Embrace Freedom: Try These 5 Independent Ways to Teach Yourself Korean
Welcome, to all beginner, intermediate and advanced Korean learners who’ve found their way here!
First off, congratulations. You’re in for a fun adventure.
Second, know this: You’ve come to the right place!
Korean may be one of the most challenging languages to teach yourself.
Well, that’s what “they” say.
As with any language, cracking Korean isn’t mission impossible—all you need is dedication, time commitment and, most importantly, the right method.
Precisely because Korean is such a radically different language from English, it’s normal to not even know where to begin and how to approach it. This is true even if you’re father along in the learning process and just need an extra self-given push to fluency. Where to begin, without the guidance of a teacher or curriculum?
Don’t despair. Let us show you the way to becoming your own, personal Korean teacher.
We’ve lined up the most effective techniques to learn the Korean language, fast.
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
5 Tried and True Ways to Teach Yourself Korean
Korean fluency is absolutely within reach, even if you don’t speak more than one foreign language yet. Even if you’re monolingual and only know English. This is still do-able.
Start by choosing which of the methods below best suit you and your interests, skill level and preferred learning style.
1. Master the Hangul
The 한글 or Hangul is the Korean alphabet. It has been used since the Joseon Dynasty in the 15th century A.D. Composed of 14 consonants and 10 vowels, it’s said to be the most scientific alphabet in the world, mimicking almost every human sound and so precise that it’s extra easy to learn.
Why It Works
Knowing the Korean alphabet is fundamental for reading Korean. In the beginning, you may find it easier to use the Roman alphabet to pronounce Korean words, but you’ll quickly realize that this isn’t sustainable—the quicker you learn the Korean alphabet, the more comfortable and more effective your learning experience will be.
Also, you’ll see that the Roman alphabet has some serious limitations when it comes to Korean, especially considering that it has some very different sounds. In fact, some consonants have three distinctions.
For instance, ㄱ, ㅋ, ㄲ. The first letter, ㄱ or 기역 (giyeok) has a sound somewhere between g and k. Its pronunciation varies depending on where this letter is located inside a word. The middle one, ㅋ or 키읔 (kieuk) has a sound similar to k, but with stronger aspiration, like very strong k. The sound of last letter ㄲ or 쌍기역 (ssanggiyeok) doesn’t exist in English, so you must get familiar with it.
In a nutshell, using the Roman alphabet may lead to you making pronunciation mistakes and it’s an unnecessary crutch, so move away from it as soon as you can!
How It Works
Learning the Hangul is straightforward—all you need is to memorize the characters and the sounds that are associated with them! Spend some time handwriting series of symbols and simultaneously pronouncing their sounds to create a audiovisual connection. Watch this video to verify your pronunciation.
Then, proceed to writing simple words. Make it easy and fun, and keep practicing no matter your level of Korean. Don’t stop writing, even after you’ve mastered the strokes and sounds. You need to keep practicing to keep your memory sharp.
- If you’re an absolute beginner: Use real Korean movie posters and read the words out loud. There aren’t so many words that it becomes overwhelming, but knowing that the content is authentic is added motivation!
- If you’re a beginner or intermediate learner: Spend 5 to 10 minutes a day reading a full Korean text out loud. Start with texts that you understand first, perhaps children’s books, and move on to more difficult content later. It’s okay if you don’t understand everything (or even anything). Remember, this is Hangul practice more than comprehension practice. Repeat this until you’re able to read the text without pausing!
- If you’re an intermediate/advanced learner: Use karaoke songs on YouTube with lyrics in Korean at the bottom and sing along! Find your favorite K-pop songs for added enjoyment. The pace is just fast enough that the focus isn’t on reading per se, but reading fast and accurately!
There are numerous online resources to help you master and conquer the Korean alphabet. The Hangul Wikipedia page provides a very comprehensive overview of the alphabet. Better yet, the Wikibooks Essential Korean Pronunciation Rules is a good synthesis that’s just enough to get you started.
If you get overwhelmed by the abundance of information, Learnlangs provides free mini courses to help you ease into it gradually. Aside from teaching you the alphabet, their lessons will help you understand how to build a Korean syllable, how to handwrite in Korean and how to pronounce Korean sounds and basic Korean words.
2. Invest in a Good Learning System
Having the right manuals is important on your journey to teaching yourself Korean. Keep it handy and make sure to review it every day!
Why It Works
A language method helps you learn progressively and stay organized. A good language method should have a carefully designed curriculum and increasingly introduce new words, structures and idioms by order of complexity. The goal is to enable you to take the time to assimilate new content and to set up the right foundation for the future. Think of these lessons as building blocks!
How It Works
These tips are key to follow, no matter which study system you choose.
- Study up! Follow the curriculum and be sure to fully assimilate novel content before you move on to the next lesson. The goal is to make new knowledge active, not just passive: it’s best to be able to express yourself than simply understand what is said. Remember, the goal of language learning is to be able to communicate!
- Be regular! Spend at least 20 minutes every day on a new lesson or topic. It’s more effective to devote mini sessions to learning Korean than spend two full hours a week just once.
- Take notes and review them. There will be a bunch of new elements to memorize quickly, so make sure that you spend the time memorizing them!
There’s no one definitive Korean language method. There’s plenty out there, but we’ve got three highly recommended ones you can explore. It’s up to you to decide which one works best for you.
If you plan on using the manual to deepen your understanding of Korean grammar, then the “Yonsei” method is right for you. With a focus on Korean grammar, these books will give you the right tools to know how Korean works on a technical level and to master the ins and outs of Korean sentence structure. For beginners looking for an in-depth, grammatical approach, this may be the way to go, but keep in mind that you can change to another method at any time if this isn’t as stimulating as you were hoping for.
On the other hand, opt for the “Sogang” method if your goal is to speak immediately. With a focus on developing speaking skills, this series of books will help you build the confidence to utter your first Korean words. Rich in content and highly visual, this is a very effective method to teach yourself the language of the Land of the Morning Calm.