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Korean Language - Learning

This page is based on the Wikipedia Korean Language page. This article contains Korean text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Hangul or hanja.

Study by non-native speakers

The United States' Defense Language Institute classifies Korean alongside Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese as a Category IV language, meaning that 63 weeks of instruction (as compared to just 25 weeks for French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian) are required to bring an English-speaking student to a limited working level of proficiency in which he or she has "sufficient capability to meet routine social demands and limited job requirements" and "can deal with concrete topics in past, present, and future tense." As a result, the study of the Korean language in the United States is dominated by Korean American heritage language students; they are estimated to form over 80% of all students of the language at non-military universities.

However, Korean is considerably easier for speakers of certain other languages, such as Japanese; in Japan, it is more widely studied by non-heritage learners. The Korean Language Proficiency Test, an examination aimed at assessing non-native speakers' competence in Korean, was instituted in 1997; 17,000 people applied for the 2005 sitting of the examination.

Korean (한국어/조선말, see below) is the official language of Korea, both South and North. It is also one of the two official languages in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China. There are about 78 million Korean speakers. In the 15th century a national writing system was commissioned by Sejong the Great, the system being currently called Hangul. Prior to the development of Hangul, Koreans used Hanja (Chinese characters) to write for over a millennium.

Korean is similar to the Altaic languages in that they both lack certain grammatical elements, including articles, fusional morphology and relative pronouns.

Korean has several dialects (called mal [literally "speech"], saturi, or bang-eon in Korean).

Parts of speech

The Korean Language contains nine parts of speech.

  • Verb - Korean verbs (동사, tongsa, 動詞) are also known in English as "action verbs" or "dynamic verbs" to distinguish them from [형용사(形容詞), hyeong-yongsa, "adjectives"]), which are also known as "descriptive verbs" or "stative verbs". Examples of action/dynamic verbs include 하다 (hada, "to do") and 가다 (kada, "to go") which constitute an action or movement as opposed to descriptive verbs such as 예쁘다 (yehppeuda, "to be beautiful"). For a larger list of Korean verbs, see wikt:Category:Korean verbs.
  • Adjective - Words categorized as Korean adjectives (형용사, hyeong-yongsa, 形容詞) conjugate similarly to verbs, so some English texts call them "descriptive verbs" or "stative verbs", but they are distinctly separate from 동사 (tongsa).
    English does not have an identical grammatical category, so the English translation of Korean adjectives may misleadingly suggest that they are verbs. For example, 붉다 (pukda) translates literally as "to be red" and 아쉽다 (aswipda) often best translates as "to lack" or "to want for", but both are 형용사 (hyeong-yongsa, "adjectives").
  • Pre-nouns - Korean pre-nouns (관형사, gwanhyeongsa, 冠形詞) are also known in English as "determinatives", "attributives", and "unconjugated adjectives". Examples include 각 (kak, "each").
  • Nouns Core and basic noun words are native to the Korean language, e.g. 나라 (nara, country), 날 (nal, day). A large body of Korean nouns (명사, myeongsa, 名詞) stem from Chinese characters, e.g. 산 (山, san, mountain), 역 (驛, yeok, station), 문화 (文化, munhwa, culture), etc. Many Sino-Korean words have a native Korean equivalent and vice versa, but not always. Nouns do not have grammatical gender and can be made plural by adding 들 to the end of the word, however in most instances the singular form is used even when in English it would be translated as plural. For example, while in English the sentence "there are three apples" would use the plural "apples" instead of the singular "apple", the Korean sentence 사과 세개 있습니다 (sagwa segae isssumnida) maintains the word 사과 (sagwa, "apple") in its singular form, thus rendered in English as "apple three(things) exist."
  • Pronoun - Korean pronouns (대명사, daemyeongsa, 代名詞) are highly influenced by the honorifics in the language. Pronouns change forms depending on the social status of the person or persons spoken to, e.g. the pronoun for "I" there is both the informal 나 (na) and the honorific/humble 저 (jeo). In general second person singular pronouns are avoided, especially when using honorific forms.
  • Adverb - Korean adverbs (부사, busa, 副詞) include 또 (tto, "also") and 가득 (gadeuk, "fully"). For a larger list, see wikt:Category:Korean adverbs.
  • Particle - Korean particles (조사, josa, 助詞) are also known in English as "postpositions". Examples include 는 (neun, topic marker) and 를 (reul, object marker). For a larger list, see wikt:Category:Korean particles.
  • Interjection - Korean interjections (감탄사, gamtansa, 感歎詞) are also known in English as "exclamations". Examples include 아니 (ani, "no"). For a larger list, see wikt:Category:Korean interjections.
  • Number - Korean numbers or numerals (수사, susa, 數詞) constitute two regularly used sets: a native Korean set and a Sino-Korean set. The Sino-Korean system is nearly entirely based on the Chinese numerals. The distinction between the two numeral systems is very important. Everything that can be counted will use one of the two systems, but seldom both. Sino-Korean words are sometimes used to mark ordinal usage: yeol beon (열 번) means "ten times" while sip beon (십(十) 번(番)) means "number ten." The grouping of large numbers in Korean follow the Chinese tradition of myriads (10000) rather than thousands (1000) as is common in Europe and North America.

Speech levels and honorifics

The relationship between a speaker or writer and his or her subject and audience is paramount in Korean, and the grammar reflects this. The relationship between speaker/writer and subject referent is reflected in honorifics, while that between speaker/writer and audience is reflected in speech level.


When talking about someone superior in status, a speaker or writer usually uses special nouns or verb endings to indicate the subject's superiority. Generally, someone is superior in status if he/she is an older relative, a stranger of roughly equal or greater age, or an employer, teacher, customer, or the like. Someone is equal or inferior in status if he/she is a younger stranger, student, employee or the like. Nowadays, there are special endings which can be used on declarative, interrogative, and imperative sentences; and both honorific or normal sentences. They are made for easier and faster use of Korean.

Speech levels

There are seven verb paradigms or speech levels in Korean, and each level has its own unique set of verb endings which are used to indicate the level of formality of a situation.[citation needed] Unlike honorifics—which are used to show respect towards the referent—speech levels are used to show respect towards a speaker's or writer's audience. The names of the seven levels are derived from the non-honorific imperative form of the verb 하다 (hada, "do") in each level, plus the suffix 체 ("che", hanja: 體), which means "style".

The highest six levels are generally grouped together as jondaenmal (존댓말), while the lowest level (haeche, 해체) is called banmal (반말) in Korean


The core of the Korean vocabulary is made up of native Korean words. Like Japanese and Vietnamese, a significant proportion of the vocabulary, especially words that denote abstract ideas, are Sino-Korean words, either

* directly borrowed from Written Chinese, or
* coined in Japan or Korea using Chinese characters,

in a similar way European languages borrow from Latin and Greek.

Korean has two number systems: one native, and one borrowed from Chinese.

The vast majority of loanwords other than Sino-Korean come from modern times, 90% of which are from English. As in Japanese, Korean adapts words in ways that are uncommon in English. For example, in soccer heading (헤딩) is used to label a head-strike, rather than direction. This is a corrupted loan word from the English header.

Writing system

(see our Hangul page, or the Wikipedia Hangul page)

Modern Korean is written with spaces between words, a feature not found in Chinese or Japanese. Korean punctuation marks are almost identical to Western ones. Traditionally, Korean was written in columns from top to bottom, right to left, but is now usually written in rows from left to right, top to bottom.

The Korean language used in the North and the South exhibits differences in pronunciation, spelling, grammar and vocabulary. Some words are spelled differently by the North and the South, but the pronunciations are the same. Some words have different spellings and pronunciations in the North and the South, and some grammar and vocabulary are different.

Table of Contents

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Korean Drama April 3, 2010 12:25 PM Paul
Korean Film Festival DC 2010 April 11, 2010 5:16 PM Paul
Korean Language - Videos February 9, 2010 11:59 PM Paul

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