Posts Tagged ‘Korean’

This language is easy or difficult because I said so

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2015 at 4:05 pm

An American kid I met in Phnom Penh today told me Korean language was not difficult. He said, “Easy to read, easy to write.” I told him, “The alphabet is easy. But Korean is the single most difficult national language in the world, rated category 6 by Defense Language Institute.” He disagreed, and repeated that Korean was easy. This is a pet peeve of mine. People who tell you Korean is easy are either: lying, insane, comparing it to nothing, or, as is the most common case, speak it at an incredibly superficial level. With 12 registers of common speech, Korean is incredibly complex and difficult to learn to any significant level of fluency. But, to determine the difficulty of learning a particular language we don’t need my opinion or his. Every expert source I have checked has listed Korean in the highest band of language learning difficulty.

The National Security Agency (NSA) classifies Korean as one of the most difficult languages to learn. Defense Language Institute (DLI) ranks Korean as category 4, the highest level of difficulty, requiring 64 weeks to learn. Arabic and Pashto are also category 4 languages, but somehow no one ever says that Arabic and Pashto are easy to learn. The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) rates Korean as a category 5, the hardest category in their system, requiring 88 weeks to learn. On the same scale, Pashto was category 4, requiring only 44 weeks to learn. Apparently, some experts think Pashto is easier than Korean, and yet no one ever says that Pasto is easy. The Cranberry Letter rates Korean 9/10 in difficulty. On the same scale, Mandarin was only 8/10 and Pashto only 7/10. Anyone who tells you Korean is easy could probably master Pashto in a matter of weeks.

Most people who tell you Korean is easy are generally basing this evaluation on the writing system. The Korean alphabet, Hangul, is a phonetic writing system, which includes only 24 letters, and can be learned in a day or a week, misleading beginners into believing Korean language is easy. English also has an alphabet of less than thirty letters, as do most western languages. Does this mean that if you have knowledge of the Latin alphabet you can say Hungarian is easy?

The guy is lucky he still has his teeth

While claims that Korean is easy will set me off like a firecracker, another way to send me into a ballistic fit is to tell me that a language is difficult which is actually easy.

An American friend of mine bought a house in the Dominican Republic and has been living there several months per year, for the last decade or so. At a dinner I was attending, he told his family, most of whom don’t speak a foreign language, ‘Spanish is so hard. There are so many words, more than English.” And as proof, he gave the example, “In English there is one word for ‘eat’ but in Spanish there are four.”

It is common knowledge that Spanish is one of the easiest languages for English native speakers. Actually Dutch and Afrikaans are the easiest major languages (Major language being the national language of a country) for speakers of English. But Dutch and Afrikaans aren’t languages widely studied outside of their home country. For most US Americans the first choices for language learning are French or Spanish, whereby Spanish is the easier of the two. Spanish is linguistically easier than French, easier to spell and pronounce, and the cognates are more obvious. A lot of research has been done on the influence of culture on language learning. Many experts believe understanding a culture makes learning a language easier. Most Americans have a lot of exposure to Spanish language and culture, between Spanglish songs on the radio to TV shows and movies which deal with Mexico or Latin America. Or, they may have been exposed to one of the 54 million Hispanics who live in the US.

All of the above factors make learning Spanish particularly easy for US Americans. But, once again, we don’t need my opinion. Let’s check with the experts. The NSA ranks Spanish as the easies of the critical languages. DLI categorizes Spanish as category 1, needing only 26 weeks to learn. FSI ranks Spanish as category 1 and requires only 23-24 weeks to learn.

As for my friend’s claim that Spanish has more words than English, this is also false. Nearly every reliable source you can find will tell you that English has more words than Spanish, by a tremendous margin. The Global Labguage Monitor sets the number of words in the English language at 1,025,109.8. “It has been estimated that the vocabulary of English includes roughly 1 million words” (, 2015). A CNN report claimed that “web 2.0” which was officially added to the English language in 2009 was the one millionth word. (Sutter, 2009).

If we look at the most authoritative dictionaries of the two languages, we can see that The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words; 615,100 definitions, whereas, Diccionario de la Real Academia Española has 100,000 words. Centro Cervantes recognizes DARE as a source, suggesting that there are 93,000 words in the Spanish language. (Bernárdez, 2014) The same article goes on to explain the obvious difficulty of counting how many words there are in a language, do plurals and singulars of the same word count twice? What about verb conjugations? Given the various methods of counting, Centro Cervantes came up with a variety of figures, the largest of which was 500,000 words, still only half the number in the largest estimates of the English language.

Spanish has four words for eat and English only has one? True, if you ignore ALL of the synonyms: attack, binge, bite, chew, chow, consume, devour, dine, feed, inhale, nibble, pick, swallow, absorb, banquet, bolt, breakfast, cram, digest, dispatch, gnaw, gorge, gormandize, graze, have a bite, have a meal, indulge in, ingest, lunch, masticate, munch, nibble, nosh, overindulge, ruminate, scarf, scoff, snack, sup, wolf, break bread, chow, down, dispose of, feast upon, gobble up, have a meal, make a pig of one’s elf, partake of, peck at, pig out, polish off, pork out, put away, stuff ones-self, take food, take in, take nourishment…

Learning any language takes a lot of hard work and dedication. And most people won’t master more than one second language in a lifetime. So from that standpoint, we could say that all languages are hard to learn. But the relative difficulty of one language over another is not based on opinion or personal experience. Experts have spent years and years comparing and analyzing languages and have come to very similar conclusions. By any ranking system in existence, Spanish is one of the easiest and Korean is one of the most difficult major languages to learn. And without any doubt, my Amercan friend who said Spanish is hard, should NEVER attempt to learn Pashto.

Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of sport, writing his dissertation on comparative forms of Chinese wrestling. He is martial arts and adventure author living in Asia, the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.
The Monk from Brooklyn, the book which gave Antonio his name, and all of his other books, the book available at His book, Warrior Odyssey, chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia, including stories about Khmer and Vietnamese martial arts as well as the war in Burma and the Shan State Army, is available at
See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on
Brooklyn Monk fan page
Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE
Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)

Antonio and His Languages

In Uncategorized on May 4, 2014 at 11:28 am

By Antonio Graceffo, (The Brooklyn Monk)


A lot of people have asked about my languages, which ones I speak, which ones I speak well, and so forth. I have seen interviews or heard myself being introduced on radio shows and things where the claims were blown a bit out of proportion. So, to set the record straight, here is the truth, along with links for scrutiny.
Languages: English, Chinese, German, Spanish, Thai, Khmer, Italian, French, Vietnamese, and Korean
English: Speaks, reads and writes English at native speaker level
Link to video of Antonio Speaking English:
Chinese: Chinese at HSK level 4 level reading, HSK level 5 listening and speaking. Exam results available on request. Admitted to PhD program where all courses, papers, and research are in Chinese. Has distinguished himself as a presenter in Chinese and a diligent researcher (letters available upon request)
PhD presentation in Chinese at Shanghai University of Sport

German: Speaks German at high level of fluency, Attended School of Translation and Interpreting , the University of Mainz, GErmersheim, Germany, 1993-1996 conducted research on second language acquisition theory, under Dr. Kiraly, worked as a freelance and contract translator, and worked in the foreign language department of Deutsche Telekom
Antonio Speaking German, telling the story of his many year martial arts odyssey in Asia

Spanish: Speaks Spanish at advanced level, studied at Universidad Latina, Costa Rica, and Spanish/German translation school in Salamanca. Antonio has spoken Spanish since childhood.
Conducting martial arts interview in Spanish

Thai: Speaks Thai at upper intermediate level. Has conducted extended field research on Automatic Language Growth, using Thai for a base, under the direction of David Long of AUA Bangkok.
Conducting a martial arts interview in Thai

Khmer: Intermediate level. Antonio spoke Khmer better when he lived in Cambodia, but of all languages, Khmer is the one he uses the least outside of Cambodia, so his ability has regressed quite a bit. Recently, Antonio has been returning to Cambodia to train with the national wrestling team and he was forced to begin listening, if not speaking, Khmer again for communication.
Antonio conducting martial arts interviews in Khmer

Antonio Conducting martial arts interviews in Khmer

Italian: Speaks Italian at upper intermediate level of communication but with poor grammar. Antonio was raised non-strict bilingual, with Italian and English.
Conducting martial arts interview in Italian

French: Speaks French at upper intermediate level. Can communicate well, but with poor grammar and pronunciation.
Conducting martial arts interview in French

Vietnamese: Studied Vietnamese and passed upper intermediate exam, however, pronunciation is still extremely difficult, making communication difficult
Antonio Graceffo speaking Vietnamese

Korean: While living in Busan, Korea, Antonio took private Korean lessons at Dong A University. He passed the intermediate exam in Korean but cannot speak Korean, however, Antonio has used Korean to help him understand and explore Chinese as well as the relationship between Chinese and Korean and Vietnamese and Chinese.
Has also studied Russian, but only to lower intermediate level and now cannot speak Russian, but can still read Cyrillic alphabet which has proved useful for research in Mongolian wrestling.
Linguistic Publishing: Published approximately 200 articles in the field of second language acquisition as well as language specific articles. Antonio has done a lot of field research on ALG Automatic Language Growth theory. In the field of second language acquisition he focuses on the area of listening. His articles have appeared in Asian Geographic magazine and even the journal for UN interpreters.
Link to language articles:
Linguistics videos: Produced over 70 Youtube videos dealing with linguistics and language acquisition
CAM TESOL (2013): Antonio’s greatest achievement in the field of second language acquisition was presenting a on listening at CAM TESOL, the largest English language teaching conference in Asia.
Link to Antonio’s presentation video:


Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of sport, writing his dissertation on comparative forms of Chinese wrestling. He is martial arts and adventure author living in Asia, the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.
Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at
See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on
Brooklyn Monk fan page
Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE
Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)