[Mannam Korean Class] "Is the Korean Language Scientific?"

"Is the Korean Language Scientific?"

It is often said that Hangeul (한글) is one of the most scientific alphabets in the world, but I do not think I have ever heard that the Korean language, itself, is one of the world's most scientific languages. Nevertheless, in a Korea Times article, columnist Jon Huer asked the question, "Is the Korean language scientific?" His conclusion was essentially "No." Read the article HERE.

Jon Huer wrote the following:
In truly scientific systems, there are no inner and outer circles. But the Korean language is generally considered the most secretly-guarded code system among the world's major languages. There is no way an "outsider," who is not born into this circle, can crack the code of the Korean language, no matter how long one devotes oneself to its mastery. Its grammar and syntax are capable of so much situational variation and impromptu adaptation that only the native can get the feel of the language. Anyone who is encouraged by the scientific claim and tries to learn the language soon finds that he is merely scratching the surface after years of devoted study.

Koreans used to say quite often that the Korean language was too difficult for "foreigners" (outsiders) to learn, much less master, just as Mr. Huer has said in the above quote, but I never believed that and still do not believe it. Yes, the Korean language has been difficult for me to learn, but I think the main reason for that was that most of my Korean teachers did not know how to teach the language to foreigners and did not really expect me to learn it, anyway. Plus, I was a slow learner.

You cannot expect foreigners to "crack the (Korean) code" when Koreans, themselves, are still trying to crack it. When I started learning Korean, there were not many good books explaining the language to foreigners, teaching techniques were poor, and Korean teachers, themselves, did not really seem to know enough about their language to explain the problems foreigners were having. Moreover, it seemed that Korean teachers had low expectations for foreigners' learning Korean and seemed to teach accordingly. I often got the feeling that I was being taught as if I were a young child.

My very first Korean language lesson started with the Korean instructor pointing a pointer at animals on a chart and pronouncing their names in Korean. I do not remember their being anything written under the pictures, and even if there was Korean written under the pictures, we had not yet learned to read it. We were just supposed to memorize the names of the animals by repeating them one or two times after he pronounced them. The teacher taught with little or no enthusiasm, and discouraged questions. We were just supposed to follow his instructions. Children may be able to learn that way, but not me, nor many other adults, I would think.

When I first started speaking Korean, Koreans tended not to correct me. They would just smile, nod their head, and say in English, "You speak Korean very well," even if I had only said, "Annyeonghaseyo?" With such low expectations for foreigners, is it any wonder that so few of us ever became fluent in Korean?

These days things have changed a lot. Good books are starting to come out, Koreans are learning how to teach Korean to foreigners, and Koreans are expecting more from non-native Korean speakers and are correcting them when they make mistakes.

There is nothing especially difficult about the Korean language. Foreigners can learn the language if they and their teachers are motivated and have the right teaching and learning materials. In regard to Jon Huer's claim that foreigners are incapable of mastering the Korean language, I think Mr. Huer will be eating his words in a few years.

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