Korean: The Language

The language of Korean itself is very interesting and also incredibly difficult for someone that only has formal lessons in western languages.

To start it off, the language itself has it’s own alphabet; after having been immersed in the language for over 3 months I can confidently say that I know it.  Two weeks in I was still struggling to understand Hangul, and it seemed like I never would.  I found the best practice was to simply read every sign on the streets, regardless of whether I knew what it meant.

The next thing you’ll notice is that the structure of sentences is not at all similar to romantic languages.  Often sentences have no indication of who is being referred, i.e. there is often no I, you, we, them.  There are a variety of particles that are attached to nouns as well to indicate subjects vs. objects (는,은, 를, 을).  These also change depending on the number of objects or what kind of object/subject it is, 들 for instance indicates multiple people.  If you have 3 glasses you refer them as 세잔, while 3 bottles is 세병, 3 people is 세명, 3 packets of ramen is 세게.

Once you start learning Korean you are also going to learn that they have not one, but two different systems for counting, the Korean system and the Chinese system.  The Korean system is more frequently used for small numbers or for describing the number of objects, while the Chinese system is typically used for things such as counting money, phone numbers etc.

Different verb forms can be exactly the same as others, the present form for example is the same form as making a suggestion, asking a question,  or a command.  Additionally, if multiple verbs are used in a sentence often one will only be partially conjugated and only the final one will indicate the tense/full meaning of the phrase.

Nouns unfortunately show very little resemblance to their English/romantic language counterparts, save for the few direct translations that Korean has created.  As such, if you haven’t learned the noun, your only clues will be context or a dictionary.

To sum up Korean, it’s difficult, but rewarding when you manage to use it correctly.  If you’re looking for tools/things to use in order to aid in understanding and learning Korean I would suggest:

Naver Dictionary/Translator***
K-Dramas for continual/repeated exposure
Korean panels shows (they often have subtitles anyways)
English movies with Korean subtitles
Attempting to use the language in everyday life even if you fail miserably
Using websites in Korean if you know the layout in English

Luckily, Seoul is pretty forgiving for those that do not speak the language.  You will experience a language barrier but most people will try to help even if they cannot quite understand you.