Protests Over Plan to Bring Hanja Education Back to Schools

Stories of young people unable to write the Chinese characters that compose their own name or read restaurant advertisements are driving a debate about how important it is for Korean students to learn the characters. Known as 한자 (hanja), it was the case until recently that South Korean newspapers were unreadable without knowledge of at least one thousand characters. In the latest development, the Seoul Department of Education is planning to increase opportunities to study the characters in school starting with the fall 2013 semester, a reversal of years of declining interest in the subject. While parents groups and NGOs demonstrated against the policy, the Korean internet seemed to push in the other direction, claiming it was important to know the roots of modern Korean, despite the time required to study the characters. Some made comparisons to the continuing practice in English-speaking countries of teaching Latin.

Article from Yonhap News:

Argument intensifies over hanja education

The world of hangul studies and childhood education have collided in an unusually sharp argument over the future of hanja in schools.

The spark for this latest conflagration was the decision by the Seoul Department of Education to expand hanja education in its elementary and middle schools starting in the 2013 fall semester

On July 3rd, civic groups devoted to hangul and parents of schoolchildren gathered in front of the Department of Education’s office building in Jongro and held a press conference detailing their opposition to teaching hanja in elementary schools.

The Coalition for Hangul Culture, the Association for Hangul Studies, and other hangul organizations, New Right parent associations which typically voice their concerns about the Department of Education’s policies, conservative education groups and progressive education groups all stood side by side in presenting their position during the meeting.

South Korean elementary schools had been using hangul-only textbooks for the past forty years, however the hanja expansion policy introduced by Moon Yong-rin, Chairman of the Seoul Department of Education, would have marked a change back toward hanja-based education. This fundamental change lead to the unusually unified opposition showing on July 3rd.

Starting in the fall, the Seoul Department of Education will implement a policy that encourages city elementary and middle schools to use textbooks that prioritize learning hanja terminology. The department is currently looking at the demands of teaching hanja and parents’ concerns in regards to hanja education.

Hangul advocates and a number of education civic groups have branded the policy “a return to the past.”

According to critics, “Chairman Moon is advocating for the cause of teaching hanja in school because he believes that it is difficult to understand the words in the textbooks, but he is doing so based solely on his personal feelings rather than any objective evidence.”

The opposition claims that the students have a hard time understanding the hanja-based terms in their textbooks, but that it also takes too long to teach them the characters. They say that if such is the case, it would be better to replace the difficult words with more native Korean words rather than trying to teach the hanja.

Opposition groups also suggested that the hanja education policy will place an additional burden on students, thereby pushing them to rely more on private education and tutors.

The Seoul Department of Education has responded by saying that the opposition is overreacting, since the hanja classes will be optional and taught after school hours. The classes are also intended only to improve knowledge of Korean words.

During an internal meeting last month, Chairman Moon stated that “the hanja expansion policy is intended to increase understanding of Korean, not to undermine the hangul-only education approach…make sure that there are no misunderstandings.”

"learning hanja increases your Korean vocabulary"

“learning hanja increases your Korean vocabulary”

A spokesperson for the Seoul Department of Education said that “knowing hanja is helpful for understanding lectures in class…we won’t be teaching characters or hanja phrases that are more difficult than the rest of the textbook.”

Comments from Nate:

nask****:

I studied High Standards hanja as a child, went to a calligraphy hagwon, and among people my age I am regarded as being a better than average reader of hanja. That being said, I think it is impossible to not study hanja when you are studying Korean. Knowing hanja is a huge benefit to studying Korean because even if you have never encountered a particular word before, you will be able to understand its roots and infer its meaning. I am living overseas right now and I see students who study English by first going over the Latin roots. By doing so, they are able to infer the meaning of complicated medical or engineering terms at first glance. You can think of hanja as fulfilling the same role.

foon****:

Teachers of Korean always emphasize the importance of learning hanja. I don’t know what the hangul advocates are thinking, standing silent whenever there is an increase in foreign language education but rushing to oppose learning about the root of our language

kh99****:

thanks to the Magic Hanja series, today’s children are all masters of hanja

hanja educational materials from the popular children's series, Magic Hanja

hanja educational materials from the popular children’s series, Magic Hanja


m830****:

As I’ve grown older, I realize that it is important to know hanja.

worm****:

Knowing hanja helps you with your word choice, reduces syntax problems, and widens your vocabulary, all of which improves your reading and learning skills,,,learning hanja as a child is definitely helpful. Since 70% of our language is hanja, just learning native Korean words will end up being inefficient. Even just studying the basic 2000 hanja characters isn’t enough

musi****:

Example: ‘In regards to Seven and other ‘entertainment soldiers’, the Ministry of Defense expands its ‘감사’ (can be translated as the word ‘thanks’).
‘감사’? The Ministry of Defense is thankful for the investigation into the program? Or does 감사 mean the same thing as 조사 (to report)?
But if you include the original hanja characters…
‘In regards to Seven and other ‘entertainment soldiers’, the Ministry of Defense expands its 監査’
Ah, ok, so then they are starting a ‘directed investigation’ (감독의 감, 검사할 사)
Obviously, knowing hanja will increase understanding of a text

jwge****:

Just because they are going to start teaching hanja doesn’t mean that Korean will be tainted. A huge proportion of the words in Korean are based on hanja. But that being said, I don’t think it is necessary to go take private lessons in order to learn hanja.

yxyz****:

There are a lot of critics saying, “What use is hanja during my daily life?”, but most of us are well aware that most Korean words are descended from Chinese characters. For each of those words, there is an appropriate context and usage. The only way to know the context and usage is to know the etymology of the words. Without that knowledge, you will never be able to succeed in studying Korean. How could someone ever grasp the outer covering of a fruit without knowing about the seed inside as well?
There are those who think Chinese characters are like history, just the simple background to modern life, and thus not very important. But when you look at modern teenagers and people in their twenties who have received a haphazard history education, their understanding of history and their elders is lacking. Because of this, they are more vulnerable to fabrication, rumor, and propaganda. They are also less clear of their own identity.
They then tend to clash more with the society around them and suffer from misunderstanding. They just tire themselves out fighting with obstacles they don’t understand, regress in their development, and give up.
The end result is that this generation is unable to grasp the most fundamental explanations for their life and just lose track of the world around them. Just like knowledge of history, knowledge of Chinese characters is a process of understanding context.
Don’t try to just teach the easy subjects. Children these days have no sense of philosophy, they just live for themselves. A country filled with such people will inevitably lose its soul. Knowing the fundamentals is absolutely, without a doubt, incredibly important!!!

sobo****:

They’ve got to pay more attention to national history and modern history..

m113****:

Education about Chinese characters is essential if we are going to stop the usage of absurd new slang like dae-in-bae (an etymologically incorrect term for a generous person)

lws8****:

It used to be that they taught Chinese characters alongside native Korean words, I don’t know where this idea of only teaching native Korean words came from.. While we may be speaking Korean, there are so many Chinese characters mixed in, each of which can make subtle changes to the meaning of a word. And despite all of that, they don’t want to teach Chinese characters? So then why are they encouraging mixed use of English and Korean? Are there any Korean words that include English letters?? How silly is it that they try to avoid using Chinese characters which are loaded with deep meaning while at the same time trying to mix a completely unrelated language in with Korean… What a load of bullshit conflict between the older generation and the younger generation tsk tsk tsk

wong****:

Try studying the law and you will immediately know why Chinese characters are necessary. There are so many legal terms that compound Chinese characters with Korean words. Even if the learning of Chinese characters is just an elective course, you will be able to see the usefulness. Educated people know that your ability to understand terminology depends greatly on whether or not you know Chinese characters

dpql****:

Considering how today’s students can’t tell whether North Korea invaded the South or the South invaded the North, why are we overlooking the importance of studying Chinese characters? Kids who can’t even read the simple characters in store names look so ignorant

thde****:

Learning them can be helpful, but are there really that many opportunities to use that knowledge?

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  • Marcus Muller

    “Some made comparisons to the continuing practice in English-speaking countries of teaching Latin.”

    Well one cannot deny that the English language has borrowed a lot from latin. Learning Latin would only strengthen one’s understanding of the English language.. But it isn’t necessary.

    • Webster

      That was the point they were trying to draw, no…?

    • Gordon Gogodancer

      Learning Latin will help you understand English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian etc… so if you’re into that stuff…i guess it’s quite useful.

      • linette lee

        Me gusta el idioma espanol. Quiero aprender. Tambien me gustan los comidas y musica de pais espanol. Me parece muy interesante en la cultura espanola. Quiero vivir alli para uno or dos anos.

        • dk2020

          no mames guey ..

    • Xio Gen

      You don’t need to learn the whole damn language, but it’s important to know the etymology of certain words, especially if you’re studying sciences. It’s extremely helpful for things like anatomy. It works like a mnemonic. I know in South Asian schools they still teach Sanskrit and Pali for the same reason.

      The whole anti-hanja thing is a nationalist thing. Before the 70s, Korean was written like Japanese, with a combination of chinese characters and native characters. Then there was a push for hangul only education. The same thing happened in North Korea. I wish they still used hanja. It would make interlingual studying so much easier. I know some kanji, so I could read hanja and get a general idea of what’s being said.

      • Chase Miller

        They should just expand other language learning, of Chinese and japanese especially. Hanja doesn’t improve anything, it just makes things worse, it would only exacerbate the gap between those with more money and more education opportunities and those without. That was the reason chinese characters survived in Korea anyway, the aristocracy didn’t want language to be easier to learn, because then the layman would be able to understand and compose language easier, and almost as easy as the richer citizens. Alphabetic languages are easier to underatand, have more clarity, easier to write and compose, and are more democratic. The push for hanja education is by the older generation almost exclusively

  • lin

    Yay! I wish this would happen…then Chinese and Korean people can communicate using “Hanja” or “Han Zi”

    • No, benefits to communication would still be very limited. Let’s take the name of the characters: you say “zi” and the Koreans say “ja”, even though these are written the same in Chinese, not to mention English-based loan words in Korean and grammatical differences…

      • Webster

        well, there’s already one close example: Cantonese (not to mention all the other dialects in China alone).

        It’d be useful for things like film and other media where you’d only need to use Hanzi for subtitles and the like, but for speech, English may remain the de facto means for the immediate future.

    • commander

      There has been argument for the use of an unified Chinese characters for easier communication between Chinese, Japanese and Korean people. The ambitious projecto to unify characters that are used in the three neighboring countries, but having slightly different notations and meanings for the same characters has come to an impasse as each of the three nations want their own characters to be the model for the envisaged unification of characters for common usage.

      The characters unification scheme also face cultural reaistance. Each of the three countries pride themselves on their own rich cultural heritage, although Chinese ancient civilization had great influences on the others, three nations have walked on the distinctive trajectory of developing different political, economic, and cultural self perceptions respectively.

      Accordingly the disparate traditions albeit having many parallels among them, make it hard for the common character developmemt to proceed.

    • fewo

      well Koreans and Chinese are already communicating with each other on a more efficient and useful medium, English!

      • Animal

        English is a garbage language for obese westerners, koreans should learn mandarin instead.

        • bigwheels

          Ah, mandarin supremacy. Almost as bad as English supremacy.

        • You must be an obese Westerner, then.

      • Alice S

        So there is absolutely no need to waste money on something silly like this. Better spend it on welfare so people don’t starve in this economy.

      • jixiang

        What a pity then that most Chinese and Koreans know virtually no English at all, or in any case are absolutely unable to conduct a conversation in it.

        • Not really. South Korea ranked 21 out of 54 countries on the 2012 EF English Proficiency Index, just ahead of France, Italy, and Hong Kong. China ranked 36.

  • andon

    Most of european languages are based on latin or greek. I’m Polish and i learned Latin in high school for 3 years…..and i believe i really did benefit from it.

    • Zappa Frank

      me too as italian studied latin for 5 years. it’s helpful, but not necessary.. it’s also a waste of time… you can learn something more useful.

    • KCdude

      I did Latin in my secondary school and it did benefit my understanding of English words with a better insight.

    • A Gawd Dang Mongolian

      Latin is a Language
      Dead as Dead Can Be,
      First it Killed the Romans,
      Now it’s Killing Me.

    • Lily

      I didn’t do Latin or Greek in high school but I learnt the origin of the English words on my own whenever I check the dictionary. Because my school only taught me English grammar,vocabulary & other stuff,but not much on the etymology. I wish my school have those subjects like Latin and Greek.

  • commander

    The hanja studying is vital for students to have precise understanding of hanja-based Hangeul.

    Hangeul advocacy groups are misled when they understand that the envisioned plan to push hanja into one of required subjects in the curriculum of secondary education might trigger the surpemacy of Chinese characters over the Korean alphabet.

    The anticipated effects will be the exact opposite of what hangeul protagonists.

    As we all know, hanja is inextricably associated with hangeul, meaning that no knowledge of basic Chinese characters leads to a failed understanding of formal documents, newspaper articles, and others–materials containing hanja-based words.

    Renewed interest in hanja reveals that the precise comprehension of the Korean language is possible when readers have the basic understanding of hanja.

    Of course, the push to make hanja learningandatory should not proceed in the direction hanja-ridden words that can be compared to Latin words of few frequency in ordinary cases except for academic purposes flood spoken amd written communication, eroding the utility of the Korean alphabet.

    Thus, hanja incorporation into secondary education curriculum, alongside President Park’s refenrence of the need for students to learn Korean history as a required suject at schools, should be understood in the context of prioritize the understanding of national roots, rather than pushing away national heritage.

    I am all for the adoption of hanja education for students.

    • Lily

      I totally agree with you. To be honest,learning Hangul can be difficult if you do not know which word you are using because most of the words in Hangul have the same pronunciation but the way they are used varies.As a result,it is hard to differentiate the words in question. I believe that learning hanja can benefit the Korean students to learn Hanja,so to enhance their vocabulary & make less syntax errors.Since,they could find out the origin of the word and also,most of the Korean words are from Chinese origins. Therefore,learning hanja is benefitial to students.

  • hun

    oo the vietnamese also have this problem with chu nom except most don’t want to go back to “chinese-style” cuz of racial conflicts.

    • KCdude

      Which is ironic because many Vietnamese are extensively learning the Japanese language and Chinese classical texts with the lax of cultural restrictions.

      • hun

        while that is true,its still entirely different than having the standard writing change from latin based to character based. Learning japanese or chinese classical texts is basically learning a second language not necessarily changing a whole nations current writing style. I just remember years ago when they did a poll in vietnam and the majority would rather have quoc ngu writing than chu nom.

  • kpopwillneverstop

    I can sorta relate to this as an American. I took German in high school, a part of me still wanted to take Latin because of how really convenient it would really be. Even though I wasn’t able to take the 3 years of Latin, I was still able to learn both Latin and Greek due to taking Etymology class for half a semester (the other half was Mythology) and also we would learn a few in english. Fortunately, I remember most of the prefixes we were taught and it really helped me when I was reading because it strengthen my ability to use context clues. Seeing how Hanja is equivalent to Latin for koreans, it definitely should be taught in Korea as a foreign language or at least be introduced in Korean Literature/Grammar classes.

  • dk2020

    LMAO the only people that want Hanja back are Chinese nationalists and old ass Koreans. Hangul is way easier to learn and write, hanja, kanji, and hanzi isn’t the same anyways so it’s useless. Plus isn’t schooling in Korea hard enough as it is for kids? This will just bring about more grief. I agree English should be the common language don’t let all them ESL classes go to waste ..

    • Jae K

      damn, you’re arrogant. you a korean nationalist or something?

      • dk2020

        Fuck yeah, Korea #1 .. lol.

        • bigwheels

          >Fuck yeah, Korea #1.. lol.
          >Is a foreigner

      • Isaac

        No need to be a nationalist to figure how useless hanja can be in the today’s society.

  • Umm…just make it optional? In German schools, Latin is definitely polarising. Some people love to understand how most of words on our continent are connected. Other people call it traditionalist bullshit and want children to study a live language instead. Let people choose between Hanja and more of everything else and be done with it :)

    • Raminess

      That’s the thing, it actually is being proposed as an OPTIONAL class and yet there is vocal opposition to it. I don’t see what the big deal is, taking an elective class or even an after-school class. It certainly seems as if on the whole, people are making a mountain out of a mole hill on this case.

  • commander

    The expanded knowledge help a person to differentiate the delicate meaning differences in Korean words based on hanja.

    This means that a person can articulate their case on issues or make nuanced descriptions when he or she are knowledgeable about Chinese characters.

    Since whether attending hanja class under the proposed policy is optional, the vociferous oppostion of Hangeul advocacy groups is untenable.

    In addition, with regard to the claim that hanja education will place a burden on students, it would be better to thinl that anticipated benefits from learning hanja will outweigh troubles in the long term.

    The hanja’s return into classrooms needs to be considered positively given the poor understanding of hanja-based words by students that is imtegral part of Hangeul.

  • opinion

    A waste of time. Unnecessary, we make one redundant language worse by learning another?

  • chucky3176

    This is just a retarded move. So many Korean students struggling with English and so many trying to learn so many things at once, it’s information overload for Korean kids. Every year it’s getting worse for kids in Korea as they are expected to learn and memorize more and more. Something has to give, people are not machines. There’s a limit as to how much information you can cram into that brain of yours. This is not education, this is child abuse.

    Is it really necessary to learn written Chinese to learn Korean? Many of the Chinese loan words are being replaced by English Latin anyway, especially in the highly technical areas. Learning one foreign language is enough, there’s no need for two, three, four, compulsary languages. In the future, Korean will be like English cree-ol language, the way things are going at the moment. It’s just best to concentrate learning properly one language. And I don’t buy the theory that China’s rise means you have to learn Chinese. The global language of commerce is still English, and that’s not going to change any time soon. While it’s nice to know Chinese, it is not necessary since Chinese also use English to communicate with the rest of the world.

    • commander

      You miss the point.
      Expressing sympathy with students bombarded with studying assignments and slamming memorization-driven class is one thing, but emphasizing the importance of hanka learning in grasping the roots of Korean words is another.

      It is important to galvanize interests on hanja among schoolchilren, and it is troubling approach to view hanja learning as another big burden on students.

      Despite the announcement of the planned designation of hanja as a required subject at schools, students can experience inseparable association between hanja and hangeul, faciliting their understanding of the foundations of the Korean language.

      Learning English is aimed to promoting communication with different nationals as English serves as lingua franca and up to date information is produced in English. But Hanja education is dissimilar. Its objective does not lie in better comunication with those of different origins but in getting to the bottom of the Korean alphabet, which reflects national soul and roots–a move to cherish national heritage.

      Hangeul aupporting groups claimed the case for enhanced hanja education for deeper underatanding of national roots are an illusion. But what is overlooked by critics is that although hanja originatea from China, hanja has taken on distinctive hallmarks of Korean own and linking hanja to something that contaminates Korean soul is a grossly wrong perspective.

      Considering cultural prosperity is enabled by exchanges with other cultural spheres, hanja is acknowledged as the indispensible constitutent of Hangeul, and bringing hanja education to schools are vindicated as a step to better identify who we are.

    • Hoho

      Learning hanja (not chinese) has nothing to do with rise of china. It has to do with better understand of korean… Just like how med students are required to learn some latin to understand complex medical terms. You obviously dont speak korean or understand how hangul works

    • Animal

      Why should an american like you have any opinion on what languages koreans should learn.

      Go mind your own fucking business.

      Koreans are the smartest students in the world, disproportionately represented at all the elite american ivy league universities. They can deal with a workload magnitudes more intense than your average dull fat american.

      • Paulos

        I know this is an old post, but don’t you think it’s a little ridiculous to make rude generalizations about Americans and still measure success in terms of attendance at American universities?

  • KCdude

    Korean schools should be divided into two groups. Schools with English classes and schools with Hanja classes.

    • YourSupremeCommander

      And Japanese for Special Ed.

      • Sillian

        They can already choose Japanese, Chinese, French, etc as third language.

        Hanja is not part of foreign language education. It has its own standing.

    • Sillian

      That’s absurd. English is a foreign language. Hanja is auxiliary for Korean education. Optional hanja education is fine.

      • KCdude

        Well, in my country there is a very strong and unfortunate tendency of discouraging foreign languages in schools thanks to English being over-universal. I’m sorry but I find it difficult to see your point.

        • Sillian

          We are talking about Korea. You are basically saying there should be schools with hanja classes but no English classes, right? Hanja is not even a foreign language. It is complementary to Korean education. Nobody would learn hanja if it’s taught at the complete expense of English education.

          • KCdude

            Schools aren’t the only places to get involved in English. There are English academies. And I have a bias against schools mostly because I don’t like the idea of teaching English at schools. I have seen too many students in my workplace academy who say schools should be culturally Korean and English and other foreign culture shouldn’t be welcome within the school perimeter. It’s my bias based on my long experience. If you disagree with me that’s absolutely fine.

      • chucky3176

        English was also once optional, until they made it mandatory.

  • anone

    Everyone seems to forget that it’s extracurricular and completely optional…

    • chucky3176

      “Optional” in Korea is not really optional. Once they put this program in, those parents who think they’re kids are being left out of the program and falling behind, they’ll claw and scratch to get into those programs with whatever means they can get, to give their children whatever advantage necessary. Pretty soon, the optional will be turned to mandatory.

      • command

        For optional to turn mandatory, there is one requirment.

        That is the adoption of hanja as a required subject in College Schalastic Aptitute Test.

        Hanja teaching at elementary and middle schools will not drive parents to compete for higher scores for their children with private education.

        Academic performance at a middle school is only important when a student applies for a selective priate high school. But the weight of proposed hanja education will be reduced when children hoping for admission to one of preatigious high schools cna opt not to take hanja class if they are poor at learning hanja.

        I think the overempahsis of fierce competition for greater scores among students bring about an overblown projection.

  • linette lee

    Can’t read this huh? 漢字 too hard? I know all the words.
    Ancient scriptures written in 漢字, so If you are not planning to become a scholar and study ancient history why learn 漢字? Let the scholars and historians learn them not the regular folks.

    http://www.paperarts.com/products/images/1587.jpg

    • linette lee

      The most important education you can give to children is language. Learn it at a young age. Math is very important too. It teaches them logic. Art and music are important too because the kids learn self expression and creativity. Everything else the public schools are feeding to kids are just waste of time. 12 hours of school and studying daily only 1/2 of the materials are useful. The rest are just waste of brain cells.

  • ChuckRamone

    In the West, a traditional education used to entail learning ancient Greek and Latin but that’s mostly limited now to classics departments and to some degree in literature departments. Some more selective or private schools have retained this requirement, such as in the Ivy Leagues. Maybe in Korea knowing Chinese will become like that. There’s no denying that learning these “classic” languages helps with understanding language in general better. If you wanna specialize in language, either artistically or technically, you can learn Chinese. Most will probably choose whatever is most expeditious – those who are more interested in business and other material pursuits – but there will always be a niche for thinkers and lovers of learning.

  • Gabrielle

    I think it would be useful. Learning hanja helps strenghtening one’s vocabulary. It’s easier to guess the meaning of new words, thanks to the roots and it also help with the spelling. I see so many (young) Koreans struggling with their own language…

  • tonkotsu

    After learning that hangul was developed because they were too stupid to learn traditional chinese, I wouldn’t oppose this practice, especially if optional. also please, keep it traditional, simplified is horrible.

    • Isaac

      Stupid? Bwahaha!

      They refuse because they aren’t Chinese!
      Unlike you Japanese, who were proud of it!

      Please, run along and claim kanji as Japanese invention.

      • tonkotsu

        no no, they didn’t “refuse” it’s because the normal citizens were too dumb. Only the elite and scholars knew chinese. nice try tho.

        • Isaac

          Normal citizens as in the peasants weren’t required to learn hanja.

          • tonkotsu

            they weren’t even required to learn

    • Sillian

      Even in China back then, illiteracy was very high.

      • tonkotsu

        it’s still high now, what’s your point? if another country is stupid they can be stupid too and that makes it ok? LOL

        • Sillian

          You said they were too ‘stupid’ to learn hanja but then, it seems like just the way you talk. It was commonly hard to learn the Chinese characters for the working class back then wherever they were.

      • Digitalsoju

        oops read your post wrong

        • Sillian

          Illiteracy and literacy. Learn to distinguish them before talking to your ass! Lol.

  • PixelPulse

    Optional or not, it sounds like too much of an overload for Korean students. They already have so much on their plates, its ridiculous to add even more.

    • Digitalsoju

      Or they could try making a fair testing system that doesn’t allow one day of their life to affect their future so greatly. Let them take the 수능 multiple times like how students can take the SAT/ACT multiple times a year.

  • TwoKids

    Try telling the average Korean kid that 70% of their language is inherited from China and they will laugh and then get angry. Once tried telling a student that “BUS” was an English word and they were adamant that it was Korean. Another swore that S-T-R-E-S-S (read suh-tuh-reh-suh) was also a Korean word just because they were pronouncing it with that distinctive Korean accen-tuh.

    Many Koreans I know and work with are so wrapped up in the idea that English is their kids’ future that they send them to English-only schools like the one I teach for. Soon there will be a generation of Koreans who are proficient in English but have only a conversational grasp of their native language.

    My advice is to focus on Korean-Only for the first 4 elementary years and then transition to English.

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  • seneschal888

    Latin and English use the same basic writing system, the same 26 letters of the alphabet. Korean (hangeul) and Chinese (hanja) are completely different scripts and just learning the Chinese writing system itself is very difficult. It was very interesting to read the Korean newspaper from a few decades ago though with mixed hanja script, it’s like it’s from a completely different country!

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  • Digitalsoju

    Knowing the Chinese character itself isn’t the most important part, knowing the meaning of the Korean derivative it is highly important though. You don’t have to necessarily know Latin to know the root words/prefixes that come from Latin, you merely have to know the meanings of the derived roots or prefixes. For example one doesn’t have to know Latin “prae”, but instead should know the meaning of “pre.”

    Similarly if we know that that 부/불 (不) means not, im/in/ir/il (negative endings) , we can greatly increase our Korean vocabulary. For example: 불가가능 (impossibility), 불편 (inconvenience), 불안 (uneasiness, anxiety).

    However, the problem is that most of these Hanja derivatives have the same spelling in Korean but a ton of meanings because they all come from different Chinese characters. For example, if I remember correctly, 수 has over 60 different possible meanings depending on which Chinese character it’s derived from, some of which are uncommon of course. For example 수 can mean hand (手), water (水), number (數), send (輸), sleep (睡), receive (受) and so on. So in some cases, it is important to know the meaning of the Chinese character to distinguish other possible meanings.

  • qquasimoto

    to those concerned about the heavy workload placed on students already; why not teach them hanja when they are little? The workload is not as demanding as when you are a teenager preparing for college, and it will be easier for them to pick up. Get ’em while they’re young and still in the language acquisition period.

    many international students i know had english incorporated in their curriculum when they were young and they have no problems articulating and understanding english now(regardless of regional accent), and by the time they had to go through the heavy workload as teenagers, they didnt need to focus on english. I suspect it would be the same way with teaching the characters to kids.

  • Alice S

    Do not introduce hanja!! Only more students will commit suicide.

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  • Eric L

    I am an exchange student in France right now, and sometimes it’s really hard for us to communicate with the Asians. But, I know Chinese because I am Taiwanese, so when I need to explain a French word to my Japanese friend, I can write the translation in Chinese and most of the time there is an equivalent Japanese kanji and we can communicate at least some what that way.

    However, nobody can communicate well with the Korean; she doesn’t speak English and she doesn’t speak French. So when we want to try to figure out what she’s thinking, or when she has problems, or when we try to explain to her something, it’s always really hard.

    I think if Koreans continued their hanja education, there would be an easier way for all the Asians to communicate. I really wish the Korean I know knew hanja because then I can at least kind of talk to her, but charades and pictionary is what works best for right now.

    It makes me really sad to see my Korean friend unable to somehow express what she’s thinking. She’s very lonely a lot of the times, and when she has a problem, it’s so much harder for her to say why. She can only cry and we know that something is wrong, but until her French gets better, we’ll never know what’s really going on.

    I wish Korea taught her hanja.

  • LeeHaneul

    Hanja is Chinese despite the deep meaning I AM NOT CHINESE!!! King Sejong created Hangul to reach all Koreans and Hangul is the writing system of Koreans

    • agkcrbs

      True, you are not Chinese; you are also not European, but this has not hindered you from mastering a European language while retaining national pride. Korean-only may have been a valid argument against Chinese influence in the past, but today, English is a massively larger detraction from Korean identity; now, the pro-Korean side is in fact the pro-hanja side.

      Also, King Sejong created Han-geul to enable the reading of Chinese by the illiterate, not necessarily to replace it, or make everybody equally Chinese-illiterate, or drape Koreans with ignorance about their intellectual past. Hanja are still very useful for communicating in Asia, but not like before, since Korea has accumulated modern cultural supremacy of its own, not to mention that China and Japan have deformed their character sets. Mostly, hanja are to enable Korea to communicate with itself, past and present.

      An overused solution can become a permanent crutch. America discarded its classical and mother languages three to five generations back, along with other traditions and religion, and we now see two full generations drowning in misspellings, slurrings, and schwas, who can scarcely understand their founding documents, and the whole is sinking into the warm embrace of socialism for lack of knowledge — progress or not, it is a loss of what can be considered the country’s soul, and a conclusion of a golden cultural era. In Korea, some Americans are for the first time finding the backwardness of their nationality a liability, because their ancestors chose to handicap them. Self-knowledge is not to be fled, but pursued, if the future is valuable to us.

  • CNNKansai

    I’ve been learning japanese for over 15 years, chinese for 5 and just started trying korean a few years ago. What I have to say is that I think first-time learners that don’t have any understanding of Kanji (or Hanja) are really brave. It takes me less than 2 seconds to identify and grasp the meaning of more than half of the words I see for the very first time.
    To the point it got me asking myself: is there any possible way to learn Korean without knowing kanjis forehand?

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