Learning Korean is easy when compared to languages like Chinese or Japanese. But, it does have aspects that are difficult and intimidating. If you’re planning on traveling or studying abroad, then you have to master it as quickly as possible.
We’ll give you all the tips and tricks for the best way to master Korean. These will include textbooks, culture immersion, watching K-dramas, listening to music, using apps and other tidbits. Of course, you should also find a physical course with an official instructor or tutor.
Therefore, you will have to develop a multi-pronged approach if you wish to do this in the shortest amount of time possible. This means you’ll have to exercise immense self-discipline and study it every day.
Ideal Times of Day
The first thing you want to consider is the best times of day to practice Korean. Certainly, this will vary from person to person. Some people have an excellent mind for learning things early in the morning while others are night owls. Yet there are those who find mid-afternoon best.
Regardless, studying right before bedtime is good. This is especially true at first, since scientific research suggests this is best to commit new vocabulary to memory. But, once you get a handle on things, plan out two times per day for 30 minutes to an hour each session.
Then, once you accustom yourself to conversations in Korean, schedule one day per week where all you speak is Korean. As strictly as possible, only use Korean words and avoid speaking English (or your native tongue).
1. Textbooks & EBooks
Naturally, the best and most traditional way to master Korean, or any language, is to get a quality textbook and/or EBook. There are a lot out there on the market and not all of them are going to do what you need them to. So, we’ve listed some of the best ones with a brief synopsis under varying categories.
All in One
- Sogang Korean: This huge series comes highly recommended. It takes learners from beginner to advanced with 12 levels and a workbook. There’s tons of content and plenty of lessons to get you started. However, it is time consuming, so this isn’t for learning Korean with any amount of speed.
- Elementary Korean: This is the best textbook to learn Korean on your own with a great introduction for beginners . It has a very logical, easy-to-follow structure. But, it does have the look and feel of a textbook you would get at a university. If you’re not the studious type, this may be something of a turn off. But, it has 384 pages and comes with a CD.
- Korean Made Easy: A good all around book that covers the basics. It’s really well done and incorporates the Korean Language Proficiency Test. This is ideal for students and anyone else preparing for the South Korean national exam.
- Korean from Zero: Another fabulous all-around series, this is available in paperback and Kindle forms. There are notes and flashcards included, which helps personalize your studying experience. But, it only goes up to intermediate levels. You will have to find additional texts once you master the material.
- 500 Basic Korean Verbs: This is excellent for mastering essential verbs most used in daily Korean speech and writing. It has all the spellings, what they mean and their conjugations. It’s easy to use and simple to follow, making it a must-have for any serious student of the language.
- 2000 Essential Korean Words: Since this isn’t specifically a Korean language textbook, it’s good in conjunction with a grammar-based book. Regardless, it includes a lot of words that are difficult to translate into English and provides a sound vocabulary base.
- Korean Slang: As Much as a Rat’s Tail: Once you have a solid grasp on grammar and vocabulary, this book is excellent for learning fun new words that people use on the streets of Seoul and Busan. It’s ideal for beginners on the verge of stepping up to intermediate levels.
- Korean Grammar for International Learners: This comprehensive grammar textbook shows beginners every aspect of sentence structure in detail. It’s the official textbook used in schools throughout South Korea, so you’re getting the real deal here. However, if your English grammar isn’t up to par, you might find it difficult.
- Korean Grammar in Use: This is the best book for beginners once they master the alphabet and syllable blocks with other essential reading foundations. It goes into depth but it’s not too complicated to follow. The only pitfall is that you will have to find this at a Korean store or in Korea as it’s not widely available in the US.
- Korean for Beginners: Mastering Conversational Korean: This is a great book to offer a gentle introduction to honorifics, grammar and pronunciation. Plus, it has tons of cultural info. It takes learners on a nice and slow pace while making the experience interesting and fun.
- Talk to Me in Korean: If you’ve already been studying Korean, this is one of the best books. There’s a website with a book series to accompany it. The focus is on speaking right away with very little focus on grammar or reading. But there’s a treasure trove of audio to get you speaking Korean quickly.
- Korean by Spoken World: Spoken World is famous for their topnotch language learning materials and their Korean option is excellent. By the use of audio with listening and speech repetition, you’ll speak conversational Korean in no time. There are six CDs and a textbook with easy-to-understand dialogues.
- Pimsleur Korean: This audio course can teach you to speak Korean in a mere matter of days. They break down every word down to the syllable, which trains the ear to identify vocabulary quickly.
Children’s storybooks are truly the best way to master Korean. The text is simple and easy-to-understand with basic grammar and sentence structure. It helps put vocabulary in its rightful context and is a fun way to learn the language.
Fairytales are a particular favorite among learners, since they provide a hint of magic and wonder to the experience. Plus, you can find a lot of these as audio books, so you’ll be able to follow along with pronunciation. If you find that you master storybooks, then you may want to move onto literature.
However, if you want to read advanced novels in Korean, you will have to learn Chinese characters and their application in the Korean language. Otherwise known as, “hanja,” it’s imperative for more seasoned speakers.
2. Korean Culture Immersion
One of the best ways to master Korean is to immerse yourself in the culture. This means finding an area in your town or nearest vicinity with the largest Korean population. For instance, in the United States, California has the largest Korean population. However, NYC and Bergen County, New Jersey also have high concentrations.
You’ll be able to find enclaves of stores, restaurants and other venues where Koreans work, live and flourish. Read signs, pay attention to people speaking and attempt to engage in conversations with them. As long as you indicate your desire to learn, they will show you the right ways to say things with correct pronunciation.
3. Support Local Businesses
Additionally, buy products made in Korea. Skincare, hair care, personal hygiene, food, liquor, beverages and clothing are all ideal suggestions. Their labeling will be in Korean with some also having an English translation. This way, you can understand how they prefer their commodities compared to the West and note the differences.
What’s more, you should frequent Korean restaurants and attempt to read the menu while also making some Korean food at home. The flavors will not only be amazing in your mouth, but it will also put you in the mood to speak Korean, especially after a bottle or two of soju.
4. Media & History
To further your immersion, start reading Korean newspapers and watching live news broadcasts. Learn about what’s important to Koreans, what their latest politics are, who their famous personalities are and other important goings on of the day.
This also includes studying up on Korean history and understanding where they were when they first started to how they are today. This includes all the brutal wars, especially the Korean War. Many things that still exist from that war are in operation today. One such example is the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
5. Korean Movies & Dramas
Of course, you can’t read and listen to audio all the time. It will get old, boring and repetitive. Besides, it’s a good idea to apply what you learn in text format to real life and watching Korean movies and dramas, also known as K-dramas, is excellent for this.
Not only are they entertaining with unusual storylines, but they will also provide a lot of information about the culture. They display greetings, how to use honorifics, showing respect to elders/high-status individuals and correct pronunciation along with slang usage.
Social Values & Taboos
Plus, you’ll get an idea of what their society values, what they find to be taboo and what they look down on. You even get the nuance of romance and conduct in love relationship too. Having said all that, there are some outlandish elements to K-dramas.
For instance, you may see a female international spy trudging through a snowstorm in a 3-piece suit complete with mini skirt and platform high heels. Because certainly that’s what career women are doing in South Korea, hoofing it through icy terrain in high heels (please note the sarcasm).
6. Korean Music
As with movies and K-dramas, listening to Korean music will help you learn the language too. Music is a great way to evaluate a culture because you can get a quick glimpse into their values, the things important to the average person and their ways of conveying general human emotions.
You’ll learn about love, hate, vengeance, jealousy, yearning, disgust, horror, sadness and loneliness in the context of what it means to be Korean. Many people automatically refer to K-pop for such a display, with the most popular groups being BlackPink, BTS and Stray Kids. But there is a whole world of Korean music.
They have rock-n-roll, hip-hop, folk and ballads, just like in the US. But, there’s also blues, jazz and several kinds of traditional music. They even have their own category of classical music, as highlighted by musicians such as Yiruma and Young-ja.
7. Popular Apps
Of course, you’ll want to supplement your Korean learning with a number of apps for your phone or smart device. These will help support your textbook reading while giving you an added edge with your studies. Plus, they’re handy when you’re on the go and can’t get to your usual study schedule.
The list below gives a brief overview of the best ones available. However, you should do more background research into the ones that pique your interest most.
- Duolingo: Duolingo is the number one app to learn any language and their Korean track is sufficient. It’s totally free and you’ll learn the alphabet, numbers, essential vocabulary and basic conversation. There is the option of paying about $7 per month for unlimited access. But, you must use this in conjunction with other study methods.
- LingoDeer Korean: A very comprehensive app for beginners, this is good on both Android and iOS devices. You can use it for free but they have several membership tiers that range in price depending on your goals with learning Korean.
- Memrise: This is a free app for learning Korean, but you can also pay $5 per month to gain full access. Casual learners will get all they need from the free version. But you may want to invest in the monthly fee if you’re wanting to learn it quickly and efficiently.
- KoreanClass 101: Although an excellent app, you only get seven days to try it free and then there’s a monthly fee of $8. But, it’s good on any iOS or Android device with thorough learning on platforms like podcasts and video lessons.
- Rosetta Stone Korean: For about $8 per month, you can learn basic Korean within three to four months. However, this is only for beginner level and doesn’t go up to advanced . Even still, it’s great for building vocabulary and essential travel phrases.
- Korlink: This is 100% free but, it’s only for Android devices and it only goes to an intermediate skill level. However, you can get certificates of completion with personalized lesson recommendations. They even have quizzes, notes, videos and so much more.
8. Take a Class or Find a Tutor
If you are serious about learning Korean and have to grasp it in a jiffy, then you should definitely take a class. At the very least, locate a tutor to help you. In the event you can’t find one in your area, there are plenty of places online that offer classes, tutors and other such courses.
For instance, 90 Day Korean and Coursera offer very comprehensive learning tracks with some help from tutors. However, you could just find a tutor on places like Preply or iTalki, where you will get one-on-one interactions with a native Korean speaker.
Other Tips, Tricks & Techniques
Aside from the recommendations so far, there are a few other tricks and tips to employ. While these aren’t catchall surefire ways, they can help give you a boost even if you can’t find time to study that day. If you don’t like the suggestions below, you should definitely devise your own& whatever you have to do to remember and recall things better.
- Post-It Notes: These little pieces of paper with a strip of adhesive on the back are excellent to use around the house. Stick them all over things like chairs, cupboards, cabinets, TVs, computers and etc with their Korean word and how you pronounce it.
- The Local Library: Your nearest public library should have a decent selection of books, periodicals, videos and language learning materials for Korean, including culture and history. Use these to your advantage.
- YouTube: Another great way to immerse yourself in Korean culture and get a well-rounded view about the language itself is to watch YouTube videos. There are literally millions of these and you can learn about everything from street food vendors to language, fashion, music and so much more.
As you can see, there is a myriad of ways to master Korean. It’s all in what you want to do with it, how quickly you need to learn it and the frequency with which you plan to speak it. No matter what you do, however, you want to ensure you absorb all the information efficiently so it sticks to memory.
Some people are visual while others are note-takers and yet there are those people who learn by doing. Whatever your learning style, make sure that your materials and supplements suit you, your likes and how you learn best. With the right combination, you’ll be speaking Korean like a pro.