Sunday, February 16, 2020

8 Steps to Start Learning Korean for Free

So you think you might want to learn Korean? Korean has so little in common with English that it can be really hard for an English learner to figure out where to start. I wrote this post as a helpful guide for a true beginner to learn about some of the free resources available online to help them discover this beautiful and fun language!

I'm not going to dwell on my beloved free flashcard app Anki, because I already sang its praises for virtually all languages in a previous post. You can just assume that I recommend Anki for pretty much anything. I will say that the Korean Vocabulary and Korean Grammar Sentences pre-built flashcard decks by Evita are excellent and include high-quality audio recordings. In general, I was surprised by how many Anki Korean shared decks there are.

So without further ado, here are the eight steps I recommend to start learning Korean for free online:

  1. Learn Hangul/Hangeul: So, the good news is Korean has an alphabet made up of letters, just like English does (as opposed to the thousands of characters you would have to learn for, say, Chinese). I highly recommend starting with Ryan Estrada's excellent graphic here, which provides a simplified overview and makes the whole thing way less intimidating. Then, I recommend watching videos on YouTube to get used to practicing and hearing the sounds. If you prefer something a little more interactive, you can try this gorgeous Let's Learn Hangul site here. It looks excellent, but I haven't played it all the way through so I can't promise a paywall will never pop up before you complete it. There are also multiple Anki shared decks for the Korean alphabet, so really there are plenty of free resources for this step.
  2. Dive Deeper on Pronunciation Rules: Although Korean is a phonetic language, meaning each letter makes a specific sound, there are certain placements or combinations of letters that might lead a sound to change. Thankfully, these changes are generally governed by consistent and common rules so they can be learned fairly easily. You can watch a great video summarizing the Korean alphabet and pronunciation rules here. Another video summarizes the letter names and pronunciation rules for badchim (받침, the consonant at the end of some syllable blocks) here. (You can go into more detail on badchim here.) You can also find a simple overview of other pronunciation rules written out here, and a much more extensive list of examples by character with audio files here.
  3. Get Basic Sentence Structure Down: Sentence structures in Korean are so different from those in English. In Korean, the sentence ends with the verb or adjective (also known as a descriptive verb). Moreover, the subject can drop if it's obvious to the listener and speaker what or who it is. For a well-done and simplified intro on sentence structure, you can start on this great resource with explanations and example sentences here. Once you've reviewed that, there's a video that goes into some of the cultural connections to the language structure and provides more examples here.
  4. Build Exposure on Duolingo: I recommend this as step four because I don't think Duolingo is great for learning Hangeul and it's much more effective once you've at least seen the basic Korean sentence. You should be able to test out of those Hangeul lessons right away if you just quickly familiarize yourself with the official Korean romanization rules, available in a handy chart here. Doing Duolingo every day with the volume turned up will help build vocabulary and gain exposure to more types of sentences, and I think Korean Duolingo is built fairly well relative to other languages.
  5. Supplement with TTMIK: TTMIK (Talk to Me in Korean) sells lesson content but also provides a wealth of videos for free on YouTube here. When I have a niche question about what the difference is between two phrases in Korean that seem similar, or why something is pronounced differently than expected, or how to say particular holiday greetings I always check TTMIK's YouTube channel first because chances are they already have a relevant video. I have another friend who swears by their dictation practices for improving listening, and I've used a number of their vocabulary builder videos to improve my speaking. This is a treasure trove of information for Korean learners at all levels.
  6. Practice Your Level: Now that you have the basics down, it's time to practice more at your level. This is where I highly recommend the DLIFLC (Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center) GLOSS (Global Language Online Support System) here. (Yes, they really love their acronyms!) They provide an impressive range of listening and reading practice lessons with grammar, vocabulary, videos, and more. They're a true challenge, so you should start at level one and only move up when you feel ready.
  7. Try Some News: Full Korean newspapers are notoriously difficult to read and full of idiomatic expressions and sentence endings you wouldn't see elsewhere. This is where the JoongAng Daily bilingual Korean-English column comes in real handy. It's not a direct translation, but the Korean article is much easier to follow once you know the gist from the English one. As you become more advanced, you can switch to starting with the Korean article without looking at any of the English and seeing how much you can understand and figure out before confirming. Check it out here.
  8. Reference a Context Dictionary: Korean and English are not in the same language family, so you can bet that a lot of words don't work in direct translation or carry many different meanings and nuances. As you continue to study Korean, I highly recommend building the habit of using a Korean-English and English-Korean dictionary with context, meaning when you look up words it will give you example sentences from real, verified translations. My favorite is the Naver Dictionary, which you can use on the web or via mobile app. (I use both.) Naver is almost like the Google of Korea, and they also have plenty of other materials you can use to practice, like news articles.

Obviously, everyone's language learning style and preferences are different. But if you're looking to start learning Korean without spending a lot of money on expensive classes, I hope this post is a good starting point. Please let me know in the comments below if I missed any other great tools for beginning Korean learners, and happy studying!

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