Hana Hana Hangul

Haeundae-Market-in-Busan-360x200

Thanks to my amazing and supportive co-worker, Monique, who suggested that she would like to read about our trip to Korea, I will try to do what I did when we went to Italy and blog here at the end of each day, sharing pictures of what we saw. (Except for the day we spend on the airplane because that would be boring.) It should be easy enough, since jet lag will probably keep me up most nights until it’s time to return home.

The photo above is from exploringkorea.com, and is a picture of Haeundae Market in Busan. This is close to where we will be staying. I can’t think of anything I would like to do more that just wander around through markets and beaches and just see Korea and smile at people. Maybe buy stuff. If I can figure out how to spend money. I bet I’ll get the hang of it very fast.

If I am going to buy stuff, I should probably learn how to count. Megan has been trying to help me, but Korean is a little more difficult for me to wrap my brain around than Italian. In Korean, you can count in Korean (for numbers of items or age) or you can count in Sino-Korean for all other uses, like money, addresses and dates. They usually use western numbers, but there is a Korean numeric script called Hanja, which is occasionally used for prices. However, I have ten fingers, and I think I will be a successful shopper anyway.

I can say “hello” and “thank you,” but not confidently, because there are many ways to say “hello” and “thank you” depending on who you are talking to. My Korean book shows four levels of familiarity to use when you are speaking to someone (technically there are seven.) That’s twice as many as Italian, and four times as many as English.

Sentence construction is different, too. In English, of course, we use subject-verb-object for a basic sentence. In Korean, they use subject-object-verb. The verb always goes at the end of the sentence. They tag words with endings called “particles” to mark which word is the subject and which is the object. Particles are also used as prepositions, conjunctions, and to show possession, among other things. Most of them can mean more than one thing, for example, the particle “-e” can mean at, to or in. Verbs are tagged with endings to signify which level of familiarity you are using. I think once I become somewhat familiar with particles, that will be half the battle. Then it’s just a matter of vocabulary and reading Hangul. That’s my theory, anyway.

Hangul is not like trying to read Chinese or Japanese. It’s a phonetic alphabet, just like English, with 24 letters. Reading Hangul is way easier than trying to read romanizations of the Korean words. Vowels get romanized into long, unpronounceable strings of a, e, i, o and u, and it is way simpler to learn the sound the Korean letter makes and just say it. It’s like translating things twice, once from Hangul into the romanization, then from that to English. Let’s just skip the middle step. Hangul is an extremely logical alphabet, and honestly, you can “learn it in an hour,” like the book says. Practice would take a little longer, I think. I still read Hangul like a kindergartner learning her ABCs. Megan and her host sister, Minji, laugh at my pronunciation, bless their hearts. The website koreanclass101.com is fantastic, and their free video series “Hana Hana Hangul” is the best. In the very first lesson, we find out that “hana hana” means “shortcut,” even though the series is very thorough and practical as well.

This whole language learning thing makes me feel so very blessed to be a native English speaker. For some odd reason, English is the language that so many people want to learn. People have assured us that most Koreans speak a little English, I suppose in the same way that some Americans have learned a little Spanish. A few weeks ago, a man came into the hardware store while I was working. He either didn’t know English, or didn’t feel comfortable trying to speak to me in English. He wrote down a few words on a piece of paper, and gestured a little with his hands. I couldn’t dig deep enough into my semester of college Spanish to remember the word for “clean,” but the word “manos” came right to my brain. I rubbed my hands together and said “Manos?” His expression lit up, and he shook his head, pulled at his jacket, and said “Ropas.” Success. He left happy, with some laundry soap and batteries.

I have to admit that spending a week in Korea makes me a little anxious. I’ll be going somewhere very unfamiliar to what I know. But with the world shrinking so quickly, I think we would be able to defuse at least a little of the fear we have if we could just meet others halfway by learning a few words of their language. I believe with all my heart that it breaks down barriers and provides proof that you are engaged and interested in others’ lives and their culture. Even in our small college town we have students and permanent residents from all over the world. At the library, I hear English spoken in many different accents.

I’ll keep trying. I still want to be able to say “pleased to meet you” to Megan’s host family.

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