Korean used to be the neglected language among the East Asian group. Among the lay people, it was often mistaken for Chinese or Japanese. Those two used to be more popular, but nowadays, the situation is changing. There is a lot of interest in Korean. That is why I put together this guide on how to learn Korean and speak like a native.
Easy Start, Long Road
Unlike the other two major Asian languages, Korean has its own alphabet, called Hangeul. It consists of 24 distinct characters, which are combined together in clusters that make up the sounds and words.
For example, these are three symbols of the Korean language:
ㄱ, ㅏ and ㅇ (read as k in Korea, a in car, and ng in bang)
Together, they combine to make: 강 (romanized as kang), which is a common surname.
This greatly accelerates your learning progress as a beginner in the language. There are no complicated characters with multiple strokes: in fact, you can learn Korean writing in a few hours. You can actually read Korean on your very first day!
The Korean language is an isolate: there are no other languages like it. However, a part of the vocabulary has been appropriated from Chinese. For many expressions, two equivalents exist: an original Korean one and a Chinese borrowed word. Sometimes they are used interchangeably, but in most cases, they are used for different situations. For example, Korean numbers are used to tell age, while time is told using words of Chinese origin.
Due to American influence, Korean (especially among young speakers) contains many borrowed words from English. The so called “Konglish” is widely used in slang and Internet speech.
There are many more interesting titbits, but I’ll leave some for you to discover on your own. After all, that is one of the charms of learning a foreign language. So, let’s get to the learning.
Tips For Motivation And Easier Learning
Learning a foreign language can be an amazing experience or a complete nightmare. It all depends on how you approach it. Motivation is the key: if you want to learn something, you will find the time and patience to do so. Find out what motivates you to learn Korean and you will be well on your way to fluency. So, here are a few tips to make you an expert in the shortest possible time:
1. Find Korean friends
The most efficient way of learning a language is to hear and speak with a native speaker. Not only is it a great time, but you also pick up many subtleties that you never could from a book. When combined with studying from a book, this gives you the opportunity to test your skills in practice. And don’t be ashamed to make mistakes or even get laughed at. There is nothing wrong with being bad at first – everyone started there. Laugh along and you will be surprised at how fast you improve.
If you live in Korea, this is easy; however, if you don’t, finding Korean friends might not be as straightforward. Look for student’s clubs and classes at local universities or local Korean communities; many of them will be happy to let you tag along. You can even try a language exchange app like Bilingua, where you can connect with native speakers and practice the language.
2. Double Down On Speaking
Since the writing part of Korean is relatively simple, you can spend a lot more time developing your speaking skills. This has twofold benefits: first, you will become good at speaking, but second, that will transfer to writing, while the other way around doesn’t apply.
3. Watch K-drama and K-pop to learn Korean
Watching K-drama and K-Pop is usually the number one reason people become interested in Korea. The K-wave is still going strong. Korean music, TV shows and movies are the best look into the distinct culture and help you learn Korean. Many learners credit their immersion in these media for advancing their language skills quickly.
4. Online penpals
Sometimes it is very difficult to meet someone whose mother language is Korean. Imagine how difficult it might be to find someone living next to you whose mother language is Korean and, therefore the perfect pal to practice!
If there are no Koreans around where you live (and make sure you check twice!), don’t worry because there is always a solution: you can turn to the wonderful Internet to meet them. There are many websites which connect people from all over the world to help them learn each other’s languages. A connection like this can last a lifetime and can even transfer over to real life. One such place is Bilingua. It allows you to easily meet native speakers.
5. Live in Korea
I know this isn’t an easy option for many. However, it is probably the most effective. Living in a strange place where they speak a strange tongue will force you to adapt quickly. Probably you are thinking why should I move to Korea? Well, although moving to this beautiful country and mingle with the locals would probably be the fastest way to learn the language, it would also be the most unlikely thing to happen, right?
Well, in this case, I would especially recommend taking language classes and then go there for a vacation. When there, you can sign up for classes. Many universities offer them and they are often 4 or more hours per day. Here you can take a look at a list of courses to learn Korean at different levels. (Bonus tip: many Koreans will want to try out their English on you and this is perfect if you want to speak with them in Korean. It’s the perfect opportunity for language exchange: You learn Korean and they will learn English!
6. Online courses
Online courses are the next best thing after live courses. If you apply yourself, you can reach a high level of proficiency. The selection is quite large, so here are a few of the best:
How to Study Korean is the best, and best of all, free resource for learning Korean online. It starts with the very basics and continues to advanced grammar and vocabulary.
Courses on Udemy. These are developed by passionate Koreans and are comprised entirely of video lessons.
Duolingo. Korean is a course many are waiting for. It will be available on 30th April, 2017. More than 123,000 people are already waiting.
Becoming A Master
Korean is a great language to learn at the moment. The country is growing and its culture is becoming more and more popular. You will be glad you made the choice. Learning a language is always a plus and learning Korean is no exception! As soon as you start learning it, whether you want to use it professionally or just to watch your favorite drama you’ll see it was well worth it.
And last, the secret ingredient is: practice, practice, practice. Yes, it will be hard work to learn Korean. But it is very rewarding when you finally understand your favorite drama or sing along your favorite song. And even more so when you go to Korea and everyone is surprised and asks you: “Where did you learn Korean so well?!”.
This article was a contribution by Lucia Leite from the language blog Lingholic.
Also published on Medium.