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Korean - extremely difficult language?
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Ho (Guest) #1
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Subject: Korean - extremely difficult language?
Hi, guys~

Yesterday I read an interesting news article about classification of languages over the world.
I am not sure that I can tell you about the article well in English. -.-;;;

According to the article, the American government classified 69 languages, which its foreign service officers are using, into 4 classes. The criterion was how much time is needed to learn.

Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Arabic belong to "extremely difficult languages",
50 languages, including Hungarian, Burmese, Finnish belong to "difficult languages" and
10 languages, including Spanish, French, Italian belong to "worldwide languages."

The other 5 languages, including German, Indonesian, Swahili and Teutonic, are classified as "the other languages", which take less time to learn than "difficult languages" but more time than "worldwide languages."

What is your opinion on this? :)
iGEL (Administrator) #2
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I think, it depends very much on the languages you already know. This was created by the American goverment, so it classifies the languages from the perspective of a native English speaker. For me was it easier to learn English than learning Korean (which I'm learning right now), because the principles between German and English are very alike. But I know a Chinese women here in Germany, who learned here Korean from some friends, and she told me, that even though she learned Korean just for fun, it was alot easier than German.

Also, I think, that Korean doesn't belong to the extremely difficult languages for English speakers. It isn't easy, but chinese is in my oppinion alot harder.

Regards, Johannes
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David #3
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Hi folks!

I agree with that. Besides, you can't lump all the languages together - in my opinion, French isn't an easy to learn language, compared to English. Italian, for example (which is, according to the article as easy as French), is much easier, because of its simple grammatical structures and pronunciation. But, as iGEL has already mentioned, it all depends on your mother tongue ... A German or English native, who wants to deal with Korean, has to do a lot of rethinking: the sentence word order is completely different!

Yours, David

PS: provides detailed information on many different languages - highly recommended!!
Ho (Guest) #4
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Hi, guys

I totally agree with you, Johannes and David.
This classification is for English native.

However, I was a little surprise that German is classified as the language that takes more time than "the worldwide languages" such as French or Italien. I think that German is more closer than French or Italien
in the point of view of linguistics - very similar word and grammar. I saw many German people who speak very fluently in English. They said English is easy to learn for German people. But the converse is not true?

Best regards
iGEL (Administrator) #5
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I think, German is more complex than English. Some points are easier (for example, writing is more consistent, see Ghoti), but as far as I know, the English grammar is not as complex as the German. Since I don't know much about Spanish or French, I can't compair it.

Regards, Johannes
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yuki #6
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A claim as to the difficulty of a language must be relative; even though many such claims come without such an understanding. I believe much is either based on gut feeling, or the FSI study. Here's a link: The following page has a neat summary: The study is actually more than 10 years old...

Every language has aspects that may be difficult for learners. What an individual finds difficult will depend on his or her native language, other languages known, and of course the learning approach. (In my view, most Korean language material seems to be produced by native speakers who often lack the insight what learners really need.) Oh, and then there is motivation as a very important factor...

Because there are so many aspects to a language (e.g. writing system, spelling, vocabulary, grammar, levels of speech, proverbs, slang, dialects), I don't think there will ever be a way to make reliable statements about the difficulty of languages.
dergio #7
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Once I have heard that Finnish and Korean are the most difficult languages for Germans but I would also say that everyone considers another language as difficult. I grew up with German and Italian and in school I learned English and French. Since all the european languages are a little bit alike it was not too difficult to learn them.

Korean is another world for me because the language structure and the vocabulary is comlpetely different. European languages use many words which have their roots in Latin or Greek while Korean words come from Chinese quite often. But little by little I get behind it. For example that word with "in" have something to do with man. And words with "saeng" have something to do with life.
yuki #8
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You might be interested in the book I asked about in this thread:…

The full references is Choo, M. (1996) Handbook of Korean Vocabulary: An Approach to Word Recognition and Comprehension, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press.

You'll probably have to order to book, as I don't think many places stock it (maybe do?). The book is basically a list of such roots. You can look up 학, for example, and it will tell you that this root means study. What then follows is a list of words that make use of this root, such as 학생, 학교, 학습, or 대학교. The main part of the book is on Chinese roots, but there is also a smaller section on Korean roots.

I find this book useful to understand Korean words; although remembering them does not necessarily get any easier (for me).
Chang Min #9
Member since Sep 2006 · 16 posts · Location: Switzerland
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Yup...Korean is difficult...O__O

I can speak Japanese, but it's totally different to Korean ><" I thought if I'll speak Japanese, it won't be a problem to learn Korean afterwards...but in is!
Chinese is more comfortable, because it has same letters there, so I can go to pick up each letter and build my sentence in that way...okay..not totally correct in all way, but I'll understand the main words ^^

But in my opinion is Korean one of the most beautiful language ever! It sounds very nice!
What a pity it's sooo difficult to learn (T_T)...

mabye the best way to go to learn is...go to an exchange year...*goes and searches informations about it* XD  :cool:   :-p
Check this out ->Here comes TVXQ!
iGEL (Administrator) #10
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Hi Chang Min!

I don't speak Japanese and just a little Korean, but from what I heard, both languages are very alike. Although there are almost no Japanese words in the Korean language now, they both got many loan words from the Chinese language and the grammar is almost the same. Also, Koreans also used the Chinese characters for a long time in their history, but these days, they mainly use Hangeul, their own script. But almost every Korean understands the common characters of the Chinese script.

Regards, Johannes
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Sheena (Guest) #11
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Subject: to IGEL
 IGEL, I've found that you are the person who most fully understand major differences among Chinese,  
 Korean, and Japanese.
 as a Korean, I persume that learning Chinese is much more difficult to learn Korean n Japanese.
 Speaking of learning a language as a mature student, it more depends on our own effort and passion 
 for it than just what our mother tongue is or how many words we can memorise effectively. To
 understand its culture is also crucial, as we all know already.

 In my opinion, Korean is too distinct to study other languages only except for Japanese.
Francois #12
Member since Jan 2007 · 45 posts · Location: Daegu
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I find Korean very very difficult to learn for a westerner. The only easy thing is the Hangeul writing, in comparison to other asiatic languages. After 10 month in Korea I am utterly disappointed by my Korean level.
Grammar is difficult. But my biggest problem is understanding.
Koreans compact and bind the words together (like the French with the "liaisons"), and they have a wide range of vowels. It makes it difficult to be clear about what you have heard. This is a difficulty that does not exist when you learn German, (I mean Hochdeutsch..) since the language is very clear, and words clearly separated from one another.
For the little Japanese I learnt at the Volkshochschule, I also found that this language was very easy in this matter. You may wonder what does mean the words that you heard, but you are quite sure about what you have heard : less sounds than in Korean and words not compacted in the sentence.
Maybe I have an additional difficulty that in my area in Daegu they are supposed to speak a local dialect called Satouli, and not the standard Seoul Korean.

I am also astonished by the number of words in Korean. You have about 15.000 Words in French, 40.000 in English and about 200.000 in Korean. There seem to be for everything 3 or 4 words that could be used (original Korean word or Chinese Word), and each word could have 3 or 4 different significations depending on the context..
After having been confronted to Korean language, I find that the other European languages are not that difficult after all.
yuki #13
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Perhaps this fits here; I came across a forum post in a different forum outlining the 'ideal' approach to learning Korean... The post was made by a polyglot professor who previously lived in Korea for many years, and has achieved a very high level of Korean. The original post can be found here:…?TID=76….

Of course you might have a different approach that works for you, but I'm also re-posting it because of #1 and #10...

Quote by Prof. Arguelles:
1)     Understand that you are committing yourself to a very difficult task and make that commitment seriously.

2)     Commit as much time as possible to the project and develop the habit of regular daily study at fixed intervals.

3)     Begin with Let’s Learn Korean by B.J. Jones (Hollym Press, 1982). Before you do anything else, take a black marker and ink out all the Romanization in the book, and be prepared also to edit the music and English off the recording.

4)     Initially, do nothing but blind shadow the accompanying tape, focusing entirely upon the phonetic aspect of the language for as long as you can stand to do so.

5)     When you have made as much progress with the rhythm and sounds of the language, learn how to read Korean aloud by working systematically through this excellent little introductory work, which will put you on the road to good pronunciation, help you develop basic literacy, and give you some useful vocabulary, phrases, and, hopefully, some intuitive feeling for the language.

6)     Work systematically and thoroughly through all the materials in the Historical, Literary, and Cultural Approach to the Korean Language, upon which I first collaborated with Professor Kim Jongrok in order to fill precisely this very specific need for a more systematic approach to the language.

7)     When you have done all of this, you should be at a certain juncture in your studies. For maximum efficiency in attaining the final goal of an actual full command of the language, you should endeavor to get to this point after about three months of studying for several hours each day. After this juncture you should continue working with the same intensity using a six pronged approach consisting of six different elements, some of which may at times be easily incorporated into each other, but all six of which should nonetheless be given specific attention in different measures according to different learning styles. These six elements are:

A.     Shadowing

B.     Working through many different volumes of grammatical textbooks and teaching
manuals such as Francis Y.T. Park’s Speaking Korean series (Hollym Press) and Fred Lukoff’s series of Courses in Korean from Yonsei University Press.

C.     Writing many sheets of Hangul out by hand on squared paper, reading aloud as you do so.

D.     Systematically mastering the 1800 basic Hanja from Bruce K. Grant’s Guide to Korean Characters (Hollym), again writing out squared sheets by hand while reading aloud.

E.     Internalizing the material in Miho Choo and William O’Grady’s Handbook of Korean Vocabulary (University of Hawaii Press 1996) by reading and writing out loud, making vocabulary cards, using mnemonics, etc

F.     Chanting aloud the rhythms of the patterns of the paradigms to be found in A Handbook of Korean Verbal Conjugation, available from Dunwoody Press.

8)     Expect to engage in these activities for several hours each day each and every single day for at least one full calendar year and more likely for several years before you come to a new juncture.

9)     If you are fortunate enough to be able to add a 7th element of conversation with native speakers at any point in the process, by all means do so, but also by no means neglect any of the other six elements. If you do not have this opportunity, however, at this juncture you should actively seek it out, i.e., plan some sort of excursion containing organized intensive linguistic immersion on the Korean peninsula.

10)     While there, you should acquire both as many graded readers and as much easy authentic material in subjects of interest to you as you can (children’s literature and schoolbooks, translated texts, more complex Hanja workbooks, etc.), as from this point on you should be advanced enough to chart your own course.

11)     Keep your perspective at all times. Foreigners who have emigrated to Korea and engaged the language in a serious fashion generally report that it takes something on the order of fifteen years in the country before they feel truly 100% at home in it. So, do not berate yourself if after ten years of study you still cannot effortlessly read a novel; this is normal and to be expected. “Survival Korean” can be attained in a matter of months, but true systematic exploration and appreciation of the language is a life's work.
taekyun26 #14
Member since Aug 2006 · 7 posts · Location: berlin
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Subject: german is totally difficult
fuer mich ist ja Deutsch extrem schwierig, und wahrscheinlich Russisch auch.

( for me, Native-korean, German is extreme difficult language.
  russian is also very, very, unbelievably difficult for Korean)

so, wenn man nur die Perspektiven aendert, dann ist alles anders.
ich meine, es ist einerseits unfair, oder meinetwegen sogar ungerecht, dass ich,
und wahrscheinlich andere Koreaner auch, muessen das ganze Leben lang nur die Sprachen,
zwar die voellig anderen europaesichen Sprachen, lernen muss,
nur weil ich nicht europaeisch bin,   und und,, etc.
somit will ich vor allem meinen, dass die europaeischen Sprachen verdammt schwierig fuer Koreaner sind.

(so, german and other european languages, like russian are extremely difficult langauges,
it takes the whole life for us, koreans, to learn these languages.

even, even the whole life is gone and over, but you still haven't learnt them)
This post was edited 3 times, last on 2008-01-03, 23:10 by taekyun26.
taekyun26 #15
Member since Aug 2006 · 7 posts · Location: berlin
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Subject: die schwierigsten Sprachen fuer Koreaner/Japaner
nach meiner Klassifikation;
1. Deutsch
2. Russisch
3. Franzoesisch
4. Englisch

5. Tuerksich

6. Chinesisch
7. Vietnamesisch
8. Indonesisch

9. Japanisch

Tipp der Lesart;
es sollte von Anfang gelesen werden, so, fuer Koreanisch-muttersprachler,
Deutsch ist unmoeglich zu lernen, Russisch gehoert auch dazu,
Englisch aber, es braucht minimum 1001 Jahre fuer Koreaner es zu lernen,

und nun, Japanisch,
wahrscheinlich es ist die einzige Sprache der Welt, was die Koreaner mehr oder weniger
lernen/erlernen kann innerhalb, zwar und sogar ziemlich kurzer Zeit!
erstaunlich und unglaublich fuer Europaeisch-muttersprachler!!  Oder?

es ist nicht wissenschaftlich,
ja nur vom willkuerlichen Gefuehl gefuehrte, private Meinung von mir, so
bitte merken.
This post was edited on 2008-01-03, 21:43 by taekyun26.
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