57 In Korean learning journey (:

Should Korean learners pick up hanja?

This is an issue that I’ve never talked about, simply because it’s a non-issue for me. I am fluent in Mandarin Chinese and I can read both the simplified and traditional characters, so there’s no need to pick up hanja at all. After reading Lauren’s comment, I started to give more thought about it and will offer my two cents on the issue. My two cents aren’t really objective, since I already know Chinese, so I may not realize how much of an advantage I have over those who don’t.

First of all, I concede that knowing Chinese helps a lot in picking up Sino-Korean words. Let me backtrack a little. For those who are new to learning Korean, Sino-Korean words are originated / influenced by Chinese and according to wikipedia, makes up 60% of Korean vocabulary (just knew this!!!). That’s freaking a lot. Sino-Korean words are usually used in more formal situations such as news articles, academic papers etc as compared to their native Korean counterparts.

For example,

죽다 – die (native Korean)

사망하다 (死亡) – die (Sino-Korean)

So it will be 4명이 사망했어요 instead of 4명이 죽었어요 if you are reading a newspaper article.

Another example.

값이 올랐다 – price increase (native Korean)

가격 인상 (價格引上) – price increase (Sino-Korean)

The latter expression will be more common in writing.

It’s a general rule, and it doesn’t mean that Sino-Korean words are not used for daily conversations. But it is true that most advanced vocabulary are Sino-Korean words and if you are taking TOPIK advanced, you should be very familiar with such vocabulary.

Back to the issue. What are the advantages of knowing hanja (meaning)?

1. helps you create links and learn words more easily

For example, now that I know the 사 in 사실 (事實) refers to 事 (matter), I can link it to 사건 (事件). For me, if I happen to forget what “incident” means in Korean, I’ll think of the Chinese equivalent of 事件 and because I know 事實 is 사실, I’ll know that 事件 will be 사- something. If you get my logic.

2. when you come across a new Sino-Korean word, you can easily figure out / guess what the Chinese characters are and figure out the meaning

But these advantages are there only if you know the MEANING, not just the Chinese characters.

Honestly speaking, I think Chinese is difficult and I don’t really see the point of really learning a whole set of new characters / meaning just to aid in learning Korean. Hanja is also different form Chinese. Although 價格引上 is written in Chinese, we don’t actually use that same expression to talk about price increase. It does make some sense, but not entirely. Like saying “price up” in English.

I think if I don’t know Chinese, I’ll probably pay attention to the hanja characters every time I learn a new word and try to create the links as I go along, but I won’t learn hanja deliberately. Technically, you can throw out hanja and still be able to pick up Sino-Korean words. You can just treat them as native Korean words and learn each of them as it is, without figuring the links behind.

So I think my answer is no, you don’t have to learn Hanja when you learn Korean.

However, that totally depends on you also. Some may say that you don’t have to learn Sageuk speak or satoori when you learn Korean, but for me, they all come in a package. So I’ll learn EVERYTHING. So if you feel that way too, learn Hanja. It’s a huge part of Korean and for me, I’ll not want to miss out on any single part of Korean.

That concludes my two cents.

I’m really interested in whether you guys are learning Hanja or not! (for those non Chinese speakers). If you are, do you think that it’s helping a lot in your learning progress? For those who are not, does it have any effect on your progress? 

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  • Reply
    22 March, 2013 at 2:39 PM

    lets just say that if i didnt know 한자, i will be suffering even more at work now. ㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠ 한국회사에서일하면한자완전중요해ㅠㅠㅠㅠ

    • Reply
      24 March, 2013 at 11:12 AM

      ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ do the official / work documents use the chinese characters? Or just hanja as in sino-korean words in hangeul?

      • Reply
        25 March, 2013 at 10:32 AM

        the documents use sino-korean words in 한글 (my korean friend said it’s called 한자글 and even for him it’s really difficult), and for like cover and ending pages they use chinese characters. i wonder how the angmohs working in this position before me managed to translate man.

  • Reply
    Anno (@Acquiring Korean)
    22 March, 2013 at 2:49 PM

    I agree with you hundred percent!^^ kk

    • Reply
      24 March, 2013 at 1:19 PM


  • Reply
    22 March, 2013 at 3:43 PM

    I’m not learning hanja right now, but I’d like to eventually. I studied Japanese before Korean and that’s helped tremendously – I recognize most of the hanja that appear in daily Korean life.

    I think knowing hanja is helpful, but in the 21st century – it’s a bit like learning Latin while learning English (yeah, it will help you but if you don’t know it already, it’s probably better to focus on other things in the beginning).

    • Reply
      24 March, 2013 at 1:20 PM

      yeah it just falls into the category of good to know, but not really necessary

  • Reply
    Lucie D
    22 March, 2013 at 5:42 PM

    I think this is something I might tackle at a higher level, for example when I start reaching TOPIK level 5 perhaps. Also need to learn the Kanji for Japanese before. It’s really difficult for me to remember them, because in my busy schedule I’m hardly ever exposed to Kanji. And also why I might be able to read and recognise the basic ones, I often forget how to write them, so always have to double check with a dictionary. =.=;;;
    So whether you should or shouldn’t learn Hanja, I think it depends on what the person wants to achieve – Learn every aspect or just learn to converse?

    • Reply
      24 March, 2013 at 1:21 PM

      i really can’t imagine learning kanji from scratch D:

    • Reply
      Autonomous Korean
      26 March, 2013 at 9:09 PM

      I started learning after about 7 or 8 months in Korea (I was using a level 2 textbook at the time), and I think that’s a good time to start, but it’s good to start slowly. Just a few really common characters that are seen everywhere, like 日 and 大 to begin, and gradually move into less common ones…

  • Reply
    22 March, 2013 at 8:39 PM

    I’m German, and I’m learning Chinese and Korean in university, so I’m kind of learning “Hanja” naturally. But apart from that there’s an extra “Hanja” course in our Korean classes, and I think it helps a lot. Like you said, if you see a two-characer Hanjamal, and you know one of them, then you will know already half of the meaning and the pronounciation. I also think that it helps to get the grasp of Korean really fast.
    I don’t know if it would be more useful at a higher level than at beginners level, the course started in my first semester, before people with no previous knowledge in my course could even say 안녕하세요. I can’t say anything about if it was useful there, because I had a lot of previous Korean knowledge. But I think all in all it’s very helpful and I would recommend learning Hanja, even though I don’t know about self learning. I can imagine that can turn out to be a little hard.

    Also, when I learn a new word that is a hanjamal, I copy and paste the Hanja and kind of look at it when learning out of the corner of my eye, so by the time I know the word I can kind of recognize the Hanja, but could never write it. I’m not actively learning the Hanja, so to speak, except for those I’m learning in university of course (about 500 characters in one year I think, so a lot more words comprised of those characters). I think that’s not really necessary – unless you’re doing it for a job I don’t think any Korean would ever ask you to write Hanja. So recognizing it and saying “ah, I know this, this was also in word xy, so it’s got yz as a meaning” is kind of enough in my opinion, though some basic Hanja (like you said, 事 for example, which is in so many hanjamal) should maybe be learned more thouroughly.

    I’m sorry this is so long ^^;

    • Reply
      24 March, 2013 at 1:24 PM

      true, recognizing it is more important (and good enough). Even for me, sometimes I can’t really write the traditional chinese characters offhand but I do recognize them. If I want to write them out I’ll have to enlarge the screen before I can write it out 😛 But since I’m also learning Japanese at the moment, I am obliged to know how to write too ><

    • Reply
      Winta Assefa
      17 July, 2014 at 10:15 AM

      I am an Ethiopian living outside my country (until now) and I know three languages: Arabic, English and Tigrinya; and a sprinkle of Urdu. I learned all the Korean alphabets but I think it will take a long time til I start speaking more than just the bursts of awkward phrases and words. I think none of the languages I already know have prepared me to study Korean (I know next to nothing about Mandarin and Japanese) …so I want to know, how long did it take you guys to start actually saying sensible stuff in Korean. Then how long did it take for you to make a comfortable transition into conversatation-level speaking.

      Oh and congratulations Nicole on Germany’s win. 😛

  • Reply
    22 March, 2013 at 9:30 PM

    For anybody who doesn’t have familiatry with Hanja, I just want to point out that’s it’s not always one sound has one hanja. So even if I see a new word in hangul that looks like it might be from hanja, it might not be related to a word I already know.
    I.e. 사회, 사망. The 사 are totally different hanja.

    Second, I say this probably everything I comment here~ But, again, learning hanja depends on your goals.
    If you have anything academic/business related, you need to learn hanja. Books, even fiction (but mostly literature or poetry, as opposed to simple genre fiction), have hanja in them. Sometimes just to clearify a meaning so it’s written as 사망 (死亡), but other times just hanja with no key to the hangul. One of the other commenters mentioned it, but business settings will also use hanja for shorter quicker messages.
    And, if you’re interested in anything before 1900s in Korea, again, you’ll need hanja (but also han-mun knowledge, aka classical Chinese).

    And besides needing hanja for book reading, my personal reason for learning hanja is to learn hanmun. (As an English speaker, there’s no way to learn hanmun without learning another language first – usually Chinese. But, 🙁 Apologizes I don’t like Chinese enough to stick out getting over the pronunciation hurdle). So, my way to learn hanmun is first learning hanja, then using Korean resources (rather English or Chinese) things to learn hanmun~

    • Reply
      24 March, 2013 at 1:25 PM

      ahhh hanmun 😀 Kinda curious what sparked your interest in that!

      • Reply
        24 March, 2013 at 6:49 PM

        The simplest answer is Classical Chinese poetry, and the simplest answer to what sparked my curiousity to that is 사극… super big 사극파 here. (I don’t know if normal Koreans understand that expression, but my Korean friend told me I could use it haha)

  • Reply
    22 March, 2013 at 9:50 PM

    I’m actually wanto to start learning hanja and wanted to ask you if you need them for TOPIK exam. You say that they are different from Chinese characters. Do they differ much? Can knowing them help me in learning Chinese later? (I might do that at some point)
    Anyway, I think you should learn hanja if you want to know Korean. As you said it’s part of the language. Going to start with hanja soon.
    Love your blog btw.

    • Reply
      24 March, 2013 at 1:28 PM

      nope the chinese characters are not needed for the TOPIK exam but sino-korean words (in hangeul) are very very very common in the intermediate level and above! Most of the time they are similar in terms of writing (but more similar to the traditional Chinese than simplified) and meaning wise for each character is the same. Just that some of the time it can differ in terms of phrasing (like the price up example). I will think that it does help in learning Chinese! ^^

      Thanks for reading the blog 😀

  • Reply
    22 March, 2013 at 10:38 PM

    IMHO, I think Korean learners should learn Hanja. My beef is that if the Koreans learn it too to help them understand Korean, why should’t the Korean learner learn them as well? I think the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans does” is applicable in this sense. I know Chinese as well, so I am not quite sure how to teach people how to pick up hanja but having watched so many variety shows and reading not so many articles, I can definitely say that they seem to exist sometimes to explain the meaning of the hangul to Koreans , or just because the Koreans thought it emphasizes the meaning more than Hangul (e.g they often put 大 instead of 대), and etc. I am not saying the Korean learner should learn every Hanja out there, but if you aim to be at least on par with the Korean, then you should probably learn enough of the basic ones. I think it will be easier if you just learn them as you learn new words. Saves the trouble of learning them separately.

    • Reply
      24 March, 2013 at 1:29 PM

      that’s true too. hehe interesting to hear the different perspectives from everyone. Prob like what you say, we should be on par with the average Korean too, in terms of hanja knowledge!

  • Reply
    23 March, 2013 at 2:23 AM

    I’m just a beginner and know maybe 200 words of Korean. I do pay attention to Hanja. However, it is just like you said, only for the meaning. I find it is easier to memorize the word when I see, for example, that bathroom and living room have one syllable with the same meaning.

    If and when I get to advanced level, I still don’t think I would learn Hanja. Maybe the few basic ones that are commonly used on product and such. It seems to me Hanja is rarely used in everyday life, and it’s increasing with time, so it might be even less by the time my knowledge advances.

    • Reply
      23 March, 2013 at 2:24 AM

      decreasing, not increasing 😛

    • Reply
      24 March, 2013 at 1:30 PM

      yeah, it’s entirely possible to be of an advanced level and yet not know any hanja too! (like my friend)

  • Reply
    23 March, 2013 at 3:29 AM

    Wow, 60% of the vocabulary? I totally had no idea it was such a high rate…

    I’ve never payed much attention to hanjas, because where I primarily get my exercising sources (songs, some tv shows, etc), they don’t usually show up. The only example of hanja being used that I remember (by that I mean “that I’ve seen more than once) is the one for “남”. Before starting with 한국어, I have started learning japanese (veeeeery very very few is my knowledge), and, well, it’s kinda basic vocabulary, so I don’t remember nor I can’t write it myself, but when seeing it I remember what it is (not sure if the meaning is deeper than what I know, though).

    Studying throught TTMIK, they have these “Word Builder lessons”, in which they present a hanja with the correspondent in 한글 and some of the most useful words related to it. I’ve never stopped to memorize the hanja, but some of the pronounciation they’ve already taught I can catch up while reading things out there (i.e. 장 to place, 학 with study, etc).

    Although I have never given the attention (probably) needed to them, there were some many times in which I didn’t know the meaning of the word, but with 1. recognizing some of these “key-syllables”, 2. linking with the meaning the sentence itself was already telling me I could at least understand a little bit more of what was being said, so I don’t think that not knowing them is making me be absolutely lost.

    After reading this post and the comments, I think:
    1. Am I losing something by not paying more attention to hanja? Absolutely
    2. I don’t plan on getting a job (as some of you pointed out), so I don’t see the need to go very deep about this
    3. But everything you all have said sure opened more my mind to pay more attention to hanja, and from now on try to memorize the character itself (even if I don’t remember the right strike order or can’t write it in a decent way hahaha), and at least the basic ones.

    Great post and comments, everyone! I thank you guys very much, because, as I was, I think there are lots of other 한국어 students that aren’t well aware of the influence that is still going on 🙂
    And even if its use is decreasing even more as time passes by… well, knowledge is always worth and you’ll be able to understand some things written in Chinese hahaha
    Sorry for the long comment ^^

    PS: Shanna, are you making a topic about this on your e-book? 😀 And do you think is possible for you to make a list of, like, 20 basic hanjas and their meaning? (or do any of you know any source with this content, besides what TTMIK have already taught?) I truly have no idea if this is a crazy non-sense request or something doable, so I’m sorry if it’s the first option hahaha

    • Reply
      24 March, 2013 at 1:35 PM

      yeah I think it’s great if we can somewhat recognize the characters, even though we may not be able to write it down stroke by stroke. Even the Koreans themselves are finding less and less use for Hanja, I think it’s a little sad if younger people can’t even recognize the basic and more common characters. It’s like part of the language history is dying… >< It'll be great if people learning Korean can still pay some attention to hanja (: hehe yeah I'm going to talk about it! Will include the list if possible 😀 😀 KLEAR textbook series published "korean reader for chinese characters" 😀 It's pretty good! I flipped though it but not thoroughly because I didn't have a need for it. ^^

  • Reply
    23 March, 2013 at 4:14 AM

    I think learning hanja would be helpful, especially if in a setting where it is needed but it’s not my main goal right now. I think right now there are other things I should focus on but maybe as I come across hanja I will at least make a note of it? When I become more advanced I definitely focus on it. ^^

    • Reply
      24 March, 2013 at 1:35 PM

      yeah I think making a quite note as you learn helps in the long run

  • Reply
    23 March, 2013 at 6:04 AM

    I am actually learning Japanese but I noticed the same situation for the Japanese language. Some words are only written in hiragana nowadays but they actually have kanji version. For example, おねがいします is taught in hiragana most of the time when there is お願いします with the kanji for request. Same thing for ありがとう (有り難う).

    I say learning the Chinese characters helps me to memorize the meaning of the words. It is not a string of hiragana anymore but blocks of meaning full kanji. I had a ‘revelation’ when I learn the written form for 失礼します( しつれいします)after knowing the word for so long. On this note, I’ll go back studying the vocabulary I have been neglecting >_>

    • Reply
      24 March, 2013 at 1:38 PM

      yeahhh!! I always wonder why sometimes words are written in hiragana when there’s a kanji version. :/

  • Reply
    23 March, 2013 at 12:12 PM

    Despite being of chinese ethnicity, I don’t speak mandarin (I speak more hokkien) and while I understand enough to watch tv dramas/movies/variety, I cannot say I’m comfortable with Mandarin. It’s more like I make a lot of educated guesses XD.

    I feel like I have an aversion to mandarin which I suspect comes from a very bad experience having taken mandarin lessons when I was young. (I failed 2 years in a row and I hated my teacher) What put me off learning Japanese was the Kanji, and I was SO GLAD that hanja didn’t seem to appear prominent in Korean. I do recognise the odd chinese character / hanja here and there which appear regularly in the news but I wouldn’t be able to write it.

    To me, having to learn Hanja is a hell hole which I am already dreading before I’ve even reach that stage LOL.

    • Reply
      23 March, 2013 at 8:28 PM

      have you ever heard of remembering the kanji or remembering the hanzi? it’s a book and some people had success with it. It helps yo make up stories so you can write the top 2000 or whatever. there’s all this stigma that kanji or hanzi is impossible to remember and with my experience with RTK I can write kanji (top 2000 or more or something) lol… I did kikitori after i did rtk ( gradually converting my cards). if youre interested in learning the writing aspect of mandarin check out rth

      • Reply
        2 April, 2013 at 5:59 PM

        I have heard of that book, I think I may even have the pdf copy somewhere on my computer, along with all the other japanese learning stuff that i will get around to ‘some day’ LOL.

        Frankly, I think I would need a lot of motivation to pick up kanji/hanja or chinese again. For a period I did, out of necessity – well enough to message in chinese characters – with my grade school broken mandarin XD. Even the thought of having to learn writing the characters again is giving me nightmarish flashbacks. LOL

        Reckon I would need to first have a positive mindset before picking it up. The only chinese characters I know how write is my name XD.

        I’ve been toying with going for chinese lessons – where the focus is more on speaking rather than reading and writing, but if I really had to take another language, i would prefer japanese. Which brings me back to square one where a foundation in chinese would be really good to have. 🙁

        • Reply
          22 May, 2013 at 11:26 PM

          What was the teaching method anyhow? Kanji and hanzi isn’t that bad if you learn about the radicals. There’s also wanikani for Japanese kanji. It’s free I think

    • Reply
      24 March, 2013 at 1:39 PM

      hahaha I can understand. I’ll progress a lot slower in Japanese if I didn’t know Chinese!

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    24 March, 2013 at 12:27 PM

    I’m not learning hanja right now, but I plan to. The problem is I don’t know where to start–or when! I’m roughly intermediate level in Korean now, but I’m worried that adding hanja to my studies will be too much work. Does anyone know of a good hanja book in English, or does such a thing not exist? I may have to hold out until I can find some classes that teach the characters.

    • Reply
      24 March, 2013 at 1:40 PM

      korean reader for chinese characters – check out this book ^^

      Mmm I think you don’t have to actively learn the hanja in that you don’t have to be able to write it out, but it’ll be nice to recognize them and their meanings and see the links behind all the sino-korean words ^^

  • Reply
    24 March, 2013 at 6:43 PM

    I’d say it depends on your language background.

    1. If you’re a native speaker of Chinese (when I refer to Chinese in this post, I mean Mandarin), you don’t really need to “learn” 한자 since you can probably get a rough idea of any Sino-Korean word you come across.

    2. If you have working proficiency with Chinese like me (3000+ 汉字), I’d say definitely go for it. It helps a lot with vocabulary acquisition. Since you’re already familiar with the characters it’s just simply like learning another reading. e.g. 間/间 as in(時間/时间)is read as jian1, 간, カン in CKJ respectively. I already know the meaning of the character, so I just need to add an extra way of saying it. Some readings tend to be similar to the Korean reading in Chinese (and Japanese too!) such as the 時/时 in the aforementioned example (shi2 in Chinese, 시 in Korean). My strategy right now is going through the 1800 한자 taught in Korean schools in Anki and focusing on pronunciation similarities/differences from Chinese since some changes can be weird like 下 is xia4 in Chinese but 하 in Korean. Any more 한자 beyond that is overkill if you ask me (i.e. grad/post doc level).

    3. If you have no background in Chinese/Japanese but are still interested in learning 한자, I’d recommend adhering to the 80-20 Pareto principle: focus on the top 20% most frequently seen 한자 for 80% recognition. This will allow you to put in minimal effort for maximum results. 20% of 1800 is only 360, so if you learn one new 한자 a day, after a year you’ll have a solid foundation without too much pain.

    tl;dr I think studying 한자 is best if you’re already comfortable with Chinese characters. Personally, I find it easier to read mixed script than pure Korean. (Take a look for yourself in this Wikipedia article’s example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_mixed_script)

    P.S. Random tidbit: When I was studying at 서강대 my teachers would use 한자 to help me understand stuff. Since only Korean was allowed, 한자 helped when there was a communication failure :P.

    P.P.S. As for your comment that Chinese is difficult, please take a look: http://www.fluentin3months.com/chinese/

    Let’s encourage more people to learn Chinese! 😀

    • Reply
      24 March, 2013 at 7:31 PM

      Thanks for reading the blog and sharing your experiences! ^^ I do agree that studying hanja is best if you already know some Chinese characters (:
      I’m a native speaker, so I can’t really judge objectively.. but I do think that the Chinese script is difficult for foreigners, not the language itself ^^

  • Reply
    25 March, 2013 at 3:18 AM

    I think it’s really usefull to learn hanjas in order to understand Korean better and to make links between words like you said. I’m a French native speaker so Chinese caracters are really really hard for me to learn, but I started to learn some only because I know they would help me with my Korean. Now each time that I learn a new word, I go and look for the hanja just so that I get used to them, I wish I knew all of them already because I’m sure that native chinese people have a great advantage compared to me !! Learning Hanjas is like learning latin and greek to help you with the etymology of French words..

  • Reply
    25 March, 2013 at 3:39 AM

    I want to learn hanja, but I’m going to wait until I reach the middle of the intermediate level.

  • Reply
    Autonomous Korean
    26 March, 2013 at 9:15 PM

    I’ve learned Chinese characters throughout my Korean studies, although I’ve stalled the last couple years…I knew about 1000 characters a while back, though I’ll need to do quite some review to get back to that level. But I haven’t forgotten the meanings, or recognition, just how to write them.
    Being able to equate the sound with meaning is pretty crucial to attaining a high vocabulary, and especially for understanding uncommon words you haven’t learnt yet. If I meet a new word, and it’s a Chinese character word, there’s a very strong chance I can guess it. That said, it’s possible to learn the meanings without learning to write them. But as a visual learner, it was very beneficial to learn how to write them.
    I’ve also found them useful when reading; I’ve read a couple of linguistics textbooks, and they aren’t used incredibly often, but it was nice to know them when they do spring up. There are also some characters that make regular appearances in signs, menus, etc., that of course anyone should learn. Oh, and one other benefit is that when I visited Japan, though I knew know hiragana / katakana, I could understand a fair number of signs based on the Kanji!
    There are definitely more and less useful hanja characters to learn, and I’ve learnt some that almost never show up. One day I’d like to use my experience learning them to make lists based on usefulness to help Korean learners know which ones to start with.

  • Reply
    28 March, 2013 at 7:37 PM

    I’m a german native speaker, so trying to remember 한자 is really hard for me. I think in order to get fluent in korean , learning 한자 is very important. Whenever I see 한자 while learning korean I just ignore them > < Since for me they look so difficult. But maybe next year when I will be more better and more comfortable in korean, I will definitely start to learn 한자 as well. For now I'm scared adding 한자 in my learning routine because I might forget other important korean words. You know what I mean? xD The only 한자 I learned so far are :
    식당/다른 인분: 小 (소),中 (중),大 (대)
    욕실/화장실: 男 (남성), 女 (여성)
    나라: 大韩民国 (대한민국), 韩国 (한국), 首尔 (서울)

    • Reply
      29 March, 2013 at 10:49 AM

      learning how to write them can get quite difficult but if you are planning to learn them in the future, I think it’s good to start paying attention to them from now on. Kinda just learn how to recognize them 😀 Every little effort counts and if you start from now, you will have less of hard time when you learn them in the future!

  • Reply
    1 April, 2013 at 4:05 PM

    I’m an American that is fluent in Japanese, so I know over 3,000 Chinese characters. I think studying Korean would have been So Hard if I had to study it from English and without knowing Chinese characters… Korean and Japanese are similar in grammar and the chinese character pronunciations are often so similar, you already know what they mean even the first time you seen them.

    While you don’t NEED to know chinese characters, its incredibly useful and broadens your understanding of the language, plus makes it easier to pick up another asiatic language later.

    Since I know Chinese characters, I self-studied Korean for 2 years while in Japan, then moved to Korea and studied here for 6 months, and now am almost fluent, working as a manager at a big Korean company =D

    • Reply
      1 April, 2013 at 4:23 PM

      Agreed! It’s not really necessary, but incredibly useful! 😀 It’s amazing that you have picked up 2 foreign languages on your own to a high level of proficiency ^^ I hope to be able to do the same, and work in Korea too (:

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    22 May, 2013 at 9:01 PM

    I personally would say yes. But learn I don’t mean write the same hanja over and over 200 times lol… it seems like they use this in the korean schools or hak-wons or whatever. I personally find that to be a waste of time. It’s just a horrible method of learning.

    But anyways here’s all the writings about hanaj that i collected over the internet on forums and such. most of it is in englihs, some of it is in japanese (i think rikai-chan should be enough to undersatnd it)


    I really loved reading some of them because some people really explained so well why korean learners “need/want” to learn hanja to learn korean while koreans (depends on the age) do not learn/know hanja but are fluent in korean.

    I think definitely YES if you want fluency. I say YES to intermediate and i could also say YES to beginner in the sense that hanja helps you remember stuff and notice stuff. I find it almost inefficient to learn a bunch of words in korean and then go back and notice a bunch of them had the same hanja in it… .why not notice when you were trying to remember it? So for beginners i would say knowing common/useful hanja is recommendable… I don’t mean writing, I mean knowing the meaning, recognizing (not really since they don’t write in korean ever.. except once in a blue moon), maybe stroke order…

  • Reply
    22 May, 2013 at 9:37 PM

    Actually for me I didn’t even bother start learning korean before learning all the hanja lol. the thing is my circumstances are sorta special and i sorta have no motivation for korean and i especially not have motivation when I didn’t know hanja. without hanja I feel like I’m wasting my time putting in all this effort to remember words that i will forget very quickly, and whether the vowel is ㅓ ㅏ ㅜㅗ or whatever, it’s really arbitrary which way the thing faces so I will probably remember it incorrectly if i were to remember it. It’s just very frustrating to try to remember something that you’ll either forget or can’t remember or remember incorrectly. Hanja/kanji just gives that motiviation to me… it helps me remember, I know i’m not gonna forget as easily/it’s easy to reember and retain it . I heard in a korean show that 70% of the words is based on hanja… so just from that i really really personally find it extremely ineffective and inefficient to learn korean without touching hanja at all and I personally could not recommend to learn korean without learning about hanja (not writing, meaning, maybe recognizing) unless they just want to stop at beginner beginner or greetings.. .then yeah you don’t need hanja. you’re just learning a few phrases.

    By learning hanja I mean I learned japanese lol. It just seemed really inefficient to learn hanja since it’s not used while in japanese kanji’s everywhere so it makes it that much easier to learn/retain it. there’s so much material out there native media-wise whether it’s songs or variety shows or the internet with rikai-chan. The thing with hanja is I tihnk they do teach it in school in middle school or late elmentary school or something and people do study and pass the test with cramming or whatever but in real life in korea they don’t use it (they’ll probably never see it outside the test or their textbooks) so it’ll just be forgotten for those korean students unless they pick up chinese or japanese and go there or whatever.

    Have you ever heard of that news article about hanja. It was a newspaper reporter from japan or korea and they were going around this famous univrsity korea where only really smart people can get in and they were asking them to write dae han min gook and the name of the flag in korea in hanja and i think either 1 person was able to write dae han mingook or no one was able to. and of course there was somebody who wrote the hanja for car for the hanja for han. or maybe a bunch of people did. I read this article in Japanese and of course their reaction is like omg they’re so dumb or at least that’s the vibe I got. But that’s just how it is, they see it, they don’t write it, they don’t really learn it (cram->pass->forget). Of course the japanese people are up korean people’s asses that korean people can’t write their own name in hanja.

    • Reply
      22 May, 2013 at 9:55 PM

      In my head I just predicted what would happened if i tried to learn/remember korean without any knowledge of hanja. My prediction was that I would work hard at first and try to learn/memorize words and then I would forget or misremember or whatever, I would repeat this for a while, then eventually I would burn out from the frustration and whatnot and then give up and then I will forget everything I put in all this effort to remember in the first place. I felt like if I at least had hanja with me, that would give me the extra hope… with hanja there would be no way that I would give up and it would be “harder” to forget words (links are links) and there would be no wasted effort (with the give up and forgetting with without thehanja) at least compared to the scenario I made in my head. That was I learned japanese first because that to me seemed the fastest way to learn hanja in the sense they actually use it everyday and everywhere. while in hanja you’re learning something that’s there but it’s not as transparent as in japanese. Transparency is very important to me! So right now I am at the stage of learning korean but i’m learnig korean and japanese right now and i’m not as motivated to learn korean as i do with japanese and i currently don’t have a goal to reach fluency in korean which is down the line even if i were focusing only on korean right now (I just don’t have a desire and i know the fluency requires a lot of time… not studying but just time and contact with the language). I totally am glad I chose this path to learn korean… hanja just gives me that extra thread to prevent me from quitting. something about hanguel only is very demotivating for me. I just think about what will happen down the line with frustrations and forgetting and quitting.

  • Reply
    26 May, 2013 at 10:29 PM

    As I am reading through the comments on this post I feel more and more discouraged.I have no knowledge of Chinese nor the Japanese language..I hear lots of people telling me to give up because if I don’t know hanja I will not be able to learn Korean at all.
    Isn’t there really a way to learn Korean without having to learn Chinese/Japanese ?

    • Reply
      27 May, 2013 at 5:35 PM

      Hi Oana! 😀 Don’t feel discouraged!! Actually I think the common opinion is that knowing hanja is super useful / helpful but definitely NOT NECESSARY to learn Korean. ㅋㅋㅋ I know of people who are fluent in Korean but they have zero knowledge of hanja. They don’t even know which words are hanja and which are native Korean words but the inability to differentiate them doesn’t affect their fluency! ㅋㅋ

      • Reply
        27 May, 2013 at 9:26 PM

        Thank you for replying.
        Knowing that there are people there who speak fluently and don’t know hanja makes me feel a lot better ^^

  • Reply
    31 May, 2013 at 3:30 PM

    I respectfully disagree. Learning Chinese Characters is near essential for learning Korean for something not oriented with Chinese. Not only is it useful in learning Korean, it also helps in learning Japanese, Vietnamese, Hakka, Taiwanese, and Mandarin, at least in Taiwan, my opinion!

    Focusing on some odd 2,000 Characters to bridge the gap in at least four languages and not having to relearn previously 6000+ studied vocabulary by simply using Hanja mnemonics is fantastic. Believe me, I’ve tried my best to not directly study Hanja in the beginning. That process was grueling and fruitless. With hanja, it’s difficult to unlearn the vocabulary if you apply it logically.

  • Reply
    6 May, 2015 at 10:11 PM

    I am getting to the point in my Korean studies where I am feeling quite blocked at progressing further due to my lack of knowledge of 한자. I have the choice of either memorizing thousands of new words, or of learning several hundred of the most common 한자 roots. What way is easier? Obviously to learn the several hundred 한자. This is a clear fact. I am thinking it is not realistically possible otherwise.

  • Reply
    5 December, 2015 at 8:13 AM

    Having to learn a non-alphabet for korean is pretty silly. Using an alphabetic script is way better, especially because it is simple to compose and quicker to read.

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