30 July, 2010

Toughts on Learning Korean

I've been studying a lot of Korean recently because I'm going to Korea very soon. Thanks to Talk to me in Korean I was quite successful in doing so, especially when you compared it to how little I learned from the various books I bought. In May I wrote about how to read and write the Korean Alphabet (Hangul) and that was basically all I could do except maybe say hi to someone. Despite knowing a lot more about the language I wasn't really able to use it and actually construct sentences. It's one thing to passively know something and then actively use it, especially in a conversation when you have to answer something fast.

When learning Korean, I've noticed a few things worth mentioning:

1) There are a lot of loanwords in Korean

When I learned Hangul I was surprised that I was able to understand some Korean words even though I haven't learned any words yet. All the words I understood turned out to be loanwords from the English language. But these are just a small part of loanwords in Korea, the much bigger part being Sino-Korean words (Koreanized Chinese loanwords). Numbers or days of the week for example have their origin in Chinese. There are two types of Sino-Korean words: Those directly borrowed from written Chinese and those coined in Japan or Korea but using Chinese characters. I'm going to write about Sino-Korean words in more detail in a future blog post.

2) The Korean Alphabet is very easy to learn

I already said this in a blog post back in May: The Korean Alphabet is really easy to learn. Hangul is totally different from Chinese or Japanese, where you need to be able to read or write roughly 3000 or more characters to be fluent, the latter being even more difficult because there are not only all Chinese-based characters (Kanji) but also Hiragana and Katakana. I'm sure I'll cover the Japanese writing system some day. In the meantime, please refer to Google or Wikipedia if you want to know more about it. The Korean Alphabet consists of just a few vowels and consonants, plus some double consonants. That's it. Chinese characters exist in the Korean language as well (Hanja) but you don't need to know them to be able to read Korean.

3) It's hard to stay motivated...

This is mainly because as a German (or English for that matter) native speaker, Korean is very difficult to learn. Words, sentence structures, honorifics are just part of the problem, the other one being that there is little material available to learn Korean properly. Walk into a bookshop and compare the material dedicated to learning Korean and the material dedicated to learning Chinese or Japanese and you'll know what I mean. Additionally, most of these books are either structured badly, really boring, or both. The best way to learn Korean is online via Talk to me in Korean, a website dedicated to teach the Korean language and Korean culture. What's best: It's not only fun to learn Korean with them, it's also free. Only very few items are uniquely made for the store and even though I haven't tried them yet I'd bet $1.000.000 that they're worth the small price tag.

So how do I stay motivated? Well, for one, with Talk to me in Korean it's actually quite fun to study Korean and it also helps to have Korean friends who can clarify things when you encounter problems.
At this point: Thanks to my Korean friends helping me out from time to time. I love you! But the real key to successfully motivate myself is knowing this:

"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race" - Calvin Coolidge