Learning a new language is always a challenging experience. For this week’s WOTW, here are my top 5 tips for learning Korean.
1. Learn Hangeul!
Hangeul (한글) is the Korean alphabet. This is where every learner of Korean should begin! The sooner you start reading in Korean, the faster you are going to pick up the language. It may seem like a daunting task at first, looking at all these lines, boxes and circles, but the Korean alphabet is actually super easy and you’ll be able to start reading within a few hours! This is not an exaggeration either. Korean has 14 basic consonants and 10 vowels, so it’s really not that much to learn! Give yourself a couple hours to learn and digest the alphabet and I can guarantee your Korean will start to improve really quickly. Avoid romanisation and start reading as soon as you can! Starting is always the hardest part, but don’t let that put you off!
Here’s a great introduction video by TalkToMeInKorean to get you started!
Talk To Me In Korean is great for getting started in Korean and there is plenty material for intermediate learners too, so I wholly recommend using their lessons on their website.
2. Noraebang! (노래방)
Check out an article I wrote on the different types of rooms in Korea.
Noraebang is literally a singing room (so Korean Karaoke). Once you have the alphabet under your belt, there is no other more fun way to start improving your reading! When you go to a noraebang, everything is in Korean. From the lyrics to handling the remote control to look up songs, knowledge of Hangul is essential!
If you enjoy singing, (and even if you don’t) you probably know a lot of Korean songs already, so going to a noraebang and practice reading along to your favourite songs will really help you to improve. Start with slower songs to begin with, otherwise it can be a overwhelming. But if Outsider raps are your thing, go for it! This is definitely a reading and speaking work-out!
For you noraebang daredevils, check out Outsider’s Loner. Especially from 1:47… (No, it hasn’t been sped up)
3. Attend a language course
I highly recommend enrolling on a Korean language course. Many universities all around Korea offer language courses. These vary from short-term intensive summer courses to 10 week long regular programs. I definitely recommend one of the summer camps if you can afford it, as spending 5 weeks in Korea immersed in the culture and being forced to speak Korean every day is really the best way to improve. This way you are focused on learning Korean, which gives you a solid foundation on the fundamentals of the language, but you will also be able to experience the culture of Korea through various activities, such as city tours, trips to museums and palaces, or participating in taekwondo and pansori. There is something for everyone to make to most out of your stay.
If you can’t afford to travel to Korea just yet, there is a free course offered in London run by the Korean Cultural Centre. However, availability is limited and they only accept applications once a year in December. (Make a note in your diaries!) Also most Korean universities offer their own language books which they use for their courses, so it’s a great idea to purchase one of these to get started with. Check out Two Chois for access to almost any book in Korea!
Whether you are attending a language course or self-studying, a good understanding of the basics is vital for any language. Of course, everyone learns things in different orders and there are so many curriculums you could follow, but initially choose one course to use and stick with it! Getting fluency in a language always takes time, but it is worth every penny.
Don’t bother buying a dictionary though – Naver dictionary should be your go-to place for looking up Korean words!
I attended a summer course at Seoul National University in 2009. Back then, I could sing you a whole Korean song, but I didn’t know what any of it meant or make a single sentence… which was pretty pointless. Sure, it’s all well and good knowing a few words. I could say the same now for French, “Bonjour! Je suis… un, deux, troi!” But it feels so much better once you understand how simple sentences are made, and that way, you are able to start making your own progress when you have your own conversations with people in shops, in restaurants… in life!
4. If anything, place emphasis on your speaking.
In the end, learning a language will be mainly for speaking. Of course, if you want to read novels or do translation work or something, then perhaps you will have to study a lot more to reach a suitable level. But for the average learner, we just want to aim for good competence in the language and be comfortable having regular conversations with other people in normal life situations.
Pronunciation is not the most important thing! Obviously you have to be able to speak well enough to be understood, but there is not much of a barrier in the way of pronunciation, just being able to communicate your ideas in the simplest way is good enough. No one is going to judge you for sounding non-korean.
Need more inspiration? Check out this show called Abnormal Summit! These guys seriously speak damn good Korean…
I think being good at speaking in a language, gives people the most confidence, so don’t be scared to make mistakes when speaking. Nobody can be perfect all the time. People in Korea really appreciate the effort you make and even if you just say 감사합니다 (Thank you), Koreans will be the first to say “Wow, your Korean is amazing!” Of course, you may know yourself that it’s not perfect, but Koreans just love giving complements!
5. Practice makes perfect!
Use the language as often as you can. Unfortunately languages are things that you always have to keep on top of otherwise they are easily forgotten. If you have the time to meet Korean people in your area, meet up with them and ask them to help you. Once you have met some Koreans, add them on KakaoTalk. This is simply Korea’s no.1 messaging app, (basically like Whatsapp, but there is a desktop version too!) so messaging your friends in Korean once in a while will help to keep on top of your writing. People ask me, “Is your writing or speaking better?” But my writing is just how I speak in written form. Just try to have natural conversations as much as you can and you will begin to feel more confident in Korean in no time!
I hope you enjoyed some of my tips on how to learn Korean. I wish you the best of luck on your Korean language journey and if you haven’t started already, do it now! ^^