Learning even the basic vocabulary of Korean language can, and usually does, take years, so it makes sense to carefully choose which words to learn first. After all, what use is it that you know how to name all the bones in human body in Korean when you can’t even greet someone yet (unless you’re a doctor, but even then it might be nice to greet your patients first) .
There are two organized ways to go about this. One is to start learning the most common words in Korean language. The other is to start learning the words that pertain to your interests.
I recommend you do both.
Luckily for you, Korean language does already have a compiled list of the most common words circling around the internet. It’s not perfect, since it was made by counting words only from news articles, which use somewhat different words than people do in everyday speech, but it’s a great place to start.
As far as the second way is concerned, well, most people are learning Korean language because some aspect of Korea interests them. And exploiting that interest will both give you the vocabulary you personally will need the most, and, just as importantly, make learning a lot more fun.
10 best ways to learn Korean vocabulary
1. Memrise (or ANKI)
Memrise is an online learning tool which uses spaced repetition and mnemonics in order to help your learn most effectively. That means it automatically spaces out word practice over longer and longer intervals of time so you don’t see the words too often, nor wait so long that you completely forget them while you practice. It also means you get to use mnemonic devices which are created by the community which considerably saves you time when recalling words.
You can create your own flashcards or you can use the ones others have already created.
I believe the best place to start is the list I already mentioned above, of the 1000 most common Korean words that others have already transferred to Memrise. It even has audio included for each word, which might be difficult to get when you’re making your own flashcards.
This is one of the most popular Korean courses on Memrise, which means there are more chances others will have cleared up any ambiguity or fixed the mistakes, and came up with mnemonics so you don’t have to. Of course, nothing is stopping you from coming up with your own if the existent ones don’t do it for you.
Since you can also create your own courses with your own flashcards it’s great to come back and input into Memrise any words that you come across by other methods I mention below.
ANKI is a similar and also popular tool you can try, but I’ve never used it since I’ve been rather satisfied with Memrise.
2. Vocabulary videos
There are many video lessons for learning Korean vocabulary, majority of which on YouTube, and the most popular probably being Talk to Me in Korean. They have playlists such as Korean vocabulary with pictures and Korean words starting with…
The upside of the videos is that you get both the audio and the visuals which help you jog your memory and help you use the words correctly. The downside is that it will be difficult to remember the word down the road, just from seeing it once or twice, so you will need to return to the video regularly, which I think most of us don’t do.
The great thing about magazines is that you can find something you are really passionate about, something that gets your heart racing, and instead of being faces with boring lists of endless vocabulary you need to memorize you will be faced with delicious secrets waiting to be unlocked once you learn enough.
Whether you found an article about your favorite band, actor, or a whole magazine about golfing, learning something that interests you is going to be so much easier.
If you have a physical copy of the magazine, and you are not too petrified to ruin it a bit, you can take a highlighter and start highlighting the words that you don’t know as you add them to Memrise using an online dictionary like Daum’s or Naver’s. Then before you proceed with the article you take some time to learn the new words. Since words are usually going to start repeating in the same articles, as you go down paragraph by paragraph you will see less and less highlighter even if in the beginning you had to highlight every single word.
Seeing your progress visually represented like this will give you a bigger sense of accomplishment.
If you come across a word you can’t find in a dictionary, just skip it. It may be the word is obscure, or you just don’t know enough grammar yet to be able to tell what the root of the word really is. Either way, don’t waste too much time on it. Even when you become an advanced learner, you won’t need to know every single word in order to understand it from context.
You can get FREE digital Korean magazines for your Android or iOS device. The recent one I found was “퍼스트룩 매거진“. The one I’ve been using for the longest time is “올레매거진” and I still have it installed on my tablet but it seems to be gone from the Play Store. Still, if you can find it, I recommend you install it.
These apps offer just excerpts from articles in each issue of the magazine but it is more than enough for beginners. And magazines like Men’s Health have plenty of Korean celebrities you may be interested in. ;)
Buying physical magazines may be a bit more difficult. Korean online shopping malls like Gmarket and 11st have plenty to choose from, but they only ship using EMS which can get quite pricey for heavy things like magazines. The one I used for the photo above is aprox. 2cm thick and weighs almost 1,5 kilogram!
A cheaper shipping prices are offered in most Kpop online stores, but then you have to be lucky enough that at least one Korean pop star happens to appear in the exact issue of the magazine you want, otherwise it won’t be available.
Well, I’m crazy.
I mentioned a while ago that I will tell you all about the first Korean drama ever that I liked (and I will soon). When I found out that drama was based on a bestselling novel I just had to have the novel. So that is exactly what I asked for for my birthday.
When I watched the interview with the main actor from the drama saying he couldn’t really understand everything his character was saying due to it being in archaic Korean I realized I may have been “a bit” over-enthusiastic. But hey, I had the book for a few months now, and I already read the whole first page and I almost sort of kind of understand what’s going on so, yay me.
I guess the point is, which in a way I already mentioned above, when you are passionate about something, you are going to be much more daring and stubborn, both of which are necessary when tackling a huge task like learning a language. And having that book on my shelf, apart from it being a really pretty decoration, is having one more reason to want to learn Korean.
If you are in Korea, there are many online shops that you can get Korean books from. If you’re not, like me, then you’re probably going to have to rely on Amazon which has a wide selection of Korean editions of books, or order from Korean online malls like Gmarket and 11st again. But more and more small Korean online shops pop up all the time and it’s getting easier to buy Korean books and magazines. The most recent I found was Hey Eonni which seems to be owned by Sun Kyunwoo’s wife from Talk to me in Korean, but I haven’t had a chance to order from it yet.
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5. Online comic books
Comic books are, in a way, much easier to read than books and even magazines. There is less text and obviously a lot is communicated through pictures which are a universal language. You could probably get the main gist of what is going on even if you can’t read Hangul. (But if you can’t, seriously, go learn Hangul right now).
Downside is that comic books have somewhat of their own language which may not be applicable in everyday conversations, but at the same time a lot of it is more modern than books and magazines.
But it is still a fun and easy way to learn new words. And in case of Korea, free!
You can search for different genres, ratings, reviews, etc. I still haven’t been courageous enough to actually try reading one (because I know I would fail ^^), but seeing lots of pretty pictures and a few words here and there make it a lot less imposing task than books and magazine articles.
I tried to translate the main navigation on the Naver page so you can try and find a webtoon that interests you.
So, those are 5 out of 10 ways I have to learn Korean vocabulary. I will include the rest in the part 2 of this post, and will use the Kpop song you voted as the best for that, as promised.