So, I recently bought a great book that I’ve been meaning to buy for ages. It’s called “Useful Chinese characters for learners of Korean”, and claims the following on the front cover:
- Learning Korean is easier when you know Chinese characters!
- Learn frequenly used Chinese characters in Korean!
- Enhance Korean vocabulary by using words written in Chinese characters!
- This book will make it easy to read and write Chinese characters!
It appears that the authors are extremely fond of the exclamation point, hence my blog post title 😉
Anyway, for those of you new to Korean or unfamiliar with the word hanja, it is simply the Korean word for Chinese characters. Of all the languages I speak, I’ve always memorized some of the vocabulary by linking it to other words I already know. Like for instance with Italian, it hardly comes as a surprise to anyone that “impossibile” means “impossible”. Both words have Latin roots like so many words in European languages. And this is exactly where Korean gets tricky for learners with no prior knowledge of Asian languages. If you don’t know a Korean word, you just don’t know it. With Korean being so heavily influenced by Chinese (more than 60% of Korean words are Sino-Korean) it doesn’t really help that you may know a lot of Latin roots, as they are not applicable here. Enter “Useful Chinese characters for learners of Korean”! With this excellent ressource on my desk my inner linguistics geek is twirling with joy. Because now I can learn all the basic words with Chinese origin and hopefully start to gradually develop the missing “language sense” which can allow me to infer the meaning of a word without having learned the word before.
예를 들면 (For example), the Korean word for single/unmarried is 미혼, which is composed of the two hanja characters 未 and 婚. Knowing this will make it easier to infer that other words beginning with 미 (meaning 未) refers to not being something same as using “un-” in English. The book is full of such “word-builder” examples showing how one character is used in several other words. It also contains exercises and practice sheets. I’m not sure that I have any desire to learn to really write hanja but to be able to recognize and above all pronounce the characters would be a huge leap forward.
So far, I love it.
Happy studying – 열심히 공부해요!