|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
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.
|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
|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
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.
South Korea, North Korea, and sizeable communities in Japan, Canada, and the U.S.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|Difficulty - ©www.micheloud.com
|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).
|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.
|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
|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
|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.
|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.
material - ©www.micheloud.com
|Books and tapes
|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
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
|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 broadcasts.
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