How to Learn Korean

Depending on what your first language is, Korean language can be quite a challenge to master. That’s why it’s best to use as many different angles of attack as possible. This will ensure you cover all the neccessary bases – grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation… Also, once you run into the same word or rule in two different places, it gets secured in your memory more firmly.

Before you do anything else, learn Hangul. I have seen this said million times, and that’s because it’s true. Don’t try to learn Korean using Romanization. Hangul is an alphabet, very alike to what are you reading right now, and not at all like Chinese characters that so many fear.

Very few learners bother to do this, but learn the names of the letters in Korean too. Native speakers are the best source of knowledge when it comes to learning a language so once you have the chance to ask them, you don’t want to waste your time trying to explain what you are talking about by hand-waving.

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How to learn Korean

  • Grammar The main place to get grammar from are Korean language textbooks. However, most textbooks have integrated approach; they try to teach not only grammar but pronunciation, vocabulary, and come with audio materials. That’s fine. For this purpose I use two books and I am really satisfied with both: Korean Made Easy for Beginners and Korean Grammar in Use: Beginning to Early Intermediate, both published by Darakwon and both containing an audio CD. Korean Made Easy was a first gift from Kimchi Man I ever got. I tried many other beginner textbooks and while these two are not perfect, they are by far the best I found even after all this time.Korean Made Easy for beginners Darakwon Korean Made Easy is good, but rather light on the contents. So if I need more in-depth explanations of some grammar points I turn to Korean Grammar in Use. However, this book has no vocabulary list so it’s not good for absolute beginner. Since both books use approximately same vocabulary it is best to start with Korean Made Easy and once you learn some Korean words from there then start supplementing with Korean Grammar in Use approximately half-way through.
    Korean Grammar in Use DarakwonThere is a wide selection of Korean beginner textbooks on Amazon, and even more in Korean online shops,so if you can’t find these exact Korean textbooks it’s nothing to worry about.
    Price: I got both books as a present from Kimchi Man but I believe you can get them for around 15$ (11€) and 12$ (9,5€). Other textbooks are similarly priced.
  • Vocabulary Your textbook will have some vocabulary but you will need much more even for the most basic of conversations. Phrasebooks offer little or no grammar but are full of practial words and phrases. I was lucky enough that I got a complimentary phrasebook with the Korean Made Easy textbook that I got as a present from Kimchi Man.Korean PhrasebookThere are plenty of free online dictionaries you can use. I like Naver’s two-way dictionary. It’s simple to use and search results are more than satisfactory for a beginner. Enter a word, either in English or Korean, into the left text-box and press the green button that says 검색.Naver dictionary search Korean translationNaver’s Korean-English/English-Korean dictionary gives you the word’s meaning, pronunciation, audio sample, word’s frequency and even hanja for advanced learners. It might be a bit confusing because user interface is in Korean so here’s a mini guide:Naver dictionary explainedIt is also a good idea to keep track of words of your own choice, not just the ones that are thrown at your by textbooks or courses. I keep my own vocabulary book with all the words I have learnt so far. Korean vocabulary dictionary book Morning GloryOn the right side I write down the word, its pronunciation, and meaning, and on the left I write sample sentences using that word, and any other notes I think are important.                        Korean vocabulary bookI find this to be more convenient to carry with me than flashcards but it’s basically the same thing, only difference being the format. So this is down to your personal preference.
    Price: Free! There are plenty of good online dictionaries you can use. All you need to do is choose the one you like. You might get lucky like I did and get a phrasebook with your textbook. Even if you decide to buy a phrasebook and an empty vocabulary book they are rather cheap.
  • Pronunciation You can pick up pronunciation from many different places: online lessons, K-pop music videos, Korean dramas, YouTube videos, etc. But if you are serious about improving your pronunciation nothing can measure up to Sounds of Korean: A Pronunciation Guide. You can read our review on this book which has more than 200 pages of nothing but pronunciation. It teaches you how to pronounce individual letters, how to position your lips and tongue, how the sound of each letter changes depending on it’s position in the syllable, word and sentence. And half of the book are audio exercises to help you put theory into practice.
    Price: I’ve seen the book range in price up to $25. Otherwise, you don’t need to spend any money on pronunciation either.
  • Fun I haven’t seen this ingredient mentioned elsewhere, but I believe the best source for learning a language is whatever you find fun! If you are a fan of a K-pop song, find the lyrics, try to translate it yourself, search for the words in dictionary, practice singing it, use it any way you can think of. Same goes for fans of Korean drama, movies, literature, and any other form of music. If you like fashion, find a blog about fashion in Korean language. If you love gadgets find an article about Samsung’s latest device. Practice saying cute and romantic Korean phrases with your boyfriend or girlfriend. etc. That is the most painless and easiest way to learn.

Online Resources for Learning Korean

  • Talk to Me in Korean is without a doubt best online course you will find. Each lesson is in audio format with accompanying pdf. You can also follow their YouTube channel for extra video lessons. However, I don’t believe this alone is enough to learn Korean. Their lessons just skimm both vocabulary and grammar. That is in no way criticism to their team, just an observation. Also, while their chatty approach to lessons is endearing, on second or third listening you will want to get to important points and not have to listen to banter over and over again.
  • Naver dictionary, Daum dictionary, wiktionary
  • Memrise This is a wonderful interactive online tool to supplement all your other learning tools. It uses mnemonic devices, which are created by members of the community (inluding yourself), to help you memorize grammar or vocabulary. You need to create an account. I am currently working on a list for TOPIK beginner vocabulary and I am loving it!
  • Anki This is not directly linked to Korean language but you can use it to make digital flashcards for any language you are learning. I don’t really like it, but many other do.
  • Educational Foundation for Korean Abroad Cute pdf files intended for Koreans living abroad to teach their children, but there is no reason why we can’t benefit from it as well, right?

The ones I didn’t really like

Rosetta Stone seems like a big waste of money to me. I spent few days using it and got nothing out of it. I don’t like this format of teaching where nothing is explained and I have to guess an aproximate meaning of each word and grammar point. It takes much more time than if they just gave me translation. Also, I found myself uncounciously cheating. For example, if the sentence said “The boy is running.” I would pick out the picture that had a boy in it, and have no idea what the rest of the sentence means. Oh, and it seems like they didn’t adapt their lesson format to Korean language. Using ‘a boy’ = ‘남자아이’ as a subject in a sentence is somewhat unnatural in Korean.

Pimsleur wasn’t my cup of tea either. I learn way too slowly just by repeating thigs like a parrot. Another thing that I hated is that they don’t explain the whole syllable – word difference in Korean. What I mean by that is that they break the pronunciation in syllables to make it easier for you to get the correct pronunciation. But again, while it might work in other languages, it doesn’t really work in Korean. For example, 감사합니다 is pronounced gam-sa-ham-ni-da. But 감, 사, 합, 니, 다 is pronounced gam, sa, haP, ni, da. So when they were pronouncing the whole word I heard ‘m’ and when they would break it down I heard ‘p’ and I thought I am going crazy.

As you can see, I tried many different sources and I am willing to try out more. So far, I found big faults with everything I tried, save for the things I mentioned above. If you are interested in my opinion about a textbook you intend to buy or free online source let me know and I will either tell you what I think or add it to the list of things I intend to try out in the future. Also, if there is some resource you especially like, let me know.

How are you learning Korean? What works the best for you?

You might also like:

learning Korean Korean vocabulary Korean grammar in use
How to type Korean Korean romantic expressions How to learn Hangul

33 thoughts on “How to Learn Korean

  1. This one is really interesting for me: Educational Foundation for Korean Abroad. I can’t believe they provide those pdf files for free and I don’t even have to be a member to download them. The ones with title “한국어” are really helpful. I’ve just downloaded a Korean children story book from the site. 사이트 소개 감사합니다.

    • Yes, I was really surprised as well. I asked Kimchi Man to read the page and tell me if they are really free. I was worried I was violating some terms by posting this. But no, it is free! :)

      They are still too advanced for me to use, but I was hoping many learners like you can benefit from it. I’m glad I was right.

  2. I began learning Korean on LiveMocha website then I found many websites but didn’t helping me too much.. After that I found Talk To Me In Korean website and I think it helpful too much ~

  3. I agree with you about the pimsleur and Rosetta Stone things.. it’s a pain in the a** just learning by hearing. I always thought I’m a good listener and could catch up every words I hear, but learning with pimsleur.. really! It works really good when I learnt German, but a big no no in Korean -_-

    anyway, thank you for sharing this :D I hope next year I’ll speak Korean as fluently as natives ^^

    • Yeah, I always feel I am missing something if I only learn by hearing, or only by reading.

      Good luck with your goal, and let us know how you’re progressing. :)

      Feel free to share any tips or ideas as well.

  4. Rosetta Stone really is a waste of money at time you are correct with that! I begged my Mum before I knew about ttmik to buy it for me and I felt cheated when I did get it and it taught me nothing.

    As for Pimsleur its really dry and it makes no sense most times. I need to start keeping a notebook like yours haha ^_^

    • It’s a real pitty you wasted your money on it before you found something that works. But it is great you have such enthusiasm for learning Korean! :)

  5. Oh I learned from ttmik, too ^^ And recently added busyatom to my source ^^ I’m still looking for a grammar and vocabulary book in the bookstore but I can’t find any :( Do you think it’s okay to learn vocabularies from dictionaries? Or is it not okay?

    • Anki or Memrise might be better for learning vocabulary. Using the spaced repetition is the best way to memorize vocabulary. However, dictionaries offer much more information on the word, so I don’t think you should ignore those either.

      • I’m glad you found it. For anyone else that may be looking, that vocabulary book is made by Morning Glory so just search Morning Glory vocabulary book (모닝글로리 단어장) on any Korean online stores.

          • hi! I like to use ttmik sometimes too, and agree that the best textbook is Korean made easy for beginners. If you finish this book, I’d recommend Korean made easy for everyday life, which is by the same author. Initially, I thought this book was just repeating the content of Korean mAde easy for beginners, but actually they introduce heaps more grammar really quickly, but also reinforce grammar and vocAbulary from the first book. It too comes with a CD. If you supplement this with extra vocab, you”ll be able to say so much in Korean! I also found I learnt Korean the most quickly when I started weekly Korean classes which are run through the universities here in Sydney for the community. You also get to meet other people interested in Korean. My course uses the textbooks I mentioned above.
            Does anyone have a recommendation of what book to used once you’ve finished Korean made easy for everyday life or equivalent level??

  6. I am leaning korean at sixth form. Crazy enough we have enrichment / extra curricular korean lessons and have native speakers who are also fluent in english to teach us. I love learning spelling and why things are spelt certain ways and pronounciation for correct romanized form. Because I find it fun it is easier. Though I started learning for the language it does help learning through kdramas and ksongs / finding how to translate and knowing korean people to correct you ^^

    • Also, is that version of the vocabulary book discontinued? Because I can’t find the one you have… I only see new versions of it I guess…?

  7. Pingback: Saranghae LovingKorean | Hanguk Babble

    • I got it at a local stationary store. It’s Korean brand Morning Glory. But I think stationary store and even stores that sell school supplies often have these empty vocabulary books. I used them in primary school when I was learning English.

      If you specifically want Morning Glory they have online store that ships inside Korea, and online shopping malls like Gmarket and 11st have Morning Glory items as well, and ship internationally.

  8. Pingback: About Hanguk Babble – Links to my favorite resources | Hanguk Babble

  9. I use TTMIK, Fun Easy Learn Korean 6,000 words App for androids, and Top 100 Most Useful Korean Verbs/adjectives.

    But for me I personally have a problem with keeping a well-organized notebook or having one in the first place to keep up my language-study process.

    • Since I use textbooks I usually just add notes on post-its in the book itself (I could just write on the book directly, but I prefer not damaging the book).

      However, just recently I started trying to organize my studying in one notebook since now I use several textbooks and online resources at once.

      So far I made my own notebook which I separated into three sections: grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary, and I write down everything I have trouble memorizing after a few tries. I will see how it goes and maybe even write a post about my experience.

    • I got it at a local stationery store. It’s Korean brand Morning Glory. But I think stationery store and even stores that sell school supplies often have these empty vocabulary books. I used them in primary school when I was learning English.

      If you specifically want Morning Glory they have online store that ships inside Korea, and online shopping malls like Gmarket and 11st have Morning Glory items as well, and ship internationally.

      To be honest, I too would like to know where to get Morning Glory stationery with cheaper shipping than EMS.

  10. I have to agree that Rosetta Stone is not worth it. I used the free trial and hated it. I use ttmik as well as an assortment of smaller books I’ve picked up at the Korean bookstore. I one I like the most is Living Language. I find it easy to use and understand. I also like the fact that it comes with a notebook to practice writing in and the audio CD’s are a plus.

  11. what did you do to be able to speak and understand korean language? I think you must be good in english too, to be able to learn korean. I am a Filipino, Im not that good in speaking/writing in english but I was able to comprehend what im reading. please help me

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