Korean Language: Complete Guide

Updated: 22. Oct, 2022

North and South Korea are home to around 70-80 million Korean speakers. Even though most Korean speakers reside in Korea and its surrounding islands, more than three million people worldwide can speak the language. There has been a rise in interest in the Korean language in recent years.

This may have something to do with Korean politics. Still, it’s also because of the K-pop music culture, Korean television, and Korean cuisine. As K-pop music and Korean dramas and films on Netflix have grown in popularity worldwide, studying the language has become more popular.

It’s never a simple effort to learn a new language, particularly Korean, and it’s frequently difficult to know how and what to begin studying. The process of acquiring this new ability is, however, quite similar to learning any other. First, you must begin with the basics and then build on that foundation.

This article will help those who are new to the Korean language and don’t know where to begin.

The Korean Alphabet: Hangul

First-time Korean speakers should learn how to read the Korean alphabet. The Korean alphabet is a syllabary, meaning the “letters” are completely phonetic rather than written.

In terms of alphabetic structure, the Korean alphabet is rather simple. Korea’s first monarch, Sejong the Great, devised Hangul as a writing system in the late 14th century. It was designed to be basic, easy to learn, and compatible with the Korean language. It is composed of around 24 characters. Alternatively, the number might go as high as 40, depending on how you calculate it. All the letters are pronounced exactly as they appear on the page. Like the Latin alphabet we use in English, Hangul is written from left to right.

Partly because of Hangul’s ease of understanding, Korea has one of the world’s highest literacy rates today. Hangul is way easier than Korea’s previous writing system, which was based on the Chinese character system. While this is true, you’ll discover as you learn more of the language that many terms have Chinese origins.

Hangul is based on the Roman alphabet’s consonant and vowel letters; to form syllabic blocks of characters, you must learn how to mix these letters. There are 14 consonants and ten vowels. Understanding these letters and how to mix them is all that’s needed to read and write Hangul.

King Sejong designed the letters to resemble the contour of the lips and tongue while speaking. When it comes to “exceptions to the norm” in Korean, there aren’t many. You’ll be able to read anything after mastering the guidelines for how words sound. Hence, you won’t have to deal with strange spellings or awkward silent letters. Compared to English, Korean has a significant edge.

It’s not difficult to learn the alphabet. Try to learn a few consonants and vowels each day, even if you don’t have much time. Become acquainted with the letters by reading and writing them regularly.

Korean Numbers

It’s important to understand how to read and write Korean numerals to succeed in the language. In the Korean language, two number systems are commonly used. It might be challenging to decide which number system to employ, as Koreans switch between them sometimes.

Learning how to write the Korean number system shouldn’t take much time or effort. If you choose the incorrect one, there is nothing to worry about; Koreans will still understand you most of the time.

The different numbering systems in the Korean language are:

1. Sino Korean

The process is rather simple when it comes to mastering the Sino-Korean number system. It’s also easy to pronounce Sino-Korean digits. The pronunciation of Sino-Korean numerals is extremely close to that of the Chinese and Japanese number systems.

They are used for:

  • For any number 100 and above
  • Counting any unit of time except hours
  • Phone numbers
  • Money / currency
  • Measurements like grams, kilometers, liters, kilometers, etc
  • Math
  • For creating the names of the months

2. Native Korean

You can use native Korean numbers are for any of the following

  • Counting physical objects (including people) 
  • Numbers less than 100
  • Age
  • Hours
  • Counting months (but only when used with the native Korean word for month/moon

Korean Vocabulary Words

Knowing a language’s fundamental vocabulary terms is one of the first significant obstacles you will face during learning.

Firstly, you need to focus on understanding the basic words. After that, you may continue with other popular vocabulary word lists, such as those for body parts, animals, and fruits and vegetables. You’ll be able to comprehend more of what you hear in conversations if you have a broad vocabulary.

In most cases, textbooks will teach you sentence structure. You can utilize various internet resources to learn the basic verbs and nouns. Many of them also offer audio recordings.

Another approach is to use anecdotes, mnemonics, and linkages with the vocabulary terms. The time-tested use of flashcards is an additional efficient approach to learning new words. For example, you may write the Korean term on one side and the word’s translation in your tongue on the other. Then, you may gradually add more new words daily by setting a target for the number of words you wish to remember.

Intonation

For non-Korean speakers, Korean phrases’ rising and falling rhythm might sound a bit peculiar. In addition, someone can find it challenging to comprehend you if your cadence is wrong. Watch YouTube videos to understand how native speakers pronounce declarative phrases and questions as you study.

Grammar

You’ll want to study Korean grammar as you advance in your language learning abilities. However, you don’t have to understand it completely just now. Instead, concentrate on mastering the basics of Korean grammar.

The good news is that understanding basic Korean grammar is not that difficult. When you understand the language’s fundamental grammatical structure, you may step it up and join your sentences.

Some of the basics are discussed below:

1. Sentence Structure

In Korean, the main sentence structure is:

SUBJECT + OBJECT + VERB

2. Particles

Additionally, it would help if you studied Korean particles, but don’t spend too much effort on it at first. Just have a fundamental understanding of how particles function since they are often absent in speech.

3. Nouns

Nouns in Korean do not have gender.

You can make Korean nouns multiple by adding the word’s apostrophe “들” at the end.

4. Verbs

Korean verbs depend on several variables, including tense, aspect, mood, and relationship with the persons you are addressing and speaking to.

Three tenses—past, present, and future—are used with Korean verbs. The verbs you use while speaking to someone might alter depending on their age and level of authority. 

Korean Honorifics

You’ll often come across two alternative spellings of the same words and phrases as you learn Korean. The difference in both is often between the honorific and a regular version.

Korean honorifics are a method of speech that expresses your connection to the subject of your conversation. Since you’ll hear them often while studying Korean, they’re crucial to understanding.

Korean Language & Dialects

Over 70 million individuals throughout the globe are fluent in Korean. South Korea and North Korea speak distinct dialects of the same language. The language does not have any tones.

Different dialects are spoken in different parts of the nation. Seoul dialect is the standard, and the Jeju dialect is the most unique

Focusing on classes that teach the Seoul dialect is the most effective way to learn Korean. Moreover, it’s the finest way to learn a new language.

Korean has different levels of formality depending on your age and the age of the person you’re speaking to. There are:

1. Informal forms

You may only use informal with persons within one year of your age.

2. Formal forms

It is used for people who are at least two years older than you, as well as in circumstances when you want to show politeness.

3. Honorific forms

This form is used when speaking to one’s employer, in a formal setting, or with in-laws.

Resources for Learning Korean

When studying Korean, you’ll want to evaluate what you’ve just learned. Here are some wonderful resources, tools, and abilities you’ll need to learn Korean effectively.

1. Apps for Learning Korean

Many apps exist to learn the Korean language, but starting with the basics is preferable. Some of these apps include Babbel, Duolingo, etc.

2. Learn from Korean Teachers

A structural study using private lessons with an experienced tutor will provide an additional impetus. The tutor will not only help you deal with the difficulties and tricks in grammar but also make you responsible for achieving your goals. A good Korean teacher will focus on your learning style and apply an individual lesson plan. One-on-one classes with a professional teacher will allow you to learn a language much faster, regardless of what goal you pursue. 

3. Typing in Korean

It’s not difficult to learn to type in Korean if you can already type in English without glancing at the keyboard. However, you’ll be able to pick up the language more quickly if you know how to write it. When you learn to type in Korean, you’re receiving two lessons in one.

It is possible to acquire a Korean keyboard for your desktop and Korean keyboard stickers. Try downloading a picture of the Korean keyboard layout if you’re a genuine typing warrior. Then, learn to type by reading Korean words and phrases on a keyboard layout that is close at hand. In addition to improving your typing skills, it will also help you improve your Korean comprehension.

4. Find Learning Partners

Become a member of Korean-language communities of interest. If you cannot discover a Korean-speaking friend in your area, consider looking for one online, such as in forums and groups on Facebook. Commit to seeing your language partner weekly, and make it a rule that you will only speak Korean during those meetings. Join a group where you can work on your skills along with others with the same goals. Self-study in the Korean language is less successful than group instruction, which allows teachers and other students to answer any of your inquiries right away. In addition to boosting your speaking and writing abilities, this is a terrific technique to improve your grammar and pronunciation.

5. Korean Dramas

Korean dramas are excellent for listening practice and are a terrific method to study vocabulary if you keep your ears open. However, don’t watch any historical dramas since they may employ Korean that you’re not used to hearing.

6. Korean songs

You may attempt to decipher the meaning of a song by printing out the lyrics in Korean. Then, check the English translation to see whether you’re on the right track. Playing the song on YouTube at a slowed-down speed will allow you to sing along with the lyrics.

Mistakes to Avoid when Learning Korean

1. Memorizing Long Lists Of Random Korean Words

Learn Korean, not memorize it. Memorizing things can be a chore for everyone. The main drawbacks of taking this path are its boring nature and the likelihood of forgetting what you learned. Organize your vocabulary into categories:

It will help if your vocabulary is broken down into many categories. These categories include household objects, colors, food, animals, feelings, colors, verbs, sports words, locations, etc. Focus on a single collection of words for one to two weeks and revise often to ensure that you don’t forget old terms. 

2. Trying to avoid making any mistakes at any costs

Even if you make a lot of errors along the way, that’s perfectly normal. As a bonus, having someone else check for errors may be a huge help. You could, for example, lend your journal to a Korean friend so that you may discuss it over coffee. It’s helpful to have a spot in your Korean notebook where you may scribble down mistakes you keep making and provide examples you can return to later.

Aside from spelling issues, you may ask them to point out “big” faults such as tense verb errors, situations when you just used the wrong term, or incorrect sentence structure. You should, however, look for a new practice partner if they’re overly harsh or make you feel horrible about your blunders.

3. Focusing on the tools, instead of actually learning the language

Concentrating on the language, not your textbooks, apps, or notes, is important. Your speaking and listening skills should not be sacrificed to get the grammar just correct!

It’s a good idea to go out and meet new people and utilize the language itself, rather than becoming bogged down in the minutiae of grammar and vocabulary.

4. Inconsistency

Learning a language can be difficult, but Korean, in particular, is so different from English that it can be easy to get frustrated. Now, of course, if you’re looking to learn just a few common Korean phrases, then it will not take that much time. Still, if your goal is to reach about intermediate level in Korean, then it’ll be really hard to achieve this goal in just a few months – even if you’re studying Korean intensively.

To make steady progress in learning Korean, you need to make a consistent effort over a long period of time. Try to set a schedule so that you can dedicate a part of your day to studying Korean. Something around 30 minutes to an hour would be really useful. However, if you can’t do it daily, doing this three or four times a week would be helpful. If you are consistent in the time you can dedicate to your studies, you will, over time, notice your Korean improving.

Conclusion

By now, you should know the basics of the Korean language you should focus on. Once you master these, you will become fluent in Korean in no time. All you have to do is find the resources that work best for you and be consistent.

Table of contents