Korean is a language spoken in Korea , in the border districts of the People’s Republic of China ( Yanbian ) and in emigrant communities (notably in Japan , China ( Beijing , Shandong ), Russia , Australia , United States , in France , etc.), and is the official language of North Korea and South Korea .

The classification of Korean is still controversial. Most linguists consider it an isolate , while others group it into a hypothetical Altaic family . Some similarities with Japanese have been noted .

The alphabet used to write Korean is Hangeul  , created in the 15th  century and made official in the 19th century ; the hanja ( sinograms used in this language) are also used, a fairly large part of the lexicon being of Chinese origin (at least outside the current vocabulary).

The language extends over a territory comparable to that of Italy, approximately 301,000 square kilometers, including approximately 220,000 square kilometers for the two Koreas combined, approximately 42,000 square kilometers for the Chinese prefecture of Yanbian (province of Jilin) and the rest partly on three other Chinese provinces.

Writing system 

Korean used ”  hanja  ” (Korean pronunciation of the Chinese word hanzi designating Han Chinese characters – often called ”  sinograms  ” in French – very similar to those used under Imperial China, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People’s Republic of China , in Japan , in Singapore , or even formerly in Vietnam ) from the 6th  century to the beginning of the 20th century  . Since the beginning of the 20th  century, Chinese writing has been replaced by a writing specific to Korea and called hangeul . This is aalphabet created around 1443 under Sejong the Great 12 , then banned from 1504 by his successor, Yeonsangun  ; these characters will therefore be banned for most of the Joseon period (1392 – 1910), before being rehabilitated in 1894 and made official at the end of World War II . Nevertheless, in South Korea, academic circles continue to use the spelling combining the two writing systems, using hanja for the notation of words of Chinese origin. Unlike Chinese characters, Hangeul is a phonetic script with syllabic demarcation ., each Hangeul character therefore represents a syllable, itself composed of two to four letters, each of which represents a phoneme .

The Hangeul alphabet consists of 24 letters: (14 consonants and 10 vowels). It is used by grouping the letters by syllables occupying square blocks, at the rate of 2 to 4 letters per syllable. The shape of the consonants corresponds to the morphology of the organs of phonation, that of the vowels uses three symbols of Taoist origin (i.e. the point or short line, the vertical line and the horizontal line, which respectively represent the Sun , Man and Earth).

Modern Korean is written with spaces between words, unlike other languages ​​like Chinese or Japanese . Korean punctuation uses Western punctuation marks, although they are used much more sparingly than in the West. Traditionally, Korean was written in columns from top to bottom, arranged right to left (like Traditional Chinese), but it is now written in rows left to right, arranged top to bottom (except in poetry where the format traditional is sometimes retained).

Grammar, syntax and usages 

Since Korean is an agglutinative language , its system is very different from that of English.

The language follows the SOV typology , that is to say “Subject Object Verb”. Moreover, the determiner is placed before the word it determines. There is no article , no gender , no number  ; the verbs are not conjugated according to the person (je, tu, il…) but they integrate many determinations, such as the aspect, the time, or the degree of politeness; invariant particles indicate the function of the word in the sentence. The connectors between two clauses are integrated into the verb of the first clause to be connected.

Degrees of politeness are often expressed in Korean by the suffixes added to the verb; they differentially express respect and humility.

Classic dictionaries versus thematic dictionaries

I already have a Korean dictionary: the Korean Standard dictionary from Hippocrene, bought a few years ago. It’s an English-Korean dictionary filled with mistakes (I’ve stopped counting them, there are so many!), but I still occasionally consult it.

I also use the French-Korean dictionary offered by Naver as a lot, in a smartphone application that is very practical when you are on public transport. But there again, it does not convince me perfectly, although it has the advantage of offering examples translated into our pretty language. But for me who aspires to differentiate synonyms, it makes the task even more difficult!

An example: I try to say “website” and I therefore type the word “site”: I find myself with no less than 9 words, without understanding almost anything of their difference in use! Fortunately the last word proposed is “website” so I’m not leaving empty-handed, but all the same, what about the 8 others?

I can say that Kyubyong Park has managed a feat, that of categorizing no less than 8000 words in “Essential Korean Vocabulary”. This is considerable if we are to believe Professor Argüelles, an American linguist known for his work on foreign languages ​​and a specialist in Korean. According to him, 250 words is the minimum basis required to speak a foreign language; 750 is the number of words that a person uses every day to converse, while with 2500 words, we can express ourselves on all subjects, even awkwardly. From 5,000 to 20,000 words, we are already in the register of native speakers (the last stage being the number of words that must be passively recognized in order to read and understand literary works).

The book I just bought guarantees me to be able to speak Korean fluently, provided of course that I memorize all its content ^^. In this, the subtitle of the book “Learn the key words and phrases needed to speak Korean fluently” is not just a simple marketing argument, and I am sensitive to this beautiful promise.

Essential Korean Vocabulary: Learn the Key Words and Phrases Needed to Speak Korean Fluently (English Edition) 

With Essential Korean Vocabulary, you will learn to speak Korean the way that Koreans do by learning key words and expressions they use every day in their natural contexts. You’ll also learn closely-related vocabulary together, which will help you remember and use a wider vocabulary. Each word in this book is clearly explained, and useful sentences are given to demonstrate how it’s used. Author Kyubyong Park also provides tips on Korean grammar and modern colloquial usage in South Korea, so you can learn to speak like a native speaker.

Essential Korean Vocabulary presents the 8,000 most common Korean words and phrases organized into 36 different subject areas. Beginning students can focus on the most basic items, which are clearly marked. As you progress to greater fluency, you can pick up more complicated words and expressions to bring your overall vocabulary and understanding of Korean up to an advanced level.

With Essential Korean Vocabulary, you will:

  • Upgrade your Korean skills in stages by learning the most useful words in sequence along a graded spectrum from beginner to advanced.
  • Learn how real Koreans speak in authentic sentences by native speakers.
  • Get special tips about tone, nuance, and correct usage of terms.
  • Learn the vocabulary needed to pass standard Korean proficiency tests.

A classification by theme and by situation

Now let’s see what it’s all about, turning the pages of this imposing thematic dictionary (376 pages all the same and a significant weight of 683 grams).

In his short preface, the author rightly points out that the reader must already know the basic rules of Korean grammar and be able to read Hangeul. Indeed all the words are written in Korean. But given that they are always followed by their romanization, if you can at least pronounce the sounds (for example “yeoja”, the woman, reads “yodja” with an open “o” and not “yéoja”), that should do the trick just as well.

The author also explains that the vocabulary is scored with a point system (from 1 to 3) according to its importance (3 would indicate a very common word). It is for him a learning strategy to be taken into consideration if necessary: ​​thus one can choose at the start to devote oneself to only the most frequent words. But it also means that this dictionary is suitable for both beginners and more advanced learners. It will therefore be a solid companion for a few years.

The words and expressions are grouped into 36 thematic chapters, the titles of which are as follows:

1. Human Life13. Food and Eating25. Industries
2. The Human Body14. Living Arrangements26. The Economy
3. Daily Activities15. Family and Social Relations27. Communications
4. Movement16. Education, School, and Study28. Traffic, Modes of Transportation
5. Health and Medicine17. Work and the Workplace29. The Universe and Nature
6. Feelings18. Leisure and Sports30. Plants and Animals
7. Thoughts19. Arts, Music, Literature31. Time and Time Concepts
8. Actions20. Nations and Politics32. Locations and Directions
9. Describing People21. Law and Order33. Describing Objects
10. Speaking22. National Defense34. Numbers and Quantities
11. Language23. Society35. General Concepts
12. Clothing and Shopping24. Culture and Religion36. Structural Words

Within the chapters, sub-chapters further divide the information. For example, in Chapter 6 on feelings, we have:

6.1 Pleasure, affection, wishes, awe, sympathy
6.2 Anger, hate, displeasure, Sorrow, Loneliness
6.3 Greed, regret, anxiety, boredom
6.4 Tension, fear, surprise, embarrassment

As you can see, it’s not only very complete, but it’s classified according to the situation, which is very practical for finding a specific word and at the same time, for linking it to other words in the same category. A great way to bounce back and deepen your knowledge.


In general, each dictionary entry is accompanied by an example. It’s perfect for learning a word in context, especially for people like me who can’t get anywhere with lengthy, meaningless vocabulary lists. None of the sentences is really complicated and on the contrary, they are very grounded in reality. Memorizing them as they are is giving yourself one more chance to improve your speaking skills.

Sometimes there is an insert that specifies the use of a word, most often from a cultural point of view. It’s the little extra touch that doesn’t spoil the whole thing. Finally, the book ends with two indexes, one in romanized Korean (perfect when the spelling is lacking – I already know some who laugh, yes, spelling is my black point…), the other in English.


Basic Expressions / Common Words

Hello good nightAnnyong
I understand / I don’t understandihae / nan ihaega an dwaeyo
GoodbyeAnnyonghi kyeseyo
Thanks very much)Gamsahamnida
Excuse me/pleaseSillyehamnida
I am French)Naneun peulangseueo ida
No thanksGwaenchanhseubnida
Yes NoNe / Aniyo


How much is it ?Eolmana ?
It’s very cheapGeugeos-eun maeu jeolyeom
It’s too expensive !Geugeos-eun neomu bissa
I love / I hateNaneun salang / silh-eo


TrainHe sneezes
I would like to rent…Naneun imdaehago sip-eoyo…


StationKicha yeok
Hotelhotel part
Left rightWen-jog / Orun-jog
North South East WestBuk / nam / dong / seo


one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and tenana, tul, set, net, levels, yosot, iglop, yodolp, ahop, yol
twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixtysumul, sorun, mahun, shween, yesun
seventy, eighty, ninetyirun, yodun, ahon,

Times / Dates and days

What time is it ?Geugeos-eun myeochsi ibnikka ?
When ?Eonje?
Today (morning/noon/evening)Oneul (achim / daenaj / jeonyeog)
tomorrowNae he
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday SundayWol-yoil, hwayoil, suyoil, mog-yoil, geum-yoil, toyoil, il-yoil

A Table !

I’m hungry, I’m thirstyBaegopa / naneun mog maleun ibnida
That was delicious !Masisseosseumnida
What do you recommend me?Mwol chucheon haeyo
I am vegetarianJeon chaeshikjuyija
It’s too hot !Neomu tteugeobda
I am allergicNaneun alleleugi ibnida
WaterI have
Tea/coffeeHongcha / Keopi
beer/wineMaekju / podoju

Health / Emergency / Security

Where is the hospital?Eodi byeong-won ibnida
I hurt here Yeogi sangcheo
Where are the toilets ?Hwajangsil eun eodie issseubnikka?
Help !Dowajuseyo!


Have a good day !Joh-eun halu!
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About the Author

Mohamed SAKHRI

Discover team

On this blog you travel with us around the world and discover beautiful places, stories, cultures but also mysterious places and some are even bizarre.

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