I have never been a language person. At secondary school, I was a complete geek and pretty much got off on completing pages of exercises and writing essays, but I always struggled with my foreign language classes. Unfortunately for me, my school specialised in languages and I was forced to take French, German and Latin for 5 years. Let’s just say my German ends at Ich habe eine Schwester.
When I left high school to study computer science, I was fairly confident that I wouldn’t have to learn another language ever again.
Skip to the end…7 years later I found myself moving to Peru to teach English.
In Peru, everyone speaks Castillano, which is a fancy way of saying Spanish. I took some classes before leaving and continued once I was out there, but to my great surprise, I wasn’t as rubbish as I’d expected to be.
Out of all the languages I’ve dabbled in, Spanish is by far the easiest. The number of cognates is fantastic; stick an ‘o’ on the end of the English word, say it with passion and oomph and wait to see if the other person flinches. More often than not, they won’t notice you were completely winging it.
Diccionario, delicioso, ordinario… Boom, you’ve just ordered yourself a delicious, ordinary dictionary.
But Korean is another kettle of fish entirely.
I have been trying to learn Korean since I made the decision to move there last November. I’m currently still in London securing a hagwon job, but in the meantime I’m using as many resources as possible to beef up my Korean before I step off that plane and start with what will most likely become a life of charades.
Here are some of my favourite resources I’ve found for learning Korean so far:
Talk To Me In Korean – This site provides bite-sized audio lessons aimed at complete beginners to advanced learners and each one is accompanied with detailed lesson notes that show the hangul (the Korean writing system) and romanised Korean. Both files are downloadable for free.
The emphasis is on learning vocabulary, phrases and building up conversation skills. The website doesn’t provide hangul lessons (but they do sell workbooks on this).
If you are an auditory learner, these lessons are great. Although sometimes I find the dynamic between the two Korean presenters a little awkward, but mostly they are cute.
How To Study Korean – This has been really useful for learning hangul and is a series of written lessons from complete beginner level. There are short audio clips embedded into the text, which although can be a bit of a faff, give you the pronunciation.
I love this site because I’m a very visual learner, whereas with podcasts I tend to find myself getting completely lost and forgetting everything. They even do workbooks for each lesson at 5 bucks a pop, which I’d love to get my mitts on.
KoreanClass101 – This site has been extensively reviewed here by Lingua Junkie and basically has a ton of material. It offers a huge number of videos, podcasts, flashcards, extensive PDF notes, and materials for learning how to read and write.
You do have to create an account to begin studying, but the benefit of this is that you can monitor your progress as you cover lessons and check them off.
I like how the audio lessons are well structured, provide clear pronunciation and always end with a review section to test what you’ve learned. I found these audio lessons had a bit less chit-chat compared to TTMIK, and as a result are maybe a tad less entertaining, But they are delivered by an extremely chirpy (and ever so slightly patronising?) North American guy. If that’s what you’re into.
When you sign up, it’s worth taking the $1 offer to get a month of free Premium access – just don’t forget to cancel the subscription because it costs a whopping $50 a month after that. You can cancel immediately and still utilise the extra functionality.
2. YouTube Channels
GO! Billy – Billy, as I’m guessing his name is, is another super happy American guy who’s put together over 130+ short videos giving you tips on Korean grammar, phrases, food and the culture in general.
I found his Learn Korean series were too advanced for the complete noob (aka me), but whenever he does start talking Korean, subtitle translation is given.
Depending on your level and individual learning technique, these videos can be another entertaining way of making progress. Even if you are an absolute beginner, the cultural videos are interesting.
Eat Your Kimchi This link is completely cheating because these guys don’t strictly provide Korean language lessons. However, they are essential to your Korean life education.
The channel (and website) is run by an adorable Canadian couple who have been living in Korea for 6 years and have produced hundreds of videos on crazy Korean life, food, music, slang and one particular series entitled W.A.N.K. (Wonderful Adventure Now Korea). I don’t think this has the same meaning as it does in Britain…
Frankly, even if you’re just reading this with no intention of studying or going to Korea, check out their videos and you’ll most likely be changing your life plans pretty soon. As you can probably tell, I love them and want them to adopt me (/creepy).
The both cool and terrible thing about YouTube, of course, is that there will be a never-ending suggestion of related videos offered to you once you start viewing Korean themed episodes, allowing you to discover yet more videos and eventually end up falling asleep in front of cats doing the cutest things.
If you’re anything like me, what you’re really looking for is a textbook with examples and exercises you can work through and then assign yourself a grade. (Fundamentally this, and the joy of writing on whiteboards, is why I am a teacher).
TTMIK have written about 50 books all for sale on their website. The workbooks cost $19 including postage (to Europe and N. America), and contain reading, writing, listening and vocabulary exercises. I don’t own this but I’ve heard countless gushing reviews.
Korean Made Simple by Billy Go (he’s done it again!) is a great book for absolute beginners. It’s reasonably priced, unlike other Korean books that have been recommended to me, especially the e-book.
It starts by teaching you hangul, jamo by jamo, then grammar and vocabulary, and has exercises to practice as you go with answers in the back (too much excitement I know).
Compared with Billy’s YouTube videos, his books are definitely suitable for the complete beginner and I’ve found them clear, methodical and entertaining.
Elementary Korean – Another textbook (and audio CD) with exercises and answers in the back, hooray!
This book is super thorough, which isn’t surprising as it is commonly used as a Korean textbook for university courses. It’s not as beginner friendly as Korean Made Simple, but it is much more in-depth and detailed. For the serious student.
Also, the CD is extremely fast, so watch yourself!
4. Something Different
italki offers a platform for language exchange with real people. You can find a professional teacher or simply someone who speaks Korean and wants to learn English. The service isn’t free, but I found prices starting as low as $7 an hour for a Korean teacher.
Meetup Providing you don’t live in the back-end of nowhere, it’s worth checking this out to help you find other like-minded people also looking to learn Korean.
Here in London where there are a fair few people, there are roughly 5 Korean groups, with over 3000 members in total. Their events are usually welcome to all abilities and offer an informal setting to practice speaking.
Flashcards This app allows you to create Flashcards for any purpose, so I find it ideal for reviewing vocabulary and even just learning hangul characters. You can set images, audio or text for each card and track your progress as you learn.
It can take some time creating the cards, although this process helps you learn in itself, or just download some pre-made ones from Quizlet.
Get yourself a real life Korean teacher – Considering I managed to stumble upon an awesome Korean teacher whilst living in the middle of the Andes, I’m sure you can find one too 🙂
Learning Korean in Spanish with a bunch of teenage Peruvian K-pop fans was a unique experience to say the least. 웅 I miss you!
In summary, there are so many different resources out there to facilitate your path to fluency, there’re bound to be a couple that will suit your learning style and means. If I hadn’t spent so long reviewing these resources and battling WordPress’s infuriating formatting, maybe my Korean would be slightly better than utterly terrible by now 😉
Let me know in the comments below if I’ve missed any you have found useful.