Eh, Yeh, Eh, Yeh…Eh??

8 10 2009

Korean language classes started on Monday morning. Four days a week, three hours per day, I am immersed in the listening, speaking, reading and writing of Hangeul.

There is one Brit, 2 Chinese, and 12 Japanese in my Elementary Korean for Foreigners class. Sadly, I am the only person of Korean descent in the class. (I mean, sad, as in pathetic…sigh). I’m not exactly sure why all these Japanese people are in Seoul learning Korean, but I’m guessing it’s for one of two reasons:

1) They have business relationships in Korea, and it is an asset to know the language.

2) Like the rest of Asia, they are addicted to Korean soap operas, and have somehow fallen prey to the idea that Korean men are as romantic as they are on tv (they’re not), and that Korean women are as beautiful as they are on tv (some are), and language skills are required to woo someone of the opposite sex.

But of course…I’m only guessing. 🙂

Hangeul was created by King Sejong of the Lee Dynasty in the 15th century for the purpose of enlightening illiterate people. Most native Koreans will tell you that Hangeul can be learned in just one morning. And while this is common rhetoric among Koreans (since it is a point of pride for them), it makes those of us who can’t learn it in one morning, feel well, how to put this delicately, kind of dumb.

They are right to some extent, I suppose. With 14 basic consonants and 10 basic vowels, it is pretty simple. You can read Hangeul in a morning! Well, elementary level stuff anyway. Great! I can read the Korean words for sun and bird and pants and bridge. Unfortunately this isn’t going to help you much in your daily life. By Day 2 (I guess with the alphabet under our belts), it was time for compound vowels. And this is where things became much more complicated.

Complicated because they all sound the same. At least to me. There are 2 “ehs”, 2 “yehs,” 3 “whes,” 1 “wha”, 1 “whu,” 1 “whee,” and 1 “eu-ee,” which incidently has 3 different pronunciations depending on where it is in a word and how it is being used! To add to the confusion, all of these compound vowels are also made up of vertical and horizontal lines attached in different directions and facing up or down. When asked, my strategy thus far has been to pronounce all of them “whe,” since there are 3 of them. It’s a game of odds as far as I’m concerned.

Day 3 dawned, and we were treated to double final consonants, final consonants and silent vowels among other things. Many of which have no rules at all, but just need to be memorized.

Korean in one morning, eh?? Ha! I think not!