I’m frequently asked how best to learn Korean and how difficult it is to learn, so I thought I’d post a quick Q&A for all of you who may be interested.
Is Korean difficult to learn? No, but it is very different in both grammar and sounds compared to English and other Western languages. That means that you should expect to spend much more time if you want to master Korean compared to learning Italian or Spanish.
Okay, then where should I start? You should start by learning the Korean alphabet, Hangeul (가 나 다 라 마 바 사…) Before you really master this, luckily very easy-to-learn, script you will not be able to learn Korean. Do this first and do this well. The Koreans have a saying called 시작이 반이다, which is equivalent to saying well begun is half done, or in Danish, where we have the exact same saying (Godt begyndt er halvt fuldendt.) Learn Hangeul and you’ll be well on your way to mastering Korean.
I know Hangeul, where do I go from here? From here you start learning the basics. Greetings, self-introduction, simple nouns related to your daily life and basic verbs. You don’t need to know many words before you can create a ton of different sentences. It’s all about recognizing a pattern and changing the components. If you can say I have a car, you can just switch car for house, and you have a brand new sentence. Be sure to play around with this in the beginning. Develop a curiosity for what everything around you is called in Korean, and make flashcards or use Memrise for learning basic Korean vocabulary. My first 500 words in Korean from TTMIK is also a good place to start building your vocabulary.
What materials should I buy? There are tons of great resources out there and what you need depends on your learning style and whether you’re learning alone or taking a class. If you’re learning alone, I strongly recommend Integrated Korean Beginner as your Korean primer. Feel free to supplement that with the Level 1 and Level 2 book from Talk To Me In Korean.
If, on the other hand, you’re learning in a classroom, I prefer the beginner book in the Sogang Korean series. It comes with a workbook too, which is great for practicing at home. Of course this will be up to your Korean teacher to decide, but this series focuses on natural speaking and is very intuitive.
How do I navigate all the resources online? There are many great resources out there. The best and most comprehensive is TTMIK http://www.talktomeinkorean.com. They have material for all levels and guide you through all the obstacles you will encounter when learning Korean. Youtuber BillyGo is also a great Korean teacher, who has the advantage of having learned Korean as a foreign language himself, and therefore can relate to what may be difficult for English speakers.
I have no Koreans to practice talking with. What do I do? Don’t worry. There are many ways to fix this. In the beginning, you won’t be able so say much anyway, so having someone to talk to is not that important when you’re first starting to learn Korean. When you then gradually start building some Korean speaking confidence and want to speak to someone, there are plenty of apps that make this possible for those who live in areas with few or no Korean speakers. I particularly recommend the tandem language exchange app for this. The best way, of course, is having a real language partner with whom you can meet with frequently but that may not be possible and the tandem app is the next best thing.
How much time should I spend per day if I want to become fluent? This will vary greatly from person to person but I recommend that people who are serious about wanting to learn Korean spend at least 1 hour (ideally 2 or 3) per day. I can already hear all of you thinking how impossible this is with jobs, family and leisure activities. Let me be completely clear: You will have to spend a lot of time learning Korean if you really want to learn. If you don’t want to prioritize learning Korean, you don’t want to learn it badly enough. Wishing you could speak a language and actually wanting to learn it are two very different things. I’ve met far too many people who just wished they could speak Korean but who were not willing to put in any of the time and effort that it requires.
Okay, I hear you but how do I make time for it? You plan! In order to make Korean stick, I find making Korean the first thing you do when you wake up and the last thing you do before you go to sleep to be very helpful. So, you set your alarm 15 minutes early and then from the beginning of the day spend those 15 minutes looking up words, reviewing vocabulary on Memrise, practice writing Hangeul in a notebook, or reading a few short sentences. Naturally as you improve, you will manage to do more in 15 minutes.
Then you go about your day, getting ready and perhaps thinking about your routine in Korean as you do it. You only have to know a few words for this to work.
On your way to work or school you listen to a Korean podcast. The grammar podcasts from TTMIK are ideal for beginners. As you gradually advance, challenge yourself by listening to their Iyagi series.
During your work day you spend 2 x 5 minutes where you review words or sentences in your notebook. Consider this an alternative to mindlessly wasting time scrolling facebook or instagram.
When you go and buy your groceries, think about what the items are called in Korean (if necessary, look them up) and practice saying the price out loud.
Finally, in the evening as close to bedtime as possible spend around 30 minutes actively learning something new. It can be a new page in your textbook or something similar. Then spend a few minutes before going to sleep and see how much of the new material you can recall.
There, it is perfectly possible to learn Korean while leading a busy life!
How can I optimize my Korean learning? Spend more time passively learning Korean. If you’re going to watch a makeup tutorial on Youtube watch it in Korean. Consider watching a Korean tv show instead of watching Friends reruns for the 37th time. Listen to Korean music and pay attention to the lyrics.
How long will it take for me to become fluent? This will depend on how many hours you manage to put into learning Korean. I consistently spent 2-4 hours per day and I felt relatively fluent after 1.5-2 years of learning. Language is constantly developing and therefore practically an inexhaustible resource, and I still continue to hone my Korean skills by spending several hours each day either reading Korean novels, watching the news, reading the paper, watching a Korean tv show or digging deeper into the Chinese root words Hanja, to better grasp the origin of the Korean words that I already know.
I hope you found my tips helpful. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or suggestions.