ANNYEONGHASEYO: Mastering the Korean Language

So You Want To Learn Korean: Tips for Beginners

You’re ready to start learning Korean, perhaps you have found some guides to help you, and you’re excited about what comes next. Before you dive in, consider these five tips that will make learning Korean easier!

There are numerous resources out there for Korean learners, but it can be hard to sort through the vast amount of information they provide. Often they jump right into basic grammar and topics or make assumptions about what you already know. There’s nothing wrong with these approaches, but after learning Korean for a while I have often come across something and thought, “Wow, I wish I had known this before!”

With that in mind, I’ve pulled together some advice for beginners. Knowing these tips up front will help you much more in the long term!

Embrace Hangul

The Korean alphabet, Hangul, is a key building block of Korean. It’s no secret that learning Hangul is the foundation that you need to delve into this new language. I highly recommend that you take your time while learning each letter and how they fit together to make words, and don’t move on until you are comfortable and confident with these pieces. I found this infographic to be especially helpful for learning the alphabet.

Escape Romanization

While you are learning Hangul you may notice the use of Romanization. This is the process of using Latin script (English letters like ours) to represent the sounds made by Hangul. For example, I might show you the word 안녕 and then write (an-nyeong) after it. This would be an approximation of what this word (meaning “hi”) would sound like in English.

Although Romanization is extremely helpful when you start learning Korean, the sooner you can escape it, the better. The reason for this is that Romanization is not perfect – English letter sounds do not match exactly with Korean ones, and even standard Romanization does not always provide the correct sound. As you continue to learn Korean, you will want to be able to speak it using the right sounds, and writing only in Hangul will help you immensely with this. You will also strengthen your reading ability by training your brain to recognize Hangul without the “shortcut” of English letters.

Master Pronunciation

Pronunciation goes hand in hand with learning Hangul, so as you work through guides you’ll naturally start to adapt to how to sound out Korean words. Look for lessons that explain common letter combinations and their sounds – particularly those that have their own rules, such as “시”, which is the letters for “s” and “ee” put together but is always pronounced as “shee” instead of “see”. Becoming familiar with common patterns and exceptions will help you to pronounce unfamiliar words with accuracy, which in turn will help your listeners understand your meaning.

Again, it’s best to find ways to learn these sounds without Romanization, so look for audio sources from native Korean speakers to help you hear the nuances.

Watch Variety Shows

Exposure to any kind of Korean media – music, dramas, news, etc. – can be incredibly helpful to a Korean learner, but Korean variety shows are particularly good for beginners. Most variety shows will feature a large amount of Hangul on the screen, whether it be highlights  from what was said, side commentary on what is happening, or abbreviated teasers of the emotions guests are experiencing (such as “shy” or “excited”).

knowing bros ss

From the variety show “Knowing Bros” (JTBC Entertainment Official Youtube Channel) 

Not only will these additions help you to follow along and recognize the topics being covered, but they will also give you insight into which words and phrases are used most commonly and in everyday conversations.

Find Your Learning Style

Everyone approaches learning in a different way, and studying Korean is no exception. What works best for one person may not be nearly as effective for someone else. Although it is important to practice all aspects of Korean – including reading, writing, listening, and speaking – how you accomplish that is up to you.

If you’re an auditory learner, it’s best to find someone who speaks Korean so that you can practice with them directly. For those who need visuals, there are a host of great apps out there that will pair images and vocab words together. In my case, I wanted a resource that would give me the big picture and include all of the details – I’ve linked the website that I found most helpful below.

In the end, learning Korean is a journey and there is no perfect method to succeed. You will certainly encounter confusing information and belatedly discover details that would have been helpful much earlier on. However, I hope that by sharing some of my “aha” moments I have given you a head start!

Portions of this post were inspired by How to Study Korean, which is a fantastic and comprehensive resource – I would encourage you to check it out!

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