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What is difficult about Korean?


Korean is a fascinating language, spoken by over 75 million people worldwide. Although it shares some similarities with other East Asian languages, such as Chinese and Japanese, Korean has its own unique characteristics that can make it difficult for learners to master. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most challenging aspects of learning Korean, from its complex writing system to its intricate grammar rules.

The Korean Writing System

One of the most daunting aspects of learning Korean is its writing system. Unlike most languages, Korean uses a combination of alphabetic characters and ideographic symbols. The alphabet, known as Hangul, consists of 24 letters that represent both consonants and vowels. However, many words in Korean are also written using Chinese characters known as Hanja. This dual writing system can be confusing for learners who are used to a more straightforward alphabet.


Korean pronunciation can also be difficult for non-native speakers. The language has some unique sounds that don’t exist in English or other Western languages. For example, Korean has two different “s” sounds that can be hard to distinguish for beginners. Additionally, the intonation patterns in Korean can change the meaning of a word entirely, so getting the tone right is crucial.

Word Order

Korean grammar follows a strict subject-object-verb (SOV) word order, which is different from English’s subject-verb-object (SVO) structure. This means that learners need to retrain their brains to think in a different order when constructing sentences in Korean. Additionally, while English relies heavily on prepositions to indicate location and direction, Korean uses postpositions instead.


Korean has a complex system of honorifics that is used to show respect and politeness when speaking to different people. There are many different levels of honorifics, and learners need to be able to use them correctly depending on the situation. Not using the appropriate level of politeness can be seen as rude or disrespectful in Korean society.

Verb Endings

Korean verbs have a wide variety of endings that change depending on the tense, mood, and formality of the sentence. This can make it challenging for learners to remember all the different verb conjugations and use them correctly in context.

Counting System

The Korean counting system is different from English and other Western languages. Instead of using a straightforward system like “one, two, three,” Korean has different counting systems depending on the object being counted. For example, there is a separate counting system for flat objects, cylindrical objects, people, and animals.

Formal vs. Informal

Korean has different levels of formality that are used in different situations. For example, informal language is used among friends and family members, while more formal language is used in business settings or when speaking to someone in a higher position. Learners need to be able to switch between these different levels of formality depending on the context.

Idiomatic Expressions

Like any language, Korean has its own set of idiomatic expressions that can be difficult for learners to understand. These expressions often don’t make sense when translated literally into English and require some cultural knowledge to grasp.

Regional Dialects

Korean has many regional dialects that can vary significantly in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. For learners who are used to hearing only one standard form of the language, understanding regional dialects can be challenging.

Cultural Context

Understanding Korean culture is essential for mastering the language. Many linguistic nuances in Korean are tied to cultural norms and values, such as the importance of hierarchy and respect for elders. Learners need to be able to read between the lines and understand the cultural context of conversations to fully grasp the language.

Time Investment

Finally, one of the most significant challenges of learning Korean is the time investment required. As with any language, becoming proficient in Korean takes time, practice, and dedication. Learners need to be prepared to put in the hours and effort required to master the language fully.


While Korean can be a challenging language to learn, it’s also incredibly rewarding. By understanding the unique characteristics and difficulties of the language, learners can better prepare themselves for the journey ahead. With dedication and perseverance, anyone can become fluent in Korean and unlock a new world of culture, entertainment, and communication.

Is Korean language very difficult?

According to the FSI, Korean is classified as a Category V language, which indicates that it is one of the most challenging languages to learn. The estimated time required to become fluent in Korean is approximately 2200 hours of study or 88 weeks of intense study.

Is Korean more difficult than Chinese?

In terms of difficulty for English speakers to learn, Korean is often considered easier than Mandarin Chinese. However, this is a subjective assessment and according to the US Foreign Service Institute, both languages are categorized at the same level of difficulty, which is level four.

Which is more difficult Japanese or Korean?

When it comes to learning a new language, many people wonder whether Korean or Japanese is easier. Korean is generally considered to be the simpler of the two, as it has fewer letters in its alphabet than Japanese. Additionally, Japanese includes more complex Chinese characters and challenging grammar rules.

What is the hardest language to learn?

Mandarin Chinese is widely regarded as the most difficult language to learn, according to various sources. The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center categorizes Mandarin as a Category IV language, indicating its high level of difficulty for English speakers.

Is Korean harder than Chinese or Japanese?

Korean grammar is considered to be the most challenging among languages, whereas Mandarin language’s tones can be difficult for native English speakers to discern. Japanese, on the other hand, is known for being the fastest spoken language in the world, with a speed of over 7 syllables per second.

Which is harder Thai or Korean?

The Thai language becomes less difficult as learners advance, with most of the initial difficulties arising from unfamiliar tones, sounds, and writing systems. In contrast, Korean tends to become more challenging for learners over time.

Resources for Learning Korean

Fortunately, there are many resources available for learners who want to master the Korean language. Online courses, textbooks, and language exchange programs can all be helpful tools in learning the language. Additionally, watching Korean TV shows and movies or listening to Korean music can help learners improve their listening and comprehension skills.

The Benefits of Learning Korean

Learning Korean can open up many doors for learners, both professionally and personally. South Korea is a global leader in technology, entertainment, and business, and being able to speak Korean can give learners a competitive edge in these industries. Additionally, Korea has a rich culture and history that can be explored through its language. Finally, learning Korean can also be a fun and rewarding experience that broadens horizons and opens up new opportunities for travel and communication.

The Future of the Korean Language

As Korea continues to grow its global influence, the importance of the Korean language is only going to increase. Already, there are millions of people around the world who speak Korean as a second language. In the future, it’s likely that more people will look to learn Korean as a way to connect with this vibrant culture and take advantage of the opportunities it has to offer.


In conclusion, while learning Korean may present some challenges, it’s a rewarding experience that can provide many benefits. With time, effort, and dedication, anyone can become proficient in this fascinating language and gain access to a world of culture, entertainment, and opportunity. Whether for personal or professional reasons, learning Korean is an investment in oneself that can pay off in countless ways.

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