The Best Way To Learn Korean With 13 Top Tips
Updated October 11, 2022
Korean can be challenging but hugely rewarding. If you’re looking to learn this wonderful Asian language, read on to discover the best way to learn Korean with 13 effective tips.
So you want to learn Korean
Korean is the official language of two countries: North and South Korea. It’s also spoken by millions of people across the US, China, and Japan.
According to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), Korean is a category IV language – one of the hardest languages to learn for native English speakers. The institute’s website estimates that it takes 88 weeks – or 2,200 hours of intense study – to reach conversational fluency.
That being said, there are several methods that can shorten this timeline. This article will show you the best way to learn Korean with our 13 tips and tricks.
Before we move on, remember that our Fluent Forever app and Live Coaching program offer a proven method to learn any language, including Korean. Sign up and start learning today!
The 13 best tips to learn Korean fast
The Fluent Forever method: the best way to learn Korean
The 13 best tips to learn Korean fast
Start with the basics
1. Master Hangul한글, the Korean alphabet
The Korean alphabet is known as Hangul 한글 . It is made up of 24 core letters: 14 consonants (ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅅ ㅇ ㅈ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ) and 10 vowels (ㅏ ㅑ ㅓ ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅡ ㅣ).
When you first start learning Korean, it might be easier to rely on the Latin alphabet to pronounce and spell out Korean words. However, you will realize that this isn’t a viable long-term strategy.
Mastering Hangul as soon as possible is the best way to learn Korean fast. Here are some reasons why you won’t be able to rely on the Latin alphabet forever:
First off, you will need to know Hangul to read and write in Korean. Second, the Latin alphabet lacks some sounds in the Korean alphabet. Third, the sooner you learn Hangul, the easier it will be to use learning resources like textbooks.
Lastly, Hangul is relatively easy to learn. Unlike the Chinese and Japanese alphabets, where a single character can mean a specific word or term, all you need to do is memorize the separate sounds of each letter, plus the syllables that stem from the combinations of consonants and vowels.
Hangul 한글 was invented according to the position and shapes of the tongue and teeth inside our mouth. Design lessons from the Korean alphabet will help you understand this system.
Focus on memorizing the alphabet while learning the sounds to create an audio-visual connection. There are tons of online resources like this one to help you learn the Hangul alphabet in a short time. Omniglot’s article on Hangul gives handy tips as well.
Speed up the process by writing the letters and combinations while pronouncing their sounds out loud. You can double-check your pronunciation with the video of this native speaker and their dog.
Once you have a good grasp of Hangul, practice reading with short Korean texts like movie posters or K-pop ads. A quick Google Image search for these will do it!
2. Learn Korean pronunciation
The good news is that Korean is a highly phonetic, non-tonal language. In other words, a word’s spelling will tell you how it’s pronounced, and there are no special tones or inflections that change a term’s meaning.
Our brains are wired to our native tongue. Rewiring your ears to understand Korean will help you learn the language faster for a couple of reasons:
It will make learning vocabulary easier. The words you hear won’t sound entirely foreign, and you’ll be able to identify the different parts of a word.
Knowing Korean pronunciation will also help you remember vocabulary for longer. Plus, it will get you to speak sooner and more confidently.
The fastest way to learn Korean pronunciation is through tests using minimal pairs, or similar-sounding words of a language (think moss and mass in English).
The Fluent Forever app can train your ears and brain to understand Korean sounds with ready-to-use minimal pair tests. While you’re using the app, you can also look for online resources like this one to practice and reinforce pronunciation.
Lastly, you can complement your pronunciation by watching Korean films or listening to Korean podcasts and music. More on that in a bit!
3. Use flashcards for vocabulary
The best way to learn Korean vocabulary and grammar is through flashcards with images. As a matter of fact, flashcards can be used to memorize almost everything effectively.
Flashcards allow you to create deeper connections in your brain that provide a faster way for you to learn information. Combined with an SRS (spaced repetition system), you can also retain information for longer.
Find out more about the science behind flashcards here.
You can create your own flashcards and SRS using pen, paper, and scissors. Make sure to use clear and memorable images, and stay away from direct translations!
Images, pictures, or drawings create stronger associations between you and the words you’re trying to learn. Consequently, this will make them more meaningful and harder to forget.
Additionally, focus on learning frequently used words in Korean. Knowing the most common words in Korean will help you understand a bigger chunk of the conversations and readings you come across.
You can start off with the Most Awesome Word List Ever. It compiles 625 of the most frequently used words in different languages, including Korean. Get it here.
If arts and crafts aren’t your thing, consider using a digital flashcard software called Anki. The benefit of Anki is that it makes creating flashcards a bit easier and it integrates an SRS. You can read about downloading and using Anki here and here.
If you want an even easier alternative, simply download the Fluent Forever app. The app simplifies and automates the flashcard creation process while providing personalized review sessions based on our patented SRS algorithm. It uses the 625 Word List mentioned above, as well as hundreds of sentences, to build your vocabulary and language knowledge bank.
4. Get a high-quality Korean textbook
Working through a good language book or two can certainly support your learning process. Just make sure you pick ones recommended by language experts and reviewed positively by other learners.
Korean textbooks are structured resources that cover every important element of the language: pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar.
They are also a reliable source to answer questions, and usually have helpful exercises. This is especially important for learners who are tackling Korean on their own.
Make sure you get a good-quality textbook that comes with audio support. If it includes exercises, check that it comes with an answer key.
Before you buy, confirm with a tutor or an experienced learner whether the book you’re interested in is recommended for learning Korean effectively. You should be able to find online reviews for the most popular ones out there.
Check out our resources section for some of our favorite Korean books for pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, and more.
Build your Korean vocabulary
5. Take advantage of Konglish
Many languages borrow words from English and adapt them to their vocabulary. In the case of Korean, this type of vocab is referred to as Konglish.
You can start learning vocabulary with Konglish to boost your confidence and reinforce your knowledge of the Hangul alphabet. Additionally, Konglish is great for fine-tuning your ear to Korean pronunciation.
While some Konglish words will sound somewhat similar in both English and Korean, others will change to varying degrees. Also, consider that the actual meaning and everyday use of these words might be different in Korean.
But that’s the fun part! Learning with Konglish allows you to build your vocabulary and pronunciation skills with familiar words, while discovering interesting differences that distinguish them from their English counterparts.
There are many lists of Konglish words online. Two of them can be found here and here. Make sure to write them down and say them out loud to practice both spelling and pronunciation.
Remember to use flashcards with images to memorize your Konglish better. Lastly, use images for your flashcards that depict how the Konglish word is used differently in Korean.
6. Consume Korean media
The best way to learn Korean words while sitting on your couch is to consume as much Korean media as possible. And there’s plenty of it out there to choose from!
From the Korean film industry to K-pop’s takeover, Korean media and culture has seen an immense boom in the last decades. This wonderful worldwide outburst of Korean music, film, literature, and art is called Hayllu 한류, or the Korean Wave.
It’s never been so easy to access Korean media online, so you should take advantage of it. Watching films and series or listening to podcasts and music in your target language is a fantastic way to complement your vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar learning.
When it comes to films and series, start by watching them with Korean subtitles. As soon as you feel confident enough, switch them off and work your way through pure audio. Of course, turn them back on if you feel lost.
Start off with this list of the best 100 Korean films of all time. For Korean TV streams, head over to Viki.com.
For music, listen to whatever you enjoy. Remember that most music apps, including Spotify, have a Karaoke mode that’ll let you see the lyrics.
Here’s a brief disclaimer: Some of these resources use way more dramatic language compared to real life. So take into account that some vocab might not be applicable in actual, daily conversations.
7. Immerse yourself in Korean
The best way to learn Korean – or any language for that matter – is by immersing yourself in it as much as you can.
In language learning, immersion refers to surrounding yourself with your target language as much as possible.
Forcing yourself to read, think, and speak Korean all day, every day is the most effective way to learn the language. Immersion is super-intense but insanely effective. After all, that’s how we learned our native language.
The ideal scenario would be to spend a good chunk of time in Korea to truly experience total immersion. While moving to Seoul to live and breathe the language would be our top recommendation, we totally understand that not everyone can just quit their job and fly across the ocean to do that.
Luckily, there are loads of ways to mimic immersion. Here are some things you can do to surround yourself with Korean without having to move to Korea:
- Get to know and meet up with native speakers
- Join a conversation club online or in your community
- Do everyday activities like cooking recipes in Korean
- Change your electronics’ language settings to Korean
- Switch to Korean YouTube channels
- Change your music, film, and podcast choices to Korean options
Practice speaking Korean
8. Enroll in a course
Some people like to study on their own terms and at their own pace. Others need more structure and guidance. If you’re in the latter team, you might want to consider enrolling in a course.
Guided courses led by a certified language teacher provide a more structured journey for those who need it. What’s more, most courses use helpful written and spoken exercises that reinforce grammar and pronunciation, respectively.
If your teacher is a native speaker, you’ll even get native-level pronunciation feedback. Lastly, tests and quizzes help keep you accountable for your progress.
Look for offline options around your community. Most places have native speakers who organize courses or language schools that offer certified classes.
Alternatively, look for online options to learn from the comfort of your home. Here’s a short list of online courses to get you started:
9. Meet up with native speakers
Using and speaking Korean as soon, and as much, as possible is one of the best ways to learn Korean and remember it.
Native speakers are an invaluable resource for learners of any language. They offer immediate feedback, a neverending source of vocabulary, and are a fun alternative to books and software.
More often than not, native speakers will motivate you to learn their mother tongue, especially if it’s not as widely spoken as other more popular languages.
KakaoTalk is South Korea’s most popular instant messaging app. As such, it’s a great place to connect with South Koreans and meet someone to practice your Korean.
You can also join a language exchange community on social media and find a partner there. There are other more dedicated sites, such as MeetUp and MyLanguageExchange, where you can find native speakers to practice with.
To help you out, here’s an intro message you can use to connect with a potential exchange partner online:
“Hi! I noticed you’re learning the [X] language. That’s my native language. 😊I hope you’re having fun while doing it. I’m trying to learn Korean, and I’m looking for an exchange partner. Would you be interested in exchanging languages?”
10. Work with a tutor
The best way to learn Korean 1-on-1 is with a language tutor. This is a particularly great option for people who want the guided quality of a course but prefer to learn with one person only.
As we mentioned earlier, some people need a bit more guidance and accountability when learning a new language. And while some enjoy courses, others prefer a more personal approach. A private session with a language tutor is ideal for this second type of learner.
Language tutors are usually native speakers with the added advantage of being certified in language teaching. And because of the 1-on-1 element, your tutor will have an easier time keeping track of your progress.
Fluent Forever’s Live Coaching pairs you up with a Korean native speaker certified in our proven language teaching methodology.
Our tutors, referred to as language coaches, will help keep you motivated and hold you accountable for your studies while creating personalized sessions based on your goals, interests, and passions.
You can sign up for Fluent Forever’s Live Coaching here.
Develop good learning habits
11. Choose a fun method that works
The worldwide interest in language learning has created an entire industry of resources – from books to software, apps, and courses. Therefore, when looking for the best way to learn Korean, focus on finding a method that is both fun and effective.
When it comes to learning any new skill, progress and motivation work hand in hand. To acquire a new language, you should focus on resources, strategies, and methodologies that deliver encouraging results and keep you eager to continue.
Here are some things to consider when choosing your Korean language learning method:
Is it comprehensive?
In the case of apps, it’s very common for the focus to fall on one element of the language: grammar, pronunciation, or vocabulary. Usually, apps will fail to cover pronunciation, resulting in an incomplete learning experience.
Make sure that your chosen tool or technique covers everything needed to reach fluency. Bonus points if it includes speaking practice!
Is it fun and engaging?
Boredom is the enemy. Whatever method you opt for to learn Korean, it’s got to be something you find interesting and enjoyable. The more engaged and motivated you are to learn, the faster and easier it’ll be to learn the language.
Is it effective?
Effective learning yields results, and results yield motivation. The method you use to learn Korean should teach you the basics of the language and continuously move you closer to fluency.
For example, if the materials and method you pick rely on direct translations to learn vocabulary, odds are you will struggle to learn and retain new words. That’s why some Duolingo learners feel that they’re having a hard time learning new words.
Talking about effectiveness, remember that Fluent Forever uses a tried-and-tested language learning system. You can read more about the Fluent Forever method here.
12. Set goals and be accountable for your progress
What’s the use of finding the best way to learn Korean if you don’t know where the finish line is? In other words, setting goals with deadlines is a surefire way to make steady progress towards fluency.
Setting a concrete goal will let you know when you’ve reached the level of fluency you were looking for. Furthermore, it’ll give you a finishing line to strive for, something to keep you motivated.
It’s also important to set milestones with deadlines to reach along the way. Getting to these “checkpoints” will allow you to track your progress and identify the areas you need to focus on more.
When it comes to identifying an end goal, make sure it’s specific to you. Avoid being vague about it, and think of something that will push you to keep studying and learning everyday.
For example, instead of “I want to learn Korean to learn a new language,” pick a more personal goal such as:
- Relating better to my Korean friends and relatives
- Studying in Seoul for a full year
- Applying for a work opening in South Korea next year
In terms of milestones, think S.M.A.R.T: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound. Make sure that your checkpoints cover every word of this handy acronym. Here are some examples of S.M.A.R.T milestones:
- Learn 5 new everyday phrases every week
- Be able to hold a conversation with a native speaker in 2 months
- Pass a mock admission test for an exchange program in 6 months, then pass the actual test in 1 year
13. Be consistent!
Lastly, to learn anything new, consistency is queen! Whatever you do, make sure you create a sustainable study schedule to learn Korean.
Picking up a new language is a hard skill to master, especially if it’s a relatively harder language, like Korean. However, it won’t be any easier if you study sporadically and without a schedule.
There’s no right or wrong amount of time to learn a new language – some people can do an hour a day, while others only manage a 15-minute slot during their lunch break. The important thing is to make sure you can practice and review what you learn as often as possible.
Needless to say, the longer you spend studying Korean everyday, the faster you will learn it. That being said, everyone’s life is different. What matters is that you make the most out of the time you have.
Korean language resources
First off, get a feel for how pronunciation works in English. The video tutorials here should help, along with this video and this one.
Once you understand that, start working on Korean. We recommend Choo and Grady’s The Sounds of Korean. It comes with a CD (if you get it, make sure it comes with the CD!).
For online resources, see Wikipedia’s Korean Phonology page. In many ways, Korean is a lot kinder than Japanese or Chinese since it’s phonetic and there just aren’t that many letters.
Your base vocabulary
Once you’ve gone through our frequency list, you can move on to these vocab resources:
Here’s a great Korean frequency dictionary, arranged in 3 sections. Section A has the first 1,000 most common words, B has the next 2,000, and C has the next 3,000. It comes with a link to mp3s for correct pronunciation.
The Language Guide’s Korean vocabulary section, which is basically a giant picture dictionary with excellent sound clips, is also a great source of vocabulary. In terms of online dictionaries, Bluedic.com, and dic.daum.net are both excellent.
If you want a Korean-English dictionary you can hold in your hand, then consider the Hippocrene Standard Dictionary.
Lastly, remember that the Fluent Forever app covers our 625-word vocabulary list plus a bunch of new words. It also lets you add new, custom flashcards for words and sentences you find interesting. Get it here.
Dictionarist provides translations, example sentences, conjugations, and synonyms for a number of languages, including Korean.
Many people will recommend the Integrated Korean Textbook series. There are around 10 of them that run from absolute beginner to advanced levels, and they’re fairly good.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to get the answer key, which makes them less than ideal for self-study.
So far, the best books we’ve seen for self-study seem to be King and Yeon’s Elementary Korean. They come with CDs, the workbook comes with an answer key, they get great reviews, and in general, they should serve well for taking you through the basics on your own.
You can also try their second book, Continuing Korean, if you’re an intermediate student.
You can read anything that you enjoy. We’re big fans of the Harry Potter series in translation, especially if you can find an audiobook version to listen to at the same time as reading. New ones are absurdly expensive, but there are plenty of used ones, so just get those.
The Fluent Forever method: the best way to learn Korean
Together, the Fluent Forever app and Live Coaching program provide you with our 4-Step Method to learn Korean:
Step 1 – The app trains your ears to identify Korean pronunciation with minimal pair tests. Through these tests, you will also learn Hangul.
Step 2 – You learn essential Korean vocabulary with the amazing power of flashcards. Using our internal SRS algorithm, the app simplifies the process of creating and reviewing flashcards with images.
Step 3 – Using words you’ve already learned, the app will teach you Korean grammar with flashcards. You can also choose the sentences you want to practice or add new ones of your own!
Step 4 – To wrap everything up, our language coaches get you to speak Korean frequently. They are 100% native speakers and certified in our learning method. Your 1-on-1 sessions are based on your goals and personal interests, so that they’re both fun and relevant to you.
Ready to start learning Korean? Download the Fluent Forever app and join our Live Coaching program to reach fluency fast![shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="28313910"]
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