Seoul Mayer Oh Se-hoon gives a tour to a group of the Cia-Cia people at the “Story of Sejong” exhibition in the Gwanghwamun Plaza, central Seoul, on Dec. 23, 2009. The Indonesian tribe adopted Hangeul as the writing system for their previously unwritten language. This is the first case of Hangeul becoming an officially acknowledged local alphabet outside Korea. Hangeul is exceptional for the uniqueness and magnitude of its intellectual achievement. / Korea Times
• Korean is the only nation with its own unique writing system.
• Some letters indicate how shape of the tongue and mouth in making the sound.
• Lines added to basic letters indicate an additional phonetic element.
• Vowels are classified into “light” and “dark” reflecting the philosophy of “yin” and “yang.”
• All 24 letters are composed of only two shapes: lines and circles, making them easy to learn.
• Letters are easily adaptable with computers, mobile phones, and other electronic devices.
• “Deep orthography” reveals the meanings of words and grammatical elements.
In the Western world, Korean is considered one of the most difficult languages to learn. Word order and grammar differ greatly from Western languages and, aside from foreign words used in Korean, there is no common vocabulary. Learners from non-Western language backgrounds, such as Chinese, Japanese, and Turkish find Korean easier because the languages have some linguistic similarities to draw on. Learners of Korean universally find Hangeul easy to learn at first, but soon find memorizing sound changes burdensome.
All languages are, at some point, difficult to learn. People have searched for short cuts to language learning for centuries only to be disappointed. There is no easy way to learn Korean, but there ways to make it more interesting and enjoyable.
Start with pronunciation. Koreans are not used to non-native pronunciation, and have trouble understanding bad pronunciation. Learners with bad pronunciation become easily frustrated when Koreans do not understand them. Work on pronunciation intensively early in the learning the process. Practicing in the shower and with a mirror will do wonders. At a later stage, turning down the sound to the TV helps learners become aware of the shape of the mouth.
Learn vocabulary that you need to know. Most language learners learn vocabulary in textbooks first, but it is not always the most relevant to their lives. Learning vocabulary related to your life makes it easier to speak with Koreans in Korean and helps develop self-confidence. Learn the vocabulary of daily errands and shopping. Learn how to do everyday tasks in Korean.
Finally, talk. Seek out opportunities to use Korean. If English dominates your workplace, find opportunities to use Korean outside the workplace. Explore where you live, asking questions to people as you do.
Learning Korean outside of Korea presents greater challenges, but the idea is the same: master pronunciation early and look actively for opportunities to speak the language.