Feel like you’re hanging on for dear life?
Learning Korean can often feel like an arduous climb.
Even once you’ve managed to get started, you may get frustrated when you seem to be struggling and not making much progress.
You’ve come to the right place!
8 Simple Steps That Will Improve Your Korean Language Skills Forever
1. Evaluate your learner’s personality
It’s critical to learn according to your learner’s personality if you wish to maximize your time and effort spent studying. Not every learner assimilates a language the same way: Some students do better when they hear Korean conversations regularly. Others tend to excel when they read Hangul often and visualize words that are spoken to them at the same time. Still others are better off writing lines of vocabulary to remember new Korean vocabulary words and their spelling.
Whatever your case, there’s no right or wrong. It’s just a matter of knowing where you fit in! The best strategy is to start by objectively assessing your strengths and learning style, and whether you’re the type of person who does better when they learn by seeing, listening, writing or doing.
Then, review your weaknesses and determine the points that you need to spend more time on. This can be memorizing and activating new vocabulary, using and understanding various grammar structures, such as negation and the various endings to express it, perfecting your Korean pronunciation and intonation or simply writing and remembering the proper spelling of Korean language words.
The next step is to ask yourself what you like and who you are. List your passions, interests, hobbies and even your profession. This will help you identify the topics that you should gravitate towards so you can learn through your favorite themes. The idea is to keep you engaged for the long term, but also to gather the vocabulary and expressions that you need to discuss your favorite subjects in real life.
Lastly, try to evaluate what would be your preferred learning environment and take concrete actions to create it. For example, if you prefer to study in the comfort of your room, do your best to decorate it with Korean posters, flashcards and books to set the tone for your sessions. If you like to study at cafés, your challenge will be to travel as light as possible and not to forget anything. Make a checklist of all the items that you need for your sessions to run smoothly. Pack your study essentials in a bag, such as your computer and notebook, and download your favorite Korean apps ahead of time to minimize the weight burden.
2. Set clear goals
Defining what you expect to get out of your Korean studies is the best way to remain motivated and to check where you are in your progress. This will help you to gain a helpful sense of urgency in your studies while also allowing you to clearly see whether your method is driving results or not.
Tips for setting goals
- Define your objectives. Having clear objectives will allow you to have a direction from the start and something to work towards. Write down on a piece of paper (your roadmap) what your actual goals are. It can be preparing for the TOPIK, a trip to Korea, a business meeting with Korean natives or a language exchange program.
Laying out the endgame will target the topics you need to study and skills that you need to acquire. Studying for an exam, for example, may require you to practice multiple choice questionnaires and essays. If you’re planning to travel South Korea, however, your focus should be on conversational language.
- Set a narrow focus. Stay as close to your objectives as possible. Set small goals and focus on them. Don’t overreach. Buckle down until you’ve fully mastered the topics and skills that you wanted to acquire. Concretely, your goals should be specific and attainable within a given time frame. A good goal could be to “know how to order off a menu in Korean in three days,” “rephrase what’s being said using reported speech within a week” or “learn 50 descriptive adjectives before my trip.” This will allow you to stay on track and motivated.
- Analyze the right course fit. Based on your objectives, start by setting a list of criteria for your ideal Korean course, including themes, target skills, style and delivery method (online vs. print course) that best matches your lifestyle. For example, if you’re learning Korean for an exchange program or a business meeting and like to learn on the go, your best bet is to turn to a language app that focuses on real-life Korean conversations to get plenty of exposure to the Korean language ahead of time.
3. Find a Korean language program that works for you
Having the right study method is an essential part of your success learning the Korean language. It should deliver the results that you want in a given time frame and structure your thoughts more fluently, but also keep you on track with your studies.
Characteristics of a good Korean language program
- It offers targeted lessons. You need to clearly know what specific areas you’re learning and skills you’re acquiring as you go over a lesson. In addition, each lesson should end with lots of grammar and vocabulary practice to ensure that new ideas stick. This will allow you to feel confident that you’ll get the results you want.
- Its explanations are easy to understand. Korean grammar can be difficult to grasp. This is all the more reason not to settle for a language program that makes it even more complicated than it is. What works for a friend may not work for you and vice versa. Be sure that you are comfortable with the program you’re using!
- It’s enjoyable. You need to like using this program and have fun during your studies. After all, we learn better if we’re deriving pleasure from what we’re learning. Also, you’ll be spending a lot of time learning with this program, so if it makes your sessions painful, odds are high that you won’t stay committed very long.
- It’s well-structured. Lessons should be clearly designed and accompanied by quality worksheets, vocabulary and audio lists, flashcards and more. If you’re opting for a technology-based program, make sure that it’s easy to navigate with a clean, visually-appealing interface and lots of useful features to make your time even more productive.
- It offers a free trial period. Before you commit to any learning solution, test it ahead of time so you can be sure that you know exactly what you’re signing up for! This will help avoid any bad surprises and allow you to truly focus on your learning experience.
Recommended Korean language programs
This is a terrific Korean learning program that focuses on everyday conversation to help you speak Korean in three months. Lessons are fun and diverse and broken down into three modules. With a focus on stories and learner’s psychology, the method is designed to target only what you need to know the most.
Learners have access to various support materials, including frequent tests, email support, study challenges and even proofreading by Korean natives.
FluentU’s video library includes cartoons, K-pop songs and funny videos that have been transformed into exciting personalized mini-lessons.
Here's a quick look at the variety of video choices available to you:
Each word in the interactive captions comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and easily review words and phrases from the video under Vocab.
Don't stop there, though. You can use FluentU’s unique quizzes to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions.
FluentU even tracks your progress and remembers all the words you've learned, making for a 100% personalized experience.
Review sessions use video context to help embed the words in your memory. The best part? You can access the full FluentU video library with a free trial!
Start using FluentU Korean on the website or download the app from the iTunes or Google Play store.
Korean Class 101 offers a series of audio and video podcasts to help you learn and improve your Korean language skills. Lessons are fun and rich in colorful cultural anecdotes and insights so you can gain a solid understanding of Korean society and customs.
In addition, you’ll have access to a series of PDFs to maximize your efforts and make the most of each lesson along with the support from their online communities through forums and social media.
4. Commit to a study routine
Regularity matters when learning any language, but when learning Korean, it’s an absolute must! That’s because Korean is such a different language with a unique sentence structure and etymology. It requires constant immersion for new knowledge to stick. In other words, you’re better off devoting 20 to 30 minutes a day every day to your Korean studies than two hours once a week.
The key to improving your Korean is to incorporate your studies into your routine and stick to it.
Here are some great tricks to stick to a study routine:
- Manage your schedule. Identify what times every day would be ideal for you to study Korean, not just when you have the time, but when you are most receptive to learning and can concentrate.
- Set up calendar reminders before every lesson. Allow notifications and alerts, and set these reminders for every day so you don’t have to create new ones each time!
- Sign a learner’s pledge with yourself. This should outline your commitment to your study routine.
- Keep a study log. It needs to detail when, how long and what you learned. Write down problem areas for the next session so you don’t waste time figuring out what you need to study.
5. Build your Korean vocabulary
Learning Korean vocabulary is a matter of strategy, not time or effort. Learning Korean vocabulary can be exciting and fun, or it can be a chore. It can be about discovering Korean vocabulary words that will allow you to say the things that you want to say, or it can seem like a theoretical exercise with no purpose.
The key is to stop learning ready-made lists with endless Korean language words that someone else made without you in mind. They aren’t relevant to you! Rather, start creating them yourself. Here are some great ideas to customize your own vocabulary lists.
Tips for creating effective vocabulary lists
- Theme-based vocabulary lists: This is a great way to acquire the terminology to successfully converse on a given topic, such as 한식 (Korean food), 한국 전통 (Korean traditions) or 세계 정치 (world politics). In addition, such lists will enable you to memorize new Korean vocabulary words faster through word association. In other words, your brain should associate the word with the general context in which you’ve seen it, making it easier for you to remember in real-life situations.
- 50-word-a-day vocabulary lists: What better way to memorize Korean vocabulary than learning the words that you want to know? And why wait until you encounter those words in a list or in exercises? Look 50 of those words up in your Korean dictionary every day and write them down into your list until you’ve accumulated a solid but manageable word database, or just do this everytime you need a new word list.
- Activity vocabulary lists: Another smart way to create effective lists is to learn them depending on the type of content you’ve reviewed, such as a movie, a drama, a song or an article. Search difficult Korean language words, then turn your list into an exercise. Learn the list, and once you feel confident that you remember everything, review the content again, this time without the dictionary, and try to translate what you hear or read!
How to memorize Korean vocabulary
Learn Korean 한자 (Hanja) to remember (and even guess!) the meaning of Korean words. Hanja are Chinese characters that make up the bulk of Korean words. Knowing their meaning will help you memorize the overall meaning of the word more easily.
Keep in mind that two different Hanja may have the same sounds, but have a different meaning. However, knowing the meaning behind a Hanja is a terrific learning tool and a great way for you to understand how Korean words are formed.
This very helpful wiki provides a wealth of information to help you understand Korean Hanja and their meanings. In addition, don’t hesitate to explore Naver’s Hanja dictionary to discover how Korean etymology works.
Another good way to memorize Korean vocabulary is to not only write down the word you wish to remember, but also to illustrate it in a sentence. Copy the sentence where you read it so you clearly understand how it fits in a phrase and how to properly use it. This has the benefit of stimulating your Korean penmanship as well as your reading skills. You’ll be forced to read longer sentences as you go over your vocabulary lists, perfect to practice reading Hangul faster and faster!
6. Understand how Korean grammar works
You may feel discouraged about Korean grammar and its endless structures to learn. Or maybe you wish that learning grammar was as exciting as learning the rest of the language. Whatever your struggle, the key is to adopt a better strategy.
Tips for learning Korean grammar
- Focus on a specific point. Set realistic goals when learning grammar. Don’t try to learn all structures at the same time; you’ll retain very little and make mistakes. Instead, target one precise grammar concept such as reported speech and how it differs when the sentence quoted is an interrogative sentence or a proposal.
Devote as much time and effort as is necessary until you fully understand the idea, for example, by rephrasing sentences using these different endings. Once you feel confident that you’ve mastered it, move on to another structure.
- Create your own sentences. Grammar quizzes and exercises are important, but to truly verify that you’ve assimilated a grammar point, your best bet is to form your own phrases. Write them down and say them out loud until you feel comfortable using the structure naturally. You may feel like you’re forcing yourself in the beginning, but this is a key step to ensuring that you eventually use these new grammar concepts on your own in real-life settings.
- Verify your sentences with a Korean native or online. This will help you to check for potential problems and to correct them. Your best bet is to turn to a trusted friend or Korean penpal, but don’t hesitate to post your Korean language questions on r/Korean as well. Their community of Korean natives is very helpful and responsive!
- Read grammar books and blogs:
“Korean Grammar for International Learners” by Yonsei University Press is a must-read if you’re serious about improving your Korean grammar. The book features the most common grammar structures and endings for students from beginner to advanced level, with plenty of examples and well-written explanations. Complement it with their exercise book for maximum results.
Korean Language Notes: This is a terrific personal blog focusing on the Korean language and sentence structure. Insights are particularly illuminating and always accompanied by cultural observations as well.
FluentU Korean Language and Culture Blog: This is the blog you’re reading right now. We hope that you’re enjoying yourself so far! The blog is written by fellow Korean learners and feature lots of tips to help you master all the facets of the Korean language. Sign up for our weekly newsletter to receive all our grammar updates by email.
7. Talk to Korean natives!
This is a fundamental step you need to take in order to activate your Korean skills in the real world. Speaking to Korean natives is the best possible way to validate your progress and improve your Korean listening, speaking and pronunciation. It will also offer you plenty of motivation since Koreans tend to be very supportive of 외국인 (foreigners, or non-native speakers) who make an effort to learn their language.
If you don’t have any Korean natives in your network, don’t get discouraged. There are plenty of opportunities to meet Koreans and practice. Start shopping at Korean grocery stores and engage with the staff. Ask them for advice on Korean ingredients or where they are located in the store. Another good option is to go to authentic Korean restaurants, where you can also have a taste of delicious Korean food.
Meetups at your local Korean cultural centers, too, will offer lots of opportunities to mingle with Korean natives and immerse yourself in the Korean culture. And if you live in a big city, Koreatown is always a must!
8. Find a regular conversation partner
To really have frequent speaking and learning practice, you may want to consider having a dedicated language partner. They’ll be more willing to let you pick their brains and you’ll also be able to schedule your Korean interactions at your convenience.
Technology platforms are terrific for finding conversation partners. Again, r/Korean and r/Language_Exchange gather a terrific community of Korean learners and natives, many of whom are eager to practice English in exchange for Korean sessions. Simply submit a post requesting a language exchange in Korean and naming the languages that you’re fluent in, or browse through previous posts to see if a Korean native may be on the hunt for a person like you!
Another great option is to look into Korean pen pal programs, such as italki. You’ll mainly find free language exchange partners on italki, but there’s also a cool notebook feature which allows you to get feedback on your writing.
You can communicate using free VoIP platforms such as Skype or Google Hangouts, but be mindful of synchronizing your schedules if your partner is based in South Korea. If you’re located in the U.S., for example, there can be 11 to 14 hours of time difference to consider.
The best way to guarantee that you get plenty of Korean conversation practice is to hire a dedicated Korean language tutor for private lessons. Since you’re paying, you can focus fully on your needs and interests, and the tutor will be sure to give you valuable feedback. Believe it or not, you can find great private Korean tutors on italki, too!
Now that you know how to improve Korean language skills, what are you waiting for?
3, 2, 1… 시작! (Begin!)
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