Embrace Freedom: Try These 7 Independent Ways to Teach Yourself Korean
So, you’re ready to begin learning Korean on your own.
Welcome to all beginner, intermediate and advanced Korean learners who’ve found their way here!
Let us show you the way to becoming your own, personal Korean teacher.
We’ve lined up the most effective techniques to learn the Korean language, fast.
- 1. Master the Hangul
- 2. Invest in a Good Learning System
- 3. Watch Plenty of Korean Dramas
- 4. Join Language Exchange Communities
- 5. Use Flashcards
- 6. Listen to (or Discover) Your Favorite K-Pop Artist
- 7. Build Confidence and Vocabulary with Loanwords
7 Tried and True Ways to Teach Yourself Korean
Korean fluency is absolutely within reach, even if you don’t speak more than one foreign language yet. Even if you’re monolingual and only know English. This is still do-able.
Start by choosing which of the methods below best suits you and your interests, skill level and preferred learning style.
1. Master the Hangul
The 한글 or Hangul is the Korean alphabet. It’s been used since the Joseon Dynasty in the 15th century A.D. Composed of 14 consonants and 10 vowels, it’s said to be the most scientific alphabet in the world, mimicking almost every human sound and so precise that it’s extra easy to learn.
Why It Works
Knowing the Korean alphabet is fundamental for reading Korean. In the beginning, you may find it easier to use the Roman alphabet to pronounce Korean words, but you’ll quickly realize that this isn’t sustainable—the quicker you learn the Korean alphabet, the more comfortable and more effective your learning experience will be.
Also, you’ll see that the Roman alphabet has some serious limitations when it comes to Korean, especially considering that it has some very different sounds. In fact, some consonants have three distinctions.
For instance, take ㄱ, ㅋ, ㄲ. The first letter, ㄱ or 기역 (giyeok) has a sound somewhere between g and k. Its pronunciation varies depending on where this letter is located inside a word. The middle one, ㅋ or 키읔 (kieuk) has a sound similar to k, but with stronger aspiration, like very strong k. The sound of the last letter ㄲ or 쌍기역 (ssanggiyeok) doesn’t exist in English, so you must get familiar with it.
In a nutshell, using the Roman alphabet may lead to you making pronunciation mistakes and it’s an unnecessary crutch, so move away from it as soon as you can!
How It Works
Learning the Hangul is straightforward—all you need is to memorize the characters and the sounds that are associated with them! Spend some time hand-writing series of symbols and simultaneously pronouncing their sounds to create an audiovisual connection. Watch this video to verify your pronunciation.
Then, proceed to writing simple words. Make it easy and fun, and keep practicing no matter what your level of Korean is. Don’t stop writing, even after you’ve mastered the strokes and sounds. You need to keep practicing to keep your memory sharp.
- If you’re an absolute beginner: Use real Korean movie posters and read the words out loud. There aren’t so many words that it becomes overwhelming, but knowing that the content is authentic is added motivation!
- If you’re a beginner or intermediate learner: Spend five to 10 minutes a day reading a full Korean text out loud. Start with texts that you understand first, perhaps children’s books, and move on to more difficult content later. It’s okay if you don’t understand everything (or even anything). Remember, this is Hangul practice more than comprehension practice. Repeat this until you’re able to read the text without pausing!
- If you’re an intermediate/advanced learner: Use karaoke songs on YouTube with lyrics in Korean at the bottom and sing along! Find your favorite K-Pop songs for added enjoyment. The pace is just fast enough that the focus isn’t on reading per se, but reading quickly and accurately!
There are numerous online resources to help you master and conquer the Korean alphabet. The Hangul Wikipedia page provides a very comprehensive overview of the alphabet. Better yet, the Wikibooks Essential Korean Pronunciation Rules is a good synthesis that’s just enough to get you started.
If you get overwhelmed by the abundance of information, Learnlangs provides free mini-courses to help you ease into it gradually. Aside from teaching you the alphabet, their lessons will help you understand how to build a Korean syllable, how to handwrite in Korean and how to pronounce Korean sounds and basic Korean words.
2. Invest in a Good Learning System
Having the right manuals is important on your journey to teaching yourself Korean. Keep it handy and make sure to review it every day!
Why It Works
A language method helps you learn progressively and stay organized. A good language method should have a carefully designed curriculum and gradually introduce new words, structures and idioms by order of complexity. The goal is to enable you to take the time to assimilate new content and to set up the right foundation for the future. Think of these lessons as building blocks!
How It Works
These tips are key to follow, no matter which study system you choose.
- Study up! Follow the curriculum and be sure to fully assimilate novel content before you move on to the next lesson. The goal is to make new knowledge active, not just passive: it’s best to be able to express yourself than simply understand what’s said. Remember, the goal of language learning is to be able to communicate!
- Be regular! Spend at least 20 minutes every day on a new lesson or topic. It’s more effective to devote mini-sessions to learning Korean than spend two full hours a week just once.
- Take notes and review them. There’ll be a bunch of new elements to memorize quickly, so make sure that you spend the time memorizing them!
There’s no one definitive Korean language method. There’s plenty out there, but we’ve got three highly recommended ones you can explore. It’s up to you to decide which one works best for you.
If you plan on using the manual to deepen your understanding of Korean grammar, then the “Yonsei” method is right for you. With a focus on Korean grammar, these books will give you the right tools to know how Korean works on a technical level and to master the ins and outs of Korean sentence structure. For beginners looking for an in-depth, grammatical approach, this may be the way to go, but keep in mind that you can change to another method at any time if this isn’t as stimulating as you were hoping for.
On the other hand, opt for the “Sogang” method if your goal is to speak immediately. With a focus on developing speaking skills, this series of books will help you build the confidence to utter your first Korean words. Rich in content and highly visual, this is a very effective method to teach yourself the language of the Land of the Morning Calm.
3. Watch Plenty of Korean Dramas
Korean dramas are a fun, entertaining way to learn the Korean language and start really understanding Korean culture! Of course—take what you see with a grain of salt. After all, dramas are pretty… dramatic. Korean life isn’t necessarily like this (all the time).
Why It Works
Watching dramas (or any video, for that matter!) is an enjoyable method to stimulate your Korean listening skills and gain familiarity with Korean pronunciation. You’ll also get visual cues like expressions, gestures and scenery to help you glean the meaning. We promise, the more you watch, the more you’ll understand.
Dramas pack a learning punch if you actively use them to study, but you can also use them to learn more passively and casually. They’re so much fun that you’ll replace your English-language TV show addictions with Korean content. That means even more Korean exposure! You’ll quickly develop spontaneous and intuitive speaking abilities just through hearing Korean so much, as long as you do it in a smart way (which we’ll highlight in the “How It Works” section below).
It’s easy to see how watching dramas takes the difficulty out of language learning by making it more accessible and fun.
How It Works
- Start by picking a drama you like. If you’re new to Korean dramas, you can read about them on MyDramaList. Browse for titles that look interesting and head over to your favorite streaming site to see if it’s available there. It’s that simple! Can’t find what you’re looking for? You can always try hitting up verified YouTube channels and the official websites for Korean TV stations.
- Use subtitles wisely. When you first start watching, turn off the subtitles. Replay a scene a few times and see how much you can understand. (You might find that after a few viewings, you understand more than you did at first!) Once you’ve understood as much as you possibly can, pop on the subtitles in Korean and watch again (if they’re available). After that, watch one last time in English.
- Take notes! Are there any words you still don’t understand? Any sentence structures that have you confused? Write them down and study them! Especially in the beginning, you’ll pick up lots of useful expressions, vocabulary, structures and even cultural facts from your study sessions. Make sure to list them all and review your notes regularly. Over time, you’ll be able to identify more and more words and build a significant mental Korean database.
TV streaming sites like Viki offer a large selection of Korean dramas with complete seasons, perfect for binge-watching. The site is free with ads, but you have the option to subscribe to the service and skip them altogether if you prefer. This isn’t a language learning site per se, so you may need to put in some effort to learn from the videos and find some structure to them.
Netflix can also prove a fantastic resource to teach yourself Korean. Like Viki, there are no accompanying lessons and the Korean subtitles are often closed captioned (and therefore, not always 100% accurate), but it’s a perfect option if you’re already a Netflix subscriber. The streaming service’s Korean drama selection is ever-growing!
Watching authentic content is an excellent way of learning: it exposes you to the language in a way that you’ll never get from textbooks, and you’ll pick up more natural pronunciation, increase your vocabulary knowledge and even learn cultural shades as a result. But while it’s effective, it’s not very efficient to be constantly trawling the web for appropriate videos and switching between different online dictionaries to make sense of it all.
The language program FluentU aims to make this seamless by curating short, authentic and engaging Korean videos—covering everything from vlogs to news reports to inspiring talks—and adding learning tools. Each video comes complete with interactive subtitles (just tap a word to uncover detailed information about it), multimedia flashcards and personalized quizzes which even include speaking questions. The video dictionary is also super handy for showing how words are used in action in different contexts, something which many dictionaries lack.
These tools help you learn both faster and more efficiently than if you were to attempt it alone, and the program comes as iOS and Android apps—which make for easy watching on the go.
4. Join Language Exchange Communities
Language exchange communities are great platforms to learn about the language and the culture of the country you’re interested in.
Why It Works
Aside from building friendships, the importance of human interaction in this community is what helps get results. Communities help foster long-term commitment to learn the Korean language. Think of it as an extra motivational tool.
Oh! And one of the perks of being involved? It can be completely free!
If you’re after a bit of help to get over some potential nerves of a language exchange, check out the video below. You’ll learn 10 handy conversation starters to make sure that you keep the conversation going and impress your new friend.
How It Works
Language exchange communities are based on mutual learning exchanges. Share your native language with a native Korean speaker, and then let them teach you Korean. You don’t necessarily “teach” each other, either. You can when the situation calls for a quick explanation, but the purpose is more to have a casual conversation together in each language. Usually, you’ll arrange to have a 50/50 split, where each language is spoken for 50% of your conversation.
This is ideal for practicing listening and speaking, but also works if you want more structure. Communicate in advance to find a partner who you get along with and who wants to practice regularly, and spend two to three times a week on the platform of your choice for maximum efficiency.
eXlogue is a language exchange community backed by Harvard Innovation Lab. If you’re interested in one-on-one Korean lessons, this is quite possibly your best bet!
Entirely free and easy to use, eXlogue lets you find native partners interested in teaching you their language in exchange for teaching them your own. Concretely, the platform fast-tracks your learning experience and makes it more personal and human by connecting you with Korean natives.
In addition, you receive support and motivation from an inclusive community of language learners. Share about your learning experience, put yourself there to practice whenever you want and hear feedback from experts and other language learners!
Speaky lets you browse through a community of Korean language partners to instantly practice Korean, as well as share your own language and culture with a Korean learner. You can chat or make phone calls with one of the numerous speakers connected online at any time, for free.
Also, the platform lets you find the Korean language partner of your choice by selecting their preferences, habits and more.
Interpals is another great way to meet Korean natives and make Korean friends. If you aren’t quite ready to practice speaking just yet, they also have a penpals program worth checking out.
You can quickly browse through their vast library of users to find a match, and start taking your Korean self-teaching experience to the next level!
5. Use Flashcards
Flashcards aren’t just for middle schoolers. Every learner will find them useful. Read up if in doubt!
Why It Works
Flashcards stimulate your memory through visual association. The idea is to burn information into the brain and develop active recall. Over time, after seeing it so many times, your brain will remember the concept learned from a flashcard.
How It Works
If you’ve decided to make your own flashcards, we recommend keeping it simple. Write a Korean word on the front and its translation on the back. Optionally, you may want to add the word’s Korean pronunciation on the back as well. The latter is important if you occasionally ask a friend who doesn’t read Hangul to quiz you.
Test yourself. Start by reading the Korean word and give yourself no more than three seconds to come up with its translation. When you’ve completed the set, flip the cards and repeat the process, this time by reading the English word and translating it into Korean.
Alternatively, you may pair with a friend. If they don’t read Hangul, ask them to show you the Korean word and, as quickly as possible, give them the English equivalent!
The best flashcards are often the ones you make yourself! Rather than buy ready-made flashcards, the best way to make them work for you is to personalize them. Making your own flashcards isn’t complicated: All you need is a piece of paper, a pair of scissors and a pen! No need to elaborate, you get the idea.
The website studystack also has a very extensive collection of digital flashcards so you can always test yourself with new, fresh content. Each card set comes with a printable list, so you can review it, although in a different format, at your leisure.
For fancy audio flashcards, you may want to check out the Learn with Oliver website. It isn’t free, but you get a free trial for 30 days.
6. Listen to (or Discover) Your Favorite K-Pop Artist
K-Pop (Korean Pop) is more than just a global music trend with some of the biggest names and superstars on the planet. It’s also your key to Korean fluency!
Why It Works
By listening to K- Pop, you are placing yourself right in the heart of contemporary Korean culture. Before you know it, you will be dancing, singing and miming along to your favorite BTS song without even realizing it!
In this way, you learn through immersion while staying on top of the latest trends emerging from this genuinely international music phenomenon. This approach gives you plenty of informal vocabulary and keeps you up to date with Korean pop culture. Best of all, you can gush with your Korean exchange partner about your favorite tunes!
How It Works
Language learning with music is a popular method for those wanting to enjoy their study while focusing on boosting their vocabulary. The connection between mood, word mining and memorization creates the perfect environment for a language learner to level-up. In addition to this, brain science shows that we’re more inclined to recall information that’s stimulating, appealing or emotional. With precise synchronized dance moves, catchy melodies and extravagant fashion, K-Pop is sure to keep you hooked (and learning) for a long time!
If you’re a beginner, it’s advisable to start by listening and exploring. Don’t worry too much about comprehension but instead, focus on finding the right music or a group that you enjoy. As you progress, you can start to integrate lyrics in Hangul and with an English translation into your learning.
For an intermediate-advanced learner, activities such as fill-the-gap or predicting the lyrics are a great way to recall vocabulary and practice grammar structures.
The website genius.com is a convenient resource for finding lyrics both in the original Hangul and English. You can discover extra content such as annotations from fans and relevant news. There’s also the option of joining a community, contributing to discussions, writing your own annotations and leaving album reviews.
Of course, a quick YouTube search will also yield plenty of K-Pop tunes with English translations for you to sift through, although this approach may require additional steps to create a worthwhile lesson.
7. Build Confidence and Vocabulary with Loanwords
Tackling Korean or any additional language is no easy feat. That’s why, as a beginner, it’s vitally important to start with what you know.
Why It Works
Loanwords are exactly what they describe. Words that have been transferred or loaned from one language to another with little to no modification. While it may not seem like it, there are many English-Korean loanwords.
This situation is sometimes referred to as Konglish or Korean-style English, and it’s a great way to build a sense of familiarity and a common connection between the two languages. As a beginner, one of the primary goals of Korean learning is simple communication: understanding and being understood. These are also two of the most challenging tasks. With loanwords, you can slowly break down this barrier by utilizing modern Korean vocabulary that you already know even if you aren’t aware of it yet.
Loanwords are also a great way to build confidence and start to tune your ear to the difficult Korean pronunciation. You can hear how the original words have been taken and integrated into Korean speech.
Check out 100 words you already know in Korean and note how the pronunciation differs from the original English. Once you’ve mastered this, loanwords are effective, relatively simple to listen for and fun!
How It Works
Start by scrolling through YouTube, listening to native content and asking your Korean exchange partner if they know any English-Korean loanwords. You both might be surprised just how many there are!
Create and continually add to a language chart of loanwords and start building vocabulary in this way. With some beginning phrases, you’ll be able to compile basic sentences using more advanced vocabulary almost immediately from your loanword list.
Whenever you come across a new loanword, add it to your vocabulary list with a special note on pronunciation and don’t forget to write it out in Hangul.
First, check out this fun video of a Korean no-English word challenge to get an idea of how integrated English loanwords are to Korean society.
In terms of resources, some great starting places include language blogs with ready-to-go loanword vocabulary lists. Of course, it’s vital to hear just how these words are pronounced, so using a resource that also offers pronunciation like 90daykorean.com is a fantastic starting place.
You’ll find heaps of fun YouTube videos either examining loan words or creating unique challenges for Korean and English speakers.
Now that you know what to do to learn Korean efficiently, all you need is to get started.
So, 3… 2… 1… 시작! (shijak! start!)