How to Learn Korean – The Ultimate Study Resource Guide
Do you want to learn Korean but you don’t know how to start? What are the best books to learn Korean? Where can you find native Korean teachers? This ultimate study resource guide answers all of these questions and more!
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A bit of History of the Korean Language
The Korean language is considered to be a language isolate by many linguists, despite having similarities with Japanese (especially the grammar). The linguistic homeland of Korean is suggested to be in Manchuria.
Modern Korean descends from Middle Korean, which in turn descends from Old Korean, which descends from the Proto-Koreanic language. This Korean origin language is still under much debate, and researchers are still investigating the true origin of this early language.
You might be surprised to learn that originally, Korean was only a spoken language. This was because written records were maintained in Classical Chinese. However, the Hangul alphabet was developed in the 15th century to enable people of all backgrounds to learn how to read and write.
Still, Hanja, Chinese characters adapted to the Korean language, are still used to a limited extent today. Below I’ll speak more about Hanja and its modern-day usage.
Today, Korean is the official language in North Korea and South Korea, but both nations have different standardized official forms and slightly different vocabulary as a result of decades-long separation.
Why learn Korean?
There are many reasons why one might decide to learn Korean. I’ve always been interested in foreign languages and after I met my Korean husband, adding Korean to my foreign language repertoire was the logical next step to do.
Even if your significant other is not Korean, there are many other reasons to learn Korean!
Korean is often considered to have the most logical writing system in the world. This makes it relatively easy to learn the Korean alphabet, called Hangul. This is especially true when compared with other Asian scripts, like Mandarin or Japanese, which have much more complex writing systems. We’ll talk more about Hangul below.
The number of Korean native speakers around the world is over 70 million. Compared with nearly 58 million Italian native speakers worldwide that number doesn’t seem so small, does it?
If you learn Korean, you will also have an edge in world affairs. South Korea is an important partner to the US and don’t forget Ban Ki Moon, the UN’s eighth Secretary-General, who also hails from Korea. South Korea is a leading force in advanced technologies, IT, pharmaceuticals, and e-sports!
Knowing Korean will also make it easier to travel and explore South Korea. Even though Korea gained popularity as a travel destination over the past few years, it’s still a rather underrated choice for international tourists. But – Korea has so much to offer and is incredibly unique!
If you’re looking for a quick introduction, check out these 20 easy Korean travel phrases.
Learning Hangul – the Korean Alphabet
First things first, let’s learn Hangul! What’s Hangul you ask? The Korean alphabet! While the Korean writing system might look intimidating at first, it’s actually considered to be one of the easiest alphabets to learn! Why? Because it’s the most logical writing system in the world. It was created with the intent of being extremely easy to learn!
This all goes back to 1443 when King Sejong the Great of the Joseon Dynasty wanted to create a writing system that all people – not only the elite – were able to learn. Up to this point in time, Chinese characters were used for reading and writing, which was something that only the elite was entitled to learn.
There are 21 vowels in the Korean language, 10 of which are basic vowels, and the remaining 11 are double vowels. Then we also have 14 basic Korean consonants, plus 5 double consonants which makes 19 consonants in total.
Learning Hangul will feel a bit like you’re back in kindergarten. But with practice and time, you’ll master the letters of the Korean alphabet with ease!
The Best Korean Self-Study Books
If you want to learn Korean by yourself, the right self-study book is necessary. Have a look at the best books to learn Korean on your own:
This was the first Korean self-study book I used when I first started to learn Korean. There are 13 chapters, each presenting a short dialog, followed by new vocabulary and expressions, grammar, a reading practice section, and self-assessment tests. An English text about an aspect of Korean culture ends every unit. The book also comes with a CD containing audio files of each dialog to practice listening and pronunciation skills. Buy this book.
Talk To Me in Korean was founded in 2008. The platform offers fun online Korean lessons and beautiful paper books from absolute beginners to advanced learners. This particular book complements the podcast lessons available on TalkToMeInKorean.com. It is specifically designed for absolute beginners who are self-studying and goes over the fundamentals of Korean, such as greetings, self-introduction, and essential grammar points. I recommend also purchasing the workbook that goes along with the textbook. Buy the textbook here. Buy the workbook, too.
Other books I recommend from Talk to me in Korean:
The Best Korean Grammar Books
Grammar is one of the hardest parts of learning Korean – at least for me. This is because the basic sentence structure is completely different from English. Having a good Korean grammar book will be essential to mastering the language. Here are the best books to learn Korean grammar:
This great book series covers all the most important Korean grammar topics. The more you advance in your Korean learning journey, you can add another level to your collection. There are three books available in this series:
- Korean Grammar in Use Beginner Level
- Korean Grammar in Use Intermediate Level
- Korean Grammar in Use Advanced Level
The grammar index in the back of each book is especially useful as you can refer back to any individual grammar topic with ease. Each grammar point has great explanations in English and offers short exercises to check your understanding.
This great Korean grammar book was created by Fluent in Korean, a Korean language website catering to Korean language learners worldwide. The fact that this book includes both a textbook and a workbook makes it excellent value for money. It is designed to cover 23 beginner-level Korean grammar lessons for 30 minutes every day for 23 days to form an effective learning habit. Buy this book.
This is the perfect tool for reviewing the most important grammar points that frequently appear in the TOPIK test. The compact, portable format is perfect to take with you to class or for studying Korean at a cafe. This study card includes an overview of basic sentence structure, key verb forms, sentence particles, and connecting words. Buy this book.
Tools to Learn Korean Verbs
Because of the unique verb patterns in the Korean language, many native speakers of English and other Indo-European languages struggle with creating sentences in Korean. Below are some great resources that will help you navigate your way through the world of Korean verb conjugation.
This book covers 100 of the most commonly used verbs in Korean. You’ll learn how to conjugate each verb and how it’s used correctly In addition to conjugation tables, there are also many sample sentences and quizzes to help you practice and review the content. Buy this book.
This comprehensive guide to verb conjugation and usage covers 500 high-frequency Korean verbs in a convenient single-page format complete with the verb’s meaning and pronunciation. Every page shows the verb’s 48 main tenses, speech levels, and moods (all accompanied by romanizations). Downloadable audio files are also included. Buy this book.
Korean Verb Practice Sheets
This is a resource created by Linda Goes East. With the help of these Korean verb practice sheets, you can practice every verb conjugation that is most challenging to you. Use it for your Korean self-studies and as a tool to revise and learn how the verbs work. Get the practice sheets here.
Tools to Learn Korean Vocabulary
Vocabulary is the foundation of learning a new language. You don’t need to know how to structure a grammatically correct sentence if you know the right word. The books below will help you build and expand your Korean vocabulary:
Another one of my favorites from Talk To Me in Korean – it has so much information inside! The book now only gives you 10 new words to study over a 50-day period, it also gives you antonyms, verb conjugation, and a breakdown of the different politeness levels of speech. It also lists the different types of verbs used in the book (하다, irregular ㅂ, adverbs, etc) and important grammar points. However, this book doesn’t go over the Hangul alphabet, so choose one of the above recommendations for learning Hangul first. Buy the book.
This is a nifty tool for learning Korean vocabulary. It includes all the essential words and phrases required for the TOPIK test. This study card is incredibly convenient as it is laminated and 3-hole-punched to put in a binder. Alongside the vocabulary, a chart for the Korean alphabet is also included. Each English vocabulary word is given in Hangul and romanized script, presented in easy-to-read color-coded charts. You also get access to online audio recordings with native-speaker pronunciation for every word. Buy the book.
This is the most popular Korean picture dictionary on the market. It covers the 1,500 most useful Korean words and phrases. You’ll see each word in Korean followed by a Romanized and its English meaning. This dictionary covers words and phrases from 40 different themes or topics, including basics like meeting someone new and using public transportation to culture-specific topics like celebrating Korean holidays and eating Korean food. Buy the book.
The Best Korean Reading Books
Now that we’ve covered the basics of Korean language learning, we’ll move on to the best Korean reading books. These are great to improve your Korean while reading about Korea and its people. The below books are among my favorites to improve Korean reading skills.
This is another great book from the Talk to Me in Korean publishers. It contains 30 short stories about various everyday topics. This is a great book to start if you’ve been learning Korean for more than at least a month. Do you want to read in Korean but regular novels and magazines are still too hard to understand? This book will be ideal for you! Buy the book.
This book contains 21 fun and natural reading exercises with detailed explanations. I love this book because it covers a great variety of different types of texts; anything from Korean comics, news articles, and journal entries to emails, poems, social network posts, and even folk tales. It never gets boring! This way, you can really accelerate your Korean learning and improve really fast. Buy the book.
Do you want to learn Korean but also want to understand more of Korea’s culture and history? These 42 traditional Korean folktales with bilingual Korean and English versions are presented on facing pages, making learning Korean super fun! Detailed notes and exercises complement the stories for an immersive learning experience. This book is great for first- and second-year Korean language learners. Buy the book.
The Best Korean Study Tools For Kids
Starting a new language very early on can be a great advantage for children. Linguists often compare young children to sponges when it comes to language learning: they soak up a new language like it’s nothing! The following tools are perfect for young Korean learners.
This is a great book to learn the most essential Korean words with illustrated pictures. Ideal for children to learn through visual memory, the book covers over 200 words with fun pictures. Buy this book.
Similar to the first book, this is another colorfully illustrated book for the most useful 150 Korean words. This is not only suitable for kids but also great for adults, K-pop and drama fans, expats in South Korea – any Korean language beginners who want to learn the basics. Buy this book.
This adorable Korean workbook presents Hangul through fun exercises! Your little one will learn Hangul naturally through child-friendly exercises, like coloring, letter search, tracing, matching words, and lots more! It is the ideal introduction to young Korean learners! Buy this book.
Looking for something a little more interactive? Look no further! This Korean alphabet tracing board makes learning Hangul super fun. It has shown great results with toddlers, preschool children and beginners to learn Korean consonants and vowels through a hands-on approach. Buy this item.
The creators of the global kiddie hit “Baby Shark” are behind this interactive sound book. The toy itself has a number of buttons that play out sounds and words that’ll help with repetition. The buttons also light up to draw a child’s attention. This is an authentic Korean learn tool, meaning it’s not specifically created to foreign Korean learners but for the average Korean child. Buy this item.
This is another authentic workbook straight from South Korea. It is very popular among local Korean children to learn how to write the Hangul alphabet and first words. Don’t expect any English instructions – it’s 100% Korean. Buy this book.
The Best Books for Learning Hanja
The term Hanja refers to Chinese characters incorporated into the Korean language with Korean pronunciation.
Many Korean learners learn that Hangul was used after the creation of the alphabet by Sejong the Great in 1443. However, in reality, Hangul did not come into widespread use until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After World War II, Hangul experienced its biggest boom after Korea’s liberation from Japanese rule to restore Korea’s independence.
Today, you’ll still see many Hanja characters on signboards when walking down the street or watching Korean television shows. Most Koreans will know and understand these characters and they are still widely taught in schools today.
If you, too, want to learn the essential Hanja characters used in news, on signs and in advertising, I recommend checking out the books mentioned below.
This is another book by Talk To Me in Korean. This book is the most comprehensive English version teaching Korean Hanja characters I have found so far. It’s incredibly easy to work through as well. This book contains around 300 of the most commonly used Hanja in the Korean language. What’s really great is that you can also listen to an audio track for each character to practice the pronunciation. Buy the book.
This workbook covers 102 Hanja characters with their Korean readings, romanized readings, and some example compound words in which these characters are used. The stroke order for each character makes it easy to practice. The best feature is that it also lets you cut out flashcards for each word to study them interactively. Buy the book.
If you’re already familiar with Chinese characters, this book would be a good choice. This dictionary covers 1,800 characters complete with stroke-count, radical and phonetic indices, charts of surnames, simplified hanja, look-alike characters, and more. Buy the book.
The Best Korean Online Study Platforms
Books can take up a lot of space. Luckily, you can also learn Korean online through a study platform. Typically, a study platform offers courses organized by levels and divided into individual units. This is great for people struggling with what to study next. An online study platform has their own curriculum developed by teachers and other experts ensuring you learn Korean in a sequence that makes sense.
90-Day Korean offers online Korean language courses for beginners that deliver you hand-picked Korean lessons with only the essential parts of the language, all explained using psychology and stories so you can’t forget them (even if you tried).
90 Day Korean’s Inner Circle Web Course and Members Area
As a member, you have a personal native Korean coach who will support you and holds you accountable for your study goals. No room for procrastinators here! The memberships also include monthly speaking sessions you can participate in with courses to review.
The aim of these speaking sessions is to improve your conversation and pronunciation skills. You’ll receive access to audio files in advance so you can practice before the speaking sessions.
How to Learn Korean with a Korean Tutor
Do you want to connect with a native Korean speaker to learn Korean? There are some really affordable options out there. I’ve been mainly using the three following online platforms for learning Korean and can highly recommend them all. They all work in a similar format, so I suggest browsing through the teacher database of each platform to find a suitable teacher.
I highly recommend learning Korean with a native speaker teacher. Since it’s quite a complex language, having an actual tutor by your side to walk you through the grammar maze will be extremely helpful. Preply is a great platform to connect you with experienced Korean teachers. They also offer free trial lessons! Check out Preply.
Another great online learning platform is italki. Here, you can find a Korean teacher that suits your learning needs practicing anything from reading, conversation, grammar or even K-pop! I also like their “instant lesson” feature allowing you to take a lesson with an available tutor right now. Check out italki.
Cafetalk is another great option for language learners. It’s a platform based out of Japan so many users are native Japanese speakers. The platform has hundreds of Korean tutors, many of which are also fluent in English and other languages besides Japanese. Get 500 study points when you sign up with Cafetalk today! Check out Cafetalk.
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