Let this be the year you master Korean
With the rise of K-Pop bands like BLACKPINK and BTS in recent years, it’s no surprise that there’s been a huge influx of people wanting to learn the Korean language. What’s more, Korean music has introduced the younger generation to a world of learning Asian languages that may have seemed difficult or out of reach beforehand.
But what South Korea stands for goes well beyond K-Pop. Think delicious food, such as kimchi or Korean fried chicken, forward-thinking technology, and world-class skincare. Not forgetting the phenomenon that was Gangnam Style - PSY’s global hit in 2012!
Korean is the official language of both North Korea and South Korea and boasts over 75 million native speakers worldwide. In comparison to other East Asian countries, however, the number of native Korean speakers is quite low - there are 128 million native Japanese speakers and 1.2 billion native Chinese speakers!
The Korean writing system or Korean alphabet is called Hangul (한글). If you’re a Korean beginner, it’s a good idea to learn Hangul as soon as possible. The number of Hangul characters has evolved over time, but nowadays the alphabet consists of 24 characters - 10 vowels and 14 consonants.
Korean syllables are stacked on top of each other to form “syllable blocks”.
Unlike English and languages that use the Roman alphabet, Korean syllables are not written after each other on the same line. Instead, they are stacked on top of each other to form “syllable blocks”. These syllable blocks, made from a mixture of vowels and consonants and read from left to right, are then put together to make words.
Check out the video below to see the different patterns or shapes of Korean syllable blocks.
East Asian languages tend to have a Latin script representation of their languages, also known as Romanization. Korean romanization helps those who can’t read Hangul pronounce words. For example, “I’m hungry” in Hangul is 배고파 and the romanization is "Baegopa." Remember that it’s important to learn Hangul first so that you don’t become reliant upon romanization and continue to progress with your writing and reading skills.
Korean is a syllable-timed language. This means that each syllable is pronounced for an equal amount of time as opposed to stressing individual syllables as you do in English.
Take note of the equal length of each syllable in the following basic Korean phrases.
1. South Korean culture is a joy to experience
With festivals, celebrations, and long-standing traditions filling up the annual calendar, there’s never a dull moment for travelers who want to experience some real Korean culture. Seoul’s lantern festival, held annually in November is an absolute must-see!
2. South Korean cinema is just getting started
Winner of the 2020 Oscar “Best Picture” category, Parasite plunged South Korean cinema into the limelight. With the film industry in South Korea set to continue to flourish, learning Korean will take your understanding of this cinematic world to a whole new level.
3. South Korea is an exciting travel destination
From the bustling streets of Seoul to the white sandy beaches such as Eurwangni and Haeundae, there’s no lack of beautiful tourist destinations in South Korea. If you want to discover some Korean history - be sure to explore the ancient temples and shrines in Jeonju.
4. South Korea’s influential fashion
In recent years, South Korea has become a major player in global fashion, particularly in the realm of contemporary, oversized streetwear. Shops are filled with unique designs and textures that you’re unlikely to find in the western world. Knowing some Korean means more tips and advice from shop assistants!
For those wanting to have a conversation in Korean with a native speaker - look no further than Tandem! Tandem is a community of millions of language learners - simply register for free online here or download the Tandem app and find a language exchange partner to help you study Korean.
Korean dramas - or k-dramas - are South Korean television drama series and are extremely popular all over the world. From romantic comedies to crime dramas, there’s something for every Korean learner out there. On Netflix, we’d recommend Itaewon Class or It’s Okay to Not Be Okay.
3. Korean Blogs
One of the most popular Korean language learning blogs comes from 90 Day Korean. Dedicating a few minutes a day to studying their vast range of Korean grammar, reading, and writing resources will definitely complement your online courses or in-person Korean classes.
4. Listen to podcasts
We’ve covered some podcasts for Korean learners over on our blog post about the top podcasts for language learners, but we’ll share them here too. Let’s Learn Korean consists of mini dialogues that may be helpful for beginners who are looking for useful Korean words or phrases for specific scenarios. SpongeMind Podcast, on the other hand, is more suited to intermediate or advanced learners.