My Korean vocabulary is now at 100 words or so but it takes me about 10–15 seconds to recall most of them so not too impressive, but once I get better at pronunciation I imagine this will get better. I am learning bits and pieces about grammar from the two different textbooks I am using and I wanted to share a few things which seem to me to be vastly superior to English.


The Korean writing system is almost 100% phonetic—not 100% in order to allow there to be homophones so that the language can have more words—and was perfectly designed for the language as it is spoken, some time in the 1400s. I am under the impression it is thought of as Korea’s greatest academic achievement. Compare this to the Latin alphabet English uses, where the way it is written is often no guide at all to pronunciation, in an alphabet ‘designed’ for another language.

Particles & word order

Korean adjectives are grammatically equivalent to verbs, so taking them together as predicates, they are both conjugated, and found at the end of clauses. But before these words the other words in a sentence—nouns, adverbs—can come in any order, and can be omitted if it is clear from the context.

If there is any ambiguity, you can attach syllables called particles to the nouns etc. to make the meaning clear. For example you can attach subject and object particles if it’s not obvious whether who hit who, say—but, smarting in pain, you only need to say “hit!” to mean “you/he hit me!”. Or if you’re making a comparison between two things, you would attach a comparative particle to each of them wherever in the complete sentence they appeared.

Now, it turns out that there is meaning colloquially attached to word order, something I have no idea how to learn about right now. Particles, though, mean you can get the core meaning across succinctly and unambiguously. And you don’t waste words like we often do.

Sentence-enders and non-sentence enders

Conjugating a verb or adjective can give it a lot of meaning. Just like in European languages you get a verb stem by chopping off the end; this is like getting “get” from “to get”. Then you add some intermediate non-sentence-ending syllables to indicate things like tense, to link clauses together with things like “and” and “or”, or (apparently) to do clever things the equivalent of making “eat” into “let’s eat”.

Finally at the end of the sentence you add a sentence-ending-ending onto the end of the last predicate which makes the sentence declarative, or asking a question, or making a suggestion etc., and also incorporates one of the six levels of politeness that are very important in Korea.

I am enthused by all this because while pronunciation, and knowing which politeness level to use, and learning local conventions equivalent to things we have driving onto the motorway and arriving at the shop etc., and doing conjugation on the fly—dealing with things like vowel contractions—seems nightmarishly hard, the grammar of the language does not seem to be at all difficult. Unless I am missing something, it’s just a matter of practise to make yourself fast at slotting things together, and then you can just keep expanding your vocabulary.

Compare this to English with so many subtle shades of meaning in how words are ordered, and some of the weird tenses we have like the present and past perfect, and the six different kinds of conditional. The quaint familiarity of it makes me feel fortunate that I can use English freely to express myself about all sorts of things, but that’s just nostalgia, I guess; English is looking pretty stupid to me at the moment.