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Chinese Script and Korean Language Ability

Posted April. 08, 2010 07:00,   


Since 2005, the Doosan Group has tested entry-level job applicants on their comprehension and writing ability in Chinese characters. This is based on the conglomerate’s belief that such ability is necessary to better understand growingly important Asian markets. University graduates seeking jobs at Korea’s five major business lobbying organizations, including the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Federation of Korean Industries, or major companies such as Hyundai Heavy Industries, Hyundai Mipo Dockyard and the Kumho Asiana Group, must also take such a test. The Samsung Group gives extra points to job applicants who possess a superior knowledge of Chinese script.

The ability to read and write Chinese characters helps in doing business with Chinese, Japanese and Taiwanese companies or traveling in or conducting human exchanges with those countries. Even if one does not speak Chinese or Japanese, he or she can enjoy a minimum level of communication with people from the three countries by writing Chinese characters. The simplified characters used in China can be learned more easily than the traditional Chinese script that Korea uses. Certain entrepreneurs say young people with a better understanding of ideographic Chinese characters have a superior ability to express their ideas in a more compressed way and boast moderation and depth in their language usage.

The Toegye Studies Institute and the Association of Traditional Cultural Studies of Korea say their tests show students learning Chinese characters have better Korean-language skills. They taught two classes of seventh graders with existing textbooks that show Chinese characters in less than 10 percent of the text for 10 months. Two other classes used supplementary textbooks using 1,000 basic Chinese characters. An evaluation of Korean-language vocabulary showed that those who learned more Chinese characters scored on average 8.3 points higher than those who did not. Knowing Chinese script results in higher understanding of terminology, and helps students to better study not only the Korean language but also other subjects such as social studies, history and science.

Hangeul is the Korean people`s proud alphabet that should be cherished. Yet many Korean words are derived from Chinese characters, and using hangeul only often makes it difficult to understand word meanings and leads to plenty of homonyms. Acquiring basic ability in Chinese script will help young Koreans in the future. As Asia’s global status rises rapidly in the 21st century, the ability to use Chinese characters can directly affect individual and national competitiveness in Korea just as much as English-language skills.

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-hwal (shkwon@donga.com)