Your brain may not immediately light up with a good answer to this question.
After all, Korean isn’t exactly the most popular choice for language learners.
Out of all the beautiful languages you could sink your teeth into…
Why in the world would you choose Korean, people may ask?
Why would you choose a language written in inscrutable stick figures that has very little connection with English (or with many other languages, for that matter)?
In this post, I’ll give you six compelling reasons why Korean is actually an obvious choice.
So let’s begin!
Why Korean? 6 Real Reasons to Learn This Luminous Language
1) Korean is often considered to have the most logical writing system in the world.
The Korean alphabet, Hangul, did not slowly evolve like other alphabets. It was crafted. And it was purposely made easy.
King Sejong “the Great” of the Joseon dynasty was behind the current Korean system of writing. Before its introduction, Chinese characters were used to represent the Korean language. Since Confucian education was hard and expensive, only a handful of elites were able to express themselves in written form. Official court documents were therefore written in a form poorly understood by the man on the street.
King Sejong, who wanted inclusive participation from his subjects, pushed for the creation of Hangul.
He called upon the scholars of his “Hall of Worthies” (a royal research institute) and gave them the task of creating a language system so easy anybody could learn it.
His scholars responded and came up with a writing system so easy and so instinctive that “A wise man can learn it in one morning…and a fool can learn it in the space of ten days.”
Hangul only has 24 letters, which is already less than the English 26.
And the way the Korean letters are written is said to reflect how your mouth or tongue looks when you produce their sound. For example, ㄴ (ni-eun), which is roughly equivalent to the English letter N, looks like the shape your tongue makes to touch the back of your teeth in order to produce the N sound.
Hangul reflects King Sejong’s wish for an easy writing system.
So if you’re looking for an easy second language to write, Korean should really be number one on your list.
2) Learning Korean gives you potential access to over 70 million native Korean speakers worldwide.
Okay, you might be thinking, that’s just a number and it could be applied just as easily to other popular languages. But why would you want to engage with Korean native speakers in particular?
Well, for one, Korean culture may be one of the friendliest and most respectful in the world. Speak first with a hearty hello, as in, 안녕하세요? (annyeonghaseyo) and you may be amazed at how a single line of Korean can result in an outpouring of conversation.
Korean has a system of “honorifics” that clues you in to the age, sex or status of the person addressed. There’s formal language reserved for elders and bosses, and there are informal forms for family and friends. The former denotes deference and reverence, the latter, welcome and warmth.
Koreans are also generally known for being very welcoming to people of other cultures, maybe especially English speakers. On a practical and linguistic level, this means that they’ve appropriated some English into Korean. “Konglish” is a beautiful hybrid between Korean and English. When Koreans say 디카 (dika), it’s actually short for the English words “digital camera.” Or 셀카 (selka) for “self camera.” (That’s a “selfie.”)
Learning Korean gives you access to a wonderfully amazing and interesting group of individuals. You can chat with them about their nation’s obsession with skincare and karaoke, how to make kimchi and other staple Korean foods, the latest in Korean cinema, K-pop and a ton of other intriguing subjects.
Also, South Koreans are generally regarded as some of the most technologically well-adjusted people in the world. This means that when you want to engage with Korean native speakers, you likely don’t even need to leave your room to spark that connection. A surprisingly large part of the South Korean population is online. It tops the world in internet penetration, as well as internet speeds. And among 18-24 year olds, 97.7% have a smartphone.
So when considering what language you should learn, go for Korean. The wonderful people of Korea make learning the language so worth it.
3) You definitely want to visit Korea in this lifetime.
I mean, have you seen the Korean countryside?! Or Jeju Island, a place of dramatic vistas, located off the coast of the Korean Peninsula and voted one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature? It’s breathtakingly gorgeous!
Korea is a beautiful spot on Earth, and it stays that way all through the four seasons. Trust us, you definitely want to visit it in this lifetime.
South Korea welcomes you through Incheon International Airport, for many years considered the best airport in the world.
Visit palaces, quaint villages, shrines and temples that take you to eras past. Or stand atop the N Seoul Tower and witness the sea of innovation and technological marvel that is the city of Seoul—where you see the future…today. (Didn’t mean to sound like a tourism ad there!)
In addition to a host of tourist spots and all the natural beauty the country has been blessed with, you can also witness some of the one-of-a-kind edifices the Korean people have built. You’ll find the world’s biggest department store, the world’s largest indoor amusement park, the world’s largest church and the world’s highest sky deck (serviced by the world’s fastest elevators).
The beauty of Korea and the richness of its culture is something you do want to experience in this lifetime. And learning to speak the language will add so much to your travel experience. It will infuse more meaning and insight into what you see. And who knows, like so many, you might just fall in love with the country and want to stay there for good!
4) Learning Korean is a way to futureproof yourself.
World class Korean companies are not one bit shy about challenging the rest of the world. Samsung, the nation’s largest company, is going head-to-head with Apple. In fact, Samsung beat Apple last year, taking a bigger bite of the smartphone market. And the trend doesn’t seem to be changing, if we go by the reported numbers of phone activations in the first quarter of this year.
If you fervently believe that technology is the future, then you’ll definitely want to take notice of South Korea—the most innovative country in the world, according to a Bloomberg report. It’s been considered the world’s most innovative economy for five years in a row, easily beating Japan (6th) and the US (11th).
The country’s meteoric rise over the decades has been nothing short of impressive. It’s gone from being one of the poorest countries after World War II, to becoming a powerhouse economy in Asia, to being projected by the UK’s Center for Economics & Business Research (CEBR) to be in the top 8 economies in the world by 2032. This means Korea is poised to overtake nations like Canada, France and Italy.
Learning the Korean language is certainly a good hedge. It could help make your career or business more relevant in the future. Korea is already one of the strongest economies in Asia, and if trends continue, learning Korean could be just as important as learning Mandarin for business and career prospects.
This doesn’t just apply to the possibility of working in Korea, either. You may well end up working for a South Korean subsidiary in the US, and be better off for it. The US Department of Commerce has found that South Korean subsidiaries pay better than other foreign companies ($91, 700 annually to the overall average of $80,000 in 2014).
5) Korea has become an important player in world affairs.
Turn on the news or read the paper and it won’t be long before you find something reported or written about South Korea or the Korean Peninsula.
South Korea has been flexing its muscles in the political arena and has taken its rightful seat in the community of nations. Proof of this is the tenure of Ban Ki Moon, the UN’s eighth Secretary General. One of his legacies? The Paris Accords—essentially the first legally binding document where signatory countries, including the US and China, vowed to reduce carbon emissions.
In addition to its other many allies, Korea is an important partner to the US, and it’s little wonder why any sitting president has always found the time to personally meet with his South Korean counterpart. With North and South Korean relations being a continually developing situation, the eyes of the world are understandably transfixed on the peninsula.
South Korea is also putting its economic strength to good use. On the back of strong bilateral ties, Korea is investing not only in the United States but in a host of other nations.
As Korea gradually influences the global agenda, it’s expected that Korean culture and language will only grow in importance in the coming years. For both economic and political reasons, learning Korean will help you understand pressing issues in tomorrow’s world. Learning Korean will also give you a nice bang for your buck, and investing your energies into it will pay dividends in the future.
And that future may come sooner than expected.
6) International pop culture is increasingly Korean.
In the near future, many of the biggest movies, the biggest stars and the biggest boy and girl groups singing and dancing to the biggest hits could very well be Korean. “Gangnam Style,” which broke YouTube records by becoming the first online video to hit a billion views, is but a symptom of this Korean craze.
Hallyu, or “The Korean Wave,” has seen the prolific export of Korean music, movies, drama, fashion and even cosmetics to the rest of the globe. The wave is backed by a host of talented actors, singers and directors that are ready to take the spotlight and entertain the world. Rain, Lee Min Ho and Big Bang have already broken into the international markets and many are set to follow.
In fact, because of the recent success of Korean dramas abroad, you can find many Korean actors and actresses tapped as endorsers, gracing billboards and TV screens and promoting international brands.
The Korean Wave is here to stay. And if you know how hard this country actually works, and if you’ve been closely following how the nation actually trains its singers, dancers and actors, you’ll rest assured that Korea will not run out of incredible artists to show off to the world.
So what do you do in a climate where a great amount of the arts and entertainment available is in Korean? That’s right, you learn the language. You study it so that you can properly experience the movies, songs and dramas on offer. After all, those films and soaps aren’t going to watch themselves.
Above, I’ve outlined the important reasons why Korean is not just a good but an easy choice.
Economically, politically, socially and entertainment-wise—Korean is coming at you from all different angles.
And each day, it’s coming at ever-increasing speeds.
Korean is an obvious pick for a language to learn, and the time to learn is today.
So take that plunge!
And One More Thing...
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