Korean is a notoriously difficult language to learn, but it’s also considered one of the world’s most beautiful languages. Learn Korean culture with S2learn and get access to thousands of lessons and activities for learning Korean online.
How Hard is Korean to Learn for English Speakers?
Korean is not as hard to learn as you might think. Here are some key things to know about learning Korean for English speakers.
1. The Korean alphabet can be learned in an hour or two
Perhaps more importantly, the alphabet is a relatively simple writing system. Learning it as your first step to learning Korean annotates so much of what you learn about written and spoken language later on. Also, if writing down new words from scratch doesn’t appeal to you (which I think most people can do), there are translation software systems like Anki that teach you through flashcards the sounds in speech for common English vocabulary.
2. The sound system is not too hard
This might seem counter-intuitive, considering that it’s otherwise impossible to distinguish the speech sounds of a word in Korean. But if you utter “kitten” (탕) in English and “hŏm ttae () in Korean your tongue should form both words with no difficulty at all. The tricky part is learning when, which comes naturally once you listen to the music.
3. The Korean grammar is not too hard
Although there are more rules involved in the conjugation system than in many other languages, it can still be learned with a little diligence on your part. And most importantly, once you learn how to speak and read Korean they become one of the easiest traits to master along with speaking and listening fluently both orally and through writing because your brain already forms pathways for each ability long before thinking about the other.
4. The alphabet gives you the opportunity to learn meaning first, and pronunciation later
Since there is a single writing system in Korean that contains all of its sounds as symbolic letters, learning how to read and write (or type) words will automatically enable you to sound patterns for them and what they mean to English speakers. This allows absolutely no gaps between knowing your alphabetic form of communication at one extreme or not knowing any words whatsoever at the other extreme.
Reading and writing Korean is like having the option to choose between learning a computer’s operating system or not, but with no regret; you basically learn everything.
5. Korean phonetics is a piece of cake for English speakers
The English script-based alphabetic alphabet that’s so often used in the West unfortunately does not necessarily map exactly onto how some people hear their own language. Even for native English speakers and other educated folks, using this writing system makes it difficult to sound out words like ㄹ (l) or ㅂ (b).
By contrast, Korean phonetics can be illustrated quite simply with a stroke of a pen. There are no mysterious letters that students have to become familiar with or memorize, as is the case for written Persian. A native English speaker can sound out a Korean word without even thinking about it and being able at least in theory to write down what they thought.
6. First try your luck by communicating in simple sentences first
There is no test on which type of communication is most useful for a beginner; it depends in the part on where you start making your attempts. If trying to think out what things mean by pointing shows that few words make sense, then go learn how to write them as letters from your book. Once you are able here, try using Korean words yourself.
7. Respectful forms and honorifics aren’t a problem at all
Starting out in Korean is like learning to dance, with nothing besides clumsiness on the part of the teacher. This means that at first, it’s essential and important to get a basic understanding of what words and numbers mean and how they relate.
After having mastered these basics, you can begin adding complexity; using honorifics for different people is one such example. To write in English as an outsider but simply mark general respect without getting in the way of usual grammar and vocabulary, it is not at all uncommon to use person-oriented forms like you, you (singular), plural, and third persons. In Korean, such usage seems rather abrupt.
8. Korean has actually got a lot of loan words from English.
The word “part” is in fact an English loanword that was pronounced like the Korean 분 (pronounced “ pon” ) during its early days. Also, many words and usages originate from English; they aren’t just borrowed into Korea as other languages are, but have been adopted with meaning additions and pronunciation changes.
9. Korea is one of the easiest foreign countries in the world (foreign language)
Immigrants in the US, Germany, and Japan know how to learn English; those in many other countries crawl through life knowing only their native tongue. Korea is, however, no exception: vocabularies are relatively small for a language of this difficulty that has few elements that qualify as difficult at all.
It does take quite some time until you’ve worked out even half of this dense language; it will be months before you have read anything more than a shortlist of verb conjugations at the bare minimum. A useful skill to master is memorization; knowing hundreds and even thousands of kotdae in addition to every noun for use during conversation would be required before moving into more challenging forms.
10. Korean word order, sentence structure, and syntax
It is a bit all over the place, each element seeming connected to another in some way. It can be hard for foreigners to grasp at first.
Korean has far more syllables than English or Chinese as a native language, this makes certain aspects of speech difficult: a closing statement would by nature consist of one clause tied together at the end; speaking something like exactly these words but not how they are actually expressed becomes possible only with the effort once you’ve understood the grammatical order. This is one of the main reasons that spoken Korean generally has no direct translation in many cases, but is instead rendered by a descriptive text (instead of someone who speaks English or Chinese trying to stick as much meaning into their words verbally as possible ).
What are some good resources that can help me with learning Korean?
All great difficulties come from overexcitement. In other words: if you are unsure of how to proceed, any language or grammar book is going to be a walk in the park. Take it easy at first and have lots of patience: savor your adventure instead.
One can use idiomatic expressions as an aid too; this example sentence has three proverbs aligned together in Korean (here are more examples ). Quoting these turns redundant: it would be better to express a long list of them instead, mostly because Koreans will understand these things automatically (they know how they work) but also much faster than an equivalent English version.
How long does it take to learn Korean as an English speaker?
The answer depends a great deal on the method one chooses, and your own level of commitment. It takes about three months. Of course, all methods have their flaws, but personally, I promise you… if you are truly committed, your Korean will improve quickly; fast enough to make it worth the trouble then. How rapidly? What might be an appropriate goal:
That’s about as fast as this article took to write (no kidding). There are far more difficult things someone could learn, but for a person who already has way too much work to do (such as most people today ), hours of devotion can be well worth it.
All in all, I’m already pretty good at the Korean Language. What’s the best way to improve?
If you are serious about learning a language from Korean resources, the best thing you can do is read books and listen to podcasts. There are many resources out there that will help you; it all depends on what kind of learner you are. If your approach is to absorb words quickly by reading novels or newspaper articles, then I recommend trying to find a podcast with native speakers who will explain all words. For speaking practice, watch videos with headphones first and then try to answer a polite Korean question or two; it’s not easy but once you get the hang of it, you learn at an incredible rate. You must ask other people questions too if you want any chance of hearing a real conversation in which each word or Korean verb has been chosen for its meaning.