Learning Korean ~ General Info

First I should tell you how I learned Korean.

I started with self-study, then took a weekly class for a year to increase conversation practice (but continued with the self-study), then went to Yonsei KLI’s three week summer course, then started doing classes twice a week (with self study) for about 9 months, and then went back to only self-study. In September 2014 I will be starting full time language study at a Korean university.

The one important constant through all of this is that all of my textbooks were (are) in Japanese (except for the Yonsei one, which was all Korean), and my teachers were all Korean/Japanese bilinguals (except at Yonsei, where they only used Korean).

So, if you want to know what English language resources I used, the answer is basically zero. I do have one English book I bought early on, “Korean For Beginners” from Tuttle. It has a good appendix about grammar terms in Korean (although I feel like it has too many terms that you’d only need to talk about English grammar. Useful I guess if you are learning Korean because you are teaching English in Korea.) It also has some interesting stories and culture facts, and is humorously written. Other than that, I haven’t really used it. I think I bought it in the beginning for an English speaker’s perspective on pronunciation (the one limitation of Japanese when learning Korean is pronunciation).

Why did I do this despite the fact that English is my native language?

Because I am also fluent in Japanese, and the parallels between Japanese and Korean are significantly greater than between English and Korean. It’s just easier to think of Korean in terms of what I already know about Japanese, than to try to understand it in terms of English.

So, if you also speak Japanese and would like some good Japanese resources for Korean, then please ask away!

For a great run down of Korean language resources (both internet and hardcopy) look at Hangukdrama and Korean. It’s all out there just waiting to be discovered!

If you are planning on coming to Korea to study Korean for whatever reason, I do recommend getting a headstart. One of the major reasons (aside from the already stated ones for KGSP people) is that in Korea, you will find that the instruction is primarily in Korean. Your classmates will be from a lot of countries and not all fluent in English. Depending on the school, however, you may find that they do provide beginner textbooks with versions for several languages (English, Chinese and Japanese with possible others). Still, it will probably be helpful in following the classes at the beginning if you have some background. And you can use the resources above (at Hangukdrama) to supplement your classes even in Korea.

Some random facts about the Korean language…

  1. It’s most commonly considered an Altaic language, which means it most closely resembles languages such as Japanese, Mongolian and Turkish (yes, Turkish). If you already speak one of these then it could be easier for you to learn.
  2. The other major influence on the Korean language is Chinese. About 60% of Korean vocabulary is considered “Sino-Korean,” or in other words it comes from Chinese (though with “Koreanization” of the pronunciation). Sino-Korean vocabulary is more prevalent in writing and formal speech, than in everyday conversation. Japanese also includes a similar percentage of words from Chinese. This means that speaking a dialect of Chinese or Japanese will give you a leg up on vocabulary. The nice thing about Korean, for those who already speak Japanese, is that every kanji character (or hanja as they are called in Korean) only has one pronunciation to remember in Korean (sometimes two for syllables starting with certain sounds). The disadvantage for Chinese or Japanese speakers, is that Korea doesn’t use many of the actual hanja characters in modern writing, so you have to figure out the connections on your own. But once you do catch on you’ll be able to work out more and more vocabulary on your own.
  3. Korean is considered a “Class 3” language by the US Foreign Service Institute, which means that it theoretically is one of the most difficult to master for native speakers of English (and presumably for native speakers of languages closely related to English). Difficulty is measured in the typical time it takes for US foreign service members to achieve “general proficiency” in the language. Class 3 means the estimate is about 88 weeks at 25 hours a week (about 2200 hours total, with half being in the country). Of course there will always be individual variation, and difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Other C3 languages include Japanese, the many dialects of “Chinese” and Arabic. (Just because Arabic is also dfficult fr English speakers doesn’t mean Korean is easy for Arabic speakers
  4. That said, Korean has one of the most logical writing systems in the world. Hangeul, as it is usually called in South Korea today, was deliberately and carefully constructed to make it easy for the general population to learn. At first glance it may look similar to Chinese or Japanese, but the characters are not pictographs, they are phonetic (sound based) like English. Unlike English, there aren’t as many spelling rules and exceptions. And the best part, the letters are actually modeled after the way your mouth moves to pronounce them.

I will do another post about Hangeul, phonetics, and my system for remembering them later.

2 thoughts on “Learning Korean ~ General Info”

  1. I’m sorry to bother you when you might be busy….but I have so many questions I don’t even know where to start.

    I’ve read your entire posts and still keep having doubts about stuff like G.P.A for example. In my university (and where I’m from, Mexico) we use an scale from 0 to 100. So my question here being: do I still need to convert it to GPA? At the end I’ll just need to convert it all again and my percentage is 94 in this scale, I majored with honors and didn’t have to take a test or write a thesis because I was from the best of my class and school. So, what should I do here?

    I meet someone from SNU (a Mexican guy as well) who says I don’t need to give a GPA since I’m in the 100 scale…what do you think? And I don’t know any place where to do so, since in my school they don’t use GPA.

    Right now this is what concerns me the most. But I still have some note doubt’s, I wonder if I can bother you a bit more in the near future (since I want to apply in February and have less than 4 months).

    Thank you, and greetings.

    1. I would guess that you don’t need to convert your GPA, but I would ask to make sure. Start by contacting your embassy (Mexico has an embassy quota right?) because they’ll have fewer KGSP inquiries than NIIED. Writing a thesis isn’t required, but if you graduated with honors that could be counted as an award.

      Please feel free to ask anything, but forgive me if I’m sometimes slow in replying.

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