Monday, October 17, 2005

Who is 을지문덕(乙支文德)?

Today on the Korean Lab Web site I read about 乙支文德(을지문덕) 장군, a Koguryo general who supposedly destroyed 1.13 million Chinese troops in battle in 612 A.D. (Sometimes the figure is quoted as 2 million troops.) In the story a reference was made to the 요하江 (Liao He), a river in present-day China where the battle started; then to 압록강, the river on the present-day border between China and Korea where Koguryo troops retreated to; and finally to 淸川江(청천강), a river farther south of 압록강, just north of the city of 안주, where Koguryo troops made their last stand and where the Chinese army was defeated. I was curious to know where 청천강 was, so I searched the Web looking for a good map of Korea's rivers.

I found 청천강, but I did not find a good map of Korea's rivers. I did find a pretty good Map of North Korea, though. I also found a interesting Web site for elementary school students that talks about some of important people in Korean history, including 乙支文德(을지문덕). The name of the site is 역사인물: 초등 사회 학습.

One of the things that trips me up when listening to or reading Korean are references to Korean people and places. When I hear the names of people and places I do not know, I get confused because many times there are no explanations for the names. The commentator or writer just assumes that any Korean with at least an elementary school education knows the person or place and the story behind it. When Koreans hear the name, 을지문덕, they automatically switch their brain to the "history mode" and already have a general idea of the story that will follow. Foreign learners of Korean, on the other hand, may hear the word 을지문덕 and think it is some kind of Korean rice cake. By the time the foreigner figures out that the commentator is talking about history, not food, the program is half over.

I think it is important that non-Koreans learning the Korean language also learn about the important people in Korean history, on a level at least as good as Korean elementary school students. I think it will greatly improve their listening comprehension. Here are some lists to start with:


  1. Interesting lists, but there are a fair number of repeat entries there.

  2. Yes, one of the lists repeats some names, but it also includes some important names that were not in the other lists, such as, 김구.