How to Start Speaking Korean: The Definitive 11-Week Guide to Success
Ready to sprint through the Korean language?
Then get ready for this quick but intensive ride.
In this plan, I lay out a detailed 11-week Korean study agenda, which includes specifics on what to learn and how you can practice. This is targeted for avid self-learners who are eager to get going and jump into the fantastic realm that is the Korean language.
11 weeks is roughly over half the length of one college semester, so within that time frame, you can garner a lot of knowledge and skills.
Granted, 11 weeks won’t be enough for you to achieve absolute Korean fluency, but it can certainly give you the time and space to build a solid foundation in the language.
- Week 1: Pave Your Korean Learning Path
- Week 2: Train Your Ear and Mouth to Korean Sounds
- Week 3: Learn Your Korean 1-2-3s
- Week 4: Stockpile Core Korean Vocabulary
- Week 5: Learn Korean Greetings and Introductions
- Week 6: Move On to Basic Conversation Expressions
- Week 7: Pick Up Casual Korean Lingo
- Week 8: Study Up on Korean Grammar
- Week 9: Start Crafting Your Own Korean Sentences
- Week 10: Learn How Etiquette Affects Korean Speech
- Week 11 and Beyond: Put Your Korean Skills to Work
Week 1: Pave Your Korean Learning Path
But hold your horses! Before you go running off into the sunset, you need to do a bit of planning first.
Figure out your goals
First things first: why are you learning Korean?
Perhaps you’re looking to conduct business with Korean partners.
Maybe you’re knee-deep in the K-pop fandom and want to understand your favorite catchy tunes.
Or maybe you just think the language is cool (it is!) and want to add it to your lingual repertoire.
Whatever your reasons, understanding the “why” of your studies will help to provide motivation throughout your studies. Consider your motives as the rock that will ground you even when learning can get a little tough.
Settle on a schedule
Having a consistent agenda is half the battle when it comes to self-studying. Without a concrete plan of action, things can fall apart very quickly.
I used to make the mistake of thinking that longer study times equaled more learning. What actually happened was that I got burnt out and demotivated very early in the game.
It’s more critical that the time is measured enough to be productive but tolerable.
You should preferably have room for a daily Korean study session. Make sure it’s reasonable enough to do two things: be long enough so that you can learn enough new things, and be comfortable enough that it won’t add stress to your other everyday tasks.
Try to keep the time consistent for both when and how long you study. This can make matters feel more official and you’d be prepared for the moment in your day strictly dedicated to your Korean studies.
Gather your resources
There’s no end to the available Korean study tools that you can easily access. But navigating through them all can prove to be a challenging task, one that shouldn’t interfere during the weeks you’re actively learning Korean.
Get ahead of the game and stockpile your learning resources. You don’t have to go nuts and gather everything you can, but do collect enough comprehensive ones to keep you occupied for the coming weeks.
At this point, focus on the kinds of resources you typically prefer for studying.
You may like the traditional approach and settle for the dependable Korean textbooks and workbooks.
If you’re into digital learning, you may opt for nifty Korean learning websites or convenient Korean language-learning apps.
Week 2: Train Your Ear and Mouth to Korean Sounds
Before anything, it’s critical to become familiar with Korean letters and phonetics.
Master the Korean alphabet
The Korean alphabet, known as Hangul, consists of 14 consonants and 10 vowels.
Historically, it was made by the demand of a Korean king, King Sejong the Great, who wished to create a writing system that was readily accessible to commoners. Prior to the conception of Hangul, only a few privileged folks could write in Korean society, and that was with Chinese characters!
The alphabet consists of 14 consonants and 10 vowels. Korean syllables are made by different combinations of consonants and vowels. A single syllable can therefore consist of multiple individual letters, like building blocks.
So, for example, Hangul in Korean is 한글. There are two syllables, thus two blocks. Both of these blocks consist of two consonants and one vowel, respectively.
Make sure you spend plenty of time learning how these combinations work!
Practice double consonant pronunciation
I’ve had many friends learn Korean who had a particular amount of trouble working out Korean double consonants. I don’t blame them, because pronouncing them can require a certain kind of mouth work unfamiliar to non-Koreans.
There are five in total: ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, ㅆ, and ㅉ. To pronounce them correctly, you’ll have to take the sound of the single consonant, but put more emphasis by tensing up your tongue.
Let’s take ㄸ as an example. Attempt to pronounce ㄷ but with more strength, almost as if you’re flicking it between your teeth. The resulting sound is often transliterated as dd or tt, but in reality, it’s somewhat in between the two.
Don’t worry too much about accent
You should certainly take some time to practice pronouncing Korean letters. But at this point, don’t worry about sounding 100% like a native speaker.
It’s a common hang-up for learners, but at this point, it’s a little too early to worry about that.
It’s more important that you’re able to recognize and articulate (to reasonable accuracy) the phonetics of Korean. That is, when you’re listening to a Korean speaker, you should be able to parse out the sounds.
A lot goes into “sounding Korean.” For example, Korean isn’t a tonal language, in which your tone of speech can change the meaning of what’s said. It’s syllable-timed and thus words can sound somewhat flat and quick.
Knowledge and experience of Korean accent matters will come over time, so don’t stress about sounding completely correct.
Practical immersion tips
Frequently listening to Korean audio will be one of the best ways to train your ears and mouth to the language. Korean music, podcasts, radio and even audiobooks are fantastic and readily available choices.
Don’t worry about understanding everything you hear—that comes later!
For fun, you should also try to transliterate English words into Korean letters. I myself did this often when my friends would request I write their English names into Korean, such as Annie into 애니 or Brian into 브라이언. This is great for practicing Hangul and getting a good grip on the alphabet and phonetics.
Week 3: Learn Your Korean 1-2-3s
Now we’re moving on to actual Korean words, and we’ll start first with numbers.
The Korean language has two number systems: the Sino-Korean system (based on Chinese numerals) and the Native Korean system.
Start with the Native Korean number system
I recommend you start with these numbers first, since they’re pretty easy and used for general counting. You’d use them when you want to note how many there are of something.
For example, to say things such as “three apples,” “65 students,” “32 absences” and so forth.
Other instances in which you’d use native Korean numbers would be with describing age and the hour (but not the minutes) of the time.
Important to note is that the native Korean numbers don’t include zero and don’t go above 99. At the 100 mark and beyond, you move on to the Sino-Korean system.
Here are numbers one through 10:
- 하나 (ha-na) — one
- 둘 (dul) — two
- 셋 (set) — three
- 넷 (net) — four
- 다섯 (da-sut) — five
- 여섯 (yuh-sut) — six
- 일곱 (il-gop) — seven
- 여덟 (yuh-dulp) — eight
- 아홉 (ah-hop) — nine
- 열 (yuhl) — ten
Native Korean numbers follow a pattern that’s easy to learn once you know numbers one through 10. After that, you’ll have some more numbers to learn.
Spend a bit more time learning the Sino-Korean number system
The use of Chinese numerals stems from the extended history of Chinese influence on the peninsula.
As mentioned earlier, the Sino-Korean numbers are automatically used for zero and numbers 100 and up. However, they’re also used for dates, phone numbers, money, and the minutes of time.
Here are numbers zero through 10 in Sino-Korean:
- 영 (yung) / 공 (gohng) — zero
- 일 (il) — one
- 이 (ee) — two
- 삼 (sahm) — three
- 사 (sa) — four
- 오 (o) — five
- 육 (yook) — six
- 칠 (chil) — seven
- 팔 (pahl) — eight
- 구 (gu) — nine
- 십 (ship) — ten
In general, Sino-Korean numbers are used more frequently than native Korean numbers. So if you were to really focus on either of the two number systems, I’d suggest you spend a bit more time with the Sino-Korean one.
Practical immersion tips
Start implementing Korean numbers in your daily activities that involve counting and the like. This can include grocery lists, money counting, time scheduling, workout reps, and so on.
Remember to utilize the right number system for the right context!
For Sino-Korean number practice, you can also try to make your own Korean math problems. Start with easy and elementary stuff first.
- 더하기 (duh-ha-gi) — plus
- 빼기 (bbae-gi) — minus
- 곱하기 (go-pah-gi) — times
- 나누기 (na-nu-gi) — divided by
- 는 (neun) / 은 (eun) — equals, use 은 if last syllable is a consonant
An actual Korean math phrase is structured similarly to one in English. So if you want to say “two plus two” you would say “이 더하기 이는 사.”
Week 4: Stockpile Core Korean Vocabulary
Now that you’re relatively comfortable with numbers, it’s time to move on to the meat of things: actual Korean words!
Vocabulary, called 어휘 (uh-hwee) in Korean, will be your next step, and it’s recommended that you put in a good deal of time and effort this week.
If you find yourself struggling, don’t worry. You don’t have to learn the whole Korean dictionary in one go.
Hone in on the most common Korean words
There is, in fact, a “right order” to the words you learn in a language.
Focus on the most essential vocabulary, such as everyday objects, basic verbs and adjectives. Think of the matters and themes that you’d likely speak about daily—these are what you should learn the Korean words for.
After all, while it would be impressive for you to show off your knowledge of space terminology to a Korean native, you wouldn’t be able to strike up much casual talk with just that.
To help you with this, you can utilize Korean word lists that you can easily find online. Look for the word lists that are named something like “top 100” or “most common.” These are bound to provide both elementary and crucial vocabulary that you should learn right away.
Remember to speak words out loud while learning them
Don’t forget that you shouldn’t just let your eyes and hands do all the work when reading and writing Korean words. You should be actively working out your jowls and practicing your pronunciation non-stop.
It’s common to neglect this, especially for self-learners. But remember, you’re aiming to actually speak Korean. The occasional mutter under your breath and mental verbalizing won’t be enough for pronunciation practice.
Practical immersion tips
A great way to practice is by labeling items around your house in Korean. Stock up on sticky notes and plaster them around. Keeping them on and being able to see them everyday will help to reinforce your memory of the words.
Flashcards are also a nifty vocabulary study tool that you can easily make and carry around. You can choose to craft them manually on paper or digitally with flashcard apps. Flip through decks during study sessions or whenever you have a few minutes to spare.
One tip I highly recommend above all is to keep a Korean dictionary handy, preferably a digital one, so that you can look up any word on the go. Whenever you feel the urge to learn a new word, just whip out your dictionary and get a translation on the spot!
Week 5: Learn Korean Greetings and Introductions
Weeks 5-7 will focus on actual Korean phrases and sentences. Hopefully, you’ll be utilizing the core vocabulary you’ve learned in the week prior.
Let’s start with the essential greetings.
This is the time to learn your hello’s, how are you’s, goodbye’s and “My name is.” Even if you don’t know much Korean, native speakers can still appreciate a quick basic greeting when you first meet them.
Here’s a basic list of just a few Korean greetings to get you started:
- 안녕하세요 (ahn-nyung-ha-se-yo) — Hello (can be used for most situations)
- 제 이름은 ___ (jeh ee-reu-meun ___) — My name is ___
- 여보세요 (yuh-bo-se-yo) — Hello (on the phone)
- 좋은 아침이에요 (jo-eun ah-chi-mee-eh-yo) — Good morning (lit. It’s a good morning)
- 안녕히 주무세요 (ahn-nyung-hee ju-mu-se-yo) — Good night (lit. Sleep well)
- 어떻게 지내세요? (uh-tteoh-keh jee-neh-se-yo) — How are you?
- 안녕히 계세요 (ahn-nyung-hee ge-se-yo) — Goodbye (when you’re leaving and your conversation partner is staying)
- 안녕히 가세요 (ahn-nyung-hee ga-se-yo) — Goodbye (when your conversation partner is leaving)
There are only so many critical greetings to learn, so this week shouldn’t be too troublesome. If you find that you’ve comfortably learned a good number of them, feel free to build up on your vocabulary stockpile.
Greetings are gestures of courtesy
Remember that, like in most cultures, greetings are a gesture of courtesy for Koreans. Forgetting to say them, especially to those older than you, can be immediately noticed.
I remember my own experiences in which my parents would make certain that I’d be dragged out of my cozy quarters, no matter if I were busy, sleeping or just unwilling to make social contact, to offer a quick bow and “안녕히 가세요” to a departing guest.
Yup, it’s really that big a deal.
Greetings are also commonplace (and expected) when you’re a newcomer to an establishment, whether it’s a new workplace or an apartment building with next-door neighbors.
Practical immersion tips
Greetings are one of the easiest things to practice, and I highly suggest that you practice them with any Korean folks around you.
They don’t even have to be your friends. They can be store owners or your neighbors.
Simply give them a quick greeting while you’re passing by. The nice thing about greetings is that they can be left at just that—there’s no need to engage in a long conversation after you just offer a quick “Hello.”
It’s also a good chance for you to work on building your confidence in actually speaking Korean to others. Don’t be shy and give it a go! In my experience, many native speakers (especially older folks) tend to enjoy hearing non-natives trying out their language!
Week 6: Move On to Basic Conversation Expressions
With greetings out of the way, move up a step and start learning some essential Korean conversational phrases. Basically, what would you say after you greet someone?
- __주세요 (__ ju-se-yo) — Please give me ___
- 얼마예요? (uhl-ma-eh-yo) — How much is it?
- 괜찮아요 (gwaen-cha-nah-yo) — It’s okay
- 만나서 반갑습니다 (mahn-na-suh bahn-gap-seum-ni-da) — Nice to meet you
- 오늘 날씨가 좋네요 (o-neul nahl-ssi-ga jon-ne-yo) — It’s nice weather today
- 해야 할 일이 있어요 (heh-ya hal ih-ree ee-ssuh-yo) — I have to do something
By learning phrases such as these, you’re gradually improving your ability to manage a chat in Korean. This is the ultimate goalpost you’re probably seeking, so do spend as much effort as needed to learn a decent number of phrases!
Learn what each word means in a phrase
Whenever you learn a new phrase, parse each word out so that you understand each element. Separate the phrase into nouns, adjectives, verbs and so forth.
As basic as it sounds, it’s actually something that language learners can forget to do.
I’ve seen language learners (including myself) learn entire sentences and their meanings as some consummate inseparable whole, without doing the work of actually dissecting them into understandable chunks.
This habit can lead to some pitfalls down the road, and learning longer and more complicated phrases can’t be done in such a fashion.
The Korean language is quite straightforward, so this task shouldn’t be too hard. With this, you’re reinforcing your knowledge and storing away individual words that you can point out in different phrases and sentences.
Have a limit to how many phrases you learn per session
I can imagine that at this step, you’ll be attempting to gobble down and memorize as many Korean phrases as you can stomach all at once. The more the merrier, right?
Well, not really.
In fact, trying to stomach so much information at once can make you more susceptible to forgetting material. Even scientific studies suggest that there can be a “right time” to learn and that spacing your learning material out will lead to better recall.
So don’t try to learn a hundred phrases in a day!
Start easy with a number you know you can handle, and make certain that you’re reasonably confident with them before you move forward. The Korean language won’t go anywhere, so there’s no need to push yourself so hard.
Practical immersion tips
In your personal life, try to switch out any everyday phrases you use with Korean alternatives. Ideally, you’d have a Korean-speaking pal with whom you can practice, but if you don’t, then act out a conversation with yourself.
Yes, it might look a bit silly, but again, it’s really important that the material you learn is being manifested into something more tangible.
Take it a step further and record yourself while you’re speaking. The more you vocalize and listen to yourself, the more confident you’ll be when you use these phrases in real-life scenarios.
Week 7: Pick Up Casual Korean Lingo
While it’s encouraged that you try to learn standard Korean, it would be impractical to not learn the common slang and expressions used by modern-day Koreans.
This is especially the case if the bulk of your Korean exposure comes from media sources. It’s pretty much inevitable that you’d hear a few idioms and casual jargon.
Here are a few examples of this type of language category:
- 대박 (dae-bak) — That’s nuts / Whoa
- 당근 (dang-geun) — Of course (literally means “carrot”)
- 헐 (huhl) — What (expression of disbelief)
- 너 잘났다 (nuh jal-na-tta) — literally means “You were born well” but can be used sarcastically
- 잼 /노잼 (jem / no-jem) — Fun / No fun, 잼 is the condensed form of 재미있다 (It’s fun)
Overall, it’s quite a fun experience to learn Korean slang!
But besides helping you stay hip and up to date, I personally find the casual nature of slang to make for nice icebreakers when you’re around those with whom you can relax and hang out.
Feel free to try out the words you learn, preferably with your buddies or with those who are around your age.
Figure out the “proper” Korean words behind slang terms
Even though it’s fun and might give you a cool edge, I don’t think you should spend too much time picking up on all the trendy language, since your primary focus should still be on more proper Korean.
When learning slang words and phrases, also learn where they’re derived from. Many times, Korean slang are condensed forms of words that serve as “shortcuts.”
For example, the term 웃프다 (oot-peu-dah) is a mash of the individual words 웃기다 (oot-ggi-da, “It’s funny”) and 슬프다 (seul-peu-da, “It’s sad”). The resulting 웃프다 can essentially be used to describe something that is both laughable yet pitiful.
Slang is prolific in online conversations
It’s pretty essential to know slang if you ever want to speak Korean online, whether in text or speech.
Koreans are very into the social media space and online communications. According to statistics, around 90% of the population use the Internet.
One of their largest social media and messaging tools, KakaoTalk, has been recently measured to host a whopping 47 million active South Korean users.
If you’re using online native Korean resources at all for your studies, it’s highly likely that you’ll encounter slang in some form. In order to avoid confusion while you’re navigating websites, it’s not a bad idea to pick up a few bits of slang.
You may also want to learn a few Korean text slang while you’re at it, so that you can get some reading and writing practice.
Practical immersion tips
If you want to become familiar with casual Korean speak, I highly recommend you watch Korean vlogs and read Korean blogs.
These resources are crafted by real native speakers and are often meant to be casual, less “formatted” content.
Vloggers and bloggers want to connect to their audience, so they’d often adopt more realistic and genuine speech. That includes everyday slang and idioms.
Plus, vlogs and blogs can give you little peeks into the everyday life of Koreans and teach you bits of Korean culture as well!
Week 8: Study Up on Korean Grammar
I’ll give you time to groan about it, but unfortunately, you can’t really avoid grammar when learning any language. And at this point, you’ve already spent a while looking at plenty of Korean sentences, so you’ve probably noticed a few patterns at work.
Luckily, the rules of Korean sentence structure aren’t overly complicated. I’d say Korean grammar is a lot more consistent and straightforward than English grammar.
Korean sentences typically follow a Subject-Object-Verb format
In English, our sentences typically utilize a subject-verb-object order: “I eat cheese.”
However, Korean sentences switch up the format a bit, to say something more like “I cheese eat.” The Korean sentence for that, by the way, would be 나는 치즈를 먹는다 (na-neun chi-jeu-reul mung-neun-da).
You’ve probably already realized this in your own encounters with Korean sentences in the weeks prior, but reviewing the sentence structure at this point will be helpful. You most likely would’ve noticed some patterns if you followed my earlier suggestion to parse and dissect phrases.
Korean grammar doesn’t utilize cases
In English, we have three cases: subjective, objective and possessive. They describe a noun or pronoun as it works with the rest of the words in a sentence; changing cases usually means a change in the form of the noun itself.
Korean grammar doesn’t concern itself with this business. That already cuts down on a good deal of grammatical stress. Instead, they use something referred to as particles.
Particles are key for Korean grammar
Don’t be fooled by their name because particles play a huge role in Korean sentences. Knowing the most basic of Korean particles will help you understand most phrases.
Functionally, particles are suffixes or attachments that follow nouns. They explain what exactly the noun is doing within the framework of the sentence. With them, you don’t even have to worry about unique noun forms like you do in English.
Here are a few examples of common Korean particles:
- 은 (eun) / 는 (neun) — describe nouns that are the primary topic of the sentence
- 이 (ee) / 가 (ga) — describe nouns that are the subjects of the sentence
- 을 (eul) / 를 (reul) — describe nouns that are the objects of the sentence
But there are many more particles, including those that work as conjunctions, possessives, plural objects and so forth.
Knowing particles will be critical to your understanding of Korean sentences, so always keep an eye on them!
Practical immersion tips
Overall, I advise you not to worry too much about learning all the ins and outs of Korean grammar. It’s just one of those things that will come naturally to you with prolonged exposure to the language.
But for the sake of practice, you can read easy Korean texts, such as short stories and the like. They should be simple enough so that you’re able to read them at a reasonable level of understanding. They’re also good tools for you to practice your vocabulary and expand your word bank as needed.
Week 9: Start Crafting Your Own Korean Sentences
By this week, you’ve been exposed to a good number of Korean phrases. The previous week also would have set you up in understanding how sentences work and what elements are needed to make them.
Now it’s time to start making your own!
Consider this week to be one of practice rather than learning new content. It’s a good time to put everything you’ve learned thus far to use.
At the same time, you should be expanding your exposure to Korean sentences in general. Read more Korean texts so that you’re still working to bulk up your word bank and language knowledge.
Focus on familiar vocabulary when making sentences
Again, start easy and work with the words you already know. And when I say easy, I mean very easy, like these:
- 나는 케이크를 좋아한다 (na-neun keh-ee-keu-reul joh-ah-hahn-da) — I like cake
- 나는 학교에 갔다 (na-neun hak-gyo-eh gah-dda) — I went to school
- 오늘은 좋은 날이다 (o-neu-reun joh-eun nal-ee-da) — Today is a good day (or that the weather is fine)
Make your sentences short and concise. Don’t worry about any fancy details. You should be focusing almost entirely on utility and function based on the Korean you already know.
Practical immersion tips
Keeping a Korean journal is a neat way to practice writing Korean sentences. Document your daily activities or thoughts, or just write random things that zip through your brain.
Aim for a minimum of three to five sentences per day. Increase to a few paragraphs if you feel more confident. For memorization purposes, I also suggest that you write down the same sentence multiple times.
Week 10: Learn How Etiquette Affects Korean Speech
So now you’re gaining momentum in formulating your own Korean sentences. It’s a good time to learn another important aspect of the language: speech levels.
I timed this topic to be near the end of the 11-week sprint, primarily because for many learners, the focus should generally be on only one formality level.
Why is it a big deal? Well, it all comes down to etiquette.
Recognize the tiers of Korean formality
Politeness and respect are critical to Korean culture. Failing to express the proper courtesy to the right individuals, whether forgetting to bow or neglecting to prepare a gift, can be a major no-no.
Etiquette in speech is most evident in the concept of speech levels. Not using the right speech level can earn you a few raised eyebrows or a stink-eye, or it can lead to some verbal reciprocation from particularly ticked-off individuals.
In general, you learn and use the “standard” speech level that’s appropriate for most everyday situations. This level is known as 해요체 (hae-yo-chae) and is considered “casual formal.” It also works when you want to speak to acquaintances and those around your age.
You may even learn a bit of 해라체 (hae-ra-chae), which is considered formal but not necessarily respectful. In essence, it’s a “neutral” level that you’d see in Korean texts.
Here’s a quick overview of some common Korean speech levels:
- 해체 (hae-chae) — informal, for friends
- 해라체 (hae-ra-chae) — neutral, commonly utilized in Korean written texts
- 해요체 (hae-yo-chae) — casual formal, for general use, acquaintances and those around your age
- 하십시오체 (ha-ship-shi-o-chae) — formal polite, for elders, news broadcasts, customer service
There are also, of course, “impolite” speech levels, but you probably don’t want to be learning that.
Speech levels utilize different verb endings
So you may be thinking, “Well, I know I should be a certain level of polite, but how can I verbally express it?”
Your politeness will come through with your usage of verb endings. Depending on what speech level you’re using, the verbs in your phrases will also utilize specific suffixes.
More specifically, you’ll have to take the stem of the verb and attach it with an ending.
I’ll show you a comparison between two speech levels.
For 해요체, you’ll utilize “verb stem + -요” for most sentences. If you’re making a request or demand, then you’d utilize “verb stem + -세요.” For example:
괜찮으세요? (gwaen-chah-neu-se-yo) — Are you okay?
말해 주세요 (mahl-heh ju-se-yo) — Tell me
For 하십시오체, which is formal polite, you have to do a little more. You include ㅂ at the end of the verb stem plus 니다. For requests or demands, you use 니까.
실례합니다 (shil-reh-ham-ni-da) — Excuse me
바쁘십니까? (ba-bbeu-shim-ni-kka) — Are you busy?
Other speech levels will utilize their own specific verb endings. It sounds like a lot to memorize, but you’re likely to catch on to this concept quickly if you’re avidly exposing yourself to the language.
Know the Korean honorifics
In essence, speech levels involve the use of Korean honorifics and changes in verb endings. Honorifics are the titles that address your understanding of others’ social positions.
Here are a few examples of Korean honorifics:
- 씨 (shi) — Mr., Miss, Mrs., a relatively generic “safe” honorific
- 님 (nim) — similar to 씨 in meaning, but a bit more respectful
- 선배 (sun-bae) — for your seniors, whether in work experience or age
- 오빠 (op-pa) — older brother, used by females
- 형 (hyung) — older brother, used by males
- 누나 (nu-na) — older sister, used by males
- 언니 (un-ni) — older sister, used by females
Honorifics are obvious verbal markers of respect, and so forgetting to say them can be a big faux pas to certain individuals. Their absences are very easily noticed since they must directly follow the name of the person you’re referring to.
As a side note, speaking specifically for the generic honorific 씨, you’ll want to attach it after the full name or first name of someone. Adding 씨 to just the last name can be seen as disrespectful. So if you’re speaking with mister 김주원, you would say 김주원 씨 or 주원 씨, but not 김 씨.
Practical immersion tips
Role-playing can be a fun way to practice Korean formality and speech levels. It’s best to do this with a partner, but even if it’s just you, you can take on the roles of different individuals and monologue.
Have fun with it! Pretend to be a stern Korean businessman talking with a client, a high school student chatting with his or her junior, a restaurant waiter serving a customer, and so on. The possibilities are endless!
Week 11 and Beyond: Put Your Korean Skills to Work
You finally made it to this point. 10 weeks of hard work and studies can now bring you to the point in which you should be taking what you’ve learned and applying it to real life!
Talk with other Korean speakers
This is going to be the most critical method of actually practicing your skills. Whether in-person or online, written text or verbal speech, find someone with whom you can speak Korean.
This is a good time to try and impress any Korean friends you have. What’s nice about them is that they’re more likely to provide honest critique. With your pals, you’ll undoubtedly be more comfortable with your successes and failures in Korean communication.
However, don’t underestimate the power of speaking with strangers. You can find language exchange partners or forums that will host Korean speakers who would be happy to chat with you. The first option in particular is a great choice, as you can offer your knowledge in exchange for theirs.
Mistakes are inevitable in your speaking attempts, so don’t shy away from them. Actively seek feedback from your conversation partners and steadily build both your confidence and skills.
Consume Korean content
Chances are, one reason you’re drawn to the language is that you’re at least slightly interested in Korean media. I myself have lost count of how many of my friends decided to pick up Korean due to their avid love of K-pop music.
Whether it’s movies, books, TV shows or music videos, Korean media is an excellent resource for you to test your Korean knowledge in a fun, relaxed way.
Another great option for this is FluentU. It’s a language learning program based on authentic Korean content and active learning tools such as interactive subtitles, transcripts, personalized quizzes and more.
Make sure to seek content that’s appropriate for your level. That means you may have to work with content designated for younger audiences, such as Korean kids’ cartoons. Of course, be open-minded with your options! You’d be surprised how informative even elementary-level material can be.
Also, try your best not to depend too much on language aids, such as English subtitles. While these can be helpful in the beginning, you really want to rely on your own knowledge to understand the content. Make sure to use them only when you really need them!
Go to Korea! Or Korean-language establishments
Naturally, traveling to Korea can be the ultimate opportunity to practice your skills. Within the country, you’ll be completely immersed in the language and essentially be forced to interact while using your Korean.
Of course, there are also the huge positive aspects that come from indulging in the intriguing culture and lifestyle of Korea.
However, travel isn’t always feasible. So if you’re not able to hop on the next plane to Seoul, then you can still check out your own neighborhood for Korean-language establishments.
These include Korean restaurants, supermarkets, shopping districts and even community centers. You can read labels in Korean or chat with Korean shop owners while exploring these spaces.
Speaking of Korean community centers, it’s also possible that they may host special Korean events and festivals in your locale. You should certainly check them out and mingle with the crowd, soaking in the sights and sounds.
Develop your skills further with a Korean language course or teacher
I’m certain that at this point, you’re probably quite keen on deepening your knowledge of the Korean language.
After all, 11 weeks is a pretty impressive amount of time, and without consistent practice, you’re vulnerable to losing all the precious skills you’ve gained.
Participating in a Korean language course or getting taught by a Korean teacher can be a fantastic way to improve your Korean language capabilities. With a dedicated instructor, you can receive more personalized attention and in-depth practice with the core concepts.
Of course, this option will often require a fee, usually dependent on how long you wish to learn with your instructor. But if you’re like me and enjoy having a curriculum, you can reap great benefit and success with having a clear course structure.
You can get a lot done in 11 weeks, potentially reaching a level of Korean that you’ve never attained before.
But remember, the real improvement comes when you actively utilize the material you learn. Be an avid scholar and user of the language, and you’ll be ready to chat with and impress native speakers in no time.
And should you ever feel wiped out at any point, then take a break and refresh before diving back into your studies.
Best of luck in your Korean journey!