With all the recent buzz for dramas and k-pop, the wish to study Korean has almost become a natural impulse.
I had a slightly different reason to embark in this interesting journey: I loved Wind Breaker so much, that I couldn’t just wait for the English version on Webtoon when the original Korean version was at least 30 chapters ahead. I wanted to be able to read the most recent chapters right when they were published, so I decided to study the language.
Given the enormous pool of resources available on the internet, choosing the right materials – and combining them – is one of the biggest challenges. Some are inclined towards visual memorization, others towards language-specific explanations (grammar and all that jazz), while others prefer podcasts and apps. Since I am a linguist and I’ve been working in this field for so many years, for me the only way to understand a language is to study it fully. Writing, reading, listening, speaking, with all the grammar thoroughly explained.
If I can’t comprehend and break down the language structure, I can’t really learn it. Of course, I thought that visual memorization, games, or listening could be a helpful addition, so I searched for a method that would combine everything and could provide an extensive understanding of the language. The one I settled for gave really good results for me (I’m studying Korean for almost two years already), so I decided to share it. Maybe it can be of help for others who would love to study Korean.
INTRODUCTION TO RESOURCES
I use a combination of koreanclass101, How to Study Korean, some apps, and dictionaries. Although a lot of free resources (or free versions of paid ones) are available on a large scale, I am not usually a very big fan of those, because they have a lot of limitations, including advertising, or the availability of very important information. Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the resources I will talk about, so my post doesn’t have any advertising purposes. It’s just a clear presentation of the method I’m currently using for my studies – and which really has visible results.
HOW TO START
When you decide to start studying Korean, the first thing you need is an introduction to the language. For that, I took a short course on Udemy. It was fun, the instructor really knew how to explain the most basic things you need to know about the language, and when I completed it I had the necessary base to build upon. I highly recommend it, especially to those who have absolutely no idea about Korean.
THE NEXT STEP
Is to learn hangul. Bold and underlined. Everything starts from here. And with that initial Udemy course under the belt, it was much easier to understand it. For hangul, I definitely recommend Amy’s video hangul lessons on koreanclass101. Clear explanations, and presented in a way that is really easy to understand.
AFTER MASTERING HANGUL…
It’s time for the real fun to begin. First, a short presentation of koreanclass101, which is one of the two main platforms/tools I am using. In order to access their learning paths, you need to sign up. There is a free version – but with limitations that will become bothersome when you really come to need important resources on the portal; a basic subscription; a premium subscription – like I have; and a premium plus subscription – which is the most expensive, but gives you the important advantage of a teacher who can actually supervise your learning path. I think this option is good if you are quite advanced with your studies.
Then you select your level and create customized learning paths. Which is awesome. You can add video or audio lessons to your learning path, and each lesson also has a listening option, vocabulary and the basic grammar point of each lesson in a downloadable PDF format (I think this an option for subscribers only though). Plus, you can ask questions in the comments section of each lesson. For those who do not love grammar very much, I think that the right combination of lessons on koreanclass101 could be enough.
I would like to mention two very important tools on koreanclass101, because they are my most powerful assistants in studying Korean: the Wordbank and the Flashcards. I search for a word in their dictionary (or select it in a lesson), add it to the wordbank, then synchronize it with the flashcards. Which I revisit almost daily. The flashcards play randomly, include images, contextual phrases and pronunciation, and are a very powerful tool to help you build an extensive vocabulary. So, to sum it up, koreanclass101 basically has it all: hundreds of video and audio lessons for all levels, which you can create a learning path from; a very comprehensive dictionary; a wordbank (for my subscription, the wordbank capacity is 2000 words) and flashcards (I cannot stress enough how important they are if you want to have a good vocabulary).
As fun as the lessons on koreanclass101 can be, for me they were not enough. For the reason I said in the beginning: I needed grammar. That is a good textbook that can explain the language also from a rather technical/linguistic perspective. Korean is a very contextual language, with a pretty complex structure, so learning it just based on visual and listening is not enough. It can provide a more solid base, but it will never offer that depth you need in order to be able to understand all the linguistic processes.
That said, I searched and found the best possible Korean language textbook: the one from How to Study Korean. Which is my absolute favorite Korean study resource. They have a huge amount of lessons available for free, but I preferred to buy the textbook. And some workbooks too.
I started from lesson one, with the base I already had from a few lessons already completed on koreanclass101. Since then, I developed a learning pattern which I have been using until now. One lesson from How to Study Korean textbook cannot be taken in one shot. Not if you want to carefully assimilate all the important information offered. I usually take one lesson in 3 or 4 sessions, depending on how long and how difficult it is. The first session is assimilating the vocabulary (sometimes, if there are too many new terms or too difficult, I split the vocabulary into 2 separate sessions). I have a notebook especially for the Korean classes and write down there all the lessons from How to Study Korean (and use many colorful pens LOL). First, I write the new word with their translation in my notebook. Then I search it in the dictionary on koreanclass101, hear the pronunciation, add it to my wordbank, then, at the end of the lesson, sync the wordbank with my flashcards, and practice them.
What I love the most about this textbook is that the grammar is explained in a manner that everyone can understand. With loads of examples. I highly recommend writing them all down, then trying to translate and repeat them. It’s a good practice and helps you understand how to make sentences of your own.
And, after each How to Study Korean session, I go back to the flashcards and practice. Or, if I have more time and the lesson was easy, I supplement it with an extra audio lesson from my learning path on koreanclass101. It works.
If you are less used to grammar and more used to visual memorization, one very useful site is Morning Lands. They use colorful cards with big letters, which are really easy to memorize. Plus, they also have very important grammar concepts explained, sorted by categories. As for podcasts, I know that Talk to Me in Korean is a very widely used resource, but I don’t really know how it works, since I never used it. I think it could be a very good supplement to a more thorough learning method.
APPS AND DICTIONARIES
Apps are best when you already have an established main learning path and need a refresher while you are on the go, or when you have a break and want to relax. Personally, I don’t believe that such a complex language as Korean can be studied well exclusively via apps, so I would recommend to use them only as an addition. I rarely use apps, but the ones I have (and are fairly good) are Infinite Korean and Learn Korean Pro. They include games, vocabulary and grammar.
I also have three dictionaries installed on my phone. My favorite is by far the one from Naver.
Of course, I can’t guarantee that the resources and methods presented here would work the same for everyone. For me they did and knowing that the beginning can be a bit discouraging and all over the place, I thought it could be a helpful example. Learning a language requires perseverance and hard work. After several lessons, another good practice is to try reading webtoons, or the Instagram and Twitter posts of your favorite actors and artists. It will surely help. Good luck with your linguistic endeavors!
Co-founder and former editor-in-chief of CosplayGEN Magazine, editor at CollectiKult, and a translation industry professional.