As I continue to work my way through learning Korean, I’m continually amazed at how logical and practical the Korean language is. If the world had to get together and pick just one language to use, it definitely shouldn’t be English. It’s possible that it is easy to learn the basics of English, but English is difficult to master. English is extremely irregular and doesn’t have consistent pronunciation (take for example the word “recipe” that ESLers often pronounce as it is written instead of “recip-eee”).
When considering the strengths of a language, two attributes are immediately obvious: how easy it is to learn and how nice it sounds. Thus far I’ve studied French, Italian, German, and Japanese.
French has fewer irregularities than English (but still enough to necessitate bescherelle) and a certain je ne sais quoi sound that is a mix of sexy and malaise. Italian is even more regular than French (no bescherelle required) and sounds fantastic even when reading the recip-ee for bolognese. But while there is sometimes a beautiful and concise sentence like non c’è (meaning what you want isn’t here so why are you bothering me with such questions), it has the common ailment of all romance languages: verbosity. The this of the that of the these… seriously, check the back of a Canadian bilingual cereal box. The same stuff is written in both English and French, and French is always longer.
That bring us to German which fails on both ease of learning and how nice it sounds. It’s difficult to learn: I spent 6 weeks learning which of der, die, das, den, and dem to use depending on the gender and case of the noun. These all mean “THE” in English. And while Bavarians have a soft accent, any language that is that difficult to learn should sound nicer.
Japanese is pretty easy to learn and sounds nice. It’s definitely easy to pronounce as every syllable ends in a vowel – think Ka, Ki, Ku, Ke, Ko. The major drawback of Japanese is that it uses 3 different writing systems. Most words are represented with Chinese characters, of which there are roughly 2000 to learn, for parts of speech and foreign words, either hiragana or katakana is used, respectively. Kanji (the Chinese characters) are interesting, but memorizing 2000 characters is a huge barrier to learning Japanese. Furthermore each character has at least two pronunciations, a Chinese one and a Japanese one. I still have no idea how you are supposed to pronounce a word you have never seen before.
If I were judging Korean 100 years ago, it would have the same strike against it as Japanese, the use of Chinese characters. However, Korean has been using Hangul for the last hundred years, and, now, any use of Chinese characters is rare. Hangul is a simple writing system that creates a vowel-only, consonant-vowel, or consonant-vowel-consonant syllable using 2 to 4 symbols squished into a little block. For example, the syllables a, ha, and han are 아, 하, 한 – you can see the symbol for ‘a’ is ㅏ. It’s easier to learn than a, b, c. All the symbols for vowels are based on a vertical or horizontal line: ㅗ, ㅓ, ㅏ, ㅜ; consonants look different.
In Korean, all that is needed for a complete sentence is a verb (or an adjective which is treated similarly to a verb in Korean). The consistency in how verbs are modified for different expressions is amazing. Also, all verbs in their plain form end in 다 (da) so they are easily recognized, eg. 가다, 오다, and 하다.
Korean gets a ton of mileage out of the 하다 (to do) verb. The verb to study is literally study-do 공부하다, to workout is workout-do 운동하다, and to have sex is sex-do 섹스하다. There are many, many verbs like this. Even to like something is good-do 좋아하다. Great, isn’t it?!
If you want to say “I’m eating” (plain form of to eat is 먹다), you say 먹어, or, if you want to make a point that you’re in the middle of eating, you can say 먹고 있어. If you finished eating, you say 먹었어, or if you will eat, you say 먹을 거야, or if you want to ask someone to eat with you, you say 먹자? While it might not be obvious if you are not familiar with Korean, the main part of the verb 먹 is common to all forms – compare this to eat, ate, am eating, will eat…
Once you learn the rule for a form (like present or past or suggestion), it is applied consistently to any verb or adjective. There just aren’t any exceptions – this makes it easy and fun to learn.
So, here I am, officially casting my vote for Korean to be the Earth’s common tongue: 한국어 제일 좋아!
If you’re interested in learning, the best resource I’ve been using is talk to me in korean (http://www.talktomeinkorean.com/about/) and about 700 home-made flash cards.