Getting started with Korean 🇰🇷



I'm planning to be in South Korea sometime soon, and I thought 'why not.'

Thinking back to my first time in China having a vocab size of 500-1000 Chinese words, and how successful that was, I figured I could get to that level with Korean more quickly this time (50-100 hrs over 2-3 months) leveraging my previous takeaways.

While Korean is considered 'Super-Hard' by the U.S. Foreign Service Institute (opens in a new tab) for native English speakers, there are parallels to be found with learning Mandarin, eg the distinct phonetics, grammar structure (Mandarin also having occasional Subject-Object-Verb (opens in a new tab)), cultural elements, and the fact that their written systems require similar rewiring.

It also generally just feels easier to learn a 2nd 'super hard' language! It's a little more fun this time around too.

How I started

Initially, I spun up Duolingo to get momentum going. Unit 1 was helpful for getting quick exposure to the sounds and symbols, and in turn a few quick wins, but Unit 2+ reminds me of why I don't like Duolingo for its random/useless words and gamified distractions that feel more designed to keep you in the app.

Afterwards, I gave Drops a whirl having used it for a little while with Mandarin years ago and enjoying the experience due to its emphasis on categorized/useful vocabulary. Similarly, I picked up more exposure and familiarized myself with around 50 words at this point (a few hours in total).

My current path

At this point I felt like I had a basic understanding of the structure of the language and could start forming my own map for how I wanted to learn it:

  1. Start a note that's going to be my canon and companion
  2. Spend an hour learning Hangul (opens in a new tab). Include a photo in your note for convenient referencing.
  3. Download a frequency list for Korean (opens in a new tab).
    • these aren't always the end-all-be-all, as there are frequently used words that we should skip as beginners because they're eg filler depending on whether you pay for a list or get a free one, but they serve as a useful guide
  4. Start learning words that are relevant to you, and typing them in your note as you learn them to grow and track your vocabulary library.
  5. As soon as possible, start combining words into phrases. Eg 'I want two of those'.
    • again, don't worry about grammar
    • plug the english phrase into a translator and see how the translated phrase differs from what you wrote
    • practice speaking that phrase, and correct yourself as you play back the audio so you can get some speaking practice/comfort so you're not trying to speak for the first time only when you need it.
  6. Once you get to a few hundred words, manually managing your own vocabulary becomes clunky. Consider using spaced memory repetition software to optimize your vocabulary acquisition and retention, eg Anki cards.

Closing thoughts

I've still got a long way to go, but I'm energized by the path I'm on.

It's more rewarding early on than learning Mandarin Chinese because there's an alphabet and no tones.

Planning to share more thoughts once I've been in Korea.

Anyway, if you're also learning Korean right now, good luck!

Last Updated: Tue Jan 2 2024



Reflections on learning Mandarin Chinese since 2017

Sep 13 2022

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