This Darn Korean Language

Today is a beautiful day, and my family is out and about shopping for Christmas, but I am here studying Korean.  (OK, well I took some time out to write on my blog.)  I stayed here by choice.  Our second Korean language progress test is next Tuesday, and I need all the preparation I can get.  My wife is taking the same course, but she doesn’t need to study as much as I do.  She is a natural when it comes to learning languages.  She is also a native Chinese speaker, and it definitely helps her when Korean uses so much Chinese vocabulary.  About 60% of Korean words are derived from Chinese.  What sets Korean apart from Chinese is the grammar and structure.  Chinese is a Subject-Verb-Object language, whereas Korean is Subject-Object-Verb (as is Japanese).  Korean, like Japanese, also uses numerous levels of speech politeness, whereas Chinese uses far fewer levels.  In this respect, Chinese is much closer to English.  In Korean the grammar patterns used when speaking to an elderly person is far different (and longer) than patterns used with children (short and blunt).

Unlike my wife, I am struggling in Korean.  Much of it is plain old rote memorization.  Word association (using English to easily remember a word) only goes so far, and after awhile all the words start looking and sounding alike.  Fortunately, the Korean language system is alphabetic, so it’s much easier to write than either Chinese or Japanese.  Nevertheless, Korean pronunciation may among the most difficult for native English speakers.  The U.S. government classifies languages by level of learning difficulty vis-a-vis English, and Korean is one of the four most difficult languages for English speakers to learn (as well as Arabic, Chinese, and Korean).  It requires you to contort your voice in ways you may have never done before.  That, and the pronunciation of a word changes depending on what word follows it.  For example, water is pronounced “mul” by itself (물).  If it is a subject it is pronounced “muri” (물이), and if it is an object it is pronounced “murir” (물을).  Speaking Korean is a verbal gymnastics exercise for a native English speaker.  I have even more respect now for those who master Korean and Japanese.  I often whine about learning Korean, but I know I’ll make it through.  I just want to be able to communicate adequately once we’re in Korea.  I don’t need to be a Korean scholar.

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Books by MG EdwardsMG Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures and children’s books. A former U.S. diplomat, he served in South Korea, Paraguay, and Zambia before leaving the Foreign Service to write full time.

Edwards is author of six books. His memoir, Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, was finalist for the Book of the Year Award and the Global eBook Award. He has published four children’s picture books in the World Adventurers for Kids Series: Alexander the Salamander; Ellie the Elephant; Zoe the Zebra; and a collection featuring all three stories. His book Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories is an anthology of 15 short stories.

Edwards lives in Taipei, Taiwan with his wife Jing and son Alex. He has also lived in Austria, Singapore and Thailand. For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or contact him by e-mail at me@mgedwards.com or on Twitter @m_g_edwards.

© 2017 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

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