At it’s base, the “in theory” part, the Korean language is actually very easy to pick up if you put some effort into it. Asian languages, or languages with symbolic alphabets, tend to get a really bad rep in the realm of language learning. Speakers that are accustomed to more of a romanized way of reading and writing often shy away when the lexicon utilizes symbols over what we consider letters.
But have no fear! I am here to put your mind at ease (somewhat).
Korean is actually shockingly easy if your end goal is to become confident in a new language. Really! It’s in the little details, much like other languages, where it becomes difficult, but that’s a topic for another time.
Until then, here are some reasons why Korean isn’t as hard as you perceive it to be.
There is an alphabet.
Very unlike it’s East Asian counterparts Mandarin and Japanese, Korean actually relies on a series of symbols that you mix and match to make words. No need to memorize a different character for every single word, cause ain’t nobody got time for that. Learning to read the Korean alphabet is actually so easy that some say you can learn it 15 minutes. That’s an exaggeration, but the point is that it’s very easy to learn and you can do so in a very short amount of time. Give it a go with this Ryan Estrada comic!
No worries to be had about pronunciation over here! For the most part.
We’ve all heard horror stories about Chinese pronunciation. Where people say something slightly off and trouble ensues. Not too much so with Korean.
When it comes to Korean, once you form words with the alphabet, these words tend to sound exactly as they are spelled. Take a look at this article from How to Study Korean, they outline how the spelling of the word is typically the indicator of how you should say it. Naturally, like every other language there are exceptions, such as the merging of ending consonants with vowels and the deletion of sounds when certain letters meet, but that’s all the minutiae. And what is learning a language without the exceptions, really?
The vocab is going out of its way to make things easier for you.
Honestly the Korean vocabulary is sometimes so refreshingly uncomplicated, it’s like it’s trying to serve you up a slice of simple cake.
First, Korean vocab has an entire realm words that utilize these build-a-block style characters. The best way to explain it is through an example, so let’s look at a lesson from Talk to Me in Korean, one of the best sources for learning Korean online.
장 [jang] can mean “yard,” “place,” or “location.” While this word can be used on it’s own, it can also be used in connection to other words, which then create compound words. But the best part about this is, since you have the base word, 장, you will automatically know that that word probably has something to do with a yard, place, or location, making it much easier to pick up and learn the vocab. Here’s some examples.
운동장 playground (literally “exercise yard”)
시장 marketplace (literally “city place”)
주차장 parking lot (literally “staying car place”)
수영장 swimming pool (literally “swimming place”)
The next aspect about Korean vocabulary is more geared towards learners whose mother tongue is a Western lexicon. Let’s use English as the default, since that is the one I am most comfortable with. In the English language, we tend to use a number of words to convey one meaning. However, the Korean language does a beautiful job of condensing bigger meanings into smaller words. Once again let’s take a look at an example.
In English, we would say “there are a lot of things” or “there are a lot of people,” and maybe, if you’re relying on context, you could say “there is a lot.” So, you’re at least using four separate words to convey the idea that there is a lot of something at sometime. However, in Korean, you would just say “많아요 [man-ah-yo],” which is the conjugated form of “많다 [man-tah],” simply meaning to “to be a lot.”
Much simpler, right?
Grammar is simple and straightforward.
Grammar is undoubtedly to most difficult part of any attempt to adopt a language, but Korean grammar actually tends to be pretty painless for the most part.
Korean conjugation is very, very easy and consists of regular patterns across tenses that apply to both verbs and adjectives. The irregularities tend to come in the letters, rather than the actual conjugation, so it’s not a big hurdle to jump around.
But one of the best parts about Korean grammar is the pronouns, or the weakness of them. For example, “I read” is “읽어요 [ill-go-yo].” However, “you read,” “he reads,” “she reads,” and “they read” is also “읽어요.” Why? Well, if you wanted to to be extremely correct, you could say “I read” as “저는 읽어요 [jo-neun ill-go-yo],” but often times more than not, Korean speakers rely on context to determine the subject, making conjugations that much more managable.
If you’d like some more insight into the basics of Korean grammar, I would check out this article from Udemy Blog. They also go into detail about the base of particles, sentence structure, and all that mumbo jumbo.
Konglish is your friend.
What would you say if I told you that you already know a lot of Korean? You’d probably think I’m misguiding you, right? Wrong. Korean has an astounding number of loanwords, or what some would call “Konglish.” These are words that originated in English and, rather than coming up for a new word, they were basically just written with the Korean alphabet. Makes things blissfully easy sometimes. The only way to understand this is through, you guessed it, some more examples. 90 Day Korean has this pretty awesome list, but I’ve also outlined some below.
카메라 [ka-meh-ra] camera
비타민 [bi-tah-min] vitamin
메뉴 [meh-nyu] menu
노트 [noh-teu] note
핫도그 [hat-doe-keu] hot dog
And there you have it! Are you convinced? Is Korean a tiny bit easier than you thought it would be? Where are you in your Korean language learning quest? Let me know in the comments below.
Although I will say, at the end of the day, the amount of time and effort you are committed to give to learning the language is really what determines the difficulty level of the language. The consistent practice and revision, when you truly engrain the things you learn into your mind, is the only way to make the digestion of a new language simpler. Clearly put: you get nothing if you give nothing.
However, it does help when a language is also working with you, like Korean does. I’m not biased, I promise. Although, maybe just a little bit.