Everything About The Korean Language You Didn’t Know

Best If Read With A Cup Of Coffee And Cake


An Engrish to Korean Translation and Interpretation

An Engrish to Korean Translation and Interpretation Humor.


Introduction: Everything About The Korean Language, Hangul.


When first seeing Hangul, the alphabet of the Korean language, many people think that it is just a bunch of squiggly lines and impenetrable to learning it as the Great Wall of China was impenetrable to invasion.  


I empathize with the Chinese people learning the language.  The thousands of Chinese characters that students of Mandarin face is intimidating and a daunting task to learn, let alone master.

Korean Hangul is spoken natively by an estimated 75 million Korean people living on the Korean peninsula, which includes North and South Korea.  It is spoken by all Koreans living throughout the world, United States, Japan, Soviet Union, etc

It is widely considered one of the best logical and concise writing systems in the world due to its simplicity.  In fact so simplistic you may make it more complicated to learn than it really is.

I'm guessing most of you if asked what's the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Korea would be Tae Kwon Do, Kim Chi, Gangnam Style, KPOP and Girls Generation. 

Hangul, the Korean language would probably be the last thing you think of.  However, Hangul is an interesting language and this post goes over several questions asked about the language.

So let's get started with the post about the Korean language Hangul, the official language of the Korean Nation.


What is the Korean Language Called?


Korean, also called Hangul (한국말), is the official language of both North and South Korea.  The Hanguk dialect is spoken in South Korea.  Hangul, (Korean: “Great Script”) also spelled Hangeul or Han’gŭl, is the alphabetic system used for writing the Korean language.


Today, it has 19 consonants and 21 vowels.  Some critics may disagree, but as you can see from the image that is what it is.


Who Created The Korean Language?


Statue of Sejong the Great, the king of South Korea.

Statue of Sejong the Great (in Seoul), King during the Joseon Dynasty


The development of the Hangul alphabet is traditionally accredited to Sejong, the fourth king of the Chosŏn (Joseon) (Yi) dynasty. The system was made the official writing system for Korean in 1446 by one of Sejong’s decrees.

The script was generally known until the 20th century by the name Sejong gave it, Hunminjŏngŭm. Hunminjeongeum; loosely translated means, “Proper Sounds to Instruct the People.”

Because of the influence of Confucianism and of Chinese Classical culture, Hangul was not readily used by scholars or Koreans of the upper classes until after 1945


What Dialects Are In South Korea?


It may sound the same to you but, there are several dialects spoken in South Korea:

  • The Seoul dialect (서울말), or Gyeonggi is spoken by Koreans in Gyeonggi, Incheon, Seoul (South Korea), and Kaesŏng (North Korea). It is the standard language.
  • The Yeongseo dialects (영서 방언) are spoken in the Yeongseo region of Gangwon Province in South Korea.
  • The Chungcheong dialects (충청 방언) are spoken in the Chungcheong (Hoseo) region of South Korea, including the city of Daejeon.
  • The Gyeongsang dialects (경상 방언), also called Southeastern dialects are spoken in the Gyeongsang (Yeongnam) region of South Korea. This includes the cities of Busan, Daegu, and Ulsan. Because of their varied pitch, they are easily distinguishable from the Seoul dialect.
  • The Jeolla dialects (전라 방언), or Southwestern dialects are spoken in the Jeolla (Honam) region of South Korea, including the city of Gwangju.
  • The Jeju dialect (제주 방언) is spoken on the Jeju Island, and is sometimes considered a seperate Korean language. The island is off the southwest coast of South Korea.


What Is The Closest Language That Can Be Compared To Korea?


Korean is most likely compared to the Ural-Altaic family of languages which includes such diverse languages as Mongolian, Finnish, and Hungarian.


Is There A Difference Between North and South Korean Language?  Do North and South Korea Speak The Same Language?


The first noticeable difference is that in South Korea, the formal name of the language spoken by residents is Hangugeo, while North Koreans call their version Chosŏnŏ.

The Korean language spoken in South Korea is based mostly on the Seoul dialect, and many words are borrowed from the English language quite often.

By contrast, North Korean leaders have influenced their people to keep borrowed words out of the Korean language and speak primarily in the Pyongyang dialect. When North Koreans do use foreign languages, they prefer to incorporate from the Russian language.


What Countries Speak Hangul, The Official Language of the Nation of Korea?


Korean is the official language of North Korea and South KoreaKorean is also one of the two official languages of the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China.

It is spoken by the Korean people in North Korea and South Korea and by the Koreans dispersed to many countries including the People's Republic of China, Japan, Russia and the United States. 

Currently, Korean is the fourth most popular foreign language spoken in China, following close behind English, Japanese, and Russian.


Is Korean A Hard Language To Learn?  How Hard Is It To Learn Hangul?

Korean Alphabet Hangul

Korean Alphabet Hangul


The Korean Hangul alphabet, consisted of 24 phonetic characters (14 consonants and 10 vowels), which is easy to learn because it is based off sounds.  Today, people think Korean consists of 40 phonetic characters (19 consonants and 21 vowels).

Also, there are many loan words in the Korean language that uses many English loan words, such as "bus", "camera", "coffee", and so on.  Because the sounds are so similar you will find that you understand many of the Korean words in menus or signs just by knowing how to read Hangul, the Korean alphabet.

This makes learning it so easy that Hangul has been called "morning language”, because a smart student can learn to read Korean in one morning, It took me one afternoon, so I call it the "afternoon language."  Everyone else can learn it in about a week


How Long Does It Take To Learn Korea, Hangul?


They say that a smart person can learn Korean in one morning.  Call me smart then, because I learnt how to read Korean, my native language, in one afternoon. I was in 7th grade then.  I sat at my desk in my house and learned it, alone.

If you can memorize and pick up on the sounds of each of the characters, you will have a rudimentary understanding of Korean.  Then you will have to keep reading. You don't necessarily have to know what the words mean.  Once you are comfortable reading Hangul, you can progress to learning the vocabulary words.

A lot of words are loan words from the English language, so you will be able to understand bits and pieces of Hangul.


Is Hangul, The Korean Language Based On Chinese?


Chinese Characters

Try learning this Chinese in one afternoon.


Today South Koreans generally use a hybrid Hangul writing system in which some words spoken or written derived from Chinese are written with Chinese characters, while Korean words are written in han'gul.

It is similar to English speakers creating new words from Latin.  The Korean Hangul language easily adopts Chinese characters because it makes sense to Koreans.

Other than borrowing Chinese words, the Korean language is distinct.  Hangul is a phonetic language, using sounds.  The Chinese language is mainly logogram, a written character represents a word or phrase.  Because of this, the Chinese language requires a huge amount of memorization because there are numerous written characters for just about everything.


In Which Direction Do You Read Korean?


Decades and centuries ago, the Korean language was read vertically, going from top to bottom and right to left.  Sometime during the 1990's, that practice was changed to horizontally, top row to bottom row and left to right.

It's the same way people read English.  However, some writings and publications, like the Holy Bible, still remain the old way.  Vertically, top to bottom and right to left.

If you want to brag, go upside down and read Hangul rightside up.


Why Should I Learn Korean?  Is Learning Korean Worth It?


When it comes to foreign language studies, most people choose to learn Spanish, French, or German before they even consider learning an Asian language.  When they do pick an Asian language, they usually choose Chinese or Japanese first, and Korean last.  This is unfortunate, because there are many great reasons to learn the Korean language:

  • The Korean Hallyu Wave has created a huge popularity of everything Korean. It has a worldwide reach, the popularity is mind boggling in Asia. Due to this, some people take Korean language lessons to learn about the Korean culture and to impress their friends by watching Korean dramas without subtitles.
  • Korean's are impressed with foreigners that can read, speak Hangul.  It shows that the person really is interested in the Korean culture.  Committed foreigners have gotten jobs in the entertainment industry, corporations and business and even started their own successful businesses in Korea. Some have even married a Korean.
  • Hangul is learned throughout South East Asia because many people work for Korean corporations and businesses. It is now necessary to communicate in Korean because English is not a second language to them and Hangul is easier to learn.
  • Many people come to Korea to study at the colleges.  A well kept secret, South Korea has a great university education system. Seoul National University is one.
  • Due to Korea's economic amazing success, Hangul is a language needed to be learned in order to conduct business in Korea. What other reasons can you think of?


How Old Is The Korean Language?


Hangul was created and implemented by King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty sometime around 1443.  So in 2019, the Korean language is roughly 576 years old. Hangul was not fully accepted and used until around 1945 when it was used to resist Japanese occupation.  The nobles and elite class still preferred to use Chinese language to differentiate themselves.

The simplicity of the original Hangul stirred a renewed interest, and in 1936, the Korean Language Research Society began working to preserve Hangul. The alphabetic system called Hangul was used as a tool of resistance against the Japanese occupation and found its way into newspapers, magazines and bibles.

Fortunately today, it is now the official Korean language.


Is Hangul, the Korean Language, The Best Written Language?


Ho's Total Service Shop Sign

Another Store Sign That Introduces A Difficult Conundrum!


According to estimates, there are over 50,000 Chinese symbols to memorize,  Each symbol represents an image, the symbols have a group of characters which are arranged in a box. These blocks of character represent something. So an image of a horse would have a symbol, and the character blocks need to be memorized.

To represent that image, the character blocks of the symbol have many slashes, lines, squiggles, etc.

A highly smart, educated Chinese person will have memorized around 8,000 symbols, that is, characters arranged into a block group. To read a Chinese newspaper, you need to have memorized about 3,000 characters.

On the other hand, Koreans need to memorize only 40 Hangul characters and these can be combined to create 50,000 Chinese characters. Each character block in Hangul has at most 3 symbols.

Hangul is a symbol and sound language.  Each symbol has a sound and combining them, you can read that word exactly the way it is written.  Each block of Korean characters have at most 3 symbols attached to it, so it is very easy to pronounce it.

Basically, if I wanted to create a word of something, I would give it a sound and the sound is written from only 40 characters.  That's a lot easier than trying to memorize over 50,000 individual symbols.

English words are confusing sometimes because the characters are not the sound you would make.  For example: tough.  It is pronounced with an "f" sound at the end. This is one of the reasons why Koreans have difficulty learning English.

In conclusion, I think Hangul is the best written language due to its simplicity.


History of the Korean Language


Hwaseong fortress in Suwon, Republic of Korea

Hwaseong fortress in Suwon, Republic of Korea


King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty is recognized as creating and instituting acceptance of Hangul in ancient Korea.  The language is spoken and read by just about everyone in Korea.  

Before King Sejong and creation of Hangul, the Korean language was written in Chinese characters and only the educated, high class and nobles, could read and write it. When King Sejong created and developed Hangul, it was designed so everyone in Korea could read and write. It did away with the complex Chinese characters that took years to learn.

From 108 BC to 313 AD and before the creation of the Korean characters and language, the educated and nobles (in the Joseon Dynasty) wrote using Classical Chinese. The people borrowed Chinese characters that had the closest sounds to the Korean sounds. Only members of the highest social class/standing were literate and able to write.

During the Chinese occupation of Northern Korea, Hangul was used.  By 5 AD, the Koreans were writing in Classical Chinese - the earliest known examples dates as far back as 414 AD.

Three different writing systems were developed for writing Korean with Chinese characters: Hyangchal (향찰/鄕札), Gukyeol (구결/口訣) and Idu (이두/吏讀).


Differences Between Korean Hanja and Hanmun


During the Joseon Dynasty, they wrote Korean in "Hanja" using the borrowed Chinese characters and Korean "Hanmun" to write court documents in classical Chinese.

When learning Hanja, students memorize the native Korean pronunciation for the Hanja's meaning and the Sino-Korean pronunciations for each Hanja. The Sino-Korean pronunciations are based on the Chinese pronunciations of the characters. This is so that students know what the syllable and meaning is for a particular Hanja.

Today, everything is written in Hangul.  


Final Words


There are no pronounciations for the following english letters.

F, Q, R, V, X, Z (example: English loan word of coffee, is pronounced as coppee) Next time you talk to a Korean and they seem to make a pronounciation mistake to you, it isn't.


The End of Our Post


I learned a lot about Hangul, the official language of my parents, while writing this post.  There were many things that I didn't know about the Korean language.  Writing this post has brought me a little closer to the Korean culture and my native heritage, Korea.  Hope it has helped you as well.

Now if only I could write a post about my other half, China and the Chinese language. But that language is something I will have to postpone to a later date because I'm thinking about drinking a Cafe Mocha.  I knew I should have brought one to my desk.


Asian Girl and Asian Boy

Discuss with the Authentic at our Official “The Seoul of Korea Youtube Channel“. Subscribe, Watch, Remark and Like.

NOTE:  If you would like to write a post for us, then let us know in the comment below.  


This was a post on "Everything About The Korean Language You Didn’t Know" by Gyopo “TactiCool Reloaded” Oppa. This post first appeared in https://www.theseoulofkorea.com.

It’s you that assists in keeping us motivated to stay up, burn the candles and write. Sarang Haey Yo!  Fighting!

You May Want To Read These Next

>