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.
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.
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?