This page is a work in progress. Please feel free to suggest resources that have worked for you in the comments.
I first began studying Korean because I was debating between Korean and Japanese, but I ended up with a ton of Korean resources as a gift, so that kind of made the decision for me. That, and it will be the first language for which I actually have a study partner! I’ve assembled this guide to share some of the books and language learning materials I have used and found to be effective.
The Korean Language
The Korean language, 한국어 (hangugeo), is the official language of both North and South Korea and it spoken by about 80 million people worldwide. It is said to be a “language isolate” which means that it does not share any genealogical ties to any other language.
In the past, Korean was written using the Chinese character system called hanja in Korean complemented by phonetic systems. A new system was commissioned by Sejong during the 15th century called hangul, but it only began to be widely used in the 20th century.
Korean utilizes both honorifics (how respect is shown when talking about someone) and speech level (how respect is shown when talking to someone). These systems, however, have slowly evolved over time and fewer forms are common.
According to the Defense Institute, Korean is a Category IV language in difficulty along with Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic. The Foreign Institute, however, places it in Category V, ranking it as one of the most difficult languages to learn. But I also really like this post from Mezzofanti Guild on why learning Korean isn’t difficult.
For those of you interested in taking an exam to gauge your proficiency in the Korean language, there are two tests available: the KLPT (Korean Language Proficiency Test) and the TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean).
So why would you want to learn Korean? Well, that’s entirely up to you. Korean is one of the 20 most widely spoken languages in the world. It is also an increasingly popular travel destination and has fast growing film and music industries. Personally, I believe don’t that choosing languages for “practical” reasons is as effective for learning as choosing a language because you want to learn it. So if Korean is a language you want to learn, regardless of the reason behind it, then go for it!
Hear the Korean Language
So, let’s look at a few resources you can use to help learn Korean.
How to Decide Which Korean Language Resources to Pick
Language learning texts and resources can get real expensive, real quick. So rather than going at it randomly or by trial and error (which you’ll probably have to do some of anyway), I’d like to make a suggestion first.
The ability to use and understand a language is based upon four basic abilities: reading, writing, speaking, and comprehension. Depending on what your goals are, all four may not be necessary.
Let’s say, for example, you hope to take a trip to Seoul in six months. What language skills will you need? Basic communication and comprehension and basic reading (street signs, menus, etc). You probably won’t ever have to write in the language. So, in this case, you might focus on developing your speaking and listening skills. If this sounds like you, I suggest checking out the audio or audio/text resources and the online resources below.
On the other hand, maybe your goal is to read Korean literature. In that case, learning to speak and understand the spoken language aren’t necessary and you can dedicate your energy to text. If this describes you, I suggest checking out the text and online resources below.
Ideally, you should probably develop some skill in each area, but the areas you focus on need to align with your goals regarding the language and how you plan to use it. I highly suggest picking resources based on this alone. Don’t get distracted with the temptation of shiny, new books (like me) and only buy materials you think you’ll actually use. You’ll save yourself a headache and a lot of money. Money that you can put aside for a trip to Korea!
A Few Things To Consider Before Taking on Any Language
- What is your motivation behind learning Korean? Take a moment to write down your language learning goals. It increases the odds of you achieving them. You can also join us as part of our Clear the List goal setting linkup!
- How many hours a day are you willing to study a language? Set realistic expectations for your progress.
- How do you plan on studying Korean? Are the methods that work for you available?
- You should setup up the Korean language keyboard on both your computer and your phone. It will help you with spelling and make chat easier on Skype/HelloTalk/etc.
- Be accountable. I keep my blog to help me be more accountable and use other apps to keep track of my daily study. I also co-hosted a Korean language challenge with Lindsay Dow.
Korean Audio Resources
- Pimsleur Korean // try a free lesson
- Librivox – get audiobooks read to you in your target language for free!
- TuneIn – Korean language radio
Korean Audio & Text Resources
- Assimil // For French speakers
- Glossika // Glossika is a fantastic text and audio resource.
- KoreanPod101 // Also an online resource, but it provides you with both audio recordings, text transcriptions and more.
Korean Text Resources
Online Resources for Korean
- The Fluent in 3 Months Challenge // The last few years, I’ve done the Fi3M Challenge for every new language I’ve studied. I’ve also participated for several of my other languages. It’s a 90-day challenge that helps you get to a 15-minute conversation in your new language as a part of a community.
- iTalki // A great site where you can find language tutors or language exchange partners.
- Drops // Interactive, visual language learning with tons of fantastic, well-curated vocabulary lists.
- Clozemaster // A fun game where you use cloze, or fill-in-the-blank, to learn new vocabulary.
- Eggbun // My favorite mobile Korean language learning app
- 100+ Useful Conversational Words & Phrases in Korean // A free PDF download
- Speak in a Week // Another great resource from Benny Lewis that gets you speaking your target language quickly.
- Memrise // My favorite flashcard app.
- Tatoeba // sentences translated from any language in Korean
- Learn with Oliver (formerly Antosch & Lin) // A flashcard based system with audio and a variety of exercises to help you learn your target language.
- Judith Meyer’s Korean course
- A Few Youtube Channels You Might Find Useful // I’m a huge fan of Sweet and Tasty TV, but I’ve also heard great things about Talk to Me in Korean.
Korean Music // K-Pop
One of the best ways to learn a language is to listen to music in the language. It not only helps with improving one’s accent, but it also can increase overall comprehension. Plus it’s fun to translate the lyrics of your favorite songs. Here are a few artists I enjoy.
Learning about the culture that is tied to the language you’re learning is so important – the more you love the culture, the more you’ll love the language and vice versa. Discovering a new culture also enriches your life, particularly if it’s one quite different than your own. I highly recommend it if you haven’t started already!
Here are a few books on the history of Korea and it’s culture. You can also check out television shows or movies. I don’t suggest cartoons or films for kids because a lot of the language is often invented and you won’t get as much from it as you might from a drama geared towards an older audience. But if cartoons are your thing, go for it!
- Culture Smart! // A great series with introductions to various cultures around the world. For Korean, you can get started with Korea.
- Christmas in Korea with Esther Julee of Local Adventurer (plus a recipe for Korean Christmas cake)
- Korean Street Foods
A Quick Note
If you’ve been learning Korean, I’d love to hear about your experience and some of the language learning tools you’ve found helpful. Please leave me a note in the comments! The same goes for if you have any questions. I will be more than happy to respond and I look forward to hearing from you!