We are going through the Christmas story from Matthew the first chapter at a snail’s pace because I understand that Korean is just flat hard for native English speakers. Korean grew up on the other side of the world from English and were even cut off from others countries for a long time. This is why English speakers struggle with Korean.
In ancient times, the early Koreans traveled the old Silk Road, that trading route that went from east to west when they were a great, huge kingdom. However, there was so much fighting they were chopped into many countries including Mongolia, China, Tibet, and Manchuria. Eventually, Korea ended up just one very small country on the Korean Peninsula, and they cut themselves off from the outside world because they wanted peace.
The very first name of Korea during the time they were they great power of the east was Gogoryeo. If you know how Korean is spoken, you can understand why the people along the old Silk Road began calling Korea by the name of Korea. The name came from Gogoryeo. Sometimes, the Korean “g” sounds like a “k.” Gogoryeo lasted for at least 5,000 years. Their first emperor, Dangun, was a son of a man from the Tower of Babel. That may help you understand a little. However, eventually, Korea was only on the peninsula, and no one was allowed out of Korea and no one was allowed in Korea. If you showed up in Korea, you weren’t allowed to leave because they didn’t want anyone to know they were there because they were tired of people attacking them.
Language develops and changes over time, and the isolation caused their language to go in a complete different directions than most of the world. Japanese has the same grammar as Korean. China uses the pictographs that were originally made by ancient Koreans and people now call them Chinese characters, but the Koreans call them “Hanmoon.”. China also uses some grammatical principles from Korean, but their word order comes from English. Before they encountered English, they had no specific word order. Mongolian and Hungarian are extremely like Korean in grammar and vocabulary. Bangla from Bangladesh uses the Korean grammar too. I don’t know anything about the original language in Uzbekistan and places like that, but there are oriental faces there too and the Uzbekistanis marry Koreans and some end up in Korea, so probably they also use at least the same grammar as Korea. However, because of the influence from the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan schools are taught in Russian. Korea was the ancient power of the east, older than the Mongolian hoards that came through conquering Europe and China. When Korea cut itself off from the rest of the world, their language went its own way. It would have already been hard for English speakers, but without any contact with other countries for so long, so many things changed everywhere and made the language even more complicated for foreigners. Language is living because people use it, and people are living, and anything living changes.
English is influenced by many languages because England was always open to foreigners. In the English language, you can find elements from the original Pict language, from the original people on the island, and then you can find Saxon, Gaelic, Roman, French, German, etc., all kinds of influences because that big island welcomed everyone. If you heard old English, you wouldn’t be able to understand it. With the periods of time, we are classified as modern English, but even Shakespeare’s language is considered modern English, and some of us can’t even understand that. Language always changes. English was influenced by many countries, but Korean wasn’t. Korean influenced other countries, and then they cut themselves off. That is why it seems so hard for people from other countries to learn.
Even now, S. Korea is being influenced by other countries, but N. Korea has cut themselves off again, and there is a difference beginning to show in the two countries. There are families in China who still speak an ancient form of Korean at home, but speak whatever form of Chinese is spoken around them when they leave their homes. If you speak to them in Korean as a Korean speaker, you can understand one another, but there is a definite difference because the two people groups are separated into different countries. With mass media, some of the language changes slow down, but they still come. Actually, the first conversation I had in Korean was with one of these Korean Chinese people. She had come to Korea to study so she could study in her first language, but she was Chinese.
I actually began this blog as one that was going to explain Korean grammar, but I began the introduction trying to explain why it took so much to explain, and it seems it took more space than I had anticipated. I decided it might be better just to make the whole blog about why English speakers struggle so much with Korean. If an English speaker tries to learn Spanish, German, Romanian, French, etc. At least there is a little common ground, but you aren’t going to find that common ground with Korean. Their concepts of language are very different from the rest of the world. They even use expressions and verb conjugations instead of punctuation. With any foreign language you learn, you have to learn to think outside the box, but with Korean it is exaggerated on how far outside of the box you have to think. Very few foreigners with English as the first language learn to speak Korean, but don’t be discouraged. Like anything, it just takes times and effort. You just have to have more patience than most to learn to speak it.