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So you want to speak Korean ?

Learning languages | Choosing your language | Francois Micheloud

This review is the kind contribution of Mark Bailey from Japan
Korean –––
Speaking Korean offers you social and business opportunities in the region, but the increasing number of Koreans who are studying English sometimes makes it hard to practice unless you go to the suburbs or rural areas of South Korea.
Compared to other Asian languages of the Northeast Asia region (Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese), this is the easiest to learn, due to the comparatively simple and logical script, the absence of tones, and the large number of borrowed English words.
Introduction - ©www.micheloud.com
Usefulness 
definition
Speaking Korean is of course advantageous primarily only if traveling or living in Korea, but ability to read it will sometimes allow you to get cheaper prices in Korean shops in the country and in Korean-owned shops in the US. Speaking it can also get you free extra or generous portions of food from pleasantly surprised cooks in Korean restaurants, especially if the restaurant is in another country, such as Japan, Canada, or in most large cities in the U.S. 
Beauty 
Definition...
If you are used to Romance languages, Korean may not seem so beautiful, sometimes described as choppy by westerners and can sometimes sound angry to Japanese or Thai speakers, but there is an elegance to the sound of the spoken language which is fun and challenging to get accustomed to. 
Chic factor 
Definition...
Since Asian languages are all considered to be difficult by most non-speakers, saying you speak 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, especially in the U.S.
Speakers 
Definition...
71 million 
Countries 
Definition...
Total Countries: South Korea, North Korea, and sizeable communities in Japan, Canada, and the U.S. 
Regional variations 
Definition...
The dialects of North Korea (Joson) and South Korea (Hanguk) are gradually gaining differences between each other, mainly in spelling of vocabulary words, but are still mutually intelligible. The writing system in North Korea has completely eliminated older Chinese characters from writings, but in South Korea, you may still occasionally find some in older literature. This is not much of a problem though because South Koreans use these characters less and less, especially the younger generations. If you learn Korean, I highly recommend the standard Seoul dialect of South Korea, which is the most prestigious dialect and is easily understood among Korean speakers throughout the world. 
Travel 
Definition...
Since North Korea is still very restricted for foreigners to travel to, South Korea is presently the only place you can use it to travel, but the people will open up more to you if you speak their language, especially the further you get from Seoul, the capital.
Culture 
Definition...
If you are a westerner, learning Korean (as with many Asian languages) will both require and allow you to 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 language. 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 culture also offers a lively nightlife of spicy food and fun bars and discos. 

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Difficulty - ©www.micheloud.com
Phonemes 
Definition...
No tones and not many stressed syllables, but the consonants sometimes change sounds at the ends of words, eliding into the next word. This takes getting used to, but is made up for in the relatively easy syntax.The sounds are not particularly difficult to pronounce but are different from western values, especially the consonants.(see Orthography below). 
Syntax 
Definition...
Verbs do not change according to person or plural, but do have various degrees of politeness forms according to the age and seniority of the person being addressed, which are difficult to master, but fortunately the younger generations do not regularly use these so much, and you as a foreigner will be forgiven for politeness mistakes, especially if you err on the side of the standard text-book ?eimnida?f forms. 
Vocabulary 
Definition...
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.
Orthograph 
Definition...
The more difficult aspect for the beginner is the difference in sound values of b and p sounds, j and ch,and t and d. This is compounded by the widely diverging romanization systems used for Korean: Lukoff, Yale, Horne, and McCune-Reischauer. This confusion can be easily avoided however if you learn the Korean script, Hangul, as soon as possible, and skip the middle step of romanization completely.  This is strongly advised, because it will save valuable time, lessen your confusion, and greatly enhance the speed with which you learn Korean.   It will also help you to avoid spelling mistakes (there are two T's, two P's, etc.in the script) when you start to write Korean Hangul script. 
Overall difficulty 
Definition...
I rate this language as DDD, rather difficult to learn for most westerners, but still one of the easiest of northern Asian languages. Korean is not related to any other language or family, except for Japanese, which it resembles slightly in structure, politeness rules, and borrowed vocabulary. This fact makes it seem more difficult than it is. Knowing Chinese or Japanese will make it easier to learn Korean, and like those languages, it is easier to speak it than to read or write it. 
Time needed 
Definition...
I would allow a year to learn to speak, but to learn to read newspapers and use the politeness forms properly you would need at least three years of study, though you can learn to read simple Korean in about four months. The right-angle shapes and logic of the writing system make it easy to learn and can be learned in two days.  It is fun to show off that you can read and write it but the tricky part comes in learning to read books and newspapers quickly, which takes a lot of practice. 

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Learning material - ©www.micheloud.com
Books and tapes 
Definition...
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, 1997. 
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 romanization system. 
Schools 
Definition...
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   E-mail: homestay@andyou.com 
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 broadcasts.
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. 

 

Learning languages | Choosing your language | Francois Micheloud