I am studying to go to Yonsei Korean Language Program in summer. I took a look at their textbooks, and they were teaching -니다 form. I read your note and understand the difference between -니다 and 아/어요 form. My question is, which one should I have learned first?
The quick answer is: the most practical one that meets your goal. There is no "right way," just more "efficient way" to learn a language. And it depends on many variables, so there is no straight answer.
But based on my approximately 15 years of experience teaching Korean to "foreigners," I can share my own conclusion: I recommend everyone to learn Polite & Formal style first (합쇼체 • -니다 form). Here are a few reasons -- and how you will progress into Polite & Informal style (해요체 • -아/어요 form).
- It's safer. Korean language is based on respect to another human being. You cannot go wrong when you use polite, formal tone of speech.
- It's easier. You will have less irregular verbs to deal with. It means better chance for you to speak accurately and get your points crossed.
- It's sooner. Less irregular verbs and more accurate Korean to communicate with means that you can speak Korean sooner than later -- and more.
- It helps you build good, solid foundation. As you progress, you will begin to learn contractions, abbreviations, and spoken style - naturally. Without forcing yourself as much, barring a few expressions, the transition happens rather smoothly. When you learn the language other way around, the transition does not happen as smoothly, if not at all. You will forever sound inappropriate and wonder why Koreans skill plateaued.
- You learn faster. You may feel that it is slower in the beginning, but in the long run, you learn about 246% faster. (Study done over 2 years of period with about 600 students).
- You reach higher level of Korean language skill. Students with sold foundation, practicality and better understanding in the language in general tend to reach higher level.
- You learn culture and appropriateness. Because of certain elements and philosophy Korean language is based on, it appears that Polite & Formal style works more efficiently in acquiring language. After all, language is not just string of words. You must understand the culture behind it and use it appropriately depending on the context.
- It's more practical. Some students of Korean language argue with me on this; in fact, even natives do. It's understandable; and here's why:
We in general hang out with those who speak the "same language as we do" - thinking similar, sharing mutual interests and being the same age group. Eventually we develop friendship with this group of people, allowing us to speak a "casual-language" with each other.
Our lives evolve around people we immediately know: friends and family. So we feel that the casual language we are allowed to speak with them are the most practical one.
Note, I said "the casual language we are ALLOWED to speak." Being allowed does not mean you can and you should. If you are a student of Korean language, you probably are using casual tone of speech because you feel that you are ALLOWED. Nuh-uh. It does not work that way. The same goes for natives speakers. At least natives know the nuance and salvage themselves from embarrassing situations. You can't.
Meanwhile, as a grown-up - and as a foreigner who are learning Korean - it is very unlikely that you will speak -요 form only. If you already speak some Korean, you probably were in more situations in which you should have used -다 form.
At times you may not be sure if it's okay to use -요 form at all. In a situation like this, remind yourself with number 1 and 2 above: something about -다 form's being safer, easier and better to communicate accurately. Now that's practical.
What to do now
- If you are you not comfortable already, ask your Teacher to teach you Polite & Formal tone of speech.
- Ask your Korean-speaking friends to use Polite & Formal tone of speech with you. Tell them you want to practice it with them. If they refuse, they are not your friend. Seriously. Why wouldn't they want to help you?
- Keep on using Polite & Formal tone of speech until the other party says something about not needing to be so formal all the time. Change to -요 form.
Suggested Related Articles:
Practical Tone of Speech
Articles about Tone of Speech
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