Korean Wife Camp: Learning Hangeul & the Korean Language

Learning Korean

In school, I studied French and Italian, and did well. Knowing some Italian made it easy to get around Mexico. I have a good ear. And I’ve always been curious about the challenge of learning a non-romanic language, and wanted badly to learn one… but learning a language without a readily available practical application for it seemed like a waste of time and energy. It would be too hard to keep up, and it wasn’t like I was going to change careers to make that language a new path for myself. Basically, learning a more exotic language, just to be able to say I did so, seemed like a fruitless exercise in ego. Can you imagine?

“I speak Aramaic, you know.”

“Oh cool, what do you use it for?”

“Um…” *crickets*

Then I met Paul. And BOOM. A reason to learn Korean came crashing into my life. As I mentioned in my first KWC post, Paul and his mother speak almost exclusively Korean when they’re together. We’re spending about 2 weeks in Seoul during our Honeymoon. And we definitely plan to raise our daughters to be bilingual from birth. I’ve picked up a few conversational words here and there… mostly from Paul and his mother, going out to eat at Korean restaurants, and watching K-dramas on DramaFever. But in order to get to a point of fluency, which is my end-goal, I had to get into a class.?So I’ve plunged headfirst into the wild and wacky world of Hangeul: the Korean alphabet.

I started by enrolling in a class at the King Sejong Language Institute at the Korean Cultural Center of LA. Korean Cultural Centers all over the world offer language and culture classes at extremely affordable rates because they’re subsidized by the Korean government. So for a 12-week class, the cost was only $80, which is unheard of! But, the class pace was too slow for me, and the drive to Koreatown during rush hour was brutal. So, I looked for a more privatized option, and Tabitha from Winston and Main recommended I check out iTalki.com, which she was using to brush up her Japanese.

iTalki allows you to search for teachers based on the language you’d like to learn, and has detailed profiles for them including photos, credentials, student reviews, and even videos. You can buy trial lessons to sample up to 3 different teachers before settling on one, and take your lessons via skype or G+, allowing you to tap into teachers anywhere in the world. You can also find conversation buddies if you’re just looking to practice your language skills, or meet other people who speak the languages you fluently speak. The rates are extremely affordable for private lessons (usually $15-$25/hour, depending), and you can schedule as many or as few as you like per week, or sign up for a package deal.

I found my teacher, Zeanie Yoon, on iTalki, and she has been a total game-changer in my learning. Her ability to teach Korean with mnemonic devices, analogies, humor, and common sense really appeals to the ways I learn best; and having her full attention, rather than sharing it among a group, allows us to move much more quickly and focus on what will help me most practically, the fastest. I feel so lucky to have found her.

If you’re interested in learning a new language, or brushing up an old one, iTalki is running a special in the month of July – so if you use this link to go find a teacher, you get $10 in free credits to use on the site.

And if you’re curious about the basics of Hangeul…. here you go!

To break it down: Hangeul was developed by Sejong the Great, 4th King of the Joseon Dynasty. Han meant “great” in archaic Korean, while geul is the native Korean word for “script.” Unlike general phonemic writing systems such as the Roman Alphabet, it was uniquely designed to combine consonant letters and vowel letters into syllabic units. Hangeul is a very logical approach to the alphabet because the consonant letters are based on the shape of the speech organ used to create the appropriate sound for it, such as the tongue, teeth, throat, lips, etc. It’s not an exact science, but knowing those correlations has helped me. The vowel shapes are said to be based on the 3 “elements” of fire, earth, and human. I find this to be far less helpful in learning their letters.

I know, it’s a lot. But it’s fascinating!



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