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A Hanja Classic – The Thousand Character Classic (천자문-千字文)

Posted in Education, History, Korean language by 노강호 on July 22, 2010


For students, The Thousand Character Classic (천자문 – 千字文) is a central text in learning hanja and appears in various publications and formats. Written in China, by Zhou Xingsi who lived between 470-521 AD, it comprises 250 phrases  each containing 4 characters. Although it is unclear when the Ch’oen Cha Mun ( The Thousand Character Classic) first appeared in Korea, its use in learning hanja dates back to 1583.

The Ch’oen Cha Mun has appeared as a cartoon and forms the basis of numerous comic books with a didactic  purpose. I recently found this excellent pocket size edition.

Pocket size Ch'oen Cha Mun

Clear text but as would be excpected, no English translation

Cost – 5000 Won.

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© Nick Elwood 2010. This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

Useful Hanja Sources 漢字

Posted in Korean language by 노강호 on June 14, 2010


I am absolutely no authority on hanja, the 1800 Chinese characters which have entered the Korean language and appear fairly frequently in newspapers and on hoardings. Everything I have learned about hanja has been self taught and probably pretty pointless given that I could have used my time increasing my Korean spoken ability – which despite much endevour is still totally at the totally beginner level. So, the sole purpose of any posts on this blog is to share information with others who are struggling to find meaning in those beautiful squiggles. This process is fraught with problems as I have never had the luxury of a ‘teacher’ who has been adept enough in English to render character meanings with precision and clarity and hence I find myself dragging bits of information from various sources few of which are designed for purely English speaking people.

There are numerous children’s television programs designed to teach children hanja, all of course, in Korean, and often based on the Thousand Character Classic. (千字文), as is a children’s play.

Link to: '문법천자문' Advert for the series book based on the 'Thousand Character Classic'

I’m quite sure this comic series has been produced for television and I’m currently trying to track it down.  Another useful source, a series of lectures for adults, can be found on Daum. As expected, it is in Korean. (http://pino.peeringportal.co.kr/pino/install/check.htm) The Daum site has a number of lectures and if the blue pop up blocks the screen, press the white characters (이곳) and then the blue arrow exposed underneath.

A book is also available which is used in many middle and high schools (생활 한자 쓰기 교본) which cost about 5000 Won. It provides fairly straight forward visual guides lines for the balancing of the various components within a character. This is is particularly useful for more complex characters.

Middle school and high school hanja book. (2007)

Useful for the visual guide to balancing internal components of more complex characters

The most important aspect of trying to learn hanja is writing characters out. It’s probably not possible to learn hanja, unless you have a photographic memory, without writing them – hundreds of times! As with all other forms of writing resources, for English, maths, music etc, Korean bookstores and stationers  provide a vast range of various types of hanja writing exercise books.

Exercise books for writing hanja

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What Character is That? Hanja Resource. 한자

Posted in Korean language by 노강호 on May 20, 2010


A useful resource

Whilst not a book on hanja, What Character is that? An Easy-Access Dictionary of 5000 Chinese Characters, is certainly useful to fill in the all too frequent gaps that occur studying hanja on your own. I have found this book illuminating for background information on Chinese characters as well as useful for little interesting snippets it provides on individual characters all of which can be vital as an aide to remembering them. Although the book is supposed to be easy to use, I’ve never quite mastered it, but as my needs are different to someone studying Pinyin Chinese, I haven’t found this a problem. I tend to delve in and out of the book and most useful is the section on radicals. Though the book is solely in English, I have still found it useful in the small array of tools necessary to study and clarify the meaning of hanja characters.

Counting the strokes

Identification by radical

Sorry for the poor quality photos.

Written by – Ping-gam Go

Simplex Publications. 1995

ISBN – 0-9623113-5-9-

Barnes and Noble Link

Simplex Publications http://www.simplexpublications.com

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Learning Hanja Through Pictures

Posted in Korean language by 노강호 on May 9, 2010

I bought this series of children’s Hanja in 2002 and I’ve been using them on and off for eight years. Currently I’m 20 pages into book 3 and at the earliest I should finish them when I retire. Don’t ask me why! I find scribbling hanja intensely therapeutic.

Children's Hanja: Study through Pictures.

The series will introduce you to around 1000 of the required 1800 main hanja characters. Book 1 is particularly useful and is self explanatory despite being written in Korean.  100 basic characters are introduced using between 2 and about 10 strokes. The characters are grouped in themes such as numbers, compass directions, seasons, etc. Characters are introduced individually and in groups of two. EG: 동,방. (東, 方), east, direction = 동방 – (東方), eastern. At the back of each book is a listing for all the introduced characters.

Each book has ample space for practicing the strokes, a relevant cartoon containing many Confucian Idioms plus small explanatory passages. However, unless your Korean is fairly good, you will need a Hanja dictionary to explain the characters.

Book 1

Cartoon strip

Characters introduced in Book 1

Book 2

Books 2 gets progressively more difficult as the required strokes increase.

Book 2, More complex characters

Book 3

Books 3-4 are no more difficult than the latter stages of book 2 the only problem is remembering characters.

Book 3

Back cover details

When I bought these books they were probably one of the most  popular middle school supplementary support materials. Once well into book 2 it takes time discovering the meaning of each character as this necessitates using a dictionary, discovering radicals and so forth. Asking Koreans isn’t always helpful as often they are unable to clarify the meaning adequately in English. Understanding hanja, unless you’re  in a unique position, is an uphill struggle. If you’re just wanting to learn some simple, basic hanja, book 1 is excellent.

Title: 어린이 한자 (100, 200, 300, 400)

Cost; 4000W each.

Published by 예림당.

Author 심경석. (엮음)

ISBN (전 4권) 89-302-9804-4

Published in 2001.

http://www.yearim.co.kr (The series is still available and the site information is in both Korean and English however, if you use the online catalogue you may have to key ‘한자’ into the search facility to find relevant information)

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Hanja 'Dictionary' (漢字) PDF

Posted in Korean language by 노강호 on April 14, 2010


Even after years of studying Hanja, I find my skills random and inconsistent. When I first started studying Korean and Hanja, 10 years ago, you had to buy ‘Proofing Tools’ in order to write in various languages and accessing anything on the Korean language or Hanja was difficult. Indeed, even five years ago the information for example, on Korean food or any historical period other than the Korean War, was limited. On my first trip to Korea in 2000, not that long ago, the biggest book shop in the UK, Foyles, only stocked 2 basic language books and a pretty crappy dictionary. A year later I bought a dictionary online and my choice was very limited. Much has changed today.

I started compiling Hanja characters I’d learned and still do today partly as you can’t always rely on IME interfaces and with numerous compatibility problems something can always go wrong. Currently, for example, I have no IME pad, it just doesn’t activate and I see on various forums this seems to be a widespread problem. Neither does ‘Help’ work  on my Language Bar. Often I have had difficulty in finding characters and have imported them from else where. So I have learned not to rely comprehensively on programs and packages as they are so apt to mutate or disappear.

So, I have included here  PDF  and ‘Word’ copies of my working Hanja dictionary which currently has 602 characters. Of course, I can’t guarantee it is 100 % accurate,but it may be useful to others as you can tailor the ‘Word’ copies to your own needs. You will note there are two ‘Word’ copies; on my pc I use the one with an additional side column in which are various notes. However, if you want a more user-friendly A4 size, the version with ‘no sidebar.’ is ready to go.



HANJA DICTIONARY AUGUST 2010. (no side-bar)

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Hanja (한자. 漢字)

Posted in Five Second Hanja (Theme), Korean language by 노강호 on March 30, 2010

An excellent and easy to use resource.

Bruce K Grant. Published by Hollym. ISBN – 0-930878-13-2

This has been my favourite hanja resource for a number of years and to such an extent that I recently ordered a second copy. The book is organised in stroke  order which means characters easily be found  especially if you are familiar with the radical.  Each character’s stroke order is provided plus a number of examples given highlighting the use of the character. The book lists the 1800 characters (basic 1 stroke through to 26)  taught in Korean schools. In addition, there is an interesting introduction to the history of Chinese characters and an insight into the various types of characters. The author also provides a radical index and a list of the hanja characters associated with Korean family names.

The book hardback and durable, and unlike some books I have bought in Korea, the quality of both the paper and printing is excellent.

A glimpse inside the book. My photo doesn't do it justice!

I originally bought a copy in Kyobo Books, Seoul, in 2002 and last year ordered a copy from Kyobo Books, in Daegu. My original copy cost 15000W (approx £8.80.) and the most recent copy was still 15000 won, something!

Link -for a more recent review with links to Amazon

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Am I Really That Dumb?

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Diary notes, Korean language by 노강호 on March 11, 2010

Korean alaphabet

I think I must be pretty dumb when it comes to learning foreign languages though the skills I do have are clearly above average. I claim this because recently, European Union research highlighted only 5% of British people can count to 20 in a foreign language. Apparently, Americans fair worse! As I can count to 20 in 4 languages, though in two that’s all I can do, I can designate myself a polyglot.

Anyone who has lived in Korea long enough and is battling to learn the language will have met those ‘linguists’ who seem to have picked the language up in a few weeks. Don’t they depress you! I met a chap last summer who told me he’d learned the Korean alphabet in ‘a couple of hours!’ My God! I’ve been struggling with it for years. When I tried to clarify whether he meant he was familiar with it or could actually read it, he insisted his abilities were sufficient to read text though not understand it.  I remember another passing acquaintance, a very colourful character, who insisted the language was ‘easy’ and all you had to do was add ‘yo’ onto the end of everything – which also  included English words. And then there are those who tell you their level even though they don’t go to classes and have never been assessed. Of course, they’re never a beginner like you are and usually pitch themselves at ‘intermediate’ or if a little humbler, ‘lower intermediate.’ This always reminds me of the cartoon character Peggy, from King of the Hill, who says she has:  ” an IQ of 180, give or take a few points because she assessed herself.”

No language is easy and Korean, with a totally different alphabet, three  speech levels, honorifics, dialects,  the numerous pronunciation exceptions created by certain sound combinations and then the fact that many sounds, ㄷ ㅌ ㄸ ㄱ ㅋ ㄲ ㅓ, to name a few, cannot be rendered by an English equivalent. Or at least this is my humble understanding. So it is neither ‘Daegu’ or ‘Taegu’ and indeed the only way to write the city’s name free of ambiguity is as  대구. Of course, if you want to be really flash you can write it in hanja, 大邱. Recognising sounds is another skill and one I find my weakest. The way Koreans cut short particular final consonants often causes me great confusion so I end up muddling ‘ginger’ with ‘thinking’ and ‘acorn curd’ with ‘eagles.’  Asking the market stall owner how much the ‘eagle curd’ is or, if they have any ‘thinking?’ raises eyebrows.  And ‘persimmons’ I am always confusing with ‘liver.’  Talking of 감 and 간, I still find it difficult to hear 홍시 and 혼시.   The thought I am a slow learner suddenly intensifies as I remember a two-hour session trying to hear and replicate ㄲ as in ‘꿀” (honey). And if you really want to test your ability to use the Korean alphabet try spelling the most difficult words of the lot – English loan words. I find  broccoli, coat, shirt and yogurt especially awkward. Yogurt! Now is that 요구르트 or 요그르트 or even 요구르터?


No matter how hard you study Korean you will constantly meet those who can speak it better than you. I don’t mean the pretentious linguist types who master the basics in five minutes – you rarely hear them speaking unless it’s in English and  telling you how easy Korean is, but those with a genuine talent for languages and who have also made an effort. You read about those who study every moment they can, running on the treadmill listening to dialogues or reciting conversations as they walk to work. It takes me all my effort not to fall off the treadmill and on the pavement, at least in the city, one needs all mental faculties to avoid being smashed to pieces by one of the numerous meals on mopeds maniacs. However, if you really want to impress people, Hanja has few foreign followers. You will have to learn Korean for a few years to truly impress other westerners but with Hanja you can do it with a handful of characters. I’ve met westerners who could speak fairly good Korean but didn’t know any Hanja and I know Korean adults whose Hanja skills are rudimentary. I currently know around 600 characters but at anyone time will have forgotten around a third of them and many of the characters comprising this third will change on a daily basis. The educated Korean should know approximately 1,800 characters; 900 learned in middle school and another 900 in high school. I’ve spent ten years, on and off, studying Hanja – all  a total waste of time especially as with every 5 new characters I learn I tend to forget three or four  old ones.  If I can study Hanja for another 30 years I ‘ll be ‘averagely educated.’   Some of my Koreans friends try to suggest that it is not how many characters I know that is important but that  fact I  study them.  Personally,  learning Hanja is a little like learning Latin or Greek, an exercise of the mind but with attractive squiggly little patterns. At the end of the day, Hanja provides few benefits to my spoken Korean but it certainly impresses both westerners and Koreans and to be honest I do get a little thrill when I see some characters and actually recognise them.

I take my hat off to those individuals who can communicate in Korean at any level especially as there are plenty of foreigners living in Korea who see no point at all in learning the language.  I even know one teacher, with post-graduate qualifications, who  insisted he came to Korea to better understand Korean culture and not to learn Korean. But those who warrant my greatest respect are those individuals who have  mastered the intricacies of  Korean from a  Speak Korean in Five Minutes, (paper back, 50 pages, no cassette), read on the flight to Korea.

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