The Best Way to Learn Korean (Ultimate Guide) - Live Fluent

The Best Way to Learn Korean (Ultimate Guide)

Immersion is the best way to learn Korean

The best way to learn Korean is immersion. 

Immersion is when you are surrounded by the language and have to perform most (if not all) of your day to day activities in the language. This is ideally done in a Korean speaking country. 

Most agree that immersion really is the most efficient and effective way of learning a foreign language.

But don't let that fool you into thinking it's the easiest. Many people incorrectly assume that immersion happens like magic, and that you simply absorb the language around you.

True immersion is very demanding. You essentially have to relearn how to communicate. Still if you want to learn Korean, you're up for the challenge and you have the opportunity, go for it!

Do I have to travel to become fluent in Korean?

As awesome as immersion is, it isn't always practical. You may want to learn Korean, but doesn't mean you can spend a year in Seoul just to immerse yourself. Does that mean you're out of luck?

Not at all!

It's completely possible to create your own personal Korean learning program and immerse yourself in the language no matter where you live.

Now it might not be a "true" immersion experience (it probably won't be as intense either), but it can still be a super effective way to learn Korean fast.

What you'll learn in this post:

  • 4 aspects of language learning and why they're important 
  • The needs of beginners, intermediate, and advance students of the Korean language.
  • Recommended resources for each level

There are more resources to help you learn Korean than ever before. While there is no one size fits all approach, if you know your level and personal needs it shouldn't be hard to find which resources are right for you. 

In this post we'll take a look at what kinds of resources Korean learners should use based on their ability in the language.

We'll also make some recommendations on our favorite resources to give you an idea of where to start looking. 

But first...We should probably talk a little about inputs and outputs. 

Inputs & Outputs

There are four aspects of language learning: reading, listening, writing, and speaking. 

Four Parts of Learning Korean

Inputs

Outputs

Reading

Writing

Listening

Speaking

Of these four options two are inputs: reading and writing; and two are outputs: writing and speaking.

You will need to develop all four skills to become fluent (especially if you want to learn Korean fast). But you'll need a different amount of practice for each depending on your level in the language.

Reading and writing in Korean

Korean's writing system (called hangul) is very different from that of English. Obviously the letters look very foreign compared to English ones. 

Breaking down hangul

But the biggest difference is probably that instead of being written sequentially (like the latin alphabets of English, Spanish, and French); the Korean alphabet is written in blocks which represent syllables. 

A brief introduction to the Korean writing system

Consonants and vowels

Each block is made up of consonants and vowels (individual Korean letters). Each consonant letter in hangul represents a sound and has its own name (not unlike English letters). 

There are some letters that can represent different sounds, depending on whether they are at the beginning or end of a Korean word.

Curiously enough vowels in the Korean alphabet don’t have names. They simply represent simple sounds. One thing that can make Korean pronunciation a tad bit difficult is that many vowels have similar sounds, and you have to train your ears to hear the difference. 

Don't let hangul freak you out

If you want to learn Korean don't let hangul freak you out. The alphabet and writing system are no where near as complicated as Japanese, and there's none of the logographic characters you find in Mandarin.

We recommend you learn hangul from the very beginning. Knowing how to read and write Korean will go a long way toward helping you develop your other language skills (not to mention reading and writing are important all on their own). 

How to Learn Korean for Beginners: 

 Inputs (Reading & Listening)  80%
 Outputs (Writing & Speaking) 20%

At the earliest stages of learning inputs are extremely important. This is because Korean is completely new to you. It's essential to learn relevant vocabulary and basic grammar at this phase. 

After all it would be kind of hard to practice writing and speaking Korean if you haven't already learned some the language.

Speaking and writing Korean still have important roles at the beginner level (you should definitely practice both as you progress), but they're simply not as important as inputs. 

Because most courses and tools are aimed at beginners, new Korean students have a lot of options to choose from.A good beginner Korean course will walk you through foundational grammar and vocabulary, and it should also introduce you to hangul.

3 Korean resources for beginners

1) Rocket Korean 

Rocket Korean

Price

$150

Time commitment

20+ minutes a day 

The Rocket Korean online course is built around recorded audio in the form of dialogues. The dialogues have English explanations and teach the language in "chunks" or phrases versus individual words (this is great for conversational Korean).

There are three types of lessons available on Rocket Korean: 1) audio lessons,  2) language and culture lessons, and 3) writing lessons.

The audio lessons teach vocabulary in the context of recorded conversations. They allow you to practice your listening comprehension skills (as well as reading because each lesson has a transcript in both english and Korean)

The language and culture lessons take a deep dive into grammar and Korean culture, giving you a sort of behind the scenes perspective on how the language works.

Finally the writing lessons teach users how to read and write in the Korean language, and even feature videos on how to correctly write Hangul by hand (this is not a necessity in our keyboard-centered world, but it’s still an awesome resource to have). 

What truly sets Rocket Korean apart is that it also focuses on literacy (not just being conversational). The course really breaks down the Korean alphabet and helps you learn hangul.

2) Koreanclass101

Price

From $4+ per month

Time commitment

15+ minutes a day 

Koreanclass101 is designed around audio lessons much like the Rocket Korean online course. Koreanclass101 lacks the structure and comprehensiveness of Rocket Korean (but it's also a lot more affordable too).

Koreanclass101 is one of the most popular Korean learning resources on the web.


Their lessons are in the format of podcast episodes. Each episode features two hosts who breakdown and explain a conversation between two native Korean speakers. The hosts do a good job of explaining difficult concepts, teaching relevant Korean grammar, and keeping things light and interesting.

In addition to grammar and vocabulary, lessons provide insight into Korean culture and traditions. Most dialogues occur in the context of a daily situation and provide a ton of practical new words you can start using right away.

Lesson transcripts are available in English as well as Korean. There's also an in site flashcard system to start learning new Korean words and letters.

3) Duolingo

Price

Free

Time commitment

5+ minutes a day 

Duolingo is often times the first program we recommend to learners.

Their courses are known for being an effective and free way to master the fundamentals of a foreign language. Unfortunately though Duolingo Korean runs into some serious problems...

Duolingo Korean is still in beta, meaning it's available to use but the company is still working out the kinks.

So far the app makes no distinction between levels of formality and doesn't really teach hangul (even though hangul does make an appearance on the app).

Much like Duolingo Japanese, Duolingo Korean tends to hold the user’s hand too tightly. Answers to questions are often obvious, and easy to guess without having to read Korean or fully understand the new words you’re working with.

Even with it's faults Duolingo Korean is definitely worth checking out (it is free to use after all). Beginners who want an easy and accessible way to learn Korean online or via app, should check it out. 

How to learn Korean for Intermediate learners: 

 Inputs (Reading & Listening)  60%
 Outputs (Writing & Speaking) 40%

If you want to learn Korean at the intermediate stage you should increase your practice of speaking and writing. Still, reading and listening will take up the majority of your focus.

Make sure you keep stretching your skills by increasing the level of difficulty of what you read and listen to. At this phase you want to guard against plateaus. This is why you want your level of input practice to be just a bit higher than your output practice.

Otherwise you run the risk of using the same vocabulary over and over again without learning much new material.  A great way to do this is to dive into Korean culture. There’s a plethora of Korean dramas, music, movies, and videos available on the net.

As long as you find content that pushes you out of your comfort zone in the language, and you make an effort to learn any new Korean words or phrases, you will see your skills improve.

As an intermediate student you also want to start practicing your conversational skills. Your level in Korean probably isn't high enough yet to allow you jump into any conversation on any topic. 

This is why it's a good idea to practice speaking with an experience Korean tutor or teacher (or a really patient friend!). T

hey can use their experience with new Korean learners to help push your skills in a way that's challenging but not overwhelming.

You can find teachers, tutors, or native speakers to help you practice Korean online or in person.

3 Korean resources for intermediate learners

1) Pimsleur

Price

$150 

Time commitment

30 minutes a day 

Pimlseur is a legacy language course turned state of the art app. The program is split into 30 minute audio lessons built around a Korean dialogue between native speakers.

Pimsleur's unique method


What makes Pimsleur different is its unique question-recall-response method. This method is very effective at getting you to think in a foreign language, much like you would when speaking Korean in a real conversation.

In fact Pimsleur is the only Korean audio course I'm aware of that effectively develops your conversational skills.

Reading Korean with Pimsleur 

Pimsleur also has a robust reading component. Users are introduced to hangul and start reading the Korean alphabet phonetically (that is recognizing the sounds without knowing the meaning of the Korean  words you're reading).

Gradually after users can read Korean sounds, the app starts incorporating new words from the audio lessons. Thus the user begins to read for meaning. 

The combo of listening, reading, and response make Pimsleur a powerful resource for anyone learning Korean. 

2) Italki

Price

$6+ per hour (varies between teachers)

Time commitment

30 minute or 1 hour Korean lessons 

Italki is an online market place that connects language learners with language teachers for one-on-one language classes via video or audio chat.

Lessons can be once a month, once a week, or even every day. It's all up to you and your teacher's schedule. 

You can connect with language speakers from around the world and speak Korean. Italki is one of the largest sites offering lessons with professional and informal Korean language teachers. 

*with a purchase of $20 or more. After completion of your first lesson a credit of $10 will be added to your account

3) FluentU

Price

Starts at $15 per month

Time commitment

5+ minutes a day 

Fluentu is a site that helps you learn a new language through native videos.

You can use in site flashcards, captions, and games to learn new Korean words in context while watching Korean dramas, TV shows, movies, commercials, and more. It's a great way to push your listening skills and learn new words.

Fluentu doesn't explicitly teach the Korean language. Instead the site works more as way for you to practice and build on what you already know. It's great tool for those who already have some experience learning Korean.

How to learn Korean for advanced learners

 Inputs (Reading & Listening)  50%
 Outputs (Writing & Speaking) 50%

At the advance level your Korean skills should be at, or at least close to, a functional level. This is where the language really starts to open up. Any use of the Korean language is fair game now (especially if it's challenging).

Keep everything in Korean as much as possible. Conversations with Korean speakers are especially valuable at this level. Do your best to talk every day about as many different topics with as many different people as you can. 

Also don't be afraid to dive deep into Korean media, movies, news, and music (yes that includes Kpop). After all, the best way to learn a new language is to have fun doing it. 

It's also not a bad idea to study Korean with a professional teacher every so often. They can help you to fine tune your Korean abilities (especially speaking).

Often a teacher can point out blind spots in pronunciation, slang, idiomatic expressions, and other parts of the language that aren't always easy to pick up on. 

3 Korean resources for advanced leaners

1) Lang-8

Price

Free

Time commitment

n/a

Write posts in Korean and post them to Lang-8 to get feedback from native speakers.

It's one of the best ways to practice your writing alongside other people who are learning a language 

Best of all it's free! This site is a simple but very effective way to continue learning Korean as an advanced student. 

2) Speaky

Price

Free

Time commitment

Period of time is up to you

Speaky is a free online language exchange where you can meet and practice with language learners from over 180 countries. Speak Korean online with natives over video, audio, or text chat. Just remember to help them with their English language studies too! 

3) Verbling

Price

$6.50+ per hour (varies between teacher)

Time commitment

30 minute or 1 hour Korean lessons

Verbling is a site similar to Italkli. While it doesn't have the selection of Korean language teachers Italki has, Verbling favors teachers with experience and certification, so their overall quality of teachers is a little higher. This makes Verbling an ideal resource to learn Korean if you are at an advanced level.

Conclusion

There are many ways to start learning a new language. For each student, the best way to learn Korean is determined by their level and individual needs as a learner.

Hopefully this post helped clear up some of the mystery behind learning Korean, and helped you find which approach is best for you!

About the Author Chris J

I'm definitely an unlikely language learner. I failed Spanish in high school. I started learning German as a hobby while studying abroad. Long story short...and a couple languages later...I love language learning!

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