The Secret to Learning Korean


Korean is a pretty tough language to learn. Or maybe it isn’t so much a problem of language, but rather the fact that for us native English speakers learning other languages and getting rid of that characteristic twangy gringo accent of ours seems to be genetically impossible. We all know that the only reason why the rest of the world is so focused on learning English is because native English speakers are congenitally monolingual, or in layman’s terms: lazy.

But do not fret. There are ways for us to get around this problem. Trust me. My mother tongue is English, but I’ve been able to overcome this limiting condition with a handful of tricks which have helped me become the somewhat polyglot I am today.

These secret methods have been used for years by English teachers living in Korea and are bound to have a positive effect in your life, for even if you don’t end up learning Korean, you’ll at least have fun trying to.


Instead of learning Korean, you can fake-learn it.  If you are an English teacher living in Korea, then this will be very EASY!  There are roughly 3 key words you need to learn to fake fluency. These are:

–          mashissoyo = delicious

–          yogiyo = This word translates into “here” and is used virtually everywhere, especially to call waiting staff, street vendors and sales people.

–          ne = yes

Of course there are plenty other useful words you could learn, but if you are like 99% of the other English teachers living in Korea, you’ll probably feel fairly satisfied with the very little you know. A simple “mashissoyo” will likely be met with two thumbs up, applauses, and an enthusiastic hangukmal charheyo! – (You speak Korean very well!)  It’ll seem obvious to you that you’ve mastered the language since every single Korean person will be generously praising you for using the one word you know.


Having a Korean friend is almost like speaking Korean. A Korean friend is something like a 24/7 volunteer interpreter who will help you do errands, make phone-calls, look up things on the internet, and basically live your entire life for you, but in Korean.


Konglish is a hybrid of Korean with English. Or to be more accurate, it’s a bunch of English words that have been incorporated into Korean language and which are pronounced as Korean words are -i.e. all consonants separated by a vowel sound.  But be careful, some of these English words don’t always have the same meaning in Konglish.  For example, the direct translation of the word오바잇 (pronounced: oba-it-euh) is “over eat.” But in Konglish, it means to vomit.


Before I learned Korean (and forgot it), I actually enjoyed not speaking the local language.  Being the poor conversationalist I’ve always been, I was now being given the weigukin (foreigner) permission slip to not engage in conversation.  I could get away with minimal verbal interaction during social gatherings and people would still find me likeable.  However, if you do ever try to say something and it doesn’t make sense, don’t worry!  Everybody will just laugh and find you cute anyway.

I know. It’s easy to lead the lazy English speaker lifestyle. But trust me, after a while you will get tired of being the token mute Canadian, or you’ll finally realize that the way you’ve been using your Korean friends as automatic pocket translators is just downright abusive, or like me, you will have burned your hair because you couldn’t read the instructions on the package of what you thought was a treatment cream. If you’ve reached this point in the game, then it’s obviously time for you to actually learn Korean.

So here’s what you need to do next:


Dramas teach us everything from language, to gestures, to customs.  There are a few legal, copyright-friendly websites where you can watch Korean dramas and movies with English subtitles:




I’m a language exchange addict. I absolutely recommend doing language exchanges because they’re fun, free and you get to learn Korean while making new friends.

ConversationExchange.com is a good site to use if you’re living in Canada.


Let’s face it, Koreans are a catch. They’re good-looking, smiley, diligent (a favorite adjective used by Koreans), and great karaoke singers. Wouldn’t you do anything in your power to seduce one so you can take fake wedding pictures of yourselves at Hello Kitty coffee shops and wear couple sweaters while you make heart shapes with your arms? Well, speaking from personal experience, that dream may not come true unless you learn some Korean.

And for those of you living in Toronto, you’re in luck! The Korean consulate offers free Korean language lessons. There aren’t that many levels available however, so you need to check the website in order to see what’s being offered at the time and to register in advance.

I’d say that for me, taking classes was the fastest way for me to learn Korean. A couple other academies in Toronto that offer Korean classes are:

Hansa Language Centre  

51 Eglinton Avenue East
Toronto, Ontario, M4P 1G7, Canada
Tel: (1) 416-487-8643

2160 Yonge Street
Toronto, Ontario, M4S 2A8, Canada
Tel: (1) 416-485-1410


Canada College of Education

40 Wellesley Street East #308

Tel: (1) 416-926-0540

By: Esperanza Maggay

Categories: 2013

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