Tips, tricks, and resources to learn Korean

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Nowadays, increasingly more people are deciding to learn Korean due to the growing popularity of K-Dramas, K-Pop, and Korean movies. However, despite the initial attraction, there are those who are discouraged by the difficulties that this language entails and decide not to continue learning it, which can cause considerable frustration. That is why using certain tips and tricks, like the ones below, can help make learning Korean easier and even fun.

Photo taken from 90 day Korean

Although it would be very nice to be able to skip the initial phase of learning the inner workings of a language and go straight to speaking it, it is very important and necessary to internalise the basics first in order to master it in the future. When learning any language, the first step should be to become familiar with the spelling and pronunciation of its alphabet. This is even more fundamental in a language like Korean, since it has its own writing system, Hangeul (한글). Thus, it is highly recommended to become well-acquainted with Hangeul in the early stages of learning Korean, and to rely as little as possible on romanisations, as they often reflect an inaccurate or incorrect pronunciation. Similarly, it is advisable to maintain a specific frame of mind for Korean, without using your own language, or another, as a point of reference too much. That is to say, when you are learning, pay attention to how sentences and specific expressions are built and how they work in Korean, without making literal translations from your native language, since this usually leads to the construction of expressions that are not very idiomatic.

Something important to keep in mind is that, despite the fact that the Korean alphabet is relatively simple, the characters have different pronunciation rules depending on where in the word or syllable they are found, and the character with which the next one begins. The biggest variation in pronunciation is found in the 받침 (batchim), the consonant or group of consonants at the end of a syllable, and some of its rules can be a little hard to memorise. At the beginning, it is enough to know that they exist, integrating them as the study progresses. In general, romanisation tends to help even less in these cases, as it often does not indicate these distinctions. However, a simple trick to learn the pronunciation differences of the basic consonants is to memorise the name of the consonants, since their names contain the character both at the beginning and at the end so that the distinction can be appreciated.

Table with the names of the main consonants and their romanisations.

Another noteworthy fact is that the Korean language is closely linked to and based on Korean culture. Cultural aspects such as respect, humility, and social hierarchies are very present in Korea, and their language reflects this. For this reason, it is a good idea to learn as much as you can about the culture while learning Korean. At first, learning the –요 verb forms, the respectful informal mood, gives a good foundation, but it is important to keep in mind in what situations and with whom to use the different levels of formality, as well as with whom you should use proper names or honorifics, trying to largely avoid the use of pronouns, as they work in a very specific way in Korean.

Additionally, in Korea, there are also pronunciation and vocabulary distinctions between men and women. A good way to practise and improve your Korean is to do language exchanges with native speakers, and for this reason, it is highly recommended to find speakers of the same gender.

Finally, a very important tip is to expand your Korean vocabulary, placing special emphasis on words from areas that interest you, such as music, food, or sports. Knowing a wide variety of terms makes it easier to have more fluent and content-rich conversations, and starting with words related to hobbies or interests makes their memorisation much easier. In addition, consuming content in Korean is a great way to practise. Listening to music, as well as watching Korean dramas and movies, helps to internalise grammatical structures, expand and recognise vocabulary, and see the different degrees of formality in use. Even though the sentence constructions seen in K-Pop and K-Dramas should not always be learnt, as they often involve poetic language, they are still useful, especially if you listen to the songs and watch the series while reading the lyrics and/or subtitles, to associate correctly the writing with the pronunciation.

Some further resources include the Youtube channel Talk To Me In Korean, which offers a wide arrange of cultural and language videos with many useful tips that are made by Korean native speakers and taught in English; likewise, for Spanish speakers, the channel Liry Onni has many videos on the Korean language, as well as break downs of all the latest news in South Korea.

In conclusion, there is no one correct way to learn languages. Each person learns at their own pace and in different ways, but in the end the important thing is to enjoy the process. I hope the tips and advice on this blog have been interesting and helpful!

Written by: Anna Franco Ucar
Revised by: Luisa Quintero

References: 

10 useful tips for learning Korean 상세보기|Citizen JournalistsEmbassy of the Republic of Korea to Norway. (n.d.). 외교부. https://overseas.mofa.go.kr/no-en/brd/m_21237/view.do?seq=46

Ko, E., Steinmetz, I., & Thesing, Y. (2019). Sprachlern-comic Koreanisch – Verliebt in Korea. PONS.

Korean, 9. D. (2023, March 20). Learn Korean online: How-to guide for language study. 90 Day Korean. https://www.90daykorean.com/learn-korean/

Relationship between Korean culture and language. (2022, August 26). StudyCorgi.com. https://studycorgi.com/relationship-between-korean-culture-and-language/

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