Korean - interesting facts


Korean is the native language for approximately 80 million people, accounting for over 1% of the global population. It ranks 17th worldwide in terms of the number of native speakers.

Korean is the official language of both states on the Korean Peninsula: North Korea and South Korea. Additionally, it is recognized as an official language in parts of China bordering North Korea, specifically in Yanbian Prefecture and Changbai County.

The origin of the Korean language remains a contentious issue among scholars. Most typologists classify it as an isolated language, meaning it doesn't belong to any specific language family. Some linguists, however, attribute Korean to the Altaic language family (particularly to the Manchu-Tungus group), while some American researchers perceive a kinship with the Japanese language. The earliest Korean records were written in the Chinese alphabet. The creation of the Korean alphabet, known as Hangul (Hangeul), dates back to the 15th century.

Hangul is an artificially created alphabet, not derived from hieroglyphs or ideograms. It comprises 19 consonants (14 basic and 5 double) and 21 vowels (8 single and 13 complex). Their combinations form syllables written as blocks within a square field. Interestingly, words in the Korean alphabet can be written horizontally and vertically.

Due to the very limited contact between North and South Korea, the Korean language variants in these countries display pronunciation, spelling, vocabulary, and grammar differences. Dialectal variation also characterizes both versions.

The regulation of the Korean language falls under the National Institute of the Korean Language (in South Korea) and the Language Institute of the Academy of Social Sciences (in North Korea). The King Sejong Institute has the responsibility of promoting Korean globally.

While native words form the core of the Korean lexicon, many abstract concept words directly borrow from Chinese or words created in Korea and Japan using Chinese characters.

The basic word order in Korean is subject-object-verb, meaning that the verb usually appears at the end of the sentence.

Effective communication in Korean requires adherence to politeness norms, which involves mastering the honorific system. Appropriate nouns or verb endings are used depending on the social status of the message's recipient.

Korean does not have grammatical genders.

The most globally widespread Korean word is "taekwondo" – the name of an Eastern martial art.


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Korean alphabet - Hangul

Hangul, the Korean alphabet, was invented in the 15th century by King Sejong and is one of the newest alphabets in the world. It is one of the few alphabets designed specifically for the language to be written. Hangul consists of 24 letters, 14 consonants, and 10 vowels that merge into syllables. Thanks to its ease and logical layout, learning Hangul takes only a few weeks, making it easier to learn Korean.

Height of sound in Korean

There is a tonal accent system in Korean, one of the most difficult aspects for language learners to master. In Korean, the pitch of a sound affects the meaning of words and sentences. This means that one word can have different meanings depending on the tone in which it is pronounced. There are four basic tones in Korean: high, medium, low and descending, and their correct use is crucial for understanding and communicating in Korean.

Word of the Year in Korea

In Korea, the word of the year is chosen to represent the most important events, trends and social changes that took place during the previous year. The media and society widely discuss the choice of word of the year, and the word is used in a variety of contexts such as advertisements, articles, public discussions, and many more. Examples of words of the year in Korea are "Hallyu" (Korean wave), "Gangnam Style" and "the best age for self-realization".

Language of Honour

Korean has many forms of courtesy and honour, which are used in various situations, depending on age, gender, social status, and degree of familiarity. In Korean, using appropriate forms of courtesy is important to show respect and courtesy to the interlocutor. In addition, there are many words and phrases in Korean that reflect Korean values and culture, such as “jeong” (feelings of closeness and caring) and “han” (sadness, regret, and frustration).

Hangul - a unique system of Korean writing

Hangul is a Korean writing system created in the 15th century by King Sejong. The system consists of 24 characters, 14 consonants and 10 vowels, and each character represents a sound rather than a letter. Hangul is considered one of the most scientific writing systems in the world and is easy to learn, which has contributed to the significant popularization of the system among the population of South Korea. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it was designed with the Korean language in mind and is the only writing system created by the government.

Influences in Korean

The Korean language has many words of Chinese origin. These words are called Hanja and are written in the form of Chinese characters but pronounced in the Korean way. The words Hanja are often used in formal situations and literature. In Korean, many words come from other languages, such as English and Japanese.

Korean Dialects

Like many other languages, Korean has many different dialects, some so different that it can be difficult for people who speak a different dialect to understand. However, the official Korean language, spoken in schools, the media and by the government, comes from the Seoul dialect. This dialect was common in the capital and became dominant throughout the country, and its understanding and use is essential in communication.

Korean Proverbs

here are 10 common Korean proverbs, with their literal translations, equivalents in English, and discussions of their meanings:

가는 말이 고와야 오는 말이 곱다 (Ganeun mari gowaya oneun mari gopda)
Literal translation: If outgoing words are beautiful, incoming words will be beautiful too.
English equivalent: Speak of the devil and he shall appear.
Meaning: This proverb is a reminder that speaking well and kindly of others encourages them to speak well and kindly of you in return.

등잔 밑이 어둡다 (Deungjan miti eodubda)
Literal translation: The bottom of the lamp is dark.
English equivalent: The darkest place is under the candlestick.
Meaning: It highlights that we often overlook what is right under our nose or closest to us.

서당개 삼 년이면 풍월을 읊는다 (Seodang-gae sam nyeon-imyeon pungwol-eul eumneunda)
Literal translation: If a dog goes to a school for three years, it can recite a poem.
English equivalent: Practice makes perfect.
Meaning: This proverb emphasizes the importance of persistence and practice in learning.

시작이 반이다 (Sijaki banida)
Literal translation: Starting is half the task.
English equivalent: Well begun is half done.
Meaning: This proverb encourages people to take the first step, as it's often the hardest.

원숭이도 나무에서 떨어진다 (Wonsung-i-do namu-eseo tteoleojinda)
Literal translation: Even monkeys fall from trees.
English equivalent: Even Homer sometimes nods.
Meaning: It means that everyone, no matter how skilled, can make mistakes.

아니 땐 굴뚝에 연기 날까 (Ani daen gultong-e yeongi nalkka)
Literal translation: Can there be smoke without fire?
English equivalent: Where there's smoke, there's fire.
Meaning: This proverb suggests that rumors or accusations often have some truth to them.

호랑이도 제 말하면 온다 (Horang-i-do je malhamyeon onda)
Literal translation: Even a tiger will come if you speak about it.
English equivalent: Speak of the devil and he shall appear.
Meaning: This suggests that talking about someone might make them appear.

구르미 그린 달빛 (Gureumi geurin dalbit)
Literal translation: The moonlight drawn by clouds.
English equivalent: Every cloud has a silver lining.
Meaning: This proverb suggests that every difficult or sad situation has a comforting or more hopeful aspect.

똥 묻은 개가 겨 묻은 개 나무란다 (Ddong mudeun gaega gyeo mudeun gae namuranda)
Literal translation: A dog smeared in feces scolds a dog smeared in chaff.
English equivalent: The pot calling the kettle black.
Meaning: This proverb is about people who criticize others for similar faults.

These proverbs are ingrained in Korean culture and often provide valuable lessons about life, human nature, and societal values. They're used frequently in daily conversation and literature, reflecting the collective wisdom of Korean society.


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Your Essential Korean




yes 예 (ye)
no 아니요 (aniyo)
please 제발 (jebal)
thank you 감사합니다 (kamsahamnida)
I'm sorry 미안합니다 (mianhamnida)
good morning 안녕하세요 (annyeonghaseyo)
good evening 안녕히 주무세요 (annyeonghi jumuseyo)
goodbye 안녕히 계세요 (annyeonghi gyeseyo)
good night 안녕히 가세요 (annyeonghi gaseyo)
hi 안녕 (annyeong)
how are you?  어떻게 지내세요? (eotteoke jinaeseyo?)
well 고마워요, 잘 지내고 있어요. (gomawoyo, jal jinaego isseoyo)
My name is... 제 이름은... 입니다 (je ireumeun... imnida)
I don't understand 이해하지 못해요 (ihaehaji mothaeyo)



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