처음부터 지금까지— Learning Korean From Scratch
I’ve been self-studying Korean for 5 years, here’s what I’ve learnt.
Learning a new language is something we are always told is good for our brains. As children, we are encouraged to learn a modern foreign language to expand our world view and even help us with language development in our native language.
For me, language learning started from a young age, studying French as a child at a language club. At school we were taught French and German for a few years, but after taking my further education down the path of the sciences, I lost touch with language learning.
As I got older and times changed, I fell in love with Korean music, television and culture, and was fascinated by the beautiful language with an entire writing system I had never seen before in my life. It was something so new and so unlike any other language I had learnt before, but I decided to have a go at learning it myself.
That was 5 years ago now, and I’m still here, 5 years later, engrossed in studying the writing system, vocabulary and grammar principles of the Korean language. If, like me, you are interested in learning Korean for yourself, here’s all the advice I would give to my past self.
There are 2 main learning resources I recommend for self-studying Korean, Talk To Me In Korean, and HowToStudyKorean. Both are great resources for learning, and over the years I have heavily relied on both to get a full understanding of many grammatical principles. Here’s a rundown of the two:
- Completely free online courses (They also have a paid membership with extra content, and lots of physical textbooks you can buy— I never bothered because the shipping is pretty pricey depending on where you live).
- All of the content covered in their text books is available for free on their website (but they do have a lot of other books that aren’t).
- Very beginner friendly (especially if you are new to learning languages in general).
- Lots of audio material, YouTube videos, podcasts & all the lessons have recordings.
- Easy to track progress with the online courses.
- Very concise lesson notes.
- Some of the explanations of grammatical concepts or applications are very simplified for ease of learning (a great thing if you’re a beginner though!).
- LOADS of vocabulary (every lesson has a list of new words to learn).
- Very detailed explanations of all concepts covered.
- Tons of lessons (all free) — including some on hanja, and extra (paid) content including pdf workbooks and short stories.
- Very verbose and detailed explanations, which can be overwhelming for beginners.
Learning Apps I Recommend
How To Get Started
The first step is always the hardest, but my best advice would be to start small. Without a doubt before you learn anything else, learn 한글 (Hangul), the writing system for the Korean language. Make sure you learn how to recognise each individual letter, and letter combinations, how to pronounce them and the syllabic structure of how words are written. This is the most important step. After this, I recommend choosing either TTMIK or How To Study Korean and getting started with their first lesson.
In terms of time commitment, in an ideal world it’s good to set some time out of your day every day to study a little, but that’s not set in stone. I like to do a few minutes of vocabulary practice (Recalling or learning new words with Memrise) every day, and competing / reviewing a lesson to learn some new grammar when I have the time.
Supporting Your Learning
While you’re learning a new language, it’s important to supplement your learning with lots of exposure to your target language. Listening to native speakers and getting lots of experience listening and trying to comprehend conversations helps with learning and retention.
If you aren’t fortunate enough to have been able to visit South Korea yourself yet to get the fully immersive experience, that’s ok (I haven’t either — yet!). There are definitely lots of other ways to support your Korean learning.
The clichés are absolutely true in this case, watching K-dramas & listening to K-pop counts as studying! However, I do recommend trying to watch Korean reality TV / talk shows with subtitles, as in my experience they are better for hearing everyday conversations (My recommendations are: The Return of Superman, Matching Survival 1+1, and Hello Counsellor).
Youtubers are another great language learning resource. I like to watch Youtubers who speak exclusively Korean in their videos, but also provide subtitles in English. This is again another way of hearing the language spoken by native speakers to aid with pronunciation, as well as exposure to natural speaking and new vocabulary (My recommendations are: ondo온도, 수린 suzlnne, and 혜리).
Having a go at translating Korean is also a great way to gain a better understanding and experience of how the language is used and written by the native speakers. I like to find books that are not too complex (maybe short stories written for children / teens) and try to read and understand them, making a note of any new words I come across or any grammatical principles I’m not familiar with — the best one I can recommend so far is ‘Intermediate Short Stories In Korean’ by Olly Richards. You can also do this for song lyrics too!
If you’re a little further ahead with your leaning and want to be exposed to an ever broader range of vocabulary, tailored specifically to your interests , try looking up articles or blog posts written in Korean on topics you’re interested in (I like reading articles on the nature of coding & web development in Korea). It can definitely be challenging at first, as there will be a lot of new vocabulary, but that’s the best part!
TOPIK is the “Test of Proficiency in Korean”, a written test (comprised of listening, reading and writing tests) designed to measure the ability of non-native speakers for expression and comprehension in the Korean language.
TOPIK has lots of past papers you can download (with audio files, question papers & marking criteria) that you can use to effectively test your current comprehension level. If you’d like to take it a step further, you can register to take the official test, and there are guides on how to do this from your home country, but it’s not a requirement if you are just learning for fun. You can instead just take the past papers and mark your own tests to check your progress.
The tests themselves are split into fluency levels depending on what you score and all is explained in the TOPIK guide. The guide website also has instructions on how to apply for the tests, where the testing centers are located, and when results are announced. If you are based in the UK, you can also find more information on cost and testing centers through the Korean Education Centre in the UK.
- Learning vocabulary is just as important as learning grammar!
- It’s ok to be self-conscious of your pronunciation, just keep practicing (the same goes for handwriting — It will come with practice and time).
- There is a LOT of grammar to learn, but as you progress, you become used to it and I promise it won’t be impossible to remember it all.
- People will always question why you’re learning any language, but you have your own motivations and that’s absolutely fine! You got this and I’m rooting for you!
- Keep at it! I took a lot of breaks from learning over the years that slowed my progress but all these years later I’m still learning and still loving it.
If you’ve ever considered learning a new language, but you’re put off by the different writing system, the initial confusion, or the scary amount of grammatical principles it seems like you need to learn, my words to you are these: Take your time. It’s not a race to see who can learn the most the quickest and become fluent first, it’s a life-long learning process, and it’s about the enjoyment and appreciation of learning a new language, and learning all about the culture and history that comes with it.
[This post was originally written here: https://www.elletownsend.co.uk/blog/posts/learning-korean/]