Are you ready to reach out the this fascinating, complex country?
The South Korean government recently announced plans to invest $9 billion in research and development to enhance IT, electronic and engineering production, underlining the country’s reputation as a tech leader. Despite suffering in the global financial crisis of a decade ago, Korea remains a 21st century success story. The economy is the world’s eleventh largest and among the most innovative.
The Foreign Service Institute puts Korean in category 5, the hardest language category to learn. The writing system includes 14 consonants and ten vowels, so even for those who meet the challenge of reading and writing, pronunciation remains a minefield. Articulating a complete sentence in Korean involves navigating single and double consonants and multiple unfamiliar vowel sounds. True mastery of Korean as a second language is notoriously difficult but deeply satisfying.
South Korea has a population of 51 million, and the Korean language is also prominent beyond its borders. There are 2 million Korean speakers in China, 2 million more in the USA and of course 24 million in their nearest neighbour to the north. South Korea’s population is forecast to decline over the coming years. Less children are being born and immigration policy is strict. The median age of South Koreans is currently 43. It’s forecast to rise to over 60 by the mid-21st century, planting a demographic time bomb under the country’s economy.
While Koreans take pride in their language, the influence of globalisation in the South has brought an influx of English words into everyday vocabulary. The word handbag, for example, is reproduced as han-du-ba-gu. And yes, a lot of luxury handbags have been sold in South Korea.
FIND THE VERB
The Subject-Verb-Object word order we’re familiar with in construction of English sentences doesn’t apply in Korean. Sentences are typically constructed Subject-Object-Verb, so the simple English sentence I travelled to the city would be re-ordered as I to the city travelled. That may not sound too complicated, but as sentences become longer and more intricate, it gives non-native speakers plenty to think about.
RESPECT YOUR ELDERS
Korean culture emphasises politeness and respect, particularly for family and one’s elders. At mealtimes, older people should sit down first, and guests should take care to eat at the same pace as their hosts. The Korean system of honorifics changes how people should be addressed depending on age and social status. The language also emphasises humility. When speaking of their country, their property or even their spouse, Koreans may use the word our where others would say my, considering it arrogant and self-centred to claim patriotism, ownership or relationships for themselves alone.
Are you ready to reach out to this fascinating, complex country?
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