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What Language Do They Speak in South Korea?

What Language Do They Speak in South Korea

Key Takeaway

Official LanguageKorean
Secondary Languages SpokenEnglish (commonly taught), Chinese, Japanese
Language OriginAltaic language family
Percentage of South Koreans98% who speak Korean as their native language


South Korea, a beautiful nation known for its rich history, cutting-edge technology, and cultural exports such as K-pop and K-dramas, has one primary language that binds its people together – Korean. But what is the history behind this language? And are there other languages spoken within its borders? Dive into this guide to explore the linguistic landscape of South Korea.

Historical Background of the Korean Language

The Korean language, or ‘Hangugeo’ (한국어) in Korean, is an East Asian language spoken by about 77 million people, mainly in the Korean Peninsula. Its roots can be traced back to the Altaic language family, which also includes Turkish, Mongolic, and Tungusic.

Brief Timeline of the Korean Language Evolution:

  1. Old Korean (1st to 10th century AD): The earliest records of the Korean language, characterized by its distinct script.
  2. Middle Korean (10th to 16th century): This period saw changes in phonology and grammar.
  3. Modern Korean (17th century to present): Present-day Korean with significant influence from foreign languages, especially Chinese and English.

The Birth and Rise of Hangul

In 1443, King Sejong the Great introduced a new writing system known as Hangul. Prior to this, Korean was written using Classical Chinese characters called ‘Hanja’.

Why was Hangul Introduced?

  • Ease of Learning: Hangul was designed so that ordinary people could easily learn and use it.
  • Cultural Identity: Hangul gave Koreans a unique identity, distinct from Chinese culture.

Comparison Between Hangul and Hanja

OriginCreated by King Sejong in 1443Derived from Classical Chinese characters
ComplexitySimpler and phoneticComplex with thousands of characters to memorize
Usage TodayUsed for most writings and publicationsUsed mainly in academic and legal settings

While Hangul is the dominant writing system today, Hanja is still used occasionally, especially in academic and legal contexts.

Linguistic Characteristics of Korean

Korean is a unique language with its own set of grammatical rules and structures. Here are some notable linguistic features:

  • Agglutinative Language: Korean adds various particles or suffixes to the root of a word to express grammatical relations.
  • SOV Structure: The typical sentence structure in Korean is Subject-Object-Verb.
  • Honorifics: The language has a complex system of honorifics to show respect to elders and superiors.

Other Languages in South Korea

While Korean is the primary language, there are also pockets of secondary languages spoken in South Korea due to reasons like tourism, business, and migration.

Languages and Their Influence in South Korea:

  • English: Widely taught in schools and used in business settings. Many signboards in tourist areas are bilingual (Korean and English).
  • Chinese: With an increasing number of Chinese tourists and residents, Chinese is becoming more prevalent.
  • Japanese: Due to historical ties and cultural exchange, Japanese has influence in South Korea.
LanguageReason for Influence
EnglishEducation system, Business ties, International communication
ChineseIncreasing tourism, Business connections, Chinese expat community
JapaneseHistorical ties, Cultural exchange, Business interactions


South Korea’s linguistic landscape is dominated by the Korean language and its unique script, Hangul. However, with globalization and international ties strengthening, other languages like English, Chinese, and Japanese are also leaving their mark. As South Korea continues to play a vital role in global affairs, its language and culture will surely captivate even more audiences worldwide.