2. Build your vocabulary
Having once mastered Hangul, you can begin to form your vocabulary. Better to start with numbers (both Korean and Chinese numerals are used in Korea), days of the week, and simple conversational phrases. Then add words that are related to your reason for learning a language. If you decide to learn Korean for the upcoming trip, pay more attention to the words related to the direction of movement and transport. Do you like Korean food? Then work on food-related words. And be sure to write the words in a notebook as you learn new ones. This will help you practice writing and capture words in your memory. The effect of memorization will be much better if you imagine a picture or a funny story.
I Want to Learn Korean… Now What? 3 Steps to Get Started
There is a fairly obvious place to begin learning Korean, and that is Hangul—the Korean alphabet. If you want to pursue the language seriously, you are going to need to be able to read. The alphabet has 24 letters: 14 consonants and 10 vowels.
Luckily, Hangul is a surprisingly easy alphabet to learn. When I first looked at it, I could make neither head nor tail of it. But once I learned the logic and simplicity behind its systematic creation, I mastered the entire alphabet in a single afternoon!
Vowels are made up of three symbols: a dot representing the sun (written as -), a horizontal line (ㅡ) representing the Earth, and a vertical line (ㅣ) representing humans, who connect the Earth and sun. You can read about the symbolism of Hangul in more detail here.
- Omniglot – Korean — Omniglot briefly explains the history and linguistics of Hangul, which I find fascinating. Scroll down to see the letters separated into consonants and vowels, with a recording of the basic pronunciation of each letter.
- An Introduction to Korean — Don’t let the outdated appearance of this site turn you off; it might just be the best place to learn Hangul online. Each page is quite brief, making it really useful for learning Korean step by step. This site gradually teaches you the letters in a logical order and in an effective way. Click on “Consonants and vowels” in the bottom right corner to begin. As you progress through the mini-lessons, there will always be a link like this in the bottom right corner (next to the small green arrow) which you click to move on to the next step.
- Hangul a Day — This site gives great examples of how to pronounce each letter. But just be aware: When used in actual words, there are several irregularities in how some letters are pronounced—depending on what letters they follow. The next site will help you learn these irregularities.
- Learn Korean Language— As mentioned above, this site clearly explains pronunciation irregularities. They may seem impossible to remember at first, but once you start speaking Korean you should find that they are actually very logical rules that make pronunciation far more natural.
How to Practice Hangul
One way to learn is to spend a week just learning the most basic eight vowels, followed by a week on the y-sound vowels and vowel combinations. Then you can move on to consonants, again breaking them into groups of about eight letters each. That way, by spending ten minutes per day (on average) reviewing flashcards, you can read Hangul in about a month.
Once you have the individual letters down, reading words can come surprisingly quickly. The more you read (even if you cannot understand a word of what you’re reading), your reading speed will improve greatly. I practice most often through social media, particularly by following Korean people of interest on Twitter and Instagram, as the text is extremely short.
Sometimes I look up what the words mean, but other times I simply practice reading the words as quickly as I can. You may also find that writing in Hangul (even if you’re actually just transliterating English words) will get the letters into your head more quickly and naturally.
Once you’ve learned to read the Korean alphabet, the next step is to begin collecting vocab. I once read a novel in which a character who speaks upwards of 20 languages brushes off his remarkable skills as “you really only need about 500 words.” When I read that, I practically snapped my fingers: That’s less than 10 words a week for a year! Perhaps his statement was a wild exaggeration, but it’s still a fantastic start. So if you like this idea as well, let 10 words a week be your goal.
Sometimes it’s difficult to decide which vocab to learn, which is where categories can be helpful (i.e. greetings, honorifics, food, animals, common adjectives, transportation). You can also let popular culture provide you with thematic vocab. For example, by watching a drama set in high school you can pick up school-related language, or learn romantic language by listening to K-pop lyrics.
How to Practice Vocab
One way that I like to interact with language is to learn the words for things in a room in my house—for example the Korean words for all the items I commonly use in the kitchen (i.e. refrigerator, toaster, plate, bowl, chopsticks, etc.). Stick a portrait of your favorite K-pop star on your fridge, for example, to remind you to say the Korean names of items as you use them. Other kitchen ideas include putting a souvenir magnet or postcard from Korea on your fridge, eating off Korea-related placemats or even labeling each item in Hangul with Post-its.
Making little habits like this are a great way to get your brain practicing, without using up effort remembering to review. And the more you can ramp up the fun factor by engaging with whatever makes Korean language or culture interesting to you, the less effort it’s going to take to make yourself practice.
An easy way to bring Korean into your daily life can be by watching Korean videos. There are a lot of different resources for finding good Korean videos to watch and tons of different ways to incorporate Korean into your daily life.
When I want to watch authentic Korean videos, I use the FluentU app. That way, when I stumble across new words, I can learn them with the Korean and English subtitles. It’s nice to be able to just hover my mouse over the word to see what it means in the context of the video that I’m watching.
Korean videos are excellent because there’s really something for everyone. If you’re into cooking, for example, make one night per week “Korean night,” where you make a Korean dish while learning the names of the utensils and ingredients in Korean. Maangchi’s blog is an awesome source of Korean recipes, and she always refers to the dishes by their Korean name in her videos—which is very helpful for pronunciation!
Go back to your original motivation for learning Korean; that’s where you find your inspiration! Whether it’s watching movies and dramas, making kimchi from scratch, singing along to K-pop or boning up on North-South relations, all areas of interest come with a wide rage of vocab to learn. And following your curiosity is the most exciting way to learn those Korean words.
How to Learn Korean
This guide has everything language learners like you need for learning Korean. In each section, we provide lessons on reading, writing, speaking, vocabulary, and pronunciation that you can study Korean. It will help if you follow the lessons in this language-learning guide in order. However, if you already started learning Korean, feel free to skip any parts of the online lessons that you already know.
Learn Korean Online
First, do the primary lessons. Once you are comfortable with the main lessons, you may want to consider studying the related lessons. The related lessons will be helpful but are not necessary to move on to the next section.
Best way to learn Korean
The best way to learn Korean is to do a bit each day. For example, it’s much better to study for 20 minutes a day than to study once a week for 2 hours. Find a pace that’s comfortable for you, and make sure you’re having fun with it!
The Korean Alphabet (Hangeul)
The first thing you’ll want to do is learn the alphabet. The Korean Alphabet (한글 | Hangeul) is one of the simplest alphabets to learn, even if you are an absolute beginner. You can learn this writing system in a few hours with some simple lessons. Once you complete the lessons, you’ll be reading Korean sentences on the same day.
We provide a free step-by-step lesson that will teach you how to read the Korean Alphabet in only 90 minutes using visual associations and stories. It’s based on psychology so you will be sure to remember what you learned!
This is probably the most critical step for making any progress with learning the Korean language. Spend the 90 minutes learning to read the alphabet or the Korean writing system, and you’ll learn Korean quite quickly. This will also help you learn to speak Korean since the pronunciation of Hangeul is much more precise than the romanized version [한글 (hangeul) vs. Hangeul, for instance] using the English language.
How to Read Korean
Spend some time reading some simple words, such as Korean slang or the colors in Korean. This will be great practice to enhance your reading skills and will help you become more familiar with the words you see on a regular basis. With frequent practice, you’ll find it easier to speak Korean words and phrases and soon you’ll be reading Korean wherever you go! You’ll even be able to read the lyrics of your favorite Korean music or song.
Along with learning how to read the alphabet, you should learn how to correctly pronounce the letters and words. Improper pronunciation is a mistake that many Korean learners make. Instead, focus on sounding like a native Korean speaker.
First, the Korean letters are unique and each letter has its own sound. Second, the English letters associated with them are just a close approximation of the letters’ sounds. This will bring us back to how important it is to study Korean letters.
The Korea System takes a bit more time to learn, so we recommend starting with the China System first. You can use this system when you first start to learn Korean. You can learn about the Korea System later.
Korean Vocabulary Words
As you learn Korean, you’re definitely going to want to level up your vocabulary skills. The lesson above should help since it gives you a list of the most common words in the Korean language. Learn this vocabulary first.
Once you get the basic words down, you can move on to other common vocabulary word lists, such as body parts, animals, fruit & vegetables. There are lessons on those topics below. Having a strong vocabulary base will help you understand more about what you hear in conversations.
How to Remember Korean Words
However, there are some great strategies that can help you learn new words quickly. One strategy is to use associations, mnemonics, and stories for the vocabulary words. For example, the word for “house” in Korean is 집 (jip). The words “house” and “jip” sound very different from each other. However, the word “jip” sounds like “Jeep”, so you can make a story using imagery about it.
The more vocabulary words you know, the faster you’ll be able to learn Korean and put your skills to use in everyday situations. We recommend learning 2 – 20 new words each day and use an SRS system like Anki. Keep in mind that the more new words you add, the more reviews you’ll have to do each day.
As you continue to develop your language learning skills, you’re going to want to start to understand Korean grammar. You don’t need to know it in-depth just yet. Instead, focus on learning the basics of Korean grammar.
The good news is that it’s fairly easy to learn the fundamentals of Korean grammar. Once you begin learning the basic grammar structure of the language, you can up your game and connect your sentences together. You’ll gain confidence in your grammar skills, and have bragging rights reserved for those who take the time to come this far with learning the language.
You’ll also want to learn Korean particles, but don’t spend a lot of time on this grammar point at the beginning. Particles are often omitted in speech, so just understand a basic overview of how they work. You can find out more about them and related grammar with the related Korean lessons below.