What to Know About the South Korean Language

What to Know About the South Korean Language

South Korea, also known as the Republic of Korea (ROK), is a country located in East Asia with a population of over 51 million. Their official language is Korean, which is also spoken by around 80 million people worldwide. Korean is known for its unique and complex writing system, as well as its honorifics and politeness levels. Here’s what you need to know about the South Korean language.

The Korean Writing System

One of the most unique aspects of the Korean language is its writing system. Hangul, which is used to write Korean, was created in the 15th century by King Sejong the Great. The system is composed of 24 letters – 14 consonants and 10 vowels – and is written from left to right, top to bottom.

Hangul is different from most writing systems because it is a phonetic alphabet, meaning that each letter represents a sound. The alphabet was created to allow common people to read and write, as the previous writing systems were only accessible to the nobility.

Korean also uses hanja, which are Chinese characters borrowed into the Korean language. While hanja is not used frequently in modern-day writing, many Korean words still have hanja roots.

The Politeness System

In the Korean language, there are different ways to address people based on their age, status, and familiarity. This system is known as honorifics, and it reflects the hierarchical nature of Korean society.

When addressing someone who is older or of higher status, it is proper to use honorific language. This includes words like “nim” (님), which is a suffix used to show respect, and “juseyo” (주세요), which means “please give me.” If you’re speaking to someone of a similar or lower status, you can use standard language.

Korean also has different levels of politeness, depending on the situation. “Jondaetmal” (존댓말) is formal language used in professional situations or with people you don’t know well. “Banmal” (반말) is informal language used with close family and friends.

Korean Grammar

Korean grammar is quite different from English grammar. Korean does not have articles (a, an, the), and the subject often comes at the end of a sentence. It is also common for the subject to be left out if it is clear from the context.

Korean verbs are also conjugated differently depending on the tense. The present tense is usually formed by adding “-ㅂ니다” or “-습니다” to the stem of the verb. The past tense is formed by adding “-았/었-” to the stem of the verb.


1. Is Korean difficult to learn?

Korean can be difficult to learn because of its unique writing system and politeness levels. However, with consistent practice and dedication, it is possible to become proficient in the language.

2. Do I need to know honorifics to speak Korean?

While it is not necessary to use honorifics when speaking Korean, it is important to understand them and their significance in Korean culture.

3. Can I learn Korean without learning to read and write Hangul?

It is possible to learn basic spoken Korean without knowing how to read and write Hangul. However, to truly master the language, it is important to learn the writing system.

4. How long does it take to become fluent in Korean?

The amount of time it takes to become fluent in Korean depends on several factors, such as language background and how much time is dedicated to studying and practicing. It can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to become proficient in the language.

5. Is Korean similar to any other language?

Korean is part of the Koreanic language family and is not closely related to any other major languages. However, it does share some similarities with Japanese and Chinese, as it has borrowed vocabulary and writing systems from both languages.


Learning Korean involves more than just memorizing vocabulary and grammar rules. It requires an understanding of the unique honorific and politeness systems, as well as the ability to read and write Hangul. While it may be a challenging language to learn, the reward of being able to communicate with Koreans and appreciate their culture is well worth the effort.

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