I’m a huge believer in using grammar as a tool for understanding and learning how to speak Japanese. So much so that I built a whole website about it. However, when I ran across a list of Korean irregular verbs while going through Google Reader, I began to wonder whether grammar is always a useful tool.
The list contains only 10 verbs, not nearly as many as I remember from my horrible experiences in High School Spanish. Still, that’s far more than the 2 in Japanese and the author mentions that he will continue to add to the list as time allows.
Speaking of Spanish, I shudder when I think back to memorizing all the various verb tenses in singular/plural and 1st/2nd/3rd person for each irregular verb. When I see a page that lists 200 common (not all!) irregular verbs, I can only think that learning grammar here becomes more of an hindrance than an aid.
Thankfully, Japanese grammar is simple and consistent enough to become a powerful tool for learning how to easily handle any arbitrary verb or adjective. But it’s good to keep in mind that it’s only a tool nonetheless. I think there’s a fuzzy line where too many exceptions, rules, and inconsistencies can render grammar a rather cumbersome and limited tool for the learner.
English and Spanish, I would say easily crosses that line. Personally, I’ve never used Pimsleur but there’s an argument to be made for learning how people say things without really understanding how the grammar works for some languages (not Japanese). After all, native speakers usually don’t know all the grammar rules for their language. They just know what sounds right from experience.
However, Korean grammar is kind of between Japanese and English in terms of complexity. There’s an excellent website called Luke Park’s Guide to Korean Grammar, which has slowly grown into a very nice resource. However, when I see 5 rules just to get the present informal tense when Japanese has none, I think, “Japanese is awesome!” and “Wow, Korean looks hard!”
II. Plain Form → Present Tense (Spoken)
1. For verbs with ㅏ/ㅓ and no final consonant, just take 다 off.
Exceptions: A verb with 하 as a final letter, 하 changes to 해.
2. For verbs with ㅗ/ㅜ and no final consonant, add ㅏ for ㅗ verbs and ㅓ for ㅜ verbs.
3. For a verb with 르 as a final letter, add ㄹ to a letter before 르 and 르 changes to 라 for ㅏ/ㅗ verbs and 러 for ㅓ/ㅜ/ㅣ verbs.
4. For a verb with l and no final consonant, change ㅣto 여.
5. For a verb with a final consonant, first take 다 off then add 아 for ㅏ/ㅗ verbs, and 어 for ㅓ/ㅜ verbs.
Since the rules are based on phonetic vowel sounds, maybe it’s better to just wing it and let your ears and listening practice do the work instead of your brain. I’d be interested in hearing people’s experiences in learning Korean.