About Learning Korean with Berlitz
Korean is spoken in South and North Korea by about 70 million people. There are another 2 million speakers in China, 700,000 in Japan, and smaller numbers in Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. About 600,000 Koreans live in the United States.
Korean, like Japanese, is not known to be related to any other language, though its grammatical structure is somewhat similar to Japanese, and more than half of its vocabulary has been borrowed from the Chinese. Korean used the Chinese characters for writing long before the invention of the Korean alphabet, and continued, even after its invention, to use the two together. (In the fourth line of the poem above the proper nouns Yongbyon and Yag San appear with the Chinese characters following in parentheses). This practice was abolished in North Korea after World War II, but in the South the Chinese characters continue to be used. Students in South Korean secondary schools today are required to learn 1,800 Chinese characters.
The Korean alphabet, known as Hangul, is the only true alphabet native to the Far East. It was invented in the years 1443–44 by the King of Korea, Sejong. Each of the 40 letters represents a single or double consonant or vowel – not a syllable as in Japanese, or a concept as in Chinese. Korean writing differs from that of most other languages in that the letters of each syllable are grouped together into clusters – as if the English word “seldom” were written
The third word of the last line of the poem above, for example, consists of two clusters, each containing three letters arranged vertically. The first contains the letters n, u, and n, the second m, u, and l. Nun is the Korean word for “eye,” mul the word for “water.” Together they form the word nunmul, which means “tear” or “tears.”