The Best Way to Learn Korean for Newcomers
Guest Author: Jason Yu (from the Green Tea Graffiti)
How to Learn Korean – The best ways to tackle the language
Every time I see new language learners cramming their faces in their books, I shake my head. If I study six, eight, ten hours a day, I’ll become awesome at a language. The theory goes: the more I force my eyeballs to read this language book, the more fluent I will become. While the thought is nice on paper, it rarely works.
There are more efficient ways to learn a language.
The best secret to learning a new language is to build a solid foundation.
While learning all the curse words and slang may be cool from the start, if you don’t know why sentences and phrases are formed, you’ll be reduced to only knowing canned phrases (remembered phrases). And that’s not good when understanding language, much less Korean.
You have to understand why and how Korean works.
So how do we build this foundation? Here is what worked for me:
1) Learn the 100 to 150 most commonly used verbs
2) Learn the 100 to 150 most commonly used nouns
3) Learn the 100 to 150 most commonly used adjectives
4) Learn Hangul (the Korean writing system)
5) Repeat phrases often
6) Focus on speaking and listening
7) Learn the subject-object-verb (SOV) word order
Learning Hangul is important in learning Korean.
Let’s go over the seven steps above in more detail:
1) Learn the 100 to 150 most commonly used verbs: Learning basic verbs, such as “to eat” (먹다), “to buy” (사다), “to play” (놀다) and so forth, will go a long way in communicating. Even if you don’t know how to form sentences, just saying “eat” will be understood by Koreans that “you want to eat.”
2) Learn the 100 to 150 most commonly used nouns: As with verbs, learning nouns will help you understand the topic when people speak to you. Even if all you hear is “blah blah blah school blah blah blah,” you’ll know that the person is talking about school (what about the school, however, is anyone’s guess).
3) Learn the 100 to 150 most commonly used adjectives: Adjectives are what make sentences more interesting. You can also tell a person how you feel, which is very common in Korean. “This kimchi (spicy vegetables) is spicy,” “I’m feeling tired today,” and “My weekend is very busy” are just some of the common phrases in Korean with adjectives.
4) Learn Hangul: Hangul is the Korean writing system. Unlike Japanese and Chinese, Hangul is very easy to read and write. Within a couple of hours, it is possible to learn the entire Hangul alphabet. Learning Hangul can help you sound out words when hearing them is not enough.
5) Repeat Phrases Often: Repetition is key when learning a new language. Linguists say that it takes an average of 6-10 times of repeating a word before it sticks in your head permanently. With enough repeated phrases, you can learn a lot of phrases in a short period of time without studying a book.
6) Focus on speaking and listening: When you first meet someone new, you will be talking with them. This involves speaking and listening. All interactions with people involve verbal communication. Thus, it is important to know that these two skills are the most important in first learning a new language. It’s not to say that reading and writing aren’t important – they are – but talking will always be the first way to introduce yourself to another person.
7) Learn the Subject-Object-Verb Word Order: In Korean, the word order may be difficult to master at first for Westerners. It uses the subject-object-verb word order. So a sentence like “Min-soo kicks the ball” in English, will be “Min-soo the ball kicks” in Korean. This reason alone is why Japanese have an easier time learning Korean, since both languages share the same word order. Similarly, English and Chinese share the same subject-verb-object word order, thus Chinese becomes easier to pick up for Westerners.
By following the steps above, a good Korean-language foundation will be built. From there, learning slang, colloquialisms, grammar, and jokes becomes much easier. A good foundation shows that you know the structure of the Korean language.