Are you thinking of learning Korean or any other language that has its own unique script or alphabet? A language which is not based on the roman alphabets (like English)? If yes, then let me tell you about one of the biggest mistakes you are highly prone to make; a mistake that will tremendously slow your learning progress. Take my word for it, as I was stupid enough to make that mistake. So I want to warn all lexiophiles out there, not to repeat the same. (I am still suffering from the adverse effects of having done than).
Yes, the mistake was “learning romanization instead of learning Hangul, the Korean alphabet” (the simplest and the most brilliant alphabet system ever! Don’t you guys agree?). For those who are new to the term “romanization”, it is basically a system in linguistic, of converting the writing of a different writing system into the Roman or Latin system (the system on which English alphabets are based). So I learnt reading Korean through the romanized versions of the scripts (especially song lyrics), which happened to be a very bad decision on my part.
Now, you may ask: “Isn’t romanization supposed to be a useful guide for reading a language that has a different script? Isn’t it supposed to help you learn correct pronunciations?”. The answer would be “Yes” and “Yes”! But it seems to do more bad than good for language learners. Skeptical??? Here’s my explanation.
Romanized-based reading habit has a few yet terrible disadvantages. The biggest disadvantage of all is that you won’t be able to read a lot of interesting Korean stuffs as not everything is available on romanization. Of course, you won’t have any problem if you only want to learn the lyrics (as they have romanized versions of lyrics for almost every song). But what about fully Korean websites, webtoons, books, the various comments they put up on the variety shows? You won’t be able to read any of them. Korea is quite big on putting up “comments” on various entertainment and variety shows. It’s something I have never seen on other countries’ shows. (And I am quite fond of Nepali, American, British and Indian television contents). It’s a unique TV culture which is quite fun too. The comments aka 맨트 are quite witty, funny and informative. It adds an extra flair to the whole experience. Hence, you will be missing out on all that.
Now, if you are anything like me, you will soon realize that romanization will not take you much far. So you will eventually start learning “Hangul”, the Korean alphabet and you will be able to read Korean. YEAH! PROBLEM SOLVED! But IS IT REALLY? Apparently it isn’t that simple. You will definitely be able to read Korean, but your reading skills will suck. It will be dead slow and this will cause withdrawal syndromes for romanization. You will keep crawling back to the romanized scripts, which won’t be much help towards improving your reading skills.
But with time and deliberate efforts from your side, you will be able to rid yourself of your craving for romanization and will be able to stick to Hangul. But still, you won’t be able to speed up your reading unless you practise A LOT. You will be in a state where you will have a headache when you have to navigate through an “all Korean” website. You won’t be able to keep up with the fast appearing and disappearing “comments” on Korean TV. You won’t be able to change your mobile phone language from English to Korean for good. You will keep switching back and forth between the languages because you are overwhelmed with all the Korean writing. Right now, I think I am in that state. I hate to admit it. But I am. It’s been quite a while since I abandoned romanization. And I am making conscious efforts to improve my reading skills. And it is finally paying off. Reading is becoming easier. Romanization actually bothers me now. All the double ss, tt, eo, etc. But I still get overwhelmed when I switch the language in my phone to Korean or read a Korean website. So, as of now, I can’t forget the fact that I would have been at a much higher level (skill-wise), if I had learnt Hangul from the beginning. 처음부터 그럴걸! So I regret my decision.
Now, it is true that romanization is useful for learning languages. But that seems to be true for languages having relatively complicated writing system only, for instance, Chinese, where you have to memorize every single character. But, for simpler languages like Korean, it is more detrimental than useful. Why you ask? Well, Korean has the simplest and the easiest alphabets and writing system in the world. Hell! It was developed by the great King Sejong (대왕 새종) with the primary goal of creating a writing system that will be easy to read and write for his people, so that more of his people would learn reading and writing and get educated. Watch this video by Xidnaf to learn more.
Korean has just 24 basic alphabets: 14 consonants and 10 vowels (of course, there are other things like diphthongs and double consonants, but they are the secondary things, which can be learnt gradually). They are also VERY simple to write with minimal strokes. (Have you tried writing Chinese characters? If yes, you know what I mean). Well, it might be wrong for me to compare Korean with Chinese. After all, Chinese is one of the most notorious languages in terms of difficulty of learning. So let’s make a more appropriate comparison with the Nepali writing system called the “Devanagari” script. (Btw, if you don’t already know, I am a Nepali, read my introduction in my about page here). Nepali has 36 consonants and 12 vowels. (There are also several secondary alphabets, half-alphabets, etc that can be learnt gradually). As you can see in the picture, the writing system is relatively complicated as well. So, it was quite foolish of me to opt for romanization instead of Hangul, given the fact that I did learn a comparatively more complicated writing system of Nepali. (Maybe I should do a Korean-Nepali comparison post in the future. Yup! It’s on my list).
Moreover, you can literally learn the 24 Korean alphabets within 30 minutes. It does not even take that long. I actually learnt them through this sweetandtastyTV’s 8:30 minute video. It’s as simple as that.
In addition to the inability to read a lot of stuff in Korean, there is one more pitfall of learning romanization, i.e. Romanization really slows your reading even though you are reading romanized version of the Korean script. Have a look at this verse from BAP’s song entitled “Power”. As you can see, the smoothness of reading, the natural flow and transition in the reading that is present in the Hangul version, is completely absent in the romanized version as it just appears as a bunch of letters jumbled together. Therefore, it is quite difficult to read the sentence syllable-wise. The ending and beginning of syllables can’t be comprehended at one simple glance in the romanized version.
dekalkomanicheoreom don gwollyeok myeongyedeureun anbyeonhaneun role
umjigyeo ttaega dwaesseo gangjawa yakja geu paneul busul anthem
데칼코마니처럼 돈 권력 명예들은 안 변하는 role
움직여 때가 됐어 강자와 약자 그 판을 부술 anthem
Well, my excuse for not learning Hangul sooner was that I was only interested in understanding Korean back then. I had no interest in being able to read or write Korean for that matter. But as I started learning Korean more and more, I got more and more ambitious.
So to all those people who want to learn Korean either seriously or just as a hobby (just like how I started one trimester break in 2014), I highly suggest that you don’t repeat my mistake and waste your time in romanization. Learn Hangul! You won’t regret it!
Well, that was the biggest mistake that I made in my language journey. What sorts of mistakes did you make? Do you have any regrets? Things you wish you hadn’t done or done differently? Let me know! Maybe you will prevent me and many others from repeating your mistakes.
CHEERS TO ALL LANGUAGE LEARNERS! 화이팅!