I was familiar with Japan but didn’t know much about Korea except for Kimchi, Korean barbecues and Samsung electronics.
This is a brief account of my journey exploring Korean culture and language.
Hangeul – Korean writing
I had always though Korean was written using hundreds of different characters, similar to Chinese. A few years ago I heard a presentation by a Korean man (at a Toastmasters meeting) explaining the design and simplicity of the Korean alphabet (Hangeul). I learnt there are only 24 symbols – 14 consonants and 10 vowels, and Hangeul didn’t seem too hard to learn.
I set myself the challenge of being able to read and write Hangeul. There are plenty of resources on the Internet for learning Hangeul including video lessons by “Professor Oh”. I learnt how to type Hangeul on my iPhone as well as my Windows computer with the addition of Hangeul stickers for the keyboard. I can type Hangeul quite quickly but recently I have been writing my notes by hand to help me.
In order to learn Korean it is ESSENTIAL to learn to read and write Hangeul. Romanised Korean is wrong and will stunt your learning. This is because the pronunciation will be ambiguous and you wont recognise the parts of the words, nor will you be able to read or write Korean! You should be able to learn Hangeul within two weeks – go on, I challenge you !
I enjoy cooking Korean food including japchae, bulgogi (barbecued beef) and bibimbap eaten with kimchi and rice.
I wanted to know how the names of these dishes are written in Korean as well as the names of the ingredients. Being able to read Korean is very handy for reading Korean packaging at the local Korean grocery store, as well as restaurant menus. This will be useful for when I eventually visit Korea.
One of my language learning goals is knowing the names of ingredients and foods which are available in a Korean restaurant. My favourite Korean cooking site is Maangchi where you can see a list of ingredients.
For many years I have been interested in memory skills blog and being able to remember people’s names. Consequently I have become interested in family names and given names in various cultures. I often wondered why there are so few family names in Korea . Nearly every Korean I know has a surname of Kim (김) , Lee (이), Park (박), Chang (장), Kwon (권), Shin (신) or Oh (오).
Once I learnt Hangeul I could now spell the names and realise that the sound of many names cannot be written exactly in English, for example 박 sounds half way between Park and Bark.
Once I have seen a Korean name written in Hangeul, then I can pronounce it correctly. Recently I met a new friend whose given name is Hyunkyung (현경). When I greeted her with my audio note on Kakaotalk (chat program) she said “wow – you are so awesome. I haven’t heard a foreigner pronounce my name correctly”. I felt pleased that I could pronounce her name correctly.
Professor Oh explains all you need to know about Korean names:
I have been curious about the Korean language for many years. The only words I knew were “Anyong haseyo” and “Kamsahamnida” – “Hello” and “Thank You”. Until recently the details of the Korean language have been a mystery. I wanted to learn to say a few more greetings because I now have many Korean friends here in Sydney and overseas. Learning the language and having a go at speaking shows Korean people that I am genuinely interested in their culture and wanting to communicate.
I have been learning Korean by myself using many resources from the Internet which I will describe later in the article.
I have made many friends in Korea through online courses, Facebook groups and discussion forums. I am motivated to learn more Korean, understanding grammar and building vocabulary so I can converse with Korean people. I have a goal to visit Korea and I am sure that conversation and reading skills would be highly desirable for my travels.
K-Pop, K-Drama and the Korean Wave (Hallyu 한류)
South Korea’s most famous export is its popular culture in the from of drama series (K-drama), pop music (K-Pop) and to a lesser extent, feature films. Although it is possible to enjoy these without understanding Korean, the enjoyment is increased if some of the language can be understood. In the drama watched recently I kept hearing the word “Hongnim” which is what a man calls his big brother. I also noticed the use of kurei – which means really? or OK.
At the moment I am studying the lyrics of Into The New World (다시 만난 세계) sung by Girls’ Generation 소녀시대. Color-coded lyrics can be found on this web site.
Fighting! 화이팅 !
Why did I say Fighting (pronounced as hwai-ting) ? Is is a Korean word of support or encouragement and often heard at sporting events.
I believe that in order to understand a culture, you need to learn the language. This has been my experience with the Japanese language. I don’t expect to develop fluency in Korean but a basic level of conversation. At least reading Hangeul is much easier than learning hundreds of Chinese characters. However learning the vocabulary and grammar of Korean is a big challenge for me. 화이팅 !
The How of Learning Korean
These are some of my recommended resources for learning Korean.
Talk to me in Korean
Talk to me in Korean – podcasts, PDF files of lessons and books for purchase. I bought their book of Korean verbs and the Numbers book.
This is a language exchange forum where you can find Korean people willing to learn English. Once the introduction has been made we usually exchange Kakaotalk ids so we can use this popular Korean chat program. Go to the GoSpeaky web site – link opens a new window.
This chat program seems to be used by every Korean and people with an interest in Korea. I think it is an excellent tool for language study because of the ability to record and send short voice clips – a great way to check pronunciation. My id is CharlesInOz. Install KakaoTalk on your phone and start communicating!
Google Translate is useful to get the gist of meaning, but should not be relied on too much.
Learn to read Hangeul
My blog article about learning to read Hangeul.
Charles Learns Korea
My journal of Korean learning (Facebook Page)