How to Learn Korean Effectively

This is the transcript and printed information of a lecture I gave about how to learn Korean effectively. I hope it will be helpful for you.

1. Why bother learning Korean?

1.) You’re here a long time. Some people might say “Korean isn’t a major international language. When I leave Korea, I won’t need to speak Korean again.” This is probably true. However, you are here for a long time. At least a year. That’s a long time to get by with just body language and asking Korean people who speak English to help you all the time. I know many Westerners who have been here a number of years and still speak almost no Korean.

2.) Have a great experience. A high percentage (maybe 75%) of Westerners who come to Korea to teach English never learn Korean beyond set phrases (such as ordering food or drink) and a collection of random vocabulary words. This is enough to survive, of course. But don’t you want to do more than survive? Don’t you want to have a rich, exciting, varied experience where you can get to know anyone in a country, not just the ones who are good at English?

3.) Bridge the gap. Only speaking English contributes to the “Them and Us” divide which exists for many foreigners living here. Feeling isolated in the country you live in won’t make you feel happy or comfortable.

4.) Get closer. Speaking Korean, even just a little bit and badly, is a brilliant way to make friends and get closer to the people you see every day.

5.) Not much English. So much Korean. You will spend only a minority of your time in the English classroom. The rest of the time you are in an environment in which Korean is the language almost everyone is speaking.

2. Effective ways to learn Korean

01) Learner type- Some people learn best by studying with others and attending classes. Others prefer studying alone. There are obviously pros and cons with both. If you study with others it can be a good way to stay motivated and to get help from teachers and other learners. But you might not stay at the same level as the other learners, or you might want to study at different times to them. Learning alone can be extremely effective so long as you can stay disciplined and motivated. A combination of both styles might be best.

02) Find the right resources- When I first came to Korea in 2008, it was hard to find a good learning resource. Many of the textbooks and learning CDs taught expressions and language that were unnatural. But these days Korean is growing in popularity as a language of study, so the amount of learning resources available is growing. But this presents a new problem. Which one to use?

If you choose to invest in Korean learning books or CDs, don’t fall into the trap of thinking if you buy something you will definitely study it! Be honest with yourself. Will you really study those textbooks you are about to buy?If not, I would recommend using the following free websites.They have everything you need to start making fast progress in Korean, and won’t cost you a penny.

- If you are just starting out, and even if you aren’t, I would strongly recommend using this site. It has free lessons right the way from absolute beginner all the way up to quite advanced levels, so there is something for everyone. I use this site every week and still review grammar lessons that I have studied a hundred times.

- A great free website for learning vocabulary fast is. This is a site where you study vocabulary by seeing (and making) clever pictures or words to make things stick in your memory.

- This excellent site allows you to write a journal (or any sentences) in the language you are studying, and have it corrected by native speakers. The site works as a community in which you can also correct learners of your language. Learn Korean and make friends.

A combination of (for grammar), (for vocabulary) plus (for things you want to know and practise) will give you an excellent base for your Korean study.

03.) Learn the right things- Remember that if language is a house, vocabulary is the bricks and grammar is the mortar that holds it all together. Be sure to work on both equally. If you just learn long vocabulary lists, you will miss out on building your sentence making ability.

Be choosy about what you spend your time learning. Think about what you need for your everyday job, life, shopping, socializing, traveling, and so on. Also, be careful who you get your Korean from. Some Koreans are well-meaning and want to help you learn their language, but if they try to tell you that a particular word is such-and-such-word in English, beware that they may not know exactly what that English word means. This has happened to me many times. I learnt the wrong meaning of a Korean word because the English word I was told was the wrong one. Try to find a Korean who is very good at English, at least at the beginning.

04.) Variety is the spice of life- This is especially true when it comes to the effort of learning a foreign language. Try to focus on a different element of study each week, to prevent boredom and to stop you feeling like quitting. Personally I like to spend one week memorizing vocabulary, then one week studying grammar, then one week doing a lot of reading, then one week doing writing practice, and so on. This keeps my mind feeling fresh and my studies always seem more interesting.

05.) Repeat, repeat, and repeat again- Unless you have an amazing memory, it’s usually not enough to study something just once and remember all of it. For this reason it’s good to go over things lots of times. In particular, a language like Korean can be difficult to memorize for English native speakers because there are so few words with similarities.

06.) Make time for learning- With all the things you will be doing, it can seem hard to make time for learning Korean. But there are a few things you can do to ensure you are making progress in your Korean language skills no matter how busy you are:

- Set aside a regular time for learning. This can be twenty minutes in the morning every day before you start your lessons, or two evenings a week when you put in a solid couple of hours study. Try to stick to these times and make them a non-negotiable part of your week. Don’t let them be dropped for other, less important things, like TV or Facebook.

- “Bonus hours”: Think of all the things you do during your day which don’t require a huge amount of concentration. For example, brushing your teeth, washing dishes, preparing meals, commuting to work, some types of exercise (e.g. treadmill or hiking), doing laundry, ironing, cleaning your apartment, and so on. These times add up to many hours a week. So use those times to learn Korean. When I am doing these activities, I listen to Korean lessons (from which I have downloaded and put on my phone or MP3 player. You can easily add 8 or 10 hours of Korean study to your week without even changing your routine or becoming more busy.

- You will have a lot of free hours at work during a year in Korea. Use these well, don’t waste them all on Facebook or the internet. Try to practice speaking Korean with your co-workers or students. Don’t be shy, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. They are the best way of getting corrections and remembering them. Korean people love it when you speak their language, no matter how badly.

07.) Keep going- Learning a language is a huge task, especially Korean due to the lack of similarities with English. It can seem daunting and impossible. But think of it like eating an elephant. You can’t do it all in one go. You have to do a little bit whenever possible, and as time goes by your progress will add up.

08.) Korean language learning hacks-

-A good way to get good at Korean numbers is to read car license plates. Every Korean license plate has a number between 1 and 9999. Read every license plate you see using Korean, and soon you will be very good at numbers.

- Write Korean study notes on paper/post-it notes and stick it all over your apartment. Good places are above your kitchen sink, on your fridge, above your desk, next to your bed, on the back of your front door, and next to your bathroom mirror. It will look a little strange at first, but after six months you will be amazed at how much you have memorized just by seeing it every day.

- As you go through your day, try to say in Korean what you are doing (for example “I have to brush my teeth, I’m going to work, I’m at the supermarket etc.). If you don’t know how to say a particular thing, find out from a Korean and then try to memorize it. The more you say these things, the better they will stick in your memory.

If this was useful, please share on Facebook or Twitter! Thanks!

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