Koreans all understand, speak and write the same language which has been an important factor contributing to the spirit of national unity, which has characterized the Korean people. The grammar of the language resembles that of Japanese but here the resemblance ends. Both Koreans and Japanese use Chinese characters, along with their own alphabets, in their written language but spoken Korean bears no resemblance to either language. Linguistic and ethnological sources support the view that the Korean language belongs to the Ural-Altaic language group of central Asia which includes Turkish, Mongolian, Hungarian and Finnish.

The political and cultural influences of China upon Korea over the centuries have left an indelible mark upon both the written and spoken Korean language. A large portion of the Korean vocabulary comes from the Chinese culture, especially its Confucian classics, though it has been assimilated phonetically into Korean. For centuries, however, there was no distinct Korean alphabet, and Korean could only be written using an awkward system of Chinese characters which was so difficult to learn that only a few educated scholars were able to write the language.

King Sejong the Great (the 4th monarch of the Lee Dynasty of the Choson Kingdom) ordered his scholars to devise a simple method of writing down spoken Korean so that even the common people would be able to express their thoughts in writing. They successfully produced a set of symbols consisting of 11 vowels and 17 consonants. (in 1933 it was standarized to 10 vowels and 14 consonants.) The alphabet called han'gul, was introduced to the people in December 1443. Today it is acclaimed as one of the world's great literary achievements and the most remarkable phonetic alphabet ever produced.

This simple han'gul alphabet can quickly be learned so that reading Korean is not difficult even for a foreigner. This phonetic alphabet has enabled Korea to have one of the highest literacy rates in the world. The ease of printing han'gul and the development of han'gul typewriters and computers have brought communication skills within the realm of all Koreans.

Traditionally during the dynasty period, books were written in verticle fashion from the right to the left side of the page. All old Korean books and many new ones, too, begin where Westerners would expect to find the last page. Foreigners do find the Korean language difficult to learn but those who make the effort are rewarded by the responsiveness of the Korean people and by the added pleasure a greater knowledge of Korea gives.