Why Russian and Korean Are Very Phonetic but English and French Aren’t

All languages that people speak today import new words from other languages every day. Unless you are a linguist, you probably don’t realize that all languages have “rules” (even if they aren’t written) for how to import words from foreign languages.

In the American version of English, we first try to say the word the way it is said in the foreign language (even though we often get it wrong). Then, if the foreign word is from a language that uses the same alphabet as we have, we pull in the foreign spelling too.

The result is that spoken English has more exceptions to the rules (it becomes less phonetic) every year.

So what is an alphabet really? An alphabet is just a system for writing sounds on paper. Good alphabets have a fixed set of rules and very few exceptions.

When Koreans decide to import an English word, they try to say it the way it sounds to them, but then they spell it phonetically, using the Korean alphabet. So Korean stays phonetic because it doesn’t share an alphabet with other languages.

Russian stays fairly phonetic because it only shares an alphabet (sort of) with a few highly related languages.

English is still fairly phonetic, but French has imported so many foreign words that written French is only slightly related to spoken French.

When you learn Russian or Korean, you pretty much only have to learn the spoken language, and then the written version is the same thing. When you learn French, it’s pretty much like learning two different languages.

We have a related article on why the Cyrillic alphabet makes learning Russian easier.

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    i’ve seen your reviews of the different programs to learn foreign languages but sadly they don’t have the one i want to learn (Korean) or they are just too expensive so i’ve been learning Korean in a diffrent program, a free program actually, and i think it’s very good but i’d like if you made a review of them.

    Thank you beforehand

    Pd: They’re page is

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      Karla –

      Thanks for suggesting we work on Korean! It certainly is a popular language and one we have in the list of languages to consider developing next. I’ll also add to our list of reviews to make yet since it only appears to be connected with learning Korean only it will likely have to wait until we are finished reviewing more diverse language learning methods. If you want to learn spoken Korean Pimsleur makes a series of language lessons that will certainly be helpful for speaking with Koreans. talktomeinkorean seems like it might be more interactive so you will likely find it very helpful for learning to read Korean than Pimsleur. Since you are taking the course maybe you could offer some feedback on how well it is working for you to learn Korean. What do you think are their benefits and where do you think something better could be put into place for a more effective learning experience for you?


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    I hope that English linguist in a symposium of the UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE can suggest a simplification of the language make it Phonetic.
    It is embarrassing that in English Dictionary along with the word is always in parenthesis the way it should be pronounced.
    I do not know French but I believe that once you learn the rules and morphology of the language, you will be able to write it without difficulty.

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