As I mentioned previously, I feel Korean vocabulary is also simpler than English's. Previously I was already familiar with English and Chinese, so when I started going through the vocab lists, I was pretty amazed at the number of loan words from both languages.
Most people have the impression that Japanese is very similar to Chinese due to the common use of kanji (Chinese characters). While that is very true of vocabulary (but not of grammar and pronunciation), you'll be interested to know that Korean is even more similar. It's estimated that as much as 70% of Korean vocab originated from Chinese. This is not surprising given centuries of cultural influence from ancient China.
Here's an example of a sentence I just took from a textbook.
어제 수학 선생님의 강의를 듣다가 잤어요.
Pro: O-je Su-hak Son-saeng-nim-e Kang-i-reul Teu-tta-ga Ja-sso-yo.
English: Yesterday I fell asleep listening to the math teacher's lecture.
In Korean it is possible to write in a mix of Hanja (Chinese characters) and Hangul. If you were to place in all possible Hanja, you get:
어제 數學 先生님의 講議를 듣다가 잤어요.
You find that:
數學 = mathematics
先生 = mister (= lecturer)
講議 = lecture
Interesting? 3 vocabulary entries in this sentence are from Chinese alone! And, for those who are proficient in Chinese, they'll find that even the pronunciation of the Hanja is freakingly similar to some Chinese dialects like Cantonese!
For example, ginseng in Cantonese is pronounced as "Yan-sam".
In Korean it is "In-sam" and this vocab entry is also borrowed from Chinese.
한국에서는 소아과 의사들은 다 부자다.
Pro: Han-gu-ge-so-neun So-a-kkwa Eu-i-sa-deu-reun Ta Pu-ja-da.
English: Pediatricians in Korea are all rich.
Replace with Hanja:
韓國에서는 小兒科 醫師들은 다 富者다.
韓國 = South Korea
小兒科 = Pediatrics
醫師 = Doctor
富者 = Rich person
I rest my case. But it's so uncool to write in Chinese so I'd rather make my life simpler and stick to Hangul. :P
Due to the super coolness of writing in Hangul, Chinese characters are almost obsolete in Korea both North and South. However unlike Chinese Korean is not tonal, therefore a single vocab entry can derive multiple meanings unless context is provided in the sentence. Where context fails, this is where Hanja steps in. Thus Hanja is used more in academic writing, official documents, and sometimes newspapers.
The wiki entry for Hanja is a case in point. The vocab 수도 (pro : su-do) can mean so many things, like:
修道 — spiritual discipline
受渡 — receipt and delivery
囚徒 — prisoner
水都 — 'city of water' (e.g. Hong Kong and Naples)
水稻 — rice
水道 — drain
隧道 — tunnel
首都 — capital (city)
手刀 — hand-knife
However, due to increasing Americanization of life in Korea, Korean also imports more and more words from English. While this is great news for everyone who wants to learn Korean, sometimes it gets confusing because you thought that guy over there was talking some Korean stuff when he was actually enunciating an English word Korea-style! It gets funny sometimes, like:
이 커피가 진하네!
Pro: I Ko-pi-ga Chin-ha-ne!
Did you get the English in the sentence? Yes, that's right, it's coffee and the guy's saying "OMG this coffee is strong!"
라이터 좀 빌려 줘.
Pro: La-i-to Chom Pil-lyo Juo.
English: Lend me your lighter.
The influence of English in Korean is similar to Japanese except that Japanese uses katakana to write foreign words, whereas it's a one-for-all in Korean. Gets confusing sometimes @@
Korean is also distinct from English in that it employs different speech/writing styles for different occasions. What I mean here is formal occasions like meeting with office superiors will use a certain speech style, informal occasions like talking to friends another. Shanna who is also learning Korean has a blog post about this. English does not really have such a distinction.
For example, a "Hello!" or "Good morning" greeting can be expressed in the following ways:
Lit: Are you peaceful? (Do I hear you laugh a bit? :P)
-> Used in talking to superiors but in a more casual occasion, eg. to your mom.
Lit: You are making the effort (= You're doing great!)
-> Used in greeting somebody in the office.
Lit: Peace! (and flash the peace sign as well :P)
-> You guess it, this is for talking to friends.
This system is very familiar to Japanese. I'd like to think for a while that Korean and Japanese are like blood brothers (although many people would disagree for nationalistic reasons :P).
This sums up my rant about English vis-a-vis Korean. I don't want to bore you with too much academics, so this stops for a while. In conclusion, if:
- You're good in English/Chinese/Japanese or some combination of all three
- You're familiar with Chinese characters
- You want to get business from Koreans
- You hate the sucky subtitles in K-dramas that don't reflect what the actors really say.
- You wanna be cool, cos to date only 4 Malaysians are certified in the language.
- You like talking like Yoda :P
Then I suggest you consider learning Korean.
This post, and the first, are related to the giveaway I'm planning. Stay tuned for the real deal.
OMG come look at this hot lady who enjoyed herself in Fraser's Hill!