Welcome, to all beginner, intermediate and advanced Korean learners who’ve found their way here!
First off, congratulations. You’re in for a fun adventure.
Second, know this: You’ve come to the right place!
Korean may be one of the most challenging languages to teach yourself.
Well, that’s what “they” say.
As with any language, cracking Korean isn’t mission impossible—all you need is dedication, time commitment and, most importantly, the right method.
Precisely because Korean is such a radically different language from English, it’s normal to not even know where to begin and how to approach it. This is true even if you’re father along in the learning process and just need an extra self-given push to fluency. Where to begin, without the guidance of a teacher or curriculum?
Don’t despair. 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.
5 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 suit you and your interests, skill level and preferred learning style.
1. Master the Hangul
The 한글 or Hangul is the Korean alphabet. It has 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, 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 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 handwriting series of symbols and simultaneously pronouncing their sounds to create a 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 your level of Korean. 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 5 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 fast 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 increasingly 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 is 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 will 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.
Last but not least, choose FluentU if your goal is to cover everything and stimulate every skill, fast. Sounds ambitious, but the immersive FluentU approach really gets the job done at every skill level.
FluentU Korean offers a growing collection of authentic videos, including various clips, movies, music and more. Videos are conveniently organized into lessons, enabling you to work per objective, topic or skill. If you’re looking for a method to familiarize yourself with the Korean language as well as deepen your knowledge of the Korean culture, this is the best way to go!
Flashcards aren’t just for middle schoolers. Every learner should 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 reiterate 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 ones are 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.
FluentU the best option for personalized, multimedia Korean flashcards. The way this program operates is that it draws flashcard content from the real-world Korean videos you’ve been watching, prompting you with text as well as little video and audio clips. It uses a unique SRS (Spaced Repetition System) to make sure that you’re being quizzed on words you haven’t seen in a while or haven’t mastered quite yet, rather than ones you already know by heart.
studystack 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.
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 learning the Korean language. Think of it as an extra motivational tool.
Oh! And one of the perks of being involved? It’s completely free!
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 necessary “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.
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 native.
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!
Speeky 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. 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 understand.
Dramas let you learn passively and casually, without even trying. 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 by hearing Korean so much.
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 this website. Spot the titles you like and head over to see if your favorite streaming site has them in stock. That simple! You can always hit up YouTube and the official websites for Korean TV stations.
- Hit the Replays button! No subtitles at first. Replay a scene multiple times until you start to understand something. Once you’ve understood as much as you possibly can given your current vocabulary knowledge, then pop on the subtitles (in Korean) and watch again. After that, go around one more time in English, either dubbing or subbing!
- Take notes! Especially in the beginning, you’ll pick up lots of useful expressions, vocabulary, structures and even cultural facts from your sessions. Make sure to list them all and review your notes very regularly. Over time, you’ll be able to identify more and more words and build a significant mental Korean database.
FluentU is available right now and working on bringing you more great content! Actually, it’s compiling many more types of content than just dramas, including news clips, speeches and Korean songs, so you’ll find something ideal here if dramas aren’t really your thing. All the videos on FluentU are built like mini lessons. Each one gives you the option to display interactive subtitles, and all come with dynamic learning activities to solidify your knowledge of the vocabulary presented therein.
Alternatively, 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.
Last, Netflix can prove a fantastic resource to teach yourself Korean. Like Viki, there are no accompanying lessons and no Korean subtitles, but it’s perfect if you’re already a Netflix subscriber.
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!)
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you like learning Korean on your own with fun content, you’ll love FluentU! We’ve mentioned it a few times above, but here you’ll get a sneak-peek at all it has to offer.
FluentU is an online immersion platform that takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, inspiring talks, vlogs and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
FluentU really takes the grunt work out of learning languages, leaving you with nothing but engaging, effective and efficient learning. It’s already hand-picked the best videos for you (which are organized by level and topic), so you simply choose any video that strikes your fancy to get started!
You’ll then see how many words you can learn from it, plus you can also check out the video’s transcript or practice vocabulary before watching the video.
Each word comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more. You can then use FluentU’s unique Learn Mode to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions.
FluentU keeps track of what you’re learning, and tells you exactly when it’s time for review. Review sessions use video context to help embed the words in your memory. You’ll also be able to create vocab lists and track your progress as you advance through video after video.
The best part? You can try FluentU for free with a 15-day trial.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Korean with real-world videos.