South Korea is a country that has grown a lot in popularity over the years. This was pioneered not just because it is a beautiful country with an interesting history, but also thanks to pop culture. The likes of K-Pop and K-Dramas have become very popular worldwide, despite often being in the Korean language. This popularity is only growing as more people take notice.
People interested in these cultural products are also understandably interested in learning Korean so that they can understand what they are listening to. Maybe next time you are traveling in Asia you can make a stop in the country. For today, here is an overview about the Korean language to help you get to grips with what it is all about.
Korean, known as ‘Hangug-eo’ (한국어) in South Korea, is the national language of the country. It is spoken by almost 80 million throughout the peninsula and abroad. The majority of speakers, understandably, are in South and North Korea, with a significant number speaking the language in China. Thanks to its growing popularity, it is also becoming a more attractive language for people worldwide.
Korean uses its own alphabet that it created for itself (more on that later). In terms of vocabulary, it has been somewhat influenced by neighbouring China, though the bulk of its vocabulary is generally thought to be native Korean these days.
Despite speaking the same language, there are noticeable differences between the Korean spoken in the North and the South due to their separation. This includes everything from grammar to pronunciation. However, both varieties are still mutually intelligible, meaning it is still understandable.
Overall, Korea is a relatively small country with a strong influence and culture that has begun to appear worldwide.
The Korean Alphabet
The Korean script or ‘Hangul’ (한글) is the writing system of the whole Korean peninsular. At first look, it may seem like an abstract mixture of lines and circles. However, it is actually a very clever and intuitive script that works well with the spoken language.
One of the more interesting facts about the Korean script is about the way it was created. In the past, Korea used the classical Chinese script. However, this alphabet was made up of a large number of characters. This was of course very difficult to learn thoroughly, and so it was decided a new one would be made. The main purpose was to help increase literacy, as it was designed to be quick and easy to learn to read and write.
It was traditionally written top to bottom and left to right. These days, it is now usually written left to right with western style punctuation, making it a bit easier to read and comprehend.
Each character is made up of little pieces and shapes. These represent a syllable and generally correspond to the shape of the mouth when they are being pronounced. Using this system, it becomes much easier to tell and remember how a character is pronounced.
With all of these factors in combination, it makes learning much simpler than some other languages. You should definitely give it a try and see what you think.
The Structure of Korean
In Korean, verbs come at the end of the sentences. This is a trait seen in other SOV languages such as Japanese, though it can also occur in languages like German. Japanese and Korean share several grammatical elements though it is still unknown if they are related in anyway.
Honorifics appear in Korean, just like in Thai. The relationship between the speaker and those being spoken to is therefore an important consideration. The honorifics impact many different elements of a sentence. Verb endings must be changed and specific vocabulary need to be used to speaking to someone of higher authority for example.
There are also two different number systems in use in modern Korean. One is the ‘native Korean’ set and the other is the Chinese influenced set. Generally speaking, the native system is used for counting numbers 1–99 and things like age. The Sino-Korean system comes into use for things like dates, money, and for counting anything above one hundred.
These systems are quite complicated and make it more difficult for English speakers to pick up Korean. Don’t let that deter you though. On the positive side, there are no gendered words or articles to worry about.
Also, as mentioned before, the script is also quite quick to learn too. The basics are somewhat easy to get to grips with. As you learn more, you should be able to take on the more challenging aspects.
A Unique Language
As you can see, Korean is a rather unique language. In fact, it is sometimes considered a language isolate. Having built its own alphabet, split into two, and becoming one of the most prosperous countries in the world, it has a truly interesting history. All of this has had impacts on the language which have shaped it to what it is today.
Whether you are interested in singing along to your favorite K-Pop band or want to watch your K-Dramas without subtitles, learning Korean has never been more popular. A great way to get started is using the Ling Korean app to test, train, and prove to yourself that you can do it. Try it out today.
Originally published at simplylearnlanguages.com on December 20, 2018.