Korean Speak: Tips on learning Korean

안녕하세요, redheadednoona 입니다! ^^

To those of you who can’t read Hangul, I just said, Hi, I am redheadednoona! ^^

I have been teaching myself Korean for over two years and, though I am still learning every day, I wanted to share with you guys how I have come to learn this awesome language. Once you get hooked by Korea, you want to learn everything that you can, and the language is something that is especially important to learn. Watching variety shows, listening to the music, ordering Korean food, and any other aspects involved with Korea generally require a certain level of Korean or Hangul (Korean alphabet) knowledge. So, here’s an article to encourage those of you who already teach yourselves or to help those who would like to learn but don’t really know how to start.

Tip 1: Buy yourself a Korean phrasebook, dictionary or workbook.
When I first began learning Korean it was because I was put under a spell by Kpop and I wanted to understand the songs without having to read translations constantly. So the first thing I did was to visit a bookshop and go to the travel section of their books. Amongst many books written about Korea there was also a little phrasebook which I snapped up instantly and began studying the very same day. This little purple book has been in my handbag for over two years now and is well used. I also bought a larger Korean dictionary, but it is my little phrasebook that I used to keep with me when watching Korean films or listening to a song. When a word struck me and I wasn’t satisfied with just reading the subtitles, I would open my little book and begin flipping through, marking words and mentally etching them into my mind.

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A year ago I also bought a Korean workbook which came with audio to help my pronunciation. The audio was listened to on the bus to uni, when waiting for friends or just during quiet times when I could concentrate on it and a good workbook can be a lot of fun and very helpful with certain areas that you may struggle with.

You need to be prepared to work with your phrasebook or dictionary diligently in the beginning. Some people will pick up Hangul really quickly, others will struggle to remember what each symbol stands for and it can get complicated sometimes when S’s can be T’s at the end of the word (ㅅ) or L’s are often R’s in the middle of a word but an L at the end or beginning (ㄹ). However you will pick it up and it is surprisingly easier than you might think: the Korean alphabet contains 14 consonants and 10 vowels with a few other symbols you must pick up too, so it is a pretty easy alphabet to learn. And once you’ve mastered the alphabet you must translate that into words you actually understand…

Tip 2: Pick a song. Write it out.
Now this tip interlinks with a couple of the following tips so bear with me a moment. Because I wanted to learn Korean so I could watch dramas and listen to songs and make Korean friends, I concentrated on Kpop songs as a way to learn in the beginning. I would bring out a large wad of paper, several different coloured pens and I would watch MVs on YouTube that had accurate subtitles in Hangul, English and Romanisation (when Hangul is translated into English letters).

There are a lot of MVs out there so take your pick, but be warned, choose a song you love and which you won’t mind hearing a hundred times – because you’re going have to like what you study.

Once you have chosen your MV, you’re going to have to watch it. A lot. You need to pause the MV every few seconds so that you can write out the Hangul, the Romanisation and the English. It could sometimes take me an entire afternoon but it is a great way of learning because you are reading the Hangul, then you are translating the symbols that you read into English letters before then having it translated into English. It’s also a good way to learn Korean sentence structure as this is different to English:

English – subject-verb-object.
Korean – subject-object-verb.

It is important to know your vowels, your nouns, your objects and adjectives, verbs and particles when learning any new language, but it can really help with Korean due to the differences in the sentence structure. So Google it if you need a reminder but you will need it. You can also learn by reading the Hangul on the lyrics pages of Kpop albums or by memorising your favourite bands and their members in hangul:

빅뱅 Big Bang                                                                                    지드래곤 G Dragon

탑 TOP                                                                                                     대성 Daesung

태양 Taeyang                                                                                             승리 Seungri

By writing these out, you can also improve your Hangul handwriting whilst memorising songs or names and thus the alphabet.

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Tip 3: Online Translations.
Once you are sick of hearing Super Junior’s Bonomana four hundred times in two days (don’t feel bad, you will love it again shortly), you can begin to look up translations on line. You will become savvy to the reliable websites pretty quickly, but here are a couple of examples to start you off:

http://www.kpoplyrics.net/big-bang-fantastic-baby-lyrics-english-romanized.html  http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/b/bigbang/fantastic_baby.html

Once again it’s about writing out the lyrics. The Hangul, the Romanisation and the English. It may seem tedious but it will really help you to memorise spelling in Hangul, the differences in Hangul letters when translated into English characters (P and B for example: ㅂ) and it is also important for the next tip…

Tip 4: Watch Music Bank, Music Core, Inkigayo, etc.
Because these shows sub all their songs! And it’s great! Whereas variety shows throw up random Hangul on screen for shocking confessions or hilarious jokes, all songs on the above music shows sub their songs and this is fantastic. I learnt Infinite’s Be Mine (내꺼하자) through doing this a couple of summer’s ago. I read the subs as the boys sang and my brain picked up their pronunciation, matched it with the Hangul and processed it all. This might be a bit of a big step for beginners, you do need to have a good grasp of Hangul so that you can actually read the subtitles, but it is a great way to continue your learning and it also forces you to be fast in your reading and listening. I found it invaluable and you will too (hopefully, ha ha).

Tip 5: Sticky Notes FTW!
That’s right. Sticky Notes For The Window! Do ask permission before doing this, but revision cards covered in blu-tack or sticky notes are a fantastic way to learn – because if you stick ’em on things, you will learn it. I covered doors, windows, tables, chairs, the TV, cupboards, cup shelves, saucepans, the fridge, light switches, anything that had a surface and a Korean translation, it was stuck with brightly coloured paper. Even my toothbrush cup had a note next to it so that when I was brushing my teeth, I was reading the Hangul and translation. Even items in the fridge were labelled on the door so that when I went to get a yogurt, I would read 요구르트 and it would begin to stick. If you can imagine how the Hangul is written in your mind, you will never forget it when writing it out.

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Tip 6: Read your dictionary.
You need paper. Pen. And your dictionary. You can choose a random page, you can start at A and work through to Z, you can do this however you like. But once you can read Hangul, in order to understand the language itself, you need to learn what words mean. Time to take the talents you picked up earlier when translating songs and to put it into practise. You can start with every day phrases if you like such as hello, goodbye, introductions, asking after someone’s health, thank you, etc. Or you can begin by learning the Korean number systems, Pure Korean and Sino-Korean. Or maybe you’d just prefer to do it at random by picking a few words, memorising them and writing them out in Hangul. However you do this, and whichever tips you may use, you will learn Korean. It is just about practising and figuring out what works best for you.

Summing up: Watch, read, listen, practice.
To wrap this up, the basic ways you can learn Korean are to just surround yourself with it as much as possible. Watch K-dramas and pay attention to how the actors pronounce words. Yes, there can be dialect differences in some dramas, IE Reply 1997, but most dramas will utilise the Seoul accent.

Read everything you can find that is in Hangul. I have a Korean newspaper a Chinese shop gave to me and I used it for a while to study. I also used to look at maps of Seoul or the Seoul underground, and I would study the places that were written in Hangul. This strengthened my Hangul skills and helped to speed up my reading and translating.

Listening to Kpop is one of the best ways to learn phrases. Words like saranghae (사랑해), kajima (가지마), bogoshipoyo (보고 싶어요) are familiar from Kpop songs and you will hear them so often that you automatically pick them up.

Other ways to learn Korean include mobile apps for Word a Day where you can receive a new Korean word every day – this can also be done through emails. There are a lot of amazing YouTube channels out there where Koreans teach us Korean words and phrases – one of my favourites is KWOW (Korean Word of the Week). Websites like TTMIK (Talk To Me In Korean) are also invaluable and you can practise with Korean friends or friends who are interested in learning, as this makes the activity more fun and entertaining.

One day you will be watching a K-drama, a film or listening to a song; and you will hear someone say a word, it could just be one word in a whole sentence. But you will understand it. Your brain will automatically process it and it will be fed in as Korean, come out as English and you will feel the biggest burst of joy and pride – and rightly so, you’ve learnt a new language! And you will be encouraged to continue and to keep learning until you are the best (queue 2NE1…) Whether this article has given you helpful tips or not, I hope that it will encourage you to start or keep trying and remember not to give up. The harder you work the greater the satisfaction when you listen to SHINee’s Beautiful and realise that you can understand words like 아름다워. Maybe you guys could even share some tips with each other via Facebook or Twitter or on our comments section below.
However you learn Korean, feel proud that you are doing so, don’t be scared or intimidated, and I wish you all the luck in the world – 화이팅!

One Response so far.

  1. Rulan says:

    Thank you for these very helpful tips on learning Korean – those of us who survive the coming Kim-Jongocaust will be forever indebted to you for providing us with the tools of language required for non-Koreans to remain useful to our new North Korean overlords and possibly escape the death camps.

    anyong seoulpyongyanggangnamstyle,
    Rulan