Korean Self Studying Advice

Like most self-studiers of Korean, "frustrated" is only the first of many words to describe the process of finding quality resources. The next thought is usually "... I should have picked Chinese or Japanese..." Fear not. I'm here to lend my personal advice. I am by no means an expert but I have bought and discarded far too many books and checked out entirely too many websites in search of Korean fluency. If I could tell young Matthew a few things, this is what I would tell him. Here are my tips in no particular order:


Stop buying phrasebooks. They are for reference after you have learned them from other places (ideally a formal class). Picking up skinny phrasebook after phrasebook at barnes and noble or amazon just because they are on sale is ultimately a waste of time. Korean is not a language which has a 1:1 English correspondence. Don't expect a book to tell you exactly to express one thought because it's not going to work. This was a hard lesson for me to learn. A phrasebook is a reference and nothing more.

If you haven't already, stop using romanization. Learn 한글. This seems a bit obvious but I resisted learning the Korean 'alphabet' for almost a year into casual studying. Waste of time. Romanization is sloppy no matter what system you use. Furthermore, English letters do not accurately correspond to the sounds in the Korean language so don't try to make a square peg fit in a round hole. Writing "kamsahamnida" instead of "감사합니다" is just lazy. Thankfully, 한글 is easy to pick up. It took me less than two days to be able to read and write all letters and that's considered to be longer than the normal student. Most pick it all up in one day. To learn from scratch, start here for some suggestions.To type on your computer, follow this link and take a look at this photo. Then, buy some stickers and you're all set! More advice on typing in Korean.

Don't use Rosetta Stone. It's garbage. just my opinion. total waste of money. if you are going to pay for a program, then...

...instead, use KoreanClass101.com. I used it for about two years straight and it helped me immensely with my listening. The premium membership is totally worth it. There's almost three years of past material waiting to be downloaded for new members. It's quite newbie friendly. Great for commuters, exercising and any other small amount of time you can cram with your iPod. A great product.

Speak Korean. Do a language exchange. This sounds obvious but it's vital. In my case, I met. Scared? Nervous? Simply don't know how to conjucate verbs? Start small and get a penpal. Hanlingo and Lang-8 are great starting places. There are people willing to help you. If you're not the most tech-savvy person or prefer face-to-face (as I do) find a local Korean church, restaurant, what-have-you and be confident. Meet consistently and practice what you talked about in the last meeting. Don't expect the meetings alone to make you fluent. You;ll still have to self-study at home. But, you will be surprised how many people want this arrangement. You learn Korean and they learn English. Win-win. I did this for about a year-and-a-half in college and it was awesome. I met some wonderful people. 유정 누나 you were the best tutor!

Broke? Be resourceful. Don't be scared of free material. Take a look at TalkToMeInKorean or any other link in my sidebar. All of them have helped me in some way. However, I would advise to avoid the often linked Online Sogang Korean Course. Ever notice that the people who mention the free Sogang course can't speak a lick of Korean? There's a reason. It's worthless IMHO. Plenty of other helpful sites other than that outdated mess of a course.

Get into Korean entertainment. It helps. TV dramas, pop music, movies and the like really help to understand some of the culture and to hear natively spoken language. Who knows, you might actually learn something from watching a drama or two. For more, take a look at my movie recommendations as well as ones to avoid. Here are some dramas to to look out for. DramaFever has English subtitled dramas. Lastly, my music recommendations. Music has helped me; especially at 노래방. It's like read-singing practice that is actually fun to do with your friends.

Get a good self-study book or two. Or twelve. I like the KLEAR series published by the University of Hawaii. Look on Amazon for "Integrated Korean" and you'll not be disappointed. I've learned a lot from these textbooks. They are intuitively set up and really explain in plain English the intricacies that a native English speaker encounters when learning Korean. The accompanying workbooks are not bad, either. I actually learned 한글 that way.

Take the plunge. Take a formal language class. It's scary, expensive and most likely not available in your neighborhood. But if it does exist, take it. I'm from Texas and although there's a lot of 교포 living there, I couldn't find a university or academy class that had Korean language in my area. So in the summer of 2008, I went to Korea and took a three week intensive class at Ewha that changed my entire studying habits, understanding of Korean, and overall confidence.

Chart your progress. Remind yourself why you are studying. Start a study blog. It helps to make you accountable. Didn't study last week? The internet will get you... Otherwise, make reasonable and attainable goals. If you set a goal to be 100% fluent in five months in hopes to marry some celebrity, rethink why you're studying in the first place. In my case, my goal was to be able to speak to my parents-in-law. I always studied with that in mind - even before I met my fiancé. The idea was to study hard enough to make them comfortable with me taking care of their daughter. Although my Korean is nowhere I'd like it to be, this goal has been achieved. Further study is to make them even more at ease.

Create original content. If you have the confidence, do the youtube thing. Write in a journal. Keep up with it and you never know - it may grow out of control one day like mine did. Get a native speaker to check it. Be open to suggestions but always consider the source of advice.

Ask questions. Make mistakes. Grow as a human being. Learning Korean has been an eye-opening experience that has made me discover my own culture by comparison. Be active in a community be it online or in real life. Don't be discouraged by someone else that speaks Korean better than you and has studied for less time. Know this: There will always be someone who speaks better than you. Trust me. I am always looking up to people only to find someone looking up to me. They aren't you and you aren't them. Comparing progress is only setting yourself up to be discouraged. Just do what you can, be diligent, study consistently, keep your goals in mind and you'll be surprised how well you do after a year or two. This time two years ago I couldn't even tell time. I'm amazed how far I've gotten thus far. Living in Korea has only reinforced that although I'm conversational, I have a long long way to go to fluency. But it's like my mother always says "Life is a journey". Always changing. Always moving. How I speak Korean today is nothing like it will be in four years let alone four months.

Anyways, I hope this is of some help. In the end, being pro-active and keeping a positive mind will help you out a lot.

16 Responses to “Korean Self Studying Advice”

khairshapiee said...

안녕하세요!!
그거 많이 도울 거예요.
감사합니다 매튜 씨.

lyrynne said...

Thanks for the advice! I really hate those slim books, I really thought it could help me but...it only taught me curse words. I love your passion for Korean language and you remind me of a friend and I think you know her, she's Hangukdrama or Shanna^^

Lareien Lacroix said...

hey! thank you ! I'm try to learn by myself but I don`t have money to pay a course ._. so free site are my saver! n_n

take care and good luck with your girlfriend!

Chika said...

wow..from reading your blog I realize I was really lucky in finding good material early. I haven't been across anything which was not helpful from the beginning as I signed up to Koreanclass101 and received the CD DVD. That's how I learned how to write and read 한글. hehe. I also checked out BusyAtom on youtube, and I think learning with him is pretty awesome as well.

Anyway...

감사합니다 for the tips you listed. They should be very useful to a lot of people who are learning Korean.

ilovehangeul said...

These pieces of advice has lifted my spirit.:)A week ago I failed in an korean exam and felt discouraged.
I'm gonna read all your entries and I'm sure will learn from it.

Unknown said...

If I am planning to go korea this december, is that those phrasebook be useful? And if do which brand should I buy?

krsnlmr said...

Meh. The lessons Seogang University offer are very useful. I learned everything (not really everything lol) there. I learned how to converse with Koreans like I'm a local. Well, contrary to what you said, I highly recommend you guys use Sogang Univ. It is very useful. :)

Sen Hyung Kim said...


공부 정말 많이 하시나봐요
정리도 잘 되어 있고
멋지네요!

Mark Jernigan said...

Get Talking Korean worked for me. Korean is such a complex language, it's really tough and time consuming to try to learn the grammar and complex word order. Fine if you're a student, but I just needed to quickly learn the necessary expressions for a trip to Korea, and Get Talking Korean did the trick.

tubeist- dan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tubeist- dan said...

Re: romanization. It depends on how it's implemented, and I see few textbooks, courses, etc. that make reasonable use of it. The 2010 ed. of Vincent/Yeon's Teach Yourself/Complete Korean came the closest. I think their emphasis on grammar-translation exercises was a drawback, when they could have served the learner better by stuffing the book with loads and loads of dialogic/conversational material, and then used those as templates for elaboration.

Also, no language should be taught without a preliminary week of linguistic overview. The time spent is vastly returned with pedagogical compound interest at the end of the year when a student can whip through texts that are fully parsed down to the every-morpheme level, and they can understand elliptical explanations, and instantly grasp why 'k'—>'g' intervocalically, and that it's not an arbitrary 'rule' that just has to be memorized (along with many other 'rules'), but a common artifact of speech mechanics that is not restricted to Korean. It's far worse to have to wade through (as well as write, from the author's perspective) convoluted explanations that simply waste time and wear out patience.

Those items, collectively, are what I don't see in any material—book, recording, website, whatever. Nor am I advocating old-school substitution-transformation drills a la FSI Korean. Elaboration should be integrated into meaningful, preferably illustrated and audio-provided and (where economically possible) video contexts.

Gréta Gombos said...

You give meg some hope,I'm a pharmacy student and I didn't have time and energi to start, but this article give meg some energi, Thank you :-)

Hoang Binh said...

Thank you for all your advice. It makes me know how is the my goal of Korean studying. With this advice I will do it better in my study with Korean language.

Hoang Binh said...

Thank you for all your advice. It makes me know how is the my goal of Korean studying. With this advice I will do it better in my study with Korean language.

Unknown said...

Thanks amazing advice

Eaalim Institute said...

Great blog, Thanks.



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