Five Common Misunderstandings About the Korean Language

by Joseph Gerocs

How hard do you think it is to learn Korean?

It's an interesting question, and if you ask different people, you'll often hear a lot of surprising answers.

The reason is, the Korean language is sometimes confused with the languages of its neighbors China and Japan.

And with good reason! There are quite a few similarities. That makes sense, considering they've influenced each other for thousands of years.

However, the Korean language is a bit different. The Korean alphabet, Hangul, was developed in a scientific way, and has only been in use for 600 years. It's very precise, and surprisingly easy to learn.

Let's go over five common misunderstandings about the Korean language.

1. It's Not a Pictorial Alphabet

With Japanese or Chinese, you have to memorize a large number of characters. The Korean alphabet (Hangul) is different. It is composed of 14 consonants and 10 vowels, for a total of 24 letters or characters. Each letter has a distinct sound, and the letters are placed next to and on top of each other to make words. You read the words by sounding out the individual letters, just like you would in English.

2. 60 Minutes to Learn the Alphabet

The Korean alphabet is surprisingly easy to learn. Many people think it takes days, weeks, or months to learn how to read Korean. That is not the case if you have the right tools. Most people can learn to read Korean in about one hour. You can download a free alphabet guide from 90 Day Korean here and be reading in no time.

3. Tone Troubles

One of the challenges with learning Cantonese and Mandarin is the various tones that you have to take into account when speaking. Some learn them easily, while others find it almost impossible. Luckily, the Korean language doesn't require you to learn any special tones. You can sing the words in various tones if you'd like, and people will still understand you. Make sure you go to a 노래방 (singing room) if you prefer to study this way!

4. Connections to English Words

Many native English speakers or Westerners think that Korean is too difficult to learn. They have often heard that Korean takes its roots from Chinese, so they're of the opinion that people from the West start at a disadvantage. While it is true that Korean and Chinese share some commonalities, many new learners are surprised to learn about Konglish. Generally speaking, Konglish is the use of English words in Korean. Some of them may be immediately clear in meaning to native English speakers (컴퓨터/keom-pyu-teo means “computer”) while others aren't quite as obvious (컨닝/keon-ning means “cheating”). However, with most of the Konglish words, native English speakers are able to at least get the gist of them without having to learn a brand new word.

The benefit of Konglish is that you likely know more Korean than you think!

5. You Have to Live in Korea to Learn It

While it is helpful to live in Korean while learning Korean, it's not necessary. With the explosion of K-pop and Korean dramas around the world, learning Korean is becoming easier and easier. There are various online programs, tools, study groups, meetups, and video chatting applications to make it simple to connect with Koreans.

If you're thinking of getting started with learning Korean, here is a list of resources from around the internet to help you kick things off.

Hopefully clearing up these common misunderstandings about learning Korean has made your decision to study Korean an easy one.

What surprising things have you heard about the Korean language?

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