How To Learn Korean Part 1: The Basics

Gabriel Tan

Gabriel Tan

Jul 2 2021

·

5 min read

This post is a part of the How to Learn Korean series:

1. How To Learn Korean Part 1: The Basics
2. The Korean-English Learners' Dictionary
3. italki - Online Language Lessons Without Commitment

Want to learn Korean but don't know where to start? Here's a guide that should help you get started! This guide will contain the methods that I used over the last 2-3 years to learn Korean. It's not perfect, nor do I claim it to be the best method, so just adopt the methods that you find useful in your own learning journey.

Why Learn Korean?

Why bother learning Korean when globalization is ramping up every day, and your favourite K-Dramas are subtitled in English anyway? The answer to this question should vary wildly between individuals - whether you are learning because you want to connect on a deeper level with your favorite idol group, whether you want to watch K-Drama without subtitles, or whether you just think it's fun. There's no best answer, but your answer will likely change how committed you will be to learning.

And that's fine! Don't make it an obligation to learn Korean, it is something that you get to do in today's information age at a fraction of the cost as compared to decades ago.

Personally, I started learning Korean because I wanted a new language to learn after getting fairly advanced proficiency in Japanese, and continued learning because of the friends that I made.

One (mis)quote that really stuck with me in my journey was this:

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” - Nelson Mandela

I've managed to experience this firsthand in my relationships with people whom I can speak Korean or Japanese to. It definitely feels like you can connect on a deeper level when you can speak the same language.

I hope that you too, can find a beautiful reason to learn Korean (or any other language, for that matter).

Getting Started - Hangeul (한글)

The first step to getting started with Korean is most definitely to learn Hangeul (한글) first. Learning Korean via romanization is something that I abhor because I think that it is nothing more than a learning clutch that will impede future progress. To make my point, I'd like to challenge you to find someone who's fluent in a language but uses romanization when reading. I honestly think it's impossible. I understand that you want to get to the fun parts of learning the language, but for Korean, since learning 한글 can take as little as 30 minutes, you have no excuse not to.

Besides, learning to read a new script is pretty fun! Here's a video that slowly walks you through the learning process. I haven't actually watched it, but it seems like there are many similar videos on YouTube so just head on over and search for something like "Learn Hangeul in 30 minutes".

Don't worry if you don't get this down perfectly, with enough time and practice it should eventually get to a point where it feels like reading new English words - you have a good idea of how to pronounce it, but you don't know the meaning of it yet.

You might want to use a tool like Anki, or any other Spaced Repetition Software to ingrain them into your long-term memory. I use Anki in my day-to-day routine of committing new words to my long-term memory, and I'll touch on it in a later article as it is a core part of my language learning journey.

Pronunciation

This is an area that I encourage you to work on as early in your language learning journey as possible for the sole reason that good pronunciation habits and bad pronunciation habits alike are hard to change. If your ultimate goal is to sound like a native, then you should consider putting in effort in this area early on, as the effort required to change your existing habits can become monumental as time goes on.

There's a 4-part series from FluentForever on YouTube that will help address pronunciation matters in Korean - it's really good and I highly recommend that you go through all 4 parts when you're starting out. It only takes about 50 minutes and you'll be setting the groundwork for top-notch pronunciation as you go on. You might have to learn a little about the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) which sounds daunting, but I assure you that you will not be disappointed when you compare your pronunciation to other Korean learners who did not do this simple bit of pronunciation training early on.

Get Some Reading Practice

Now we're finally getting to the fun part! With your new found knowledge, you are now equipped to read almost any Korean article on the planet, although you might still make a few mistakes here and there, or are unsure of the irregularities in Korean pronunciation. (For example, 악마 is pronounced like ang-ma, not ak-ma like you might initially think)

I recommend that you sound each syllable out loud and clear while doing your reading practice, and have a cheat sheet nearby to confirm that what you are reading is actually correct. Alternatively, you can make use of Google Translate's text-to-speech function to quickly verify your pronunciation.

Google Translate TTS function

Here are some sites that you can use for practice:

A reading practice session might go something like this:

  1. Read one line / heading on a page
  2. Check and verify your pronunciation
  3. Repeat until confident

Sometimes, you might see irregular pronunciations like the 악마 example above, but it's not your fault - you just don't know the rules yet. As long as you verify that you are correctly practicing character recognition, it's all good! You can learn about these irregular pronunciations next time.

I can easily read 한글, now what?

There's still a long journey ahead of you, but I'd like to keep this post short 😂 In the future posts in this series, I will continue to explain my methodology for learning Korean. Language learning is supposed to be fun and I hope I can make it that way for you too!


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