Korean is the official language of North Korea and South Korea, and is also spoken in Chinese provinces bordering North Korea and in Eastern Russia. A total of around 80 million people speak Korean worldwide. The Korean language is often thought to be a 'language isolate' – a language which has no clear relatives. As a result of contact with Chinese, Korean was originally written with adapted Chinese characters, however in the 15th century a Korean alphabet was devised, and this continues to be used today. Understanding the cultural and philosophical symbolism of the alphabet is as important for learners as mastery of the alphabet itself. The alphabet consists of vowels and consonants which are combined to produce a syllabic block. Vowels are represented by three elements which are symbolic of oriental cosmology (heaven, earth, human), while consonants symbolise speech organs (lips, teeth, tongue, throat). There is also an important system of honorifics to denote status and convey politeness. The Korean community in Australia is relatively young and newly-arrived, with the majority of those born in Korea having only arrived in the last decade. Many of these are students. Support for Korean language teaching in schools has paralleled the growth of the Korean community, although most school programs are aimed at second language learners (with no Korean background) rather than background or first language learners. More generally, interest in many aspects of Korean culture is growing. The popularity of Korean pop music (K-pop) is responsible for increasing awareness of Korean culture amongst young Australians, and has ignited interest amongst many in learning the language.

Number of people in Australia who speak this language at home: 79,784 (ABS Census Data, 2011)

Language Category: Asian Languages

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