invaluable because it gets you thinking in the target language. For me personally, it rewires my brain. Who cares if you don't learn very much vocabulary? It sets the foundation for your new language in a way that no other program can. In fact, I commonly hear people who have learned through Pimsleur making comments like "natives assume I know more than I do because my pronunciation is so good and my speech is so fluid."

2) Elementary Korean by Ross King and Jaehoon Yeon (comes with a CD)

3) Integrated Korean by Young-Mee Cho, Hyo Sang Lee, Carol Schulz and Ho-Min Sohn (this is a whole series with like 6 or 8 books and I believe .mp3s are available online)

Even with updated learning materials, even with watching Korean TV for hours a day for years, even with listening to Korean music every day, even with talking to native speakers when I can, progress in Korean moves at a snails pace.

Many people say "Japaneses is harder than Korean because of the kanji!!!" I guarantee you they have never studied both languages. I think memorizing all the kanji, their various pronunciations, and getting used to the annoying fact that Japanese doesn't put spaces in between words, can all be accomplished much quicker than learning to understand spoken Korean.

Sure, Japanese may not have very many sounds, but they're all distinct from one another. When a Japanese person says something, you know what they said. When you say something in Japanese, they know what you said. There aren't 4 consonants that all sound the same (to you, not to them), a bunch of other consonants that change into other consonants depending on where they are in a word or because the speaker just feels like pronouncing them differently, and there aren't 20+ vowels that just get slurred together any which way or dropped entirely. (I know Japanese has consonants that change in compound words, such as initial K becoming G when it's the second half of a compound word, or T becoming D in the same instance. This is easy and predictable, and not what I'm talking about in Korean).

Korean has so many one and two syllable homonyms which would be bad enough in itself, but you don't even know what word is being said because the initial and middle consonants could sound like one thing but they are actually one of 8 different options that you just misunderstood. The vowels might sound like one thing to you but you're actually wrong. You can't look up in a dictionary what you think you heard because it will require looking up 10 or 20 different possibilities for each possible consonant and vowel you may have heard in each possible location even though the word was only two syllables long!

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that half of the language will sound like homonyms to you, even though to Koreans they are entirely separate words. There is no equivalent of the same magnitude in English. Some foreigners learning English can't hear the difference between short i (like in "slip") and long E (like in "sleep"). So if you say "slip" they may not understand which word you said without context, but in context it would be pretty easy. If someone brushes their teeth and said "I need to sleep," it's pretty obvious which word they mean even if you don't understand when they say it. Now, imagine that instead of only two options, "slip" and "sleep," there are 8 other words that sound exactly the same that it could be. You could still get them from context, right? Now, imagine that half the words in the sentence being spoken have that same issue, each with 8 other words they could be. It becomes like an elaborate probability tree in your head. Now, imagine that the pronunciation of them changes at will, so "slip," "sleep," and the other 6 words that sound alike could also be pronounced as "sli" or "sleeb" or "slob" or "slop" or "slurp" "sl" or "leep" or "lip" or "sleip," or "slp," or "lp" or "s" or "p" or "monkey," or "dishwasher," or some other variation that may either be close to the original word or completely different.   And figure out which word it is quickly because Koreans speak quickly. And if you mishear something, well, every word in Korean is just one letter away from being a completely different word.

And even if you manage to isolate that word, if you're like "cool, I heard him say "slp." Good luck looking it up in a dictionary because it's not even spelled that way.

Now I know it's not this hard for everyone. Some people in this thread have said they are at an intermediate level of Korean, and that's great. I'm impressed and jealous :) I don't doubt that for some people, it just "clicks." It's like how some people can learn to play an instrument easily and other people study for years and still aren't very good. But if there was one instrument that was considered to be hard, even amongst musicians who were already skilled at other instruments, that would be like the Korean of the instrument world.

I assume that most people on this forum are better at learning languages than the average person. And even if they're not, the fact that they are interested enough to join a language learning forum would give them an advantage. So the people here who say Korean is hard aren't idiots who just "don't know how to learn a language" or "don't have a good strategy."

But the people who haven't studied it really can't comment about how it's "not that hard" because it's basically the same as people watching UFC on TV and acting like they would be able to beat the guy who is fighting. On paper it all makes sense and is easy to analyze. Armchair quarterbacks.

Kitchen.Sink, even though half the replies in this thread were flaming you, I agree with you 100%.

Korean is hard. It's so hard it's off-putting. I love it, though. I love the way it sounds. I like the way it looks written. I enjoy watching Korean TV and listening to Korean music. But every time I have begun to study it over the last 15 years, I become discouraged because I don't make any progress. As pointed out in this thread, listening to Korean TV doesn't help comprehension. I have a great "feel" for the language and its intonation (unlike some posts in this thread have suggested, I think Korean has a very apparent intonation). I am always drawn to the language. But in all seriousness, it's just a massive pile of fail every time I try to learn it. If I didn't love it, I would've been discouraged 15 years ago.

I find that I do better when I slur everything myself. I try to sound like how I would imagine someone on TV saying it if they were pretending to be drunk, like you see on dramas sometimes.

In Japanese, I learn a new word and I remember it. It's a clear, crisp word.

In Korean, I learn a new word and forget it 15 seconds later. It's not clear. It's not crisp. There are 50 other words that sound just like it, that are written almost exactly like it, and that probably all sound the same when spoken. Well, they all sound the same to me at least.

It's not the grammar. It's not the formality or honorifics. It's not the particles. It's not SOV order. It's not the dropping of subjects. Japanese does all of that and it doesn't really give me a problem. It's speaking/pronunciation/listening/slurring and the fact that every word is so similar to every other word that I can't keep them apart in my brain. I can't even remember them.

In Japanese, each word is a sculpture made out of diamond. It has hard edges. It is distinct from every other sculpture.

In Korean, each word is a semi-formed sculpture made of clay. It's soft and pliable and looks like every other sculpture and if you look at it wrong it will change shape and get all mushed up.

But the clay has drugs in it so I can't stay away.

Edited by IronFist on 28 January 2012 at 7:35pm

23 persons have voted this message useful



vientito
Senior Member
Canada
Joined 4446 days ago

212 posts - 281 votes 

 
 Message 99 of 131
28 January 2012 at 8:24pm | IP Logged 
I myself think Hangul is one of the greatest script invention of all times. Its influence is even evident in our modern era. For example the layout of the keyboard is structured so well that it takes less than a week to be proficient in typing. Similar adventure in alphabets has taken me far longer to achieve the same level.

They claim that Korean children, as a group, is the earliest in age to be able to read and write among all children in the world. I am sure Hangul plays a major role in that.
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IronFist
Senior Member
United States
Joined 4545 days ago

663 posts - 941 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Japanese, Korean

 
 Message 100 of 131
28 January 2012 at 8:49pm | IP Logged 
I've heard Korea's 99% literacy rate is because of hangul.

I can read hangul faster than I can read kana in Japanese, although I can read hangul much faster if I know the words I am reading.

Sometimes when I see a word in hangul, and I know the word, and I know how to pronounce the word (often not like it is written), in my mind I can switch over and say the word slurred, the way it is actually pronounced in Korean conversation.

For example, if I am reading something in Japanese, I read it, and then I go back and think "ok, what word am I saying... Let's see. wa-ta-shi... oh! That spells 'watashi,' I know that word!"

I realize kanji eliminates this a bit. You see the kanji for "watashi" and know "hey, that's 'watashi'!"

In Korean, if I know the words (and that's a big if), and if I know how the word is pronounced (also a big if), I'll see like "안녕히 계세요" and for years I would read it as "an-nyeong-hi gye-se-yo" but finally it got to the point where it's like "no, wait, I know that... that's pronounced ah-nyi-gye-se-yo" (or however it's slurred, that's what it sounds like to me). It's like seeing "I am going to" in English and knowing that it's pronounced "I am gonna."

With hangul, these "I know that word!" moments happen. They happen very rarely, but they happen. With kana, not so much.

If Japanese was written in hangul it would be the perfect Asian language to learn (I'm sure I just offended every Japanese person and every Korean person on this forum). It's kind of like how I've heard that the Cyrillic alphabet would work perfectly for Polish, because where Polish needs 4 letters, Cyrillic already has a letter for that sound, but Polish people would never adopt the Cyrillic alphabet for various reasons.

As another poster (Bao? I can't remember) posted in another thread, taking a break from Korean means forgetting what you know.

I haven't used Japanese in years and I probably remember 75-80% of what I knew at one point.

But if I take a few months off from Korean I lose 40% of it.

Continuing my "diamond and clay" analogy from my previous post, every word I learn in Japanese fits perfectly into its own compartment in my brain. I know where it goes, and I know where it is, and I can usually find the one I need.

In Korean, since the words are all half-finished sculptures made out of clay, when I learn a new word and store it in my brain, it just gets squished in with all the other clay, and then when I need that word, I can't find it, because it's not distinct from any of the other words. I break off a piece of clay and mold it into what I think is the correct shape and think "maybe this is it" but alas, it is not.

Edited by IronFist on 28 January 2012 at 9:05pm

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Lucky Charms
Diglot
Senior Member
Japan
lapacifica.net
Joined 5057 days ago

752 posts - 1710 votes 
Speaks: English*, Japanese
Studies: German, Spanish

 
 Message 101 of 131
29 January 2012 at 11:20am | IP Logged 
IronFist, thank you for your comparison of Japanese and Korean. I have never doubted
that Korean is much harder than Japanese, but I still always suspected you were
exaggerating the difficulty. But your analysis of Japanese seemed very honest and
positive to me, so now I'm more ready to accept what you say about Korean.

My thoughts on some of your comments:

IronFist wrote:
Sure, Japanese may not have very many sounds, but they're all distinct
from one another. When a Japanese person says something, you know what they said.


Yes, I've found this to be a blessing that all of my "serious" languages so far
(German, Japanese, and Spanish) are clearly pronounced and easy to spell. I can't
imagine how frustrating it must be not to be able to look up an unknown word easily in
the dictionary.

IronFist wrote:
If Japanese was written in hangul it would be the perfect Asian
language to learn.


I'm not offended. I agree that without kanji it would be considered a moderately easy
language by Westerners. The word order, agglutination, and vocab borrowed from a non-IE
cultural sphere would probably make it similar to Turkish in difficulty. However...

IronFist wrote:
Korean has so many one and two syllable homonyms


...This particular problem is reportedly worse in Japanese because it has fewer
phonemes, and therefore fails to make some distinctions between borrowed Chinese sounds
that Korean makes. For example, the 객 of 관객 (觀客, spectator) and the 격 of 성격 (性
格, personality) are both pronounced 「かく」 in Japanese. Also, the 성 is pronounced
「せい」, which is the same pronunciation used for the Korean 생 of 생명 (生命, life).
This is why I believe kanji is actually a boon to learners of Japanese. Even native
speakers sometimes resort to describing a kanji in order to clarify which word they
mean. So I would argue that the homynym problem would have been worse in Japanese, but
this is greatly remedied by the use of kanji in daily life.
1 person has voted this message useful



liddytime
Pentaglot
Senior Member
United States
mainlymagyar.wordpre
Joined 4337 days ago

693 posts - 1328 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Galician
Studies: Hungarian, Vietnamese, Modern Hebrew, Norwegian, Persian, Arabic (Written)

 
 Message 102 of 131
30 January 2012 at 3:28am | IP Logged 
IronFist wrote:
...
... It's not the grammar. It's not the formality or honorifics. It's not the particles. It's not SOV order. It's not the
dropping of subjects. Japanese does all of that and it doesn't really give me a problem. It's
speaking/pronunciation/listening/slurring and the fact that every word is so similar to every other word that I
can't keep them apart in my brain. I can't even remember them.
In Japanese, each word is a sculpture made out of diamond. It has hard edges. It is distinct from every other
sculpture.
In Korean, each word is a semi-formed sculpture made of clay. It's soft and pliable and looks like every other
sculpture and if you look at it wrong it will change shape and get all mushed up.
But the clay has drugs in it so I can't stay away.


IronFist, this is hands down the best description of Korean I have read! I too have attempted to tackle Korean
numerous times only to be beaten down and humbled by its impenetrability. People often ask me why I consider
Korean the most difficult language on Earth & I think you hit the nail on the head with your description. It is just
so darn incomprehensible!

Once a year or so, I get drawn back in with Korean. Not so much due the language itself, but due to Korean
people. Koreans (generalizing of course) are just awesome. I love their attitude, cuisine, sense of humor and
their wonderful hospitality. This lures me back in every year - and again , every year, I'm beaten down into
submission!
3 persons have voted this message useful



Balliballi
Groupie
Korea, SouthRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 2800 days ago

70 posts - 115 votes 
Studies: Korean

 
 Message 103 of 131
02 February 2012 at 10:58pm | IP Logged 
I admire your candor, IronFist, and your post is an excellent review of the difficulties of learning Korean. I identified with many of your experiences in learning Korean.

Quote:
I find that I do better when I slur everything myself. I try to sound like how I would imagine someone on TV saying it if they were pretending to be drunk, like you see on dramas sometimes.


Like you, I find myself better understood when I slur the words together. For example, I was at the driver's license center trying to get a license. I asked about the test and said, "시험" ("si-heom" or "test"), pronouncing the word as distinctly as I could, sounding out each syllable separately and slowly. The listener looked puzzled. After I repeated this word a few times, he finally understood what I was trying to say. "Oh, shom," he said, blending the two syllables together and pronouncing it as a one-syllable word. If I had slurred the word and said it quickly I might have been understood the first time I said it.

Quote:
Even with updated learning materials, even with watching Korean TV for hours a day for years, even with listening to Korean music every day, even with talking to native speakers when I can, progress in Korean moves at a snails pace.


Listening comprehension is also very difficult for me. I grew up in a household where both parents spoke Korean to each other (but not to the children). However, I hardly picked up any Korean from listening to them talk to each other, maybe about ten words in total.

I have also encountered the difficulty of looking up words in a dictionary from knowing just the pronunciation of the words.

The word for "prisoner" in Korean is "죄인". I thought it was spelled as "제인" just from the way the word was pronounced, and I, of course, could not find the word in the dictionary, which was annoying as I wanted to know how the word was written in Korean and not only how it was pronounced.

Another word I had this problem with was "귀신" (ghost). I thought it was spelled "기신" and I spent many frustrating minutes trying to find this word in the dictionary, which I ended up not doing.

I find one of the most difficult things about learning Korean is the lack of opportunities to practise speaking in Korean with Korean native speakers. Also, the pronunciation is difficult. The complex grammar of Korean and the differences in the ways Koreans and English speakers express themselves are other major difficulties.

I think that's why I am studying reading comprehension and grammar first, and not speaking/conversation first. Learning to read Korean is, I think, easier than learning to speak in Korean. Learning to speak in Korean is going to take massive amounts of effort. I will have to spend many hours shadowing comprehensible input, virtually mimicking every common sentence that I am likely to speak in the future and committing those sentences to my aural memory, so that when I speak, it will be automatic (that is, I won't be translating things from English to Korean in my head). I think this method is necessary for learning to speak most languages actually, but in the case of Korean, because of the alien grammar patterns and the difficult pronunciation (for English speakers), the process is going to be harder and take longer than it would for most other languages.

Also, it will be hard for me to find this comprehensible input to shadow. I have a collection of mp3s and CDs but these won't be enough. I can't use Korean movies to shadow because of the difficulties of extracting the English and Korean subtitles and juxtaposing the subtitles (believe me, I have tried, and it's almost impossible to do), thereby creating comprehensible (translated) input for me to shadow. In addition, Korean actors speak very fast in these movies, which makes it almost impossible to do shadowing.

I have hit on a solution to this, which is to pay someone to read the input I want to shadow. In this way, I control the input and can make sure it is comprehensible, and I can select a wider range of input too. The input will be translated sentences I come across. Some of them will be in the form of a dialog, but most of them will not. And the recordings I make will give me lots of material to shadow. I can also control the speed at which the Korean person reads the input.

So I am going to use shadowing to try and overcome the difficulties in learning to speak fluently in Korean.

Some people might say I am going about it backwards - that I should do the shadowing first, and then learn to read and write afterwards. After I have shadowed lots of material, the grammar will be absorbed naturally and innately is the theory, and then I will be able to understand grammar better later when I study it from a book.

Unfortunately, this does not suit my style of learning. I dislike ambiguity of any kind. Perhaps if I had learned Korean as a child and used shadowing first to learn the language, this method would have worked well. But as an adult, I prefer to get a sense of the language as a whole from the beginning. I feel bothered when I do not know how a word is written even if I know how it sounds.

Quote:
In Japanese, each word is a sculpture made out of diamond. It has hard edges. It is distinct from every other sculpture.

In Korean, each word is a semi-formed sculpture made of clay. It's soft and pliable and looks like every other sculpture and if you look at it wrong it will change shape and get all mushed up.


I agree with liddytime. An extremely well-written analogy.

Quote:
But the clay has drugs in it so I can't stay away.


Hahaha.


Edited by Balliballi on 03 February 2012 at 2:58am

2 persons have voted this message useful



crafedog
Diglot
Senior Member
United Kingdom
Joined 3926 days ago

166 posts - 337 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish
Studies: Korean, Tok Pisin, French

 
 Message 104 of 131
03 February 2012 at 6:51am | IP Logged 
I've seen this thread in the past and I was intrigued to see it pop up again.

IronFist has said it all perfectly both on Korean and the 'armchair' naysayers (I love
that analogy. Is that an actual American saying or is it based on the old criticism of
Victorian thinking?).

Don't forget that both Professor Arguelles (who lived in Korea for about 10 years and
is married to a Korean woman) and FSI have both claimed that Korean is the most
difficult language (maybe not but by leaps and bounds, but certainly that it is number
1 difficult). These two sources combined will know more about this than anyone who is
merely familiar with what hangeul is or knows how to say hello in Korean.

To IronFist I say I admire your determination in learning this language. I've certainly
gone through more than a few down phases in my learning of Korean (I'm now learning
French at the moment while having a Spanish background. Boy am I laughing).

If you doubt his claims on Korean pronunciation, I have some examples for you. An early
word you learn in Korean is 감사합니다 (kam.sa.ham.nida) but 99.9% of the time it is
pronounced kam.sam.nida (losing the 'h' ㅎ sound as you see). This loss of the 'h'
sound is actually explained (in the book I mention below) and quite common in Korean
(and other languages including English). Try saying 영화 to a native. They'll try
correcting you as 영와 which is the correct pronunciation but different to the spelling
(while you're both oblivious to this fact).

Maybe you think that's not a big deal, it's just something you get used to. However, I
have a (native) friend who is from Daejeon who was visiting Daegu (less than 2 hours
away) and was speaking to a (native) waiter there. They physically couldn't understand
each other. Entertainingly, I could understand them because I could tell from
context/structure what they were saying (however I wouldn't have been able to
transcribe what they were saying). One of my friends recently couldn't understand his
soon-to-be parents-in-law because of their accent/dialect which I found to be
hilarious.

The thing that gets to me at times in Korean is the fact that the culture is such a
huge part of the language. Though this is claimed to be true for all languages (it
becomes a very chicken/egg debate), it seems very strong in Korean and so in turn much
of the language depends on context/situation which I find very frustrating.

You watch an English movie and you hear 'What are you looking at?' which could be a
tricky structure for some learners. Now if you want to use this question with your
friend, your mum, your grandma, your son, the queen, gods, you can. In Korean, you
cannot. Ever. You must change it depending on the relationship/circumstances so you
must learn something new (for each situation and every sentence!) that can be as
diverse as 무엇을 봅니까? to 뭘 봐? (exactly the same sentence). Gods forbid this is new
information or you want to be cute with your endings etc. (you fall into a complete
cultural minefield if you ever try to say 'You' in Korean). I remember looking at a
book that showed 27 different ways of saying 'Do you know?'. 27. Not 'Did you
know?' or 'Will you know?', no, no just 'Do you know?' 8 of which were very common (as
opposed to the English 1).

As for the claim that Japanese is tougher because of the kanji and Chinese is tougher
because of the hanzi, I recently started to learn the Korean equivalent (called 한자
hanja [or more accurately, the super secret pronunciation 한짜 hanjja]) to help me
remember Korean vocabulary. Remembering 'native language' 원어 is a lot easier when you
know 원 can mean source/origin and so 원어민 means 'native speaker'. Imagine
choosing to learn Kanji/Hanzi to make learning Japanese/Chinese easier. That's
what I had to do to remember Korean vocabulary which kind of speaks for itself.

To IronFist and all who are learning Korean, the resources for the Korean language are
predominately atrocious but there are a few gems sprinkled here and there which I've
written of in the past. For grammar, there's Park's 'Speaking Korean'; for sounds,
there's 'Sounds of Korean' (I think this will be fascinating for you in particular
IronFist because he does explain some of Korean's phonemic discrepancies); for
vocabulary, there's Choo's 'Handbook of Korean Vocabulary'; for listening, there's the
website 'Talk to me in Korean'; and finally for speaking practice, there's the 'Active
Korean' series (only 4 books).

Edited by crafedog on 03 February 2012 at 6:58am



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