It’s been a few months since I decided I wanted to learn Korean. You’d think I’d have made some kind of progress by now, right?
For two reasons. 1) I’m quite lazy and undisciplined. 2) Where the heck to start???
There’s not much I can do to conquer the first problem besides just bucking up and exerting painful amounts of willpower to the task. As for the second, I believe I have slowly begun to solve the mystery.
Before I get into that, let me give you a bit of background on my language learning history.
I was born and raised in California, USA, and I speak in (what I consider to be) a standard or “newscaster” accent of NAE (North American English). I took 3 years of Spanish from 8th to 10th grade in middle and high school. I dropped the language for several years before I had to pick it up again as a university requirement in my junior year. I took one year of 100-level (intro) Spanish at my university, and then I did a 5-week intensive study abroad program in Mexico to complete the 200-level. I now never speak it, except to the rare Spanish-speaking customer at work. Even with all of my years of studying, I am still barely intelligible. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. I can get by, but I would never call myself fluent, and I have failed to retain a lot of the vocabulary that I learned. This is sad really, considering both of my parents are fluent Spanish speakers (it’s my dad’s first language).
When I discovered my love of K-Pop, K-Dramas, and my general desire to move to Korea, I decided that I needed to learn it. I already knew a few basics (how to say hello, how to say “stop it!”, how to say a few curse words) and I was familiar with the look of the written language thanks to growing up in a diverse community and having lots of Korean American friends throughout my school days. As I began to watch dramas and variety shows more regularly, I began picking up a lot of random words and phrases, but that is clearly not enough to have a decent conversation with anyone. If I attempted to, the other person would probably either run away or laugh because I would have to resort to some pretty creative pantomiming.
Since I plan on becoming a teacher, I enrolled in a Language Teaching course while I was in college that focused on English pronunciation. It is actually giving me a lot of insights into the way sounds are produced and the general learning process, which I think will be helpful in my own language learning endeavors.
That’s where I am at right now. Basically square one in terms of Korean language learning.
So back to my main problem: where to start??
To be honest, I think I did a few things backwards, but I’ll get to that in a second. Before I get to the real meat of this post, let me just disclaimer by saying that I DO NOT SPEAK KOREAN. I AM NOT FLUENT. I HAVE JUST BEGUN MY OWN STUDIES. Please take any “recommendations” with a grain of salt because I myself am just getting my toes wet. This is only my perception of what seems to be effective and useful for learning Korean as a total beginner.
- Talktomeinkorean.com: Hopefully you already know about this amazing site. I personally only began using it a couple of days ago and I love it already. Well if you have barely even used it, how can you recommend it? I know, I know. But I’ve been hearing about the wonders of this site for so long, and after checking it out, I am just smacking my head against the wall wondering why I had been avoiding it for so long. Honestly, I’m not sure myself. But here’s the lowdown. They have grammar lessons spanning from complete novice level to what I would guess is a high-intermediate level, and the best part is almost all of it is free. I say “almost” because they do sell their own line of textbooks, and some other services require payment. But the main bulk of their content is free and will stay free, which is incredible. I did the first three lessons yesterday, and I have to say that I really love the way they are set up. Each lesson is short and to the point, and comes with accompanying podcasts (featuring native speakers) and pdf files to follow along. An added bonus is the native speakers in the podcasts seem to have really great positive chemistry with each other, and they also have very pleasant voices! It’s really a joy to listen to. So far, two thumbs up.
- Hangukdrama.com: This girl knows her stuff. Shanna, who runs and authors this blog, has been self-studying Korean and Japanese for years, and has achieved amazing results. I have been heavily relying on this blog as a resource and as inspiration. She updates us on her progress (She is TOPIK level 5, working toward 6), she shows us her notebooks and gives note-taking tips, and writes excellent textbook reviews (my favorite part). I metaphorically bow down to this chick because she is doing so much to guide and encourage her fellow learners. She even has a short e-book available (that she wrote herself!) about how to get started with learning Korean.
- Twochois.com + Hanbooks.com + Amazon.com: These are all great resources for finding Korean language textbooks. Twochois.com and Hanbooks.com have a lot of the same stuff, but it’s good to compare prices. However, beware of shipping fees. Amazon is a given.
- Interpals.net: Interpals…is an interesting site. I sort of hesitate to recommend this one for a few reasons. I have had a pretty mixed experience on Interpals so far. I joined it with the understanding that it was a social networking site for people interested primarily in language exchange and finding international pen pals to practice said language exchange. In theory, two thumbs up! While I have managed to make a small handful of pen pals who are genuinely interested in languages and friendship, I have also managed to be hit on. A lot. No, this is not me bragging about my unparalleled good looks (ha!). But for some reason, a lot of users seem to think this is a dating site. I guess it can be for some, but I am really not interested in that! I get it though. As someone who has dabbled in online dating, I get the intrigue of clicking on someone’s attractive profile picture and possibly starting up a flirtationship. But don’t forget the real reason why you joined! Trying to understand each other will be hard enough without throwing romance into the mix. Even the purest of intentions can get lost in translation. Basically, Interpals can be really cool, but just be careful.
- Korean Letters: This is what I used to learn the Korean alphabet, hangul. At first use, it may seem really confusing. There are no instructions. You are simply presented with a letter, which you then tap on and it will produce the sound for you. It’s a highly audio-visual way to learn the alphabet, which I think is the best way. As you move through the lessons, you will begin accumulating more and more sounds and be able to read some words. They use English-borrowed words (shown with pictures) to help you associate the sounds of Korean to English sounds that you are already familiar with. You can try the lite version for free if you are not sure if this is for you, but honestly it did not take me long before I realized that purchasing the full version would be completely worth it. My only gripe with this app is that it does not really cover vowel combinations, which are particularly confusing for me.
- PopPopping Korean – Pronunciation: This is an app that I recently stumbled upon. I think it is really handy because it gives more detailed descriptions of how to pronounce each sound, with moving oral diagrams and cute little letter characters. ^^ For anyone familiar with linguistics, this will really appeal to you since it explicitly instructs on place of articulation, respiration, etc. Plus, it gives a little background history as to why each letter is written the way that it is, which is a nice touch. Overall, I’d say this is a good tool to have.
- Korlink: If you have decided to use Talktomeinkorean.com, then I would say you should also download Korlink. It’s basically TtMiK on the go. It gives you access to all of the grammar lessons (podcasts + pdfs right on your phone and you don’t have to download/save them to access them) as well as links to their Youtube channel and more. Just an easy way to continue your studies while you’re out and about.
- Kakao Talk: I downloaded this purely to communicate easier with a few pen pals that I met through Interpals. Typing in Korean on my laptop is a bit of an ordeal for me, and I’m way quicker at typing in Korean on my phone, so I prefer to talk through Kakao when I can. It’s an instant messaging app that works just like texting but your phone number is private. It is probably the number one instant messaging app in South Korea, so if you plan on keeping in touch with Korean pen pals, or possibly other online pals who you don’t want to share your phone number with, definitely get Kakao. It really helps that the app comes with adorable emoticons, stickers and wallpapers. You will feel obliged to use it just so you can see all the cute all the time.
- Not an app but… Go ahead and download the Korean keyboard onto your phone. You are going to need it when you want to look things up in a dictionary, search online, or even chat with pen pals in Korean.
OTHER STUFF TO DO:
- This is going to sound stupid and indulgent, but honestly just go ahead and watch Korean dramas and listen to K-Pop. At the very least it gets your ear accustomed to the sound of the language, which is not a bad thing.
- Go to the library. Before you start buying up every textbook you can get your hands on, check out your local library to see if they have any useful language resources for you to try first. Also a lot of libraries have subscriptions (meaning free for you as a library card holder) to Mango Languages, which is an online language learning website/application–another good way to get your feet wet with Korean. I tried it and unfortunately I was not disciplined enough to get through all of it, but it was definitely a fun and interactive way to pick up a handful of vocab words and simple grammar points while it lasted.
Okay, another disclaimer: THE FOLLOWING IS NOT A RECOMMENDATION. I am not in any position to recommend a textbook or dissuade you from purchasing one. This is just a general summary of my experience so far with textbooks, which is very limited. If you want in depth reviews from someone with lots of experience, as I said before, Shanna at Hangukdrama.com is your girl.
- Elementary Korean + Workbook: I selected this textbook after scouring Amazon and other websites. My university uses the Integrated Korean series, but I dunno, I just wasn’t feeling those ones. EK seemed like it was very structured and filled with useful information, and I like that there is another textbook after this one that I can move onto when I’m done. I really like that both the textbook and the workbook come with their own audio CDs. But I was struggling with it a bit. The first two lessons are simply lists of phrases to memorize. I am someone who likes to follow the rules, so I have diligently been trying to follow the lessons in order, but OH MY GOSH I am so not motivated to simply memorize lists of words with no explanation behind them. On top of that, the design of the textbook is rather dry and academic (*gasp* A textbook is academic?? Unheard of!!) which is kind of off putting. After realizing that no one but myself is forcing me to get through lessons 1 and 2, I decided to just go ahead and skip to lesson 3, which is about hangul. I can always go back to lessons 1 and 2 later (if I really feel like I need to). Now that I’ve given myself the freedom to use EK the way that I want to, I think I will start to get into it more and enjoy learning from it.
- Hello Korean 1 (English): I don’t even have it yet and I’m still really excited for this book. I was browsing Hanbooks.com just to see what they offered and this book just called out to me. For an obvious reason…Lee Jun Ki was on the cover. Lee. Jun. Ki. Apparently, he has done all of the voice recordings for this series and has even written some sections (I think just cultural tips and the like). At first I hesitated on getting this book because I though I was being too swayed by my celebrity crush, but luckily, Shanna from Hangukdrama.com already reviewed this one and gave it two thumbs up. This book seems really different from EK in that it’s really cute and colorful and has lot more illustrations (even diagrams on articulation, which I actually understand now thanks to my LT class). I think it might be more catered to my learning style so I am eagerly awaiting its arrival in the mail. The book itself is not too expensive, but shipping costs from Hanbooks.com and Twochois.com nearly dissuaded me from buying it. Thankfully, Amazon.com came to the rescue (as usual) and I managed to find a used copy with the audio CD still in tact for a penny + $3.99 shipping, so I got it for a measly four bucks. Not bad, I’d say.
THE BACKWARDS STUFF
- If I recall correctly, I did not learn hangul first. I think I started using Mango Languages first and I quickly realized that I needed to know the alphabet in order to properly retain what I was learning. Learn hangul first. Stay away from romanization because using it will only create a dependency.
- Another thing I would have done differently would be to use TtMiK as my first real learning resource. It just seems like a great place to start and really friendly to beginners and interactive learners.
- Finally, I would have held off on joining Interpals.net until I could actually form sentences in Korean. I’m still not there yet. It’s a little too late now since I’ve already made some good friends there, but our conversations are all in English. I’m happy to help English learners by chatting, but I’m personally not ready to exchange languages since I simply don’t have the skills to do so yet.
Wow, I didn’t think I’d have so much to say on the topic of getting started. I was expecting this to be a much shorter post! Oh well. All of this, as I’ve said, is only based on my limited experience and should all be taken lightly. Really the best way to know what will work for you is to try it yourself. But I hope that this post will be helpful to anyone like me who is just getting started in learning Korean.
What about you guys? What are some go-to resources that you use/have used to get started in learning Korean? Please comment below!