The Korean language
The language uses the Hangul (also known as Chosongul) alphabet, invented in the 15th century to replace the Chinese characters used previously. Later, Hangul would be forbidden for political reasons until the beginning of the 20th century. The Hangul alphabet consists of 40 symbols, and is therefore easier than the symbols of Chinese. These Chinese characters are still used by some, for example in universities and among intellectuals. A significant proportion of Korean vocabulary – approximately 60% – is borrowed from Chinese, and there are more and more borrowings from other languages such as Japanese, English and French. However, this is not the case with the Korean spoken in North Korea.
Each region of the two Koreas has its own particular dialect which vary to differing extents from the official language. Korean is read from left to right and from top to bottom, with the exception of poetry which is still read as it was traditionally, from right to life or in columns.
Foreign languages in Korea
English is very widely spoken among young Koreans, who learn it from primary school age and often participate in exchange programmes with English-speaking universities. In college, students may study a further foreign language for two years: Japanese, French, German or Spanish. As Korea was a colonised by the Japanese between 1910 and 1945, many Koreans still speak Japanese.