One of the first questions that aspiring Korean speakers ask is, “Is Korean easy to learn?”
There are plenty of reasons for wanting to know how to study Korean in the most efficient way possible. For starters, South Korea has the 11th largest economy in the world. In addition, Korean is the 12th highest spoken language with more than 77 million speakers.
The possibilities that stem from learning Korean are endless! Whether you want to learn Korean for business or pleasure (or watching K-dramas), there are several strategies that can propel you to fluency faster.
It’s well worth it to spend some time researching the best way to learn Korean so that you can make the most out of your study sessions. Partnering up with a private Korean teacher, either online or in-person, is the best way to take your skills to the next level.
If you want to get a head start on learning Korean, these 12 expert tips will point you in the right direction. With proper guidance, you may find that your language goals are more achievable than you thought!
How to Study Korean
Tip #1: Learn Hangul
As with any new language, mastering the alphabet is a great way to kickstart your journey to fluency. While the unfamiliar Hangul characters may seem intimidating at first, the Korean alphabet is not very difficult to learn.
Unlike other languages that evolved from pictographs, Hangul was purposely invented by King Sejong in 1443 to be as easy as possible for Koreans to learn. Yes, a writing system that was designed from the start to be easy to learn!
Hangul is made up of 24 letters, including 14 consonants and 10 vowels. The shapes of the written consonants are based on the shape that the mouth forms when making each sound. Vowels are made up of vertical and horizontal lines. It’s no exaggeration to say that you could learn Hangul within the next hour or two. This goes a long way when it comes to the popular goal of learning the Korean language in 30 days.
As an added bonus, Hangul is an entirely phonetic language, meaning that it will always sound exactly how it is written. In English, more than 60% of words contain silent letters (for example – knee, wrist, daughter, island, etc.). Hangul is much more straightforward and easy to master.
Tip #2: Build Your Vocabulary
Once you have Hangul down, you can start building up your vocabulary. Begin with the basics such as numbers, days of the week, and basic conversational phrases, then add to your vocabulary depending on the reason you’re studying Korean.
If you wish to learn Korean for an upcoming trip, focus on words related to directions and transportation. Interested in Korean food? Work on your kitchen and cooking-related vocabulary.
As you start learning more new words, write them down in a notebook. The simple act of writing words down will help you practice Hangul and commit the word to memory. It’s even better if you can think of a fun picture or story to help you remember the word!
Tip #3: Konglish is Your Friend
There are many “Konglish” (Korean+English) words that make up a significant sum of everyday language.
Loan words are terms that borrow both the sound and meaning from the English word. These words are very easy to recognize as they sound like the word in English, only with a Korean accent. Some examples include:
- 컵 (kuhp) = cup
- 카페 (ka-peh) = cafe
- 초콜릿 (cho-kol-lit) = chocolate
- 카메라 (ka-meh-ra) = camera
- 택시 (tek-shi) = taxi
- 인터넷 (in-tuh-net) = internet
- 스무디 (soo-moo-thee) = smoothie
Other Konglish words sound like English words but have different meanings. Often, Koreans will shorten an English word to make a new Konglish word. Some examples include:
- 에어컨 (air-con) = air conditioner
- 노트 (note) = notebook
- 밴드 (band) = band-aid
- 헬스 (health) = health club, gym
Do a quick online search of common Konglish words. You’ll be surprised at how much Korean you already know!
Tip #4: Surround Yourself with Korean
As we’ll explore later, total immersion is perhaps the best way to learn Korean. The thing is, not all of us can afford a long vacation in Seoul. You can still integrate the language in your daily life to simulate the experience of Korean immersion. This can be as simple as changing your phone’s language settings or sticking post-it notes on everyday items around the house with their Korean words.
Surrounding yourself with Korean doesn’t have to mean hours upon hours of grueling study every day. On the contrary, you can keep Korean on your mind by using downtime wisely. Take advantage of your commute to work and lunch breaks to practice Korean.
Quiz yourself with flashcards or play games on a fun Korean app. If you prefer to go hands-free, make use of the many Korean podcasts and audiobooks as you work out or drive. Downtime adds up quickly and can be very useful if you want to learn Korean fast.
Tip #5: Discover your Learning Style
One simple but crucial tip for how to learn Korean fast is to understand your unique learning style. There are three main learning styles:
- Visual (learning by seeing)
- Auditory (learning by listening/hearing)
- Kinesthetic (learning by actions)
While some students are a mix of all three, knowing what your particular learning style is can help you maximize your Korean studies and learn more efficiently.
By using specific study methods that work best with your learning style, you will find that things like memorizing new vocabulary will become much easier. Take the learning styles test here to find out which method works best for you.
The one thing that all learning styles share is the need to practice. In other words, we all learn by speaking the language! Practicing your conversational skills with a tutor is one of the best ways to learn Korean online.
Tip #6: Take Lessons with a Korean Teacher
Structured learning through private lessons with an experienced tutor can provide the extra push you need to truly fast track your learning. Not only will you have someone to guide you through tricky concepts like grammar rules, but you’ll also have someone to hold you accountable to reaching your goals.
A good Korean tutor will be able to cater to your learning style and develop a personalized lesson plan for you. Whether your language goals are work-related or personal, learning from a qualified Korean teacher provides the one-on-one guidance you need to learn Korean faster. Interested in working with a Korean tutor near you, or online? Find a Korean teacher here.
Tip #7: Find a Language Partner
Is Korean hard to learn? Not with a partner! You can find a Korean language group near you on sites like Meetup. If you don’t have any Korean communities nearby, you can also try finding language partners online through forums or groups on Facebook.
Commit to meeting weekly with your language partners, and establish a rule that you’ll only speak in Korean. Come prepared with a topic to discuss, so rather than going through the same small talk each week, you will be able to have a more in-depth conversation.
You can also chat with language partners using KakaoTalk, the most widely used chatting app in Korea. Chances are, if your new language buddies are Korean, they already have the app installed on their phone! By practicing with native Korean speakers, you’ll be introduced to local slang, idioms, and be able to improve your accent.
Tip #8: Take a Group Korean Class
While learning a language can (and should) be a lot of fun, you might find yourself losing some motivation after a period of time. Find ways to keep your practice routine fresh, such as taking a group Korean class with other like-minded learners. Korean is easy to learn in a group!
Group Korean classes are more dynamic than independent learning, with instant feedback from an instructor and interaction with other students. They’re another excellent way to practice your conversation skills while learning about important topics such as grammar and pronunciation.
TakeLessons Live offers fun and interactive group Korean classes for students at every level. With a free month-long trial for all classes, it’s a no-brainer to try it out for yourself. Classes are held at varying times throughout the week to fit into any busy schedule.
Tip #9: Watch K-dramas and Listen to K-pop
Watching Korean dramas, movies, and TV shows is a fun way to incorporate more Korean into your daily life and increase your vocabulary. If subtitles are available, turn them on in case you come across a word you haven’t learned yet.
The more Korean media you can take in, the better. After a while, you’ll be surprised at your brain’s ability to connect phrases and vocabulary with their meanings, even if you haven’t exclusively studied them yet!
Listening to Korean artists or radio stations is another good habit. While you won’t understand everything at first, try to pull out keywords and piece together the general meaning of a song. Then, try singing along with the Hangul lyrics to improve your pronunciation.
It’s a well-known fact that music or melodies can help you memorize new ideas, so go ahead and indulge yourself in some K-pop!
Tip #10: Have an Immersion Experience
If you have the time and resources, the best way to learn Korean fast is through complete immersion in Korean culture. Take a trip to Korea, and you’ll be challenged to speak and read in Korean at every turn.
Although many Koreans will be able to speak to you in English, commit to only speaking in Korean. If you have to, explain that you are trying to learn the language.
If visiting Korea is not a possibility, try to find a way to have a complete immersion experience locally. Is there a Korean town nearby? Take a day trip there and only speak in Korean, whether you’re ordering at a Korean restaurant or shopping for groceries.
Tip #11: Set SMART Goals
All the above are excellent tips for how to learn Korean fast, but without specific goals, you may find yourself overwhelmed with all the new information you’re taking in. Set SMART goals to create a learning strategy that includes healthy milestones and will keep you motivated to achieve the next steps.
Instead of having a vague goal such as “I want to learn the Korean language in 30 days,” set SMART goals like “I want to be able to order in Korean at a Korean restaurant in a few days,” or “I want to be able to write a paragraph in Hangul by the end of this week.”
Think about the reason you’re learning Korean and set specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound goals to keep you focused. Your Korean teacher will lay out a clear path toward fluency, with plenty of SMART goals along the way!
Tip #12: Don’t be Discouraged
If you’ve made it this far, you’re obviously serious about learning Korean. Don’t be discouraged if/when you make mistakes along the way and don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone to practice speaking Korean more. Native speakers will appreciate your efforts and enjoy helping you learn!
Mastering Korean takes time and effort; as the saying goes, “Nothing worth having comes easy.” So celebrate each time you achieve a goal, and remember what inspired you to learn Korean in the first place! It will feel incredibly rewarding when you look back and realize how much Korean you’ve learned to speak, read, and write.
Now that you know the best tips for how to learn Korean fast, you’re ready to get started! While some sources say it can take over 2,000 hours to master Korean, the above tips are sure to speed up the process. You can do it! 파이팅!
Guest Post Author: Jade B. is a Korean-Australian writer and world traveler whose love of languages and cultures hasn’t shown signs of stopping. She holds a B.A. in Communication Studies and currently works as a translator.