Hey guys! Dom here. Hope everyone has had a good summer. It’s been super hot here the whole summer but it looks to finally be cooling down.
Anyways, recently we got a few messages from people who are eager to learn Korean and one of the most common questions we get is “How long will it take me to learn Korean?” This is such a loaded question because so many variables come into play. It depends on the type of person you are, how dedicated you are, how much time you have, and yes even a natural inclination towards learning languages.
So in this article, I’m going to break this topic into several categories and write some details about each. So let’s get started!
Now the very first thing you want to do when starting to learn Korean is to learn the alphabet! You can’t read or write without it and romanization can only take you so far. In fact, relying on romanization will only hinder your progress as it is impossible to correctly convey the sounds of Korean with it. We only use it here as we have a lot of casual learners who just want some quick vocab to use around their Korean friends or to recognize some words in Kpop or Kdramas.
The great thing about learning Hangeul is that it takes very little time. When I first came to Korea, I basically learned Hangeul in 2-3 hours on the flight over. It’s so easy, that if you spend just 2 or 3 hours learning it, you will already be able to read basic Konglish words like 치킨, 비어, 쥬스, etc. Although this won’t make you fluent, it could help when buying something or looking for a place to eat.
Although many full on Korean language courses start off with learning the alphabet, there are several simple books available that can teach you to read in 3 hours or less. These would be good for those of you who just want a simple intro into learning the language and aren’t sure if they want to go all in with a full language course. Some books I recommend:
- Hangul Today! Mastering Hangul Workbook – This book has a fun workbook to help review and guide you with learning the basics of the alphabet
- Learn to Read Korean in 60 Minutes! – This helpful guide uses mnemonic and psychological associations to help you get off on the right foot with learning Hangeul.
- Become a Hangul Master: Learn to Read and Write Korean Characters – This one is my favorite by Talk to me in Korean. It is the most in depth book I’ve seen when it comes to learning the alphabet. This is because although you can learn to read quickly, you need practice! It also goes into things like stroke order, how to read other Korean fonts, and the history of Hangeul.
Learning vocabulary is important for any language and Korean is no exception. The thing about vocabulary is that it is an ongoing process. It will likely never end. However, it also depends on your goal. If your goal is to be conversationally fluent, learning advanced academic words will not be useful. If you want to get so fluent that you can watch Korean news and understand everything, then the process will seem like it will never end.
Personally for me, learning vocabulary is the most fun. I like learning new words and with Korean, you can infer the meaning of many words because they use some of the same syllables. For example:
학교 = School
학생 = Student
학원 = Private academy
In these words, you will see “학” in all of them. It means learning/school. So if you see it, you will know that the word probably has some relation to school or learning.
In addition, verbs and adjectives bring on a whole ‘nother level as you will need to learn to conjugate them properly to communicate effectively. We’ll talk more about that below in the grammar section.
So what are some good methods for learning Korean vocabulary? For making your own flashcards, I would recommend Anki. You can make and customize your own flashcards and even add audio to them. I’m lucky because Hyo will record any vocabulary I’m studying and I can just pair it to the program. The PC version is free, but the app is not.
If you’re more of a book and physical flashcard person, here are some good Korea vocab books I recommend:
- Korean Flashcards Kit: Learn 1,000 Basic Korean Words and Phrases Quickly and Easily! – These are the best physical flashcards I’ve seen on the market. The cards come hole punched and each card not only features the word you are learning, but any related words. Nouns, adjectives, and verbs are all covered. These words will give you a nice foundation for your vocabulary studies.
- Korean Made Easy Vocabulary – I’ve been a big fan of this series for awhile. I started learning Korean with their first book in the Korean Made Easy Series. Recently I went to the bookstore and saw that they had a vocabulary version that I never knew about so I picked it up. The vocab is divided by topic and subject and includes an audio CD to test your knowledge.
- Handbook of Korean Vocabulary – Now this book goes into more of what I discussed above with common roots for Korean words. It’s a little more advanced than your basic vocabulary book, but can prove to be very useful.
Finally, we get to the grammar. Korean grammar is simple in the sense that it’s basically like formulas that you plugin with different words. However, there are many many conjugations which once you get outside of the basics like how to say can, will, should, etc., it becomes about learning to read a certain situation and using the proper grammar to express whatever it is you want to express.
Getting good at this comes only with practice and speaking with native speakers. Think about your native language and how you just KNOW when to use certain things. You don’t even know why. Korean is the same.
Grammar is the same with vocabulary in the sense that I think that because you’re not a native speaker, even the most fluent of speakers will still misuse certain grammar here and there. There is not time limit for learning grammar.
Here are some of my favorite books for learning grammar:
- Korean Grammar in Use (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced) – My absolute favorite book series for learning Korean grammar. The first book is for beginners and starts out with basic things like how to express should, can’t, etc. Using this plus some vocabulary you learned will have you able to start having basic conversations with people. After the beginner book however, it goes hardcore into advanced grammar. If you can make it this far, you will be a pro!
- Korean: A Comprehensive Grammar – Although Korean Grammar in Use is my favorite, I think this book takes even one step further with the depth that it goes to with providing explanations for why and how to use a certain grammar point. This book is good for those of you who know the Hangul Alphabet and have a good inventory of vocabulary under your belt.
Online Korean Language Courses
If you’re more of the person who needs a structured lesson schedule and plan, but can’t make it over to Korea for in person classes, online courses are a great option.
They are structured like classes and start with the basics while progressively going deeper and deeper into the language. You can also study on your own time and at your own pace.
These can take anywhere from 6 months to a year to complete depending on your dedication and discipline.
So what’s great about online courses? Well for one, most have apps that you can install on your phone which means that you can study on the go without lugging books around. You can learn and review pretty much anywhere. For example, when I’m going out to meet friends or work, I may have to commute a bit. Reviewing with a book is impossible, but I can just put on the app, listen, and practice.
Also, people love videos. Learning visually is very effective and some people just get tired of seeing text all the time.
So what are some of our favorite online courses?
- Talk to me in Korean – Of course it goes without saying that we had to mention TTMIK! I’ve actually been in Korea so long, that I remember when the owner was just launching the site. It was the first online site I used to learn Korean and it’s considered the best resource for learning Korean on the web. The best thing is that is has multiple levels of Korean all for free. These include audio and PDFs. The free content will probably get you a long ways on your Korean journey, but if you want to take it one step further, I suggest buying some of their workbooks and other books at their store. They release books pretty often and ship all over the world.
- FluentU – FluentU has recently become one of the top websites to learn languages with. With hundreds of videos to help you and useful flashcards, it’s a very useful program for learning and reviewing. The videos have features like selective looping for certain parts of a video so you can repeatedly listen to a word or phrase. The videos also feature bilingual subtitles and an in video dictionary. A FluentU subscription will run anywhere from $8-10 and you can pace yourself however you want.
- LingQ – LingQ is like many online programs in the sense that they have extensive written content and audio. But what’s also nice is that once you sign up, you can become part of the large community and find language partners to speak with. Also, their lesson are organized into courses which feature stories read by native speakers. This is useful for hearing exactly how a word or phrase should be pronounced. It will also highlight which words you know and don’t know.
So there you have it! As you can see, there are many methods for learning Korean. How long it take to learn Korean really comes down to you and how much time you pout into it. If you are serious about becoming fluent or at least able to have conversations, it would take at least 2-4 hours of daily study over the course of 1-2 years for most people. Also included should be time spent speaking with native speakers.
There’s no point in learning everything you can from books and online courses, but can’t apply it in the real world. I know a few people who rarely used tools like books, and just learned by speaking with Koreans, watching TV shows, and learning vocabulary. These people may have some special talent, but also think about how you learned your native language. Books are helpful, but there’s nothing like going and immersing yourself in the language.
Good luck with your studies. We know you can do it!
Remember that romanization is only a tool! Try not to depend on it too much and try learning the Korean alphabet and how to pronounce the letters properly to have an easier time learning