Linguistics

Learn Korean

Learn Korean with these resources

To learn Korean, you’re going need a way to learn correct pronunciation, a frequency dictionary to form your base vocabulary, and a good grammar book. You’ll also benefit from a thematic vocabulary book for specialized vocabulary and maybe a book or two, once you learn your first 1000 words. Make sure you read the Method sectionsof the website, then check out some of these recommended resources (pictures are links):

Pronunciation and Hangul alphabet

Note: As a faster (and more effective) alternative to the following pronunciation resources, check out my Kickstarter project. It will make the first steps of Korean much easier for you, because it takes advantage of how your brain works (and how to re-wire it) in a way that traditional tools just can’t. All fundraising aside, Korean provides some of the greatest pronunciation challenges I’ve come across in a language (at least from the standpoint of an English speaker). It’s just no joke, and the app I’m developing for this language will make that challenge much, much more manageable. If you’re Korean-curious, do consider supporting the project.

First off, get a feel for how pronunciation works in English. The video tutorials here should help, along with these two videos. Once you understand that, start working on Korean. I’d recommend Choo and Grady’s The Sounds of Korean. It comes with a CD (if you get it used, make sure it comes with the CD!). For online resources, see Wikipedia’s Korean Phonology page, and Omniglot’s article on Hangul, the Korean alphabet, isn’t bad. In many ways, Korean is a lot kinder than Japanese or Chinese – it’s phonetic and there just aren’t that many letters. On the other hand, many of the actual sounds are quite difficult to hear. In the next year, I’ll be releasing a tool that’ll help. Until then, you’re going to need to focus on several sounds in particular: All of the plosive consonants come in groups of 3: bul/pul/ppul, dal/ttal/tal, jada/jjada/chada, gada/kkada/kal. All three sound very much alike, and one of the first things you’ll need to do is learn to differentiate them. Most of the other consonants shouldn’t give you trouble, though the two S’s (sal/ssal). The vowels can be tricky as well in a couple of places. [e] vs [ɛ] is ridiculously subtle. I simply can’t hear it yet, and I have quite a bit of practice telling the difference between [e] and [ɛ] in German, French and Italian. The two vowels are much closer in Korean. Fortunately, learning to hear that distinction isn’t critical; to quote one of my Korean friends, “In everyday speech, one might not be able to tell the difference at all.” (Still, if he can hear a difference, it should be possible to learn to hear (and produce) that difference.) More important will be your ability to tell the difference between [u] and [o], and to learn the totally new vowel [ɯ] (unrounded u – basically say “oooh” and let your lips relax completely, while keeping your tongue all the way up and back). How do you do all of this? Until I release my Korean pronunciation trainer, play around with the books discussed above, and check out this recording I had done at Rhinospike. It has EVERY sound you need, and the reader did a phenomenal job of making them all sound as similar as possible, so you can really focus on the subtle differences between each sound.

Your base vocabulary

I’ve made a base vocabulary list of 400 words to start you off! As I talk about in that article, I find it easiest to translate those words using the short dictionaries at the end of a Lonely Planet Phrasebook; they’re cheap, short and give you good, standard translations for your words (just ignore the ridiculous pronunciation guides). Later, when you’re ready for sentences, you can go back to your phrasebook and grab some. After that, try some of these resources: The only decent frequency dictionary I’ve found for Korean is this one, which is arranged in 3 sections: Section A has the first 1000 most common words, B has the next 2000, and C has the next 3000. It comes with a link to mp3s for correct pronunciation. I have not yet found a decent online Korean frequency list, but I’ll keep looking (and if you find one, let me know and I’ll add it here!)

Indiana University’s Korean Multimedia Dictionary

Note: A reader passed along this link. To quote him, “I just want to recommend the above resource for beginners in Korean, which I found extremely useful. It’s an Adobe Flash dictionary that contains many of your 625 base words (a sidebar on the site claims 461 words), all of which have cartoon-like images and male & female pronunciations associated with them. I thought the two family member diagrams were especially helpful, since in Korean one uses different terms for family members depending upon one’s age and gender.”

Grammar book

Many people will recommend the Integrated Korean Textbook series. There are ~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 I’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. I’ve also linked their second book, Continuing Korean, for intermediate students:

Book-type book

You can read anything that you enjoy. I’m a big fan 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.

Other Resources

Korean has some really excellent web resources. I’ve heard great things about both Koreanclass101.com and Sogang’s Korean Course, both of which are free. A reader of mine also suggested LanguageGuide’s Korean vocabulary section, which is basically a giant picture dictionary with excellent sound clips. In terms of online dictionaries, Bluedic.com, dic.daum.net are both excellent, and if you want a Korean-English dictionary you can hold in your hand, then consider the Hippocrene Standard Dictionary.

If you’d like more Internet resources, a reader submitted this really comprehensive list. Check it out!

Korean TV

For Korean TV streams, head over to Viki.com

Reader Suggestions

A reader has suggested a few great resources: a 6,000 word frequency list, a website that is mostly in Korean but also in English, and great resource for learning hangeul and it’s pronunciations.

Dictionarist

Dictionarist provides translations, example sentences, conjugations, and synonyms for a number of languages including Korean.

Try the Fluent Forever App

By the way, did you know the book is now an app. Check out our Fluent Forever app!

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  • 1. Train your ears with pronunciation lessons.
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