Learning Korean is not easy, especially in the beginning. Since the language is very different from German, you first have to find your way around.
That’s why we’ve put together this list of tips for learning Korean. These tips should help you navigate all aspects of the Korean language.
Reading, speaking, listening and writing. These tips will not only help you understand the Korean language better, but will also make your learning more fun.
1. learn the Korean alphabet first
The Korean alphabet is the first thing you learn. Korean could also be written with the same letters as German. This spelling is called Romanization because the letters we use in German come from the Romans, that is, from Latin.
Then why is the Korean alphabet the first thing we learn when there is romanization? Sometimes I get the question from students on YouTube about why I don’t provide romanization when we are learning the alphabet. There’s a simple reason for that. The sounds of the Korean language often cannot be transferred exactly to the German alphabet. If we were to learn Korean with romanization, we would distort the pronunciation.
Now learning a new alphabet may sound like a big challenge, but I have good news. There are many languages in the world, but not many alphabets, and the Korean alphabet is the simplest alphabet in the world. If you want to know exactly why this is so, you’d better read this article about the origin of the Korean alphabet. The Korean alphabet was created specifically for the Korean language and to counteract the illiteracy that existed because of the use of Chinese writing until 500 years ago. So Hangeul was created to make reading and writing easy to learn.
It is hard to believe, but illiteracy in Korea today is one of the lowest in the world. In fact, much lower than in Germany.
If you haven’t started learning Korean yet, I recommend starting with this Korean alphabet playlist on YouTube. If you practice for half an hour every day, you will be able to read and write almost everything in two weeks.
2. build your vocabulary
After learning Hangeul, you can start learning simple words and phrases. Korean vocabulary is easy to learn because the words often consist of only one or two syllables and the Korean language as a whole does not have many sounds. This makes it easy to memorize the words.
Our approach is to build a solid foundation in the beginning that you can build on later. If you start with the Korean for Beginners alphabet playlist, your progress will be slow, but what you learn, you learn right.
We recommend that in the beginning you only learn vocabulary that you will actually use. If you learn vocabulary that you can’t use in everyday conversation, you’ll either have to practice that vocabulary by repeating it over and over again, or you’ll forget it.
When you are at the very beginning of your learning, you will not only learn the vocabulary and expressions, but also practice hangeul and pronunciation. So don’t get demotivated if you only take small steps each day. It’s probably going to happen more than you think.
We think that learning vocabulary is important. Vocabulary is the building block of language, but it’s the mix that counts and in the end we always have to put what we learn into practice.
3. familiarize yourself with the Korean language
Korean is often called one of the most difficult foreign languages in the world because it is an isolated language. This means that Korean is not related to any other language in theory, although there are many similarities with Japanese and Chinese. Korean is a far cry from German, but if you quickly familiarize yourself with the differences at the beginning of your learning, you will find that Korean is not as difficult as it first seems and as is often claimed.
If you want to know the structure of the Korean language in detail, you can find an article here to learn the structure of the Korean language, but here are already the 3 biggest differences to German and thus the main features of the Korean language.
One of the big differences between German and Korean is sentence order. In German, the subject comes first, followed by the verb and then the object. In Korean, however, the subject comes first, then the object, and the verb always comes at the end of the sentence.
I eat rice – 저는 밥을 먹어요 – I (저는) eat rice (밥을) (먹어요)
I go to school 저는 학교에 가요 – I (저는) go to school (학교에) (가요)
Besides Korean politeness, particles are the biggest challenge. Korean particles mark sentence parts such as subject, object, theme, and place, to name a few. It’s logical, practical, and wouldn’t be that difficult, but Korean particles have other functions as well. Korean particles add subtle nuances for which there is often no translation in German.
I can only give you a tip for learning Korean particles. Don’t try to understand the concept of particles right away! This has already driven one or the other student crazy. Gerhard, who you may know from the YouTube channel, is one of those students, but has since accepted that it is a long road to mastering Korean particles. Therefore, the particles appear again and again in the videos on our channel.
Politeness in Korean is very important, especially politeness to elders and politeness in certain situations. But don’t worry! The politeness forms can be confusing even for Koreans and at first you can get by with the basics. If you already want to learn the politeness forms or want to know more about them, you can watch this video about the politeness forms on YouTube or read this article about the politeness forms.
As a guideline at the beginning, when in doubt, always use the polite form. Politeness in Korean is a completely different concept than being formal in German and, for example, one or two years difference in age can make a difference.
4. don’t worry too much
Don’t worry too much! This is probably the Korean learning tip I give most often when someone has a question on YouTube or on Instagram. These questions often revolve around particles, exact pronunciation, or forms of politeness.
While particles and politeness are crucial to mastering Korean, they are also the most complex topics. It is therefore impossible to understand them completely at first go. The pronunciation is less difficult, but often the whole concept is not immediately obvious to you.
Don’t let that stop you. You have to understand and hear everything once, but you don’t have to memorize everything. Especially pronunciation will be perfected as you learn more grammar, words and phrases, and the use of particles and politeness will also open up to you step by step. It is much more important that you start speaking and have fun discovering the Korean language step by step.
5. use the language as much as possible
While grammar and vocabulary are the cornerstones of a language, only regular speaking will lead to success. Lack of practice is often the problem with traditional language teaching in schools. This is also the reason why a stay abroad is so effective for learning a language. Find as many opportunities as possible to practice what you have learned. Get creative and active. Here are a few ideas on how you can use the Korean language:
- Find a tandem partner for language exchange
- Find a language course with a practical focus (online or near you)
- Private lessons on online platforms like italki are available for just a few euros per hour.
- A trip to South Korea (not always possible, but very effective)
- Meetups in your area also as a possibility to get to know Korean learners and Koreans
- Singing along with K-Pop songs instead of just passively listening to them
- Talking along with the KDrama instead of just passively watching it
- The active speaking along with lessons on YouTube
- Conversations with your Korean friends (real or imaginary)
The Internet allows us to access information and connect with others at the touch of a button, regardless of location. The options listed here are just a few of the endless possibilities you have.
6. find a korean tandem partner
There are many Koreans who live in Europe as students or for work. German as a foreign language is not easy either. Therefore, there are probably as many Koreans looking for someone to teach them German as there are Korean language learners in the German-speaking world.
A language exchange is a great addition to a course, but also a way to practice and get feedback from native Korean speakers when learning Korean on your own. In addition, a language exchange can be a way to make new friends and build a network. If you decide to go on a language exchange, we have an article here on how to find a tandem partner, with tips for a successful language exchange.
7. join a language learning community
The internet has made it easier than ever to connect with others virtually or in real life. Not only can you find a Korean tandem partner online, but there are hundreds of like-minded Korean learners who meet regularly either in your area or online. If there are no such groups in your area yet, you can start one! Korean is becoming more and more popular and even in our small city of Salzburg there are several of my courses every semester. This way you can be sure that you are not alone in your learning.
8. take korean lessons
If professional tuition is too expensive for you, but you want more than just self-study or a tandem partner, there are many ways to get tutoring from native speakers for little money. Sites like ITalki can help you find someone to tutor you privately in Korean. On iTalki you can find both professional teachers and untrained native speakers to help you learn their language. The prices range from €5,- to €15,-, depending on the qualification.
You can even find Koreans who speak English and German well, but of course the choice is greater if your language exchange is in English. For advanced learners, this type of language exchange is an excellent way to practice speaking because it is less dependent on the didactic skills of the partner.
9. listen or find your favorite K-Pop artist
For many of you, this tip goes without saying. For many, K-pop is the reason they learn Korean. While we wouldn’t recommend Kpop as a foundation for Korean language learning, it’s a great way to further immerse yourself in the Korean language. You can have the music playing in the background while you’re on your way to school or work, sing along, dance, and try to understand as much as you can.
Active learning is the key to success, but passive learning in the form of Kpop is not only a good addition, but fun and entertaining. But learning with Kpop doesn’t have to be passive at all. Here is our guide to learning Korean with Kpop.
10. use Konglish to your advantage
Like German, Korean has many loan words from English. This Korean mixed English is called Konglish. Konglish comes primarily from the influence America has had on Korea in recent history. For words like 카페 (ka-peh) for coffee, 카메라 (ka-meh-ra) for camera, and 택시 (tek-shi) for taxi, you don’t even need to know English well to know a lot of vocabulary without learning it.
Most of the time, these English loan words are pronounced with a strong Korean accent. So you will recognize and understand more and more of these words as you get used to the Korean pronunciation. My tip for learning Korean with Konglish would be to make a list of Konglish words.
With these words, you can not only quickly improve your vocabulary, but also your knowledge of the Korean alphabet and pronunciation, and learn how to write words in Korean that are not actually part of the Korean language. This works with all words in all languages. For example also with names, although the pronunciation often has to be adapted strongly to Korean and there are often different interpretations.
11. watch your favorite K-drama series
Do you know why there’s so much Kpop and KDramas? The Korean wave, also known as Hallyu, began in Asia in the 90s. It did not start by itself, but because the Korean government encouraged investors to expand into the media sector during the economic crisis and provided a substantial budget for training media professionals.
At the time, Hollywood movies were actually becoming more popular, but the government’s strategy worked. Korean series, movies and music became one of South Korea’s major exports and the Korean wave is still going strong.
That’s why there are thousands of Korean series available for you to learn the language in a fun way. As with listening to Kpop, our tip for learning Korean with series is to not just learn passively, but to bring as much interaction as possible to what would otherwise be a passive pastime. For more tips on learning Korean with series, check out our guide to learning Korean with K-Drama.
12. immersion in korean cinema
Personally, we like Korean movies better than K-drama, but that’s a matter of taste. Basically, learning with Korean movies is the same as learning Korean with series. Regardless of personal preferences and the Kdrama and Kpop trend, however, Korean cinema has made film history. Korean movies are not only popular with surfers of the Korean wave, but also with cineastes who have nothing else to do with South Korea.
From the recent award-winning film Parasite to the films of Park Chan-Wook to comedies like Miracle in Cell No. 7 and historical films like Ode to My Father. You can find our favorite Korean movies in this article.
13. plan a stay in Korea
Studying abroad in South Korea is undoubtedly the most effective way to improve your Korean. Of course, this is not possible at all times and not for everyone. If you have the opportunity to travel to Korea, I recommend learning as much Korean as possible beforehand. When you are at the very beginning of your learning, it will be difficult to practice your Korean even when you are in Korea.
But if you’re already a little advanced, Korea is a great place to put your language skills into practice. Koreans do not like to speak English and are surprised and delighted when foreigners learn and speak Korean.
Here are a few tips to get the most out of your trip:
- Prepare for specific topics you will need on your trip. How do you order in a restaurant and how do you shop? How do you introduce yourself or ask for directions?
- Travel alone to get out of your comfort zone and be forced to talk to strangers and maybe even make new friends.
- Travel not only to Seoul or Busan, but also to smaller cities or the countryside. The less English the locals speak, the more you will have to speak Korean.
- Look for opportunities to meet locals. Options include couchsurfing or finding a homestay through sites like Workaway.
- Do things that the locals would do. Gerhard, for example, used to go to Crossfit whenever he traveled. With activities like this, you live like a local for a moment.
- Don’t let your fear of making mistakes stop you from speaking. You will automatically get rid of this fear the more you speak.
14. surround yourself with korean
Of course, few people can just pack their bags and start a long journey or even a life in Korea. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate Korean into your daily life. You can practice Korean outside of your daily study by using your cell phone and computer in Korean, for example.
Advanced users can read or watch the news in Korean and listen to podcasts or audiobooks, but beginners can also use these tools. Even if you don’t understand everything or maybe even nothing at the beginning, you will become familiar with the language and its sound.
Study with flashcards or use Korean learning apps when you’re waiting for the bus or even just have a few minutes break. Practicing regularly, even if it’s just for a few minutes, will pay off in the long run.
15. reading Korean texts aloud
Even though Korean sounds similar to German at first glance, there are often subtle differences in pronunciation. This does not mean that Korean is more difficult than other languages. These subtle differences exist between most languages, and mastering these subtleties is what separates a native speaker from someone who learned Korean as a foreign language.
However, in order to learn correct pronunciation, one must not only recognize how the sounds differ, but also train these sounds. The different sounds are produced by the shape of the lips, tongue and teeth. Therefore, the muscles in the mouth need to be exercised and practicing speaking is much more like a fitness workout than you would think. That’s why I always advise you to read out loud when you’re studying. No matter what you learn.
16. write something in Korean every day
While speaking is the most important part of learning a language, sooner or later you will also want to master spelling and writing. That’s why it’s also worth writing a little bit every day from the beginning. It doesn’t have to be much. For example, you could post on Instagram or set up your own Twitter account where you post something every day and even get feedback and document your progress. If you prefer to write privately, you can keep a journal in which you record your thoughts and what you learn.
17. start speaking Korean right now
Most beginners think that they can speak Korean when they have learned enough. Believe me, if you wait until you’ve learned enough to speak, you’ll never start. You won’t feel more confident after learning more vocabulary and more grammar.
On the other hand, if you speak from day one, you will not only lose the fear of making mistakes, but you will learn from those mistakes and take the first steps towards speaking fluently.
Learning Korean is a challenge worth taking on. Since the Korean language is fundamentally different from German, you need the right approach. First, you should familiarize yourself with the differences in the language before learning the basics. K-drama, K-pop, and Korean series are just a few of the resources you can use.
You should speak Korean as much as possible and preferably maintain contact with native speakers in the form of a tandem partner, a tutor or Korean friends. Also, network with other Korean learners and if possible, travel to Korea at some point and stay there as long as possible. A trip to Korea will not only increase your Korean language skills, but also your motivation to learn the language.