The Korean language is classified as a member of the Ural-Altaic family (other members of this family include the Mongolian, Finnish, and Hungarian languages.) Until the early 1400s, most documents were written in classical Chinese characters (known in Korean as Hanja). As the ideographs are difficult to learn, only the educated people could read and write. King Sejong, the 4th ruler of the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), set up a special committee of scholars in 1443 to create a new writing system specifically suited to the Korean language.
The result was Hangul (meaning ‘the one script’). It originally contained 28 symbols, although 4 have dropped out of use. The alphabet has 10 vowels and 14 consonants. The consonants represent the simplified outlines of the parts of the mouth and tongue used to pronounce them. The vowels are associated with elements of the philosophy of the Book of Changes.
When speaking Korean, you use formal or informal words and phrases, depending on the status of the person to whom you are talking. For example, you generally use informal speech to children and formal speech to older people. It is better to err by being too formal rather than showing disrespect. However, Koreans do not expect foreigners to be fluent and will usually excuse minor mistakes.
We highly encourage our teachers to take the time and try and learn the language while you live and work in Korea. The benefits in doing so are tremendous and will stay with you beyond your adventure teaching English in Korea.
The best way to start learning Korean will be to enroll in some classes when you arrive and feel settled. There are many language schools available that are reasonable priced and offer a flexible schedule to work with your own teaching schedule.
If you are eager to hit the ground running, we would encourage you to explore any of the following web sites that offer lessons and language practice online:
Join the locals and have fun with our series of free language guides that contain around 30 basic phrases that you can download onto your iPod.