Do you want to make the best of your time and effort in studying Korean? You are at the right place! Learning a language is a complex, time-intensive task that requires dedication, persistence, and hard work. Below are key principles for effective language learning and a realistic guide for you to make a good study plan and learn Korean effectively and fast.

⚠️ I must admit that most of the sources below are from The Learning Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, based upon which I offer a realistic guide so you can make a solid study plan.

https://learningcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/learning-a-second-language/

How to Speak Korean Fast and fun in 1 Sentence

Practice listening, reading, speaking and writing systematically

Language immersion is the most difficult, yet the most crucial aspect.

You need to learn Korean in Korean. This means you should not rely on English to understand Korean. This may be very challenging for you especially if you have never learned a foreign language in the past. If there is anything foreign, you would want to translate it in your native language. 

However, this important trait is commonly shared by all those who excel in foreign languages. Successful learners always learn languages in immersion way whereas those who struggle have a tendency to translate the new language under the name of ‘digesting’ or ‘processing’. They often have a hard time suppressing the desire of translating the foreign language into their mother tongue. But this will only hurt as time goes by especially because Korean language has zero relation with English language as an example. 

If you start from the scratch, you won’t need translation. Besides, by using photos in good Korean language books like Sejong Korean Conversation, you can learn Korean in Korean. This is called language immersion.  Korean language itself must be the center of your focus. This will not only help you to focus on purely listening to and reading Korean, but also accepting the way it is. 

Simply put, eat the language at it is. Don’t spend too much time merely analyzing the language using your native language.

The Key principle: Practice listening, reading, speaking and writing while you have your errors corrected. 

Speaking a foreign language can be likened to being a copycat of the language you are learning – you mimic them! Understaing the sound is the first obstacle you need to over come. At the same time you should try to work out what they are saying. This is called comprehensible output. (see the next subheading soon)

Out of the 4 elements, listening, reading and speaking are what you have to mainly practice. The main reason is that you mostly listen, read, and speak in daily life. You don’t get to write as much. Imagine yourself conversing with someone at a cafe: you mainly listen and speak.

Listening and reading are input. Speaking and writing are output. These are the solid fundamentals. Eventually, this will form a language room in your brain. As much as you listen and read aloud, you will speak and write because there is more output when there is more input.

In summary, listening, reading, speaking and writing are by far the most important principles in mimicking Korean people. Anything that hinders those four facets should be eliminated. This is the effective way of learning a language. 

Learning a language is like building a house.

Key principles of language learning

The Basics: 

First, let’s talk about the basics. Research in this area (called “second language acquisition” in academia) suggests that there are three key elements to learning a new language.

  • The first is comprehensible input, which is a fancy way of saying being exposed to (hearing or reading) something in the new language and learning to understand it.
  • Comprehensible output is the second element, and unsurprisingly it means learning to produce (speak or write) something in the new language.
  • The third element is review or feedback, which basically means identifying errors and making changes in response.[1]

Fancy terms aside, these are actually pretty straightforward ideas.

These three elements are the building blocks of your language practice, and an effective study plan will maximize all three. The more you listen and read (input), the more you speak and write (output), the more you go back over what you’ve done and learn from your errors (review & feedback), the more your language skills will grow.

DO: Create a study plan that maximizes the three dimensions of language learning: understanding (input), producing (output), and identifying and correcting errors (review/feedback).

Seek balance

Learning a new language involves listening, speaking, reading, writing, sometimes even a new alphabet and writing format. If you focus exclusively on just one activity, the others fall behind.

This is actually a common pitfall for language learners. For example, it’s easy to focus on reading comprehension when studying, in part because written language is often readily accessible—for one thing, you have a whole textbook full of it. This is also true of the three key elements: it’s comparatively easy to find input sources (like your textbook) and practice understanding them. But neglecting the other two key principles (output and feedback/review) can slow down language growth.

Instead, what you need is a balanced study plan: a mix of study activities that target both spoken and written language, and gives attention to all three key principles.

DO: Focus on balance: practice both spoken and written language, and make sure to include all of the three key principles—input, output, and feedback/review.

Errors are important

Sometimes, the biggest challenge to language learning is overcoming our own fears: fear of making a mistake, of saying the wrong thing, of embarrassing yourself, of not being able to find the right word, and so on. This is all perfectly rational: anyone learning a language is going to make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes will be very public.

The thing is, you NEED to make those mistakes. One of the key principles of language learning is all about making errors and then learning from them: this is what review & feedback means. Plus, if you’re not willing to make errors, then the amount of language you produce (your output) goes way down. In other words, being afraid of making a mistake negatively affects two of the three key principles of language learning!

So what do you do? In part, you may need to push yourself to get comfortable with making errors. However, you should also look for ways to get low-stakes practice: create situations in which you feel more comfortable trying out your new language and making those inevitable mistakes.

For example, consider finding a study partner who is at your level of language skill. This is often more comfortable than practicing with an advanced student or a native speaker, and they’re usually easier to find—you’ve got a whole class full of potential partners!

DO: Learn to appreciate mistakes, and push yourself to become more comfortable with making errors.

DO: Create opportunities for ‘low-stakes’ practice, where you’ll feel comfortable practicing and making mistakes.

Vocab is king

Want to know a secret? Vocabulary is more important than grammar.
DISCLAIMER: This does NOT mean that grammar is unimportant. Without grammar, you won’t know how to use your vocabulary, since grammar tells you how to combine words into sentences. And obviously, if you’re in a foreign language class, you’re going to need to study ALL the material to do well, and that will definitely include grammar.
The more vocabulary you know, the more quickly you can grow your language skills. The reason is simple: understanding more words directly translates into more input, producing more words means more output, and more output means more opportunity for feedback. Additionally, when you’re interacting with native speakers, vocabulary is more beneficial to communication than grammar is. Being able to produce words will help get your meaning across, even if what you say is not perfectly grammatical.[5]

Of course, in order to become fully fluent in your new language, eventually you will need strong grammar skills. But once again, this is something that having a strong, well-developed vocabulary will help with. Since grammar dictates relationships between words and phrases, understanding those smaller components (aka vocabulary) will help improve your understanding of how those grammatical relationships work.

DO: Design a study plan that emphasizes vocabulary.

Hold shadow conversations

A key part of learning a new language involves training your ear. Unlike written language, spoken language doesn’t have the same context clues that help you decipher and separate out words. Plus, in addition to using slang and idioms, native speakers tend to “smoosh” words together, which is even more confusing for language learners![6] In part, this is why listening to real-life sources can be so helpful

However, even beginning language learners can benefit from something called conversational shadowing. Basically, this means repeating a conversation word-for-word, even when you don’t know what all of the words mean. This helps you get used to the rhythm and patterns of the language, as well as learn to identify individual words and phrases from longer chunks of spoken language. Another great strategy involves holding practice conversations, where you create imaginary conversations and rehearse them multiple times.

Both of these strategies are great ways to help you learn and retain new vocabulary, and they also increase your language output in a low-stakes practice setting!

Example: If you’ve got a homework exercise that involves reviewing an audio or video clip, take a few extra steps to get the most benefit:

  • After you’ve listened to the clip once, shadow the conversation in short sections (think ~20-30 seconds). Focus on reproducing the words as accurately as possible, paying close attention to rhythm, intonation, and pacing.
  • Once you can accurately shadow the entire clip, then focus on understanding the meaning of the material, and answer any homework questions related to the clip.
  • Now, use the same vocabulary to create a new conversation: think of what you would want to say in a real-life situation like this one, and practice it until you can respond confidently to any side of the exchange.

Make it fun

Learning a new language is a lot of work, but that’s not what motivated you to start studying it in the first place, right? Instead, you probably want to travel or work abroad, or be able to talk with people from other countries, maybe even study literature or history… Whatever got you interested in this language in the first place, it’s probably a lot more fun than all this studying is.

Here’s the thing: whenever you can do something that connects you back with the reasons that motivate you to study your new language, or you find something new and exciting about the language you’re studying or the cultures that use it, use your excitement to boost your motivation. It’s what will keep you going—and that kind of persistence is a key factor in language learning success.[8]

But in addition to staying focused on what you enjoy, you can also deliberately create fun social activities that also help you grow your language skills. For example, try hosting a dinner and movie “theme” night with friends who are studying the same language. Create a “mini-immersion” environment: watch movies in the language you’re learning, cook some authentic cuisine, and try to speak only in your new (shared!) language. It’s a great way to get some authentic, low-stakes practice. (Plus, it’s a great excuse for a party!)

Realistic Study Guide

Now that you have learned the basics, it is time to choose a book and study Korean as the guide suggests. I strongly recommend Sejong Korean Conversation series. These books are very well made because thy use lots of photos so that the learners can learn vocabulary words through them without translation. They don’t have unnecessary explanation and are task-oriented books, encouraging you to be fully immersed in Korean. So here are some steps you should take.

  1. Simply, study the course book and do the directions in the book. For example, when the book tells you to listen carefully and repeat, you can do so.
  2. For a short dialogue with a recording, you have to do this. ① Listen ② Listen and read aloud X twice ③ Understand the meaning of the words and grammar ④ Listen and read aloud X 3 times

The 1st time you listen, do not look at the dialogue, but see if you can understand it. Even if you cannot understand every word, do your best to guess the meaning of what you listen to as if you were listening to a Korean man. 

Then, you listen and read aloud twice: as you listen to the recording, read along the sentences one by one. You might have to try a few times. If you have a really hard time doing so, do in smaller chunks. Do this twice – listen and read aloud X 2.

The next thing you should do is to study the meaning of words using the book, a dictionary, Papago or Google. You should also understand the grammar from the book. Grammar is a sentence structure. You should accept the way how sentences are formed, rather than constantly asking why. Don’t analyze grammar too much. Check anything you do not understand. Your teacher will help you in class should you have any questions.

Then you will listen and read 3 more times. The 5th time you listen to the recording, shadow-read without looking at the sentences. If you cannot do so at the first attempt, try a few more times until you can. If you can do the whole thing within 5 times, you don’t have to practice more: move on.

Do this over and over again until things become natural to you.

Then, take a Korean lesson. Speak and interact with your teacher and other students as much as you can. If there is anything you can’t figure out while you study on your own, don’t spend too much time on it. Rather, check to ask your teacher in class. Bear in mind that the teacher does not teach you everything(A passive mentality doesn’t help at all in learning a foreign language); the book and the system in this guide teach you everything. Think of your teacher as a speaking partner.

After class, review what you have learned in class and listen to the recordings again and read aloud everything, making it your own.

How often/long should you study

Repeated practice is a must. Remember that persistence is vital when learning a foreign language. It means you should practice the same content over and over again on different days. According to research in educational and cognitive psychology, one of the most effective learning strategies is distributed practice. This concept has two main components: spacing, which is breaking study time up into multiple small sessions, and separation, which means spreading those sessions out over time.[2] 

For example, you have 4 days to practice Korean – Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. You plan to study 2 pages 3 times each time you study. 

On Monday, you will study pages 1-3 three times. 

On Tuesday, you study 1-3 pages twice and then study 3-6 pages 3 times. 

On Friday, you study 1-6 pages once and study 7-9 pages. 

On Sunday, you study 4-6 pages once and 7-9 pages twice, then you study 10-12.  

You can understand that you study the same pages on 3 different days. This way will help you to remember and use what you have learned. Truly effective!

As far as how often you should study, the more, the better for sure. Realistically, though, at least 3 times throughout the week is reasonable. If you can study 5 or 6 times a week, it will be the best. On the other hand, cramming isn’t a good study plan.

4 basic truths in learning Korean

  1. Start from listening. Do not focus on reading or grammar at first.
  2. You should learn to rely on the sounds. When you talk with your friends, do you see letters in front of you? No, because languages consist in sounds. So, do not get stuck in your books. Take eyes off your books at times. Open your ears. Listen carefully so you can get ready to say them out loud. You may have your books when you study, but when you talk with Koreans in real life, you don’t have books with you. Only sounds exist. That is called a language. You are pretty good when your books are open, but suck when you have no books? Then you should re-evaluate your learning process. Remember that you should learn to rely on the sounds.
  3. Grammar should be learned altogether while you study the language as a whole. Grammar does not make you speak the language although it gives you some knowledge of the sentences you are learning. Do you want to study grammar at first? That is a bad idea because you cannot focus on the most important fundamentals, but grammar. The best time to study a grammar book a little more on top of your course book is when you reach the intermediate level. That is when you want to reinforce your grammar knowledge. Still, please remember all the  important elements – listening, reading, speaking, writing, vocabulary, and grammar – should be all included in language learning.
  4. It is more like practicing, not studying. You can say you ‘study’ or ‘practice’ Korean. Yet, learning a foreign language is more like practice. You learn from the textbook and try to actually use them by talking with your teacher. Learning Korean is not a serious academic subject, but a tool that you use in order to communicate. Try to have a conversation! Fail many times until you can speak well. Don’t be stuck in ‘studying’ where you often analyze, write and memorize. 

Why you need a teacher / a tutor

We talked about the basics above. In reality, you cannot practice speaking and writing on your own as these two elements are practices for output, therefore, speaking and writing practices should be executed with a native speaker of Korean or a fluent Korean speaker. Thus, it is best to practice listening and reading aloud on your own at home and practice speaking and writing with a native speaker in class while your errors are corrected. It is reasonable that you should practice a language by talking with people who speak the language well.

The second reason is related with errors in sounds and grammar. While practicing Korean on your own, there can be sound related errors – pronunciation, stress or accent. Sadly, you won’t even realize your errors in general. It is actually the teacher who should identify these errors. You need a review and a feedback on them first, then practice saying out the corrected words/phrases/sentences over 3 times with the effort of absorbing them as if you replaced the errors with the corrected ones. The more you go back over your mistakes and learn from your them, the more your language skills will grow.

It is only with enough focused practice that your Korean can improve quickly.

The most 2 common pitfalls

1. Clinging to the book.

This is actually a common pitfall for language learners. For example, it’s easy to focus on reading comprehension when studying, in part because written language is often readily accessible—for one thing, you have a whole textbook full of it. This is also true of the three key elements: it’s comparatively easy to find input sources (like your textbook) and practice understanding them. But neglecting the other two key principles (output and feedback/review) can slow down language growth.

2. Translating.

A number of learners translate it into English so that they can ‘comfortably’ understand the meaning in their native language. This is partly because you are new to language learning and feel ’safe’ when writing them down. You may want to ‘make sure of everything.’

Yet, translating will only turn out futile as these two languages have totally different roots and no relations at all. For these reasons you would often say to yourself ‘why do they say this in Korean? It doesn’t make sense.’ This leads to under issue: since they give most of their energy in translating, they tend to miss the latter part of what they hear from other party.

Translating Korean in your mother tongue will lead to problems that could make you stop studying Korean. It seems there is not problem is doing that when the sentences are fairly simple or the book you are studying is a beginner. However, as you study more complex sentences, you will have a hard time to the point you want to stop because you don’t seem to make a progress.

Please remember when you converse with Korean people face to face or watch a drama or a movie in Korean, you cannot catch up with the pace if you translate.

These 2 pitfalls prevent you from focusing on listening, reading and speaking. They also distract you from relying on the sound because both clinging to the book and translating are related with visible factors.

Use real-life materials

You should be exposed to as much Korean as you can in progress. While studying Korean from books, find something that holds your interests and look forward to practicing with in real life sources even if you don’t understand every word: K-dramas/movies, K-pop songs, tv shows/news, newspaper articles, magazines, blogs, podcasts etc. They will keep you motivated. Even when you reach around pre-intermediate level or completed a beginner’s course, you can choose to be exposed to these real-life sources. You can, not only expand your vocabulary, but also learn the way they speak and Korean culture.

You need to meet and talk to people.

While you have your own program to learn the language, you should pave your own way to meet and talk to people to actually converse with them. For example, you may be talking with your Korean teacher in class and you also watch some Korean dramas to keep learning from real-life sources. Later you should make plans to meet Korean people in your town or by visiting Korea so you can be more fluent and improve language skills.

Can you recall the main points below in learning Korean.

  • Start from listening.
  • Listening, reading, speaking and writing are 4 major basic elements you need to focus on.
  • You can practice listening and reading aloud on your own whereas you need to practice speaking with your teacher who can correct your mistakes. 
  • Your errors need correction, review and feedback.
  • The more you input(listen and read) the more you can output(speak and write)
  • You make errors to improve your language skills.
  • Don’t get stuck on the book.
  • Rely on the sounds.
  • Practice Korean in Korean.
  • Study at least 3 times a week.
  • More vocabulary words will make you produce more output.
  • Spread out to real life sources.
  • Try to talk to Korean people.

Works consulted

Murphey, T. (1998). Language hungry!: An introduction to language learning fun and self-esteem. Japan: MacMillan Language house.

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58.

Brown, H. D., & Gonzo, S. T. (1995). Readings on second language acquisition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents.

O’Malley, J. M., Chamot, A. U., & Küpper, L. (1995). Listening comprehension strategies in second language acquisition. Readings on second language acquisition, 138-160.

Oxford, R., & Crookall, D. (1989). Research on language learning strategies: Methods, findings, and instructional issues. The Modern Language Journal,73(4), 404-419.

Nunan, David. Second Language Teaching & Learning. Heinle & Heinle Publishers, 7625 Empire Dr., Florence, KY 41042-2978, 1999.

Son, L. K., & Simon, D. A. (2012). Distributed learning: Data, metacognition, and educational implications. Educational Psychology Review, 24(3), 379-399.

[1] Brown & Gonzo, 1995; Ellis, 1997; Nunan, 1999

[2] Dunlosky et al, 2013; Son & Simon, 2012

[3] Oxford, R., & Crookall, D. (1989). Research on language learning strategies: Methods, findings, and instructional issues. The Modern Language Journal,73(4), 404-419.

[4] Dunlosky et al, 2013

[5] Murphey, T. (1998). Language hungry!: An introduction to language learning fun and self-esteem. Japan: MacMillan Languagehouse.

[6] Nunn, 1999; Murphey, 1998

[7] Nunan, 1999; Oxford & Crookall, 1989

[8] Nunan, 1999; Oxford & Crookall, 1989, Brown & Gonzo, 1995.