Thursday, November 5, 2015

Korean is a very hard language

Since I started Korean about four months ago, again and again I've come across an odd reaction when I mention that I'm working on the language. "At least it has an alphabet, right?" they say—as opposed to the enormous logogrammatic catalogs used to write Chinese and Japanese. Just as often, I hear, "At least it's not tonal like Chinese!" It always comes with the implication: At least it's not as hard as Chinese or Japanese! 

At the risk of sounding defensive, I feel like those of us who study Korean at even the most elementary of levels need to start telling people: "Korean is a very hard language"—certainly no easier for a native English speaker than Chinese or Japanese, and perhaps even harder in some ways. The challenges may be different, but they are no less formidable. No one thinks that Arabic or Georgian or Cherokee are easier than Chinese just because they have alphabets. No one in her right mind thinks that Finnish is easier than Swedish simply because it's not tonal. So it's silly to think that Korean just opens up like a morning glory to the English speaker compared to Chinese or Japanese by virtue of being a non-tonal alphabetic language.