It seems like everything Korean is a hot commodity right now.
K-pop is huge.
We’re seeing more and more Korean characters in movies and television.
Korean cuisine is working its way into mainstream American, Canadian and other English-language cultures.
So there must be a ton of top-notch study materials for learning Korean now, right?
Hmm, let’s see, how do I put this?
The truth is, the learning territory out there isn’t as fertile as you might assume.
Look, I’m not saying that there aren’t generous creators doing their best to make Korean learning programs that are very helpful to a lot of people.
It’s also important to acknowledge that some better-known quality language programs have added a Korean option in recent years.
I’m just saying that the Korean learning climate isn’t as extensive as you might expect considering the popularity of Korean stuff. And there are some disappointments out there.
But today I want to talk to you about a resource that everyone who wants to learn the Korean language should know about. It’s called Korean From Zero!
Korean From Zero! Review: Is KFZ Right for Me?
Plenty of second-gen Korean diaspora peeps like myself (and first-genners who grew up outside of Korea) remember how uncool and useless the language was considered in the ’80s and ’90s.
Some of us were actively or subtly discouraged from learning the language as kids. This means that many of us have only just begun to consider learning or picking it up again as adults. That’s where I found myself a while back.
At the time, we had begun to build a Korean learning program here at FluentU that’s now up and running.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning 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.
I was excited that FluentU was making a Korean program available, and in anticipation of the video platform, I was looking around for ways to ground my basic language skills. I wanted to find something straightforward, at least kind of comprehensive, hands-on and preferably free or cheap.
This turned out to be harder than I had imagined, but I eventually started using the online version of Korean From Zero!, and it was the first program that really clicked for me.
I’ll tell you some more about how it works in a minute, but first, here’s how you can access it.
How to Use Korean From Zero!
Purchase the books on Amazon.
Korean From Zero! comes in the form of three books that you can buy on Amazon. These can be purchased either as e-books or paperbacks, and there are accompanying audio files on the website.
Or use the materials online (free).
Some people may prefer the books, and I’m sure the creators of the program appreciate being paid for their hard work.
However, one reason why learners should know about Korean From Zero! is that it’s a totally free learning option as long as you have access to a computer and internet. You can start right here.
The Goods: What You Get with Korean From Zero!
Three full courses that start at the very beginning and take you through the basics.
Whether you learn on the website or buy the books, you get three levels of courses that help you learn the Korean language.
Lessons in each course are numbered, but the first course also includes a section of lettered lessons that are meant to teach you Hangul.
If you already know Hangul, you can skip these lettered lessons and start with Lesson 1. Here’s a very basic idea of what each level covers:
- The first course gives you Hangul, numbers, self-intros, questions, basic sentences and generally what you’d expect to learn early on.
- The second course dives deeper into polite vs. formal vs. casual speech, and digs into adverbs, periods of time, emotions and more complex means of expression.
- The third course teaches you honorific forms, comparisons, indirect speech and other advanced concepts that build on what you learned in the first two courses.
Additionally, while these aren’t required accompaniments for the courses, there are some useful videos for learners on the Korean From Zero! YouTube channel (which doesn’t update anymore).
The Talk, Talk, Talk! series covers various aspects of language and culture:
And Learn Korean in 5! gives you short lessons on language topics:
Concise explanations of Korean language concepts.
Explanations in Korean From Zero! are non-academic and highly practical. The explanations seem to serve the language examples rather than the other way around.
Additionally, charts and simple, clean graphics are often used to show language concepts. Lessons are organized more like notes you might take during a lecture than the lecture itself.
Lists of vocabulary and examples.
Each lesson is based around one language concept, and each comes with lists of vocabulary and example sentences interspersed with short explanations.
The program acknowledges in so many words that you may want to just learn some freakin’ phrases already rather than wait until you understand all the intricacies of grammar. So there’s a good balance in each lesson between learning how the language works and learning the language itself.
Accompanying audio clips you can play when you need them.
All vocab lists and examples come with audio clips. You can choose to either play through a list of vocab/sentences all at once, or to listen to each sentence or word separately.
The Pros: What Korean From Zero! Does Well
With Korean From Zero!, you don’t have to wade through long explanations before applying information.
What I like about Korean From Zero! is that it doesn’t do too much to teach you—it’s just there to help you teach yourself. It does give you details on the why of things and an order in which to learn, but the program isn’t in your face about it.
It’s flexible. You can move at your own pace.
Because the audio that comes along with the program is organized into separate clips and playlists, you don’t have to worry about keeping up with a whole audio lesson. You can just use the audio along with the text as you need it, and you can play and replay clips as many times as you want.
Korean From Zero! includes plenty of example sentences.
While there are explanations to read through, everything, and I mean everything, is immediately backed up by examples.
The Cons: Limitations of Korean From Zero!
The courses will only take you so far.
These courses will teach you a lot, but they won’t make you fluent in Korean.
However, the great thing about Korean From Zero! is that it can be used very well alongside other materials. I would recommend that anyone who uses it look into authentic materials, too, ideally with the support of FluentU.
You’ll experience very little overlap between these two programs, as they work in entirely different ways, but both are intuitive and easy to start using right away. Plus, FluentU can help you continue to advance your Korean skills long after you’ve finished Korean From Zero!
The online version can be a little buggy.
I get the impression that this is probably because they’re constantly working on improving the program. I’ve occasionally seen bits of code splashed across a page and had some minor issues getting to where I was trying to go in a lesson. But none of this has prevented me from learning, and I’m not about to nitpick material that lets me learn Korean for free.
Also, there’s a button you can use to report any bugs you notice. I’ve never used it myself because there hasn’t been anything that bothered me enough, and all issues have seemed to clear up pretty quickly.
There’s no app version.
The lessons still can be used on a smartphone; you’ll probably just need to zoom in and out a bit. The website simply isn’t ideal for mobile use.
If you decide to combine Korean From Zero! and FluentU, the latter can be your go-to option when you’re on the move, as it has an app for iOS and Android devices.
There are virtually no online practice exercises.
One of the things I found most curious about the Korean From Zero! online version was the lack of practice exercises.
Yes, the website does a great job of explaining Korean grammar, using lots of audio and showing learners words in context, but without practice exercises, it’s a little tricky for the material to really set in.
Because of this, the online version of Korean From Zero! is really just a reference guide for grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation.
If you’re looking for practice exercises, you do need to purchase the physical version of Korean From Zero! Otherwise, I recommend FluentU.
In addition to real-world video, FluentU has quizzes after each video lesson, and learners can select any Korean word to make into a flashcard. These flashcards can be compiled into a deck for later review, and each word has a progress bar beside it to show you how well you know the Korean words.
Who Korean From Zero! Is Good For
Those who want to learn from authentic media with a little bit of structure.
Authentic media is great, whether you’re learning from Korean music, Korean movies or Korean books. But it can be hard to dive into all of that right from the beginning, and as Korean is a language isolate, learners may generally need more structure than with other languages.
If you don’t want learning that’s too academic or fussy, but your K-dramas aren’t cutting it for complete study material, Korean From Zero! may be helpful for you.
Those who prefer learning independently.
In deciding whether Korean From Zero! is right for you, you should take into account the perspective this review is coming from: I’ve studied other languages as an independent learner, and I don’t like to be constrained too much in how I learn. That’s just how I am. I don’t like books that get all fussy over grammar before even showing me an example of what they’re talking about. I’ve been annoyed with other Korean learning programs that have just made me feel like I was being yelled at about how hard everything was going to be.
It’s possible you like long introductions to new subjects and that you’ll find the explanations in Korean From Zero! inadequate. In this case, you may want to consider whether you would benefit from using it alongside another course.
Those who enjoy a straightforward format.
Learning Korean may not be as difficult as some make it out to be, but learning any language is a challenge. So we don’t need programs that make it even harder.
With Korean From Zero!, you may still struggle from time to time, but you don’t need to learn how to use the program on top of everything else. You can skim through what you don’t need and linger on points that require more time. It’s easy to follow and easy to pick and choose from.
If you think Korean From Zero! sounds interesting, you have little to lose by trying it out online or trying an e-book sample from Amazon.
As it’s such a flexible and accessible resource, it’s probably good to have on hand even if you don’t end up using it as your primary learning resource.
So consider having some KFZ with your KFC (that’s Korean Fried Chicken).
Elisabeth Cook is a freelance writer and language learner who blogs about books, including some Korean ones, at LitAllOver.com.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Korean with real-world videos.