Korean is truly an attractive and dynamic language for anyone who wants to learn and discover. Korean has quite a few unique characteristics and it is very different from English, which makes learning Korean much more exciting. Here are 8 interesting facts about Korean that can be useful if you are just starting to learn this language.
1. Statistics on Korean language.
Based on statistics, Korean is considered the 11th most spoken language in the world. The total number of Korean speakers is nearly 74 million, the majority of which are in South Korea (48 million) and North Korea (26 million). Besides, a large number of Korean speakers can be found in China (Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture), Japan, the US and Russia. Korean is the official language of both Korea and of Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China.
2. Unclear classification.
The history of Korean remains unclear, so it’s hard to know the origin of this language or how it should be classified. Some linguists claim that Korean was developed from the Altai language, which includes languages such as Mongolian, Japanese and Turkish. Due to the lack of evidence of a genealogical relationship with other languages, other linguists consider Korean to be a language isolate.
3. Honorific system in Korean.
The honorific system plays an important role in Korean. This means depending on the person you are talking to or talking about and the status of this person, you need to determine the language level to use. In the event that the person’s status is superior, the use of affixes and nouns that show respect for that person is necessary. In Korea, people are considered to have high social status when they are your boss, your teacher or older than you, etc. Therefore, basically, you will use slightly different words to talk to your friends compared to when you talk to your boss. You need to learn how to correctly apply the speech level in Korean to avoid making others uncomfortable.
4. Alphabet – Hangul.
The Korean alphabet (Hangul) is made up of a total of 24 letters consisting of 14 consonants and 10 vowels. Although Hangul was created in the 15th century, it was not until the 20th century that Hangul became the official Korean writing system. Previously, the language used Chinese characters because the great influence of China on Korea and Japan did not allow the use of Hangul (Korea was a Japanese colony until World War II).
This alphabet may seem quite challenging for new students, but in fact it is quite easy to learn. Since each vowel represents only one sound, that sound will not change when used in different Korean words. Due to the fact that this alphabet has fewer consonants than English alphabet (14 compared to 21), some sounds do not exist in Korean. Most students can study Hangul in less than two hours, which is a good sign that Hangul is not too difficult to learn. When learning Hangul, you will notice that the consonants in this alphabet are shaped in the same way that you need to open your mouth to read those consonants.
The creation of Hangul was honored and celebrated in both South and North Korea. Both countries have Korean Alphabet Day which is celebrated as a cultural day and national holiday. However, it should be added that Korean Alphabet Day is celebrated on different days and that the day has a distinct name in both countries.
5. A lot of borrowed words.
Quite a few words in Korean can be classified as loanwords or derived from other languages. Only about 35% of words are native Korean words, while the remaining words can be classified as Sino-Korean and loanwords. Most loanwords are derived from English while Sino-Korean words are derived from Chinese.
6. Different number systems.
Another interesting fact about Korean is that it has two different number systems that you will need to learn. The first (native) number system is being used to count hours, objects, ages, and it only counts up to 99. The second (Sino-Korean) number system based on Chinese characters, is being used to count money, dates, distances, minutes when the number is greater than 99. At first figuring out which number system to use can be a bit confusing, but it can be learned over time as it is not too complicated.
7. A different sentence structure.
Since Korean has a different sentence structure, it can be a bit confusing at first for most English learners. The basic order of words in Korean sentences is subject, object and verb while English speakers use the subject, verb and object order. It must also be mentioned that for Koreans the most important part of the sentence is the verb and sometimes they often omit both object and subject in the sentence. They can understand the speaker without these parts through context.
8. The difference between North and South Korea.
Although both North and South Korea use the same language, in fact there are some differences between the languages being used. The differences in Korean arose after North and South Korea were split into separate countries. South Korean dialect often consists of many words borrowed from Chinese and English, while North Korean dialect has very few words borrowed from other languages. Therefore, some objects can be named differently in both of these countries.