Quirky reasons to learn languages other than Spanish, Part 1 of 3
Learn Korean Hangul or Bahasa for these rather non-traditional reasons
Language 1: 한글 (Hangul)
Korea has an alphabet of defiance
Prior to the Japanese occupation, Korean scholars used a complex system of writing to accompany their spoken language that borrowed heavily from Chinese Hanyu (汉语）
As many a person attempting to learn the Chinese writing system will tell you, it is a significant undertaking to learn to read or write. In order to read a newspaper in China, even after Mao attempted to simplify the language in the late 1960’s, it is estimated that you should learn 2,000 different ‘characters.’
The Koreans innovated upon the Chinese system, making writing more egalitarian by creating a phonetic alphabet, Hangul, which was used by merchants, women, and servants for practical matters.
Then in 1910, the Japanese solidified their invasion and swept through the country. By 1939, all Koreans were told to choose Japanese names. Korean libraries were burned, their palace made a destination for patriotic Japanese tourists, street signs were only in Japanese, and native crops were abandoned — on top of Imperial Japan’s human rights violations. The suppression of Korea’s language and culture stung as an insult layered upon their more physical atrocities such as the systemic sex slavery of the Comfort Women.
(By the way, if you Google this or use Wikipedia, the results will pull up fake news. Japanese nationalists continue to deny the existence of Comfort Women, despite corroboration from Americans, Nazis, Singaporeans, Chinese, and other 3rd party witnesses to the events. In turn, Korean Nationalists can be overzealous in providing evidence that hasn’t been fully vetted. Be careful about bias in what you read on this topic.)
After the Japanese Emperor surrendered in 1945, Hangul flourished, intrinsically tied to Korea’s sense of independent culture. It had been studied in secret and kept alive by rebels. For a scholarly and interesting deeper dive that is well-cited, I’d recommend this paper by Daniel Pieper on the Nationalism of Hangul.
Language 2: Bahasa Indonesia, Malayu and Bali
A surprisingly easy way to be popular in paradise
Despite Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malayu’s reputation as the easiest non-European language for English speakers to pick up, few people tackle it. Bahasa Indonesia is an amalgam language designed to simplify the linguistic differences in a nation of islands, and although locals are more likely to use Bahasa Malayu (often referred to as Malaysian) or Bahasa Bali or Java, Bahasa Indonesia is the Swiss-Army knife of the region.
In Bali, the top destination for new digital nomads, Lonely Planet-toting gap year backpackers, and women seeking to reenact Eat Pray Love, too few people tackle the language. Attempting to use Bahasa Bali, or even Bahasa Indonesia, for all its clunky connotations, might have a more profound effect than you’d realize.
While learning snippets of the local language will nearly always make you beloved in countries other than France, it’s good to consider the specifics of Bali for a moment. Bali is a Hindu island in a Muslim country that is actively growing more conservative. The Western world loves to discuss the contrast and spend their money exclusively on that island, despite Indonesia having many amazing cultural sites, including Borobudur!
To say that foreign tourism has not increased tensions between the two local religions is naive, if not willfully ignorant. In 2002 and 2005 suicide bombers targeted popular tourist destinations and killed over 200 people and injured 300 more. The government cracked down on the extremist groups involved in order to revitalize the shaken tourism industry, but it is worth noting that despite few incidents toward foreigners, the government is becoming less and less secular and beginning to punish non-Islamic activities and people, including homosexuality as a crime.
If you go to Indonesia, don’t only go to Bali. Learn some of the language and local etiquette. Wear clean and modest clothing, even in Bali. Balinese people are regularly horrified by what tourists wear (or don’t wear) into their places of worship. A little respect for the local culture will go a long way not only in changing the reputation of Western tourists but might also help deescalate the resentments between locals.
This series will continue with two further parts introducing another four languages, and I will link them here after they’re published (or you can always follow me!)
In Part 2, learn about how:
In Russian, nicknames lengthen you! and how Appalachian English is the best linguistic fossil evidence for how we think British English was once spoken
In Part 3, we’ll discuss that:
Cantonese is a language being suppressed, and takes puns to a levels unattainable in English and how Tagalog is soft and beautiful on the ears