Learning a new language is never an easy task, and it’s often hard to know how and what to start learning. However, it is not too different from learning any other new skill. You just need to start from the basics, and gradually progress from there. In this article, I’ll tell you about the best way to learn Korean.
Learn Hangul (한글)
Korean language uses an alphabet system called Hangul. If you knew nothing about Hangul, you might assume that it’s probably quite similar to Chinese and Japanese where each block of writing is an individual character, and to learn Hangul, you’ll probably need to learn hundreds and possibly thousands of these blocks of writing.
If that was your thought, then you couldn’t be more wrong.
As mentioned already, Hangul is a type of alphabet system, so just like the Roman alphabet, it’s made up of consonant and vowel letters and to made blocks of characters, which represent individual syllables, you just have to learn how to combine these letters. For example ‘ㅁ’ is a consonant that has the same sound as ‘m’ in English and ‘ㅏ’ is a vowel that has the same sound as ‘a’ in bat and cat. So if we combine ‘ㅁ’ and ‘ㅏ’ to make ‘마’, we can read it as ‘ma’.
There are altogether 14 basic consonants and 10 basic vowels, and to be able to read and write Hangul, it’s just a case of learning these letters and also learning how to combine them to make different sounds.
You can learn all the letters in a couple of hours – it’s really not that difficult. If you don’t have the time, then you can try to learn few consonants and vowels each day. Practice reading them regularly, and also practice writing them so that you develop familiarity with the letters.
If you can start reading Hangul, it will help you develop both grammar and vocabulary knowledge. By reading Korean texts, you will naturally come across various structures and vocabulary used in context, which will help you make progress faster and learn Korean in the best way possible.
Learn Korean vocabulary
When you start learning any language, one of the first big hurdles is the fact that you just don’t know any of the basic vocabulary words in the language you’re trying to learn. Words like “a hand”, “shoes”, and “a bag”, which are all simple everyday words, need to be learned again.
As mentioned before, being able to read helps to develop vocabulary as not only are you exposed to many different words from a single text, you are actually seeing them used in context, so this naturally helps you to learn the word’s meaning and usage.
Nevertheless, when you’re just reading, it can be difficult to retain all the words that you come across in the long term. Therefore, as well as reading, we need a more focused approach to learning and retaining vocabulary.
The simple method of memorizing is crucial in learning new words. Of course, I’m not suggesting that the best way to learn Korean is to memorize a long list of words every day, but you need invest some time in actively trying to memorize new words.
One of the most effective ways to learn new words is the tried and trusted method of flashcards. You can write the Korean word on one side and its equivalent word in your language on the other side. You can then set yourself a daily target of how many words you want to memorize and incrementally add more new words each day. For example, you can try to memorize ten words on day 1, and then on day 2, add 10 more new words and try to memorize a total of 20 words on day two. You can then keep doing this each day, and hopefully by the end of the week, you’ll have memorized 70 new words that week.
Actively memorizing new words and seeing the effect of your endeavours will help you to feel regular sense of achievement and give you more motivation to study.
What’s drawing so many people to learn Korean is the popularity of K-dramas and K-pop, and this means that many people already have a strong affinity to listening to Korean language.
Improving one’s listening skills is not easy, and in order to improve this skill, not only do you need to develop a wealth of vocabulary knowledge, you also have to develop your familiarity with the sounds of the target language – and in order to develop that familiarity, you need to listen to the target language regularly.
K–dramas are really helpful as they expose the learners to authentic language use (albeit in a very dramatized way). Also, depending on the medium you’re watching the dramas in, you may have the option of subtitles, and this provides you with ways to further test your listening.
First, while watching Korean dramas, you can take notes of what you hear. If you find the listening difficult, you can always play the video at a slower pace. Reducing the playback speed is an option that’s available on both YouTube and Netflix. You can also practice taking notes with your favourite songs and almost all music videos are available on YouTube, so you can also slow down the songs if you find the speed too fast.
The best way to learn Korean with K-dramas and K-pop songs might be utilizing the subtitles. To test your comprehension skills, you should first watch the K-drama without the subtitles and see how much of the drama you can understand. Then, check your understanding by watching the same episode with subtitles. You can of course do this with K-pop songs as well. To make this easier or harder, you can adjust the playback speed of the music videos.
Balance input and output
If you want to learn how to drive a car, you need to sit behind the wheel and start driving. There’s only so much you can learn from books. Likewise, if you want to learn Korean in the best possible way, you need to speak and write in Korean.
Input, whether it’s through reading or listening, is vital as it’s the primary source of language into your brain. However, having the knowledge of the language alone isn’t going to help your output skills, which are your abilities to speak and write. So it’s important that, as well as regularly reading and listening to Korean, you practice using what you learn.
In order to improve your writing, there are many things you can do. Keeping a journal is an effective way to practice your writing skills, and writing about your own daily events makes the exercise more personalized which will help you to focus on the activity.
You can also write about your thoughts after reading a book, watching a drama episode, or watching movies. You can write about anything, and it’s your own personal reflection of what you have seen or read in the books or the dramas and movies.
For lower level learners, it could just be a case of writing five to ten sentences of a particular grammatical structure or vocabulary you learned recently. Practising writing in this way helps new concepts to stick in your mind.
In terms of speaking, an ideal scenario is for you to have a speaking partner. However, unless you live in Korea or you live in an area where there is a sizable Korean community, this can be very difficult. Nevertheless, there are other alternative options.
One option is to find a tutor on online learning platforms, such as Verbling or iTalki, and this immediately provides you with someone you can practice speaking with. You can also look for language exchange groups in your local area. In many large cities, such groups exist and this is the best way to meet other learners and practice speaking Korean.
Someone once told me that learning a language is like going up an escalator in reverse. You have to make extra effort to make progress, and if you stop trying, it’s easy for your level to go down. So it’s important that you work hard to consistently to make progress towards your goals.
Now, of course, if you’re looking to learn just a few Korean common phrases, then it’s not going to take that much time, but if your goal is to reach about intermediate level in Korean, then it’ll be really hard to achieve this goal in just a few months – even if you’re going to study Korean intensively.
To make steady progress in learning Korean, you need to make consistent effort over a long period of time. Try to set a schedule so that you can dedicate a part of your day to studying Korean. Something around 30 minutes to an hour would be really useful, and if you can’t do it daily, doing this three or four times a week would be helpful.
If you are consistent in the time you can dedicate to your studies, you will, over time, notice your Korean improving.
I hope this article has given you some useful tips on the best way to learn Korean. As emphasized already, the key is to be consistent over a long period of time and to do that, you have to have fun and enjoy learning Korean. Thank you again for reading this article. Bye bye!
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