How I Have Tried to Learn Korean: A List of Useful Resources
These days we’re lucky to have everything easily accessible on the internet, which means that with motivation and some structure, it’s possible to teach yourself a foreign language. Motivation is key though, and something I struggle with. Even though there are ample reasons for me to learn Korean – communicate with my boyfriend’s family, better work opportunities, have more Korean friends, make everyday life easier – I still find it very difficult to focus on these longer term goals. When I don’t see instant results, I find it hard to imagine I will ever be able to do any of these things. It seems like an insurmountable task that I can never complete.
Because of this, I’m still not very good at Korean. Though some of my grammar may be above beginner level, my speaking and listening skills are very beginner (even low beginner), despite having lived in Korea for more than a year. It’s really embarrassing and it’s something I need to work on. I find it very hard to speak Korean to Korean people because I’m so shy, and also so afraid of making mistakes. Just the other day at the supermarket I found myself forgetting how to say the number twenty when asking for a rubbish bag. I remembered after about 5 seconds, but to have had such a huge blank on something so easy really disappointed me.
However, I know that the best way to overcome this is to just do it more often, so starting next week that’s going to be my goal. I do have quite a few Korean friends (and a boyfriend!) who are more than happy to try and speak Korean with me, so I am going to start really putting effort in on this one. Hopefully I’ll be able to update positively on this blog in a month or so! I’m also thinking about starting a small weekly update, where I note what I have done towards learning Korean the previous week to keep me on track, like a Korean Study Log. Let me know what you think 🙂
Anyway, when I do study – which is going to happen a lot more often from now on – there are some places I go to that are excellent for learning Korean (and free). So let’s have a look at some of these!
There’s so many different places you can do this, just from a Google search. However these are the ones that I referred to. It really doesn’t take long at all to learn!
- TTMIK videos Part 1 and Part 2 (these videos didn’t get finished so I continued on from these)
- Learn Hangeul on Korean Wiki Project (this one is really detailed and provides audio as well, it’s got everything you need to know)
- HowtoStudyKorean.com also has a Hangeul series, but I didn’t need this one (it’s also very detailed though and looks good)
Trust me when I say you do not have to buy a book or any resources to learn Hangeul. There is plenty of information online that you don’t have to pay for.
Sites with full lessons:
My favourite here has to be HowtoStudyKorean.com. The lessons are ordered in a sensible way, and the explanations are very detailed. Whenever I do a lesson on here I always come away with a full understanding of the grammar point. Most of the Korean also comes with audio, so you can practice saying it correctly. The site claims it is “designed to teach you how to speak Korean… from your very first steps all the way to being able to speak Korean fluently.” While I do recommend using multiple resources for variety, if there was one that I could say is close to being a complete course by itself, it would be this one.
The first site I ever tried and which I still use, is Talk To Me In Korean which has a great series of podcasts (levels 1-9) backed up with explanatory PDFs. In recent years they started putting out these levels in textbook format along with workbooks for each level. I own the Level 1 and Level 2 workbooks, and while these are useful resources for practicing, you don’t have to buy anything to use their lessons. TTMIK also has a lot more going on, like their Youtube channel where they provide a variety of “shows” and different segments to help you study, definitely go and check it out! Once you get past the beginner stage, they also have Iyagi where you can listen to conversations in full intermediate-level Korean.
Memrise is a site solely for memorising vocabulary and I have found it to be very effective. You can search for courses easily and then work through the different levels. You can also make your own if you have a book you want to practice vocabulary for and don’t mind going through the process of typing all the vocab out.
These are some of the courses I have either completed or am working on now, and have found useful. If you search “Korean” though you will find a lot!
There is also Quizlet which is a similar concept that a lot of people swear by, however I haven’t really used it much myself.
I also have a book called 2000 Essential Korean Words for Beginners that I haven’t properly utilised yet, but have found useful when I’ve got around to using it. Basically the writers looked through the best Korean course textbooks and chose the 2000 most common words and put them all in one book, separated into handy categories containing smaller sub-categories. Click here for a great review, photos and some ideas on how to use the book (I also followed her ideas).
I don’t practice free-writing a lot yet because I’m not at a level where I can write very much. However I should at least be keeping a basic diary, which is something I have to get started on. When it comes to resources for writing, I have found Italki is useful. You can search for answers to all kinds of questions, ask your own questions and, the best feature I think, write a journal that other users can correct for you. This is one step better than just keeping a journal yourself, as you can learn from your mistakes and actually improve the accuracy of your writing. You can also make language exchange friends and arrange to help each other outside of the site too.
Lang-8 is a similar site, but I haven’t really used this one much yet.
To be honest, my listening is terrible because I don’t practice it enough. One thing I have been doing lately is trying to watch more Korean dramas, which is one of the best ways to pick up common language and get better at differentiating sounds. However I find a lot of the popular slice-of-life dramas quite dull, so I usually end up watching crime shows or thrillers, where the language is usually technical and isn’t all that helpful! I do still think there’s a benefit there though. There’s a lot of places to watch online, but I’m mainly using Viki now (with a VPN). A quick Google search will bring up multiple options however.
Jennifer from Western Girl Eastern Boy (an awesome blog) has a huge list of dramas she recommends that I have just started working through. Click here for 2015’s list (at the end she links back to the other lists). I’m currently watching 유령 (Ghost) from 2012.
Listening to Kpop is also a good method. The more I listen, the more I find I am able to discern words or even whole phrases. Sometimes I print out the Korean lyrics of a song I really like and go through translating it with a dictionary and trying to learn all the unknown vocabulary. It can take a long time but I have learned some useful verbs this way, and they seem to keep popping up in songs now I understand them.
This is something living in Korea gives you a distinct advantage in. There’s no shortage of people to speak Korean with, and I know that I should be taking advantage of this a lot more. I have met some language exchange friends here in a couple of ways, through searching for groups near me on Meetup, using the app Hellotalk and from searching for language exchange groups on Facebook. I will be writing a whole post on ways to meet people in Korea soon, including for language exchange, so I will put a link to that here once it’s up.
However, even if you don’t live in Korea there are plenty of other ways to get speaking practice. You can find people on Italki and Hellotalk as mentioned before, and on other similar sites (Google is your friend here). Though these are all initially text based, you can swap other information like Skype or Kakao, and then call each other. Hellotalk also has a number of audio options, including calls. Another language exchange site is Interpals, which is an international penpal site, however keep in mind a lot of people use it like an international dating site. That said, I did converse with a few good people on there back when I used it, and am still in contact with one of them who now lives in Seoul. Also most cities have a Korean community (I know Auckland has a huge one), so if your city has one, there’s likely to be some groups or activities you can get involved in to meet Korean people.
Of course conversation is also good for listening! When conversing with a native speaker you will hone both your speaking and your listening at the same time. It does seem like this is one of the best methods for practicing what you have learned, and is also a great opportunity to learn slang and common terms from a native.
Another method I haven’t properly tried yet, is shadowing, a language learning technique developed by American Professor Alexander Argüelles (notable for his work on Korean). The basic idea is you find a segment of audio that has an accompanying script. You then practice saying the script along with the audio (first repeating afterwards and slowly working up to saying it simultaneously), speaking at the same natural pace and mimicking the pronunciation and cadence of the speech. For beginners, the Assimil series of language learning books seem to be a popular choice, as it is an audio-based series. There are some different versions, reading it blindly with no script, learning the script first, etc, however it all seems to follow the same basic idea. I can’t attest to the effectiveness of this method, though from what I have read it seems it can be very useful for natural sounding speech, but less useful for fluency – as when it comes down to it, you are just repeating without necessarily learning any meaning. I imagine combining this with learning the key language of the text would make it more helpful. This is something I will be trying out more in the future.
That’s not all!
There’s an abundance of resources for learning Korean now, this is just a snippet of what’s out there! I have found the ones I mentioned useful, however it is by no means an exhaustive list, so do some searching of your own and find out what works for you.
I meant to include a short list of resources at the end of Part 2 of my Korean phrases post, but it got way too long. So instead my resource list morphed into what has turned out to be a much longer post! :p Hopefully I have given you some ideas about how to carry on studying from the basic phrases introduced previously.
Let me know in the comments what resources you have used for learning Korean, or any other language! I’m always interested to hear what works for other people. Maybe you can give me some ideas!