I remember my first few days living in the Korean countryside and everything seemed new and obscure. There were buses to catch, co-teachers to communicate with and grocery shops to find. The only problem was everything was in signs I couldn't read and sayings I couldn't understand. This was when I started my Korean language journey.
Learning Korean has helped me in many ways since I began teaching abroad. When you embrace the language, you touch the hearts of the Korean people and open a whole new world of cultural encounters and experiences. Learning Korean has great benefits such as being able to use Korean websites, traveling easily to destinations, and making Korean friends. The greatest benefit however is the cultural exchange you will experience.
Koreans are humbled by foreigners who try to speak their language. A language deeply- rooted in Korean history that dates back to the Joseon Dynasty and King Sejong the great, who created a unique language spoken by about 18,000,000 people worldwide, and one of the few connections North and South Korea still share.
So what are the best and easiest ways to learn Korean you may ask? And where does one begin? Here are three tips to help you get started and make your transition to living and teaching in Korea smoother.
1.Learn the basics before you arrive
With the internet at your fingertips, it is so easy to learn basic Korean sayings and phrases before you arrive in Korea. The Korean alphabet consists of 24 consonant and vowel letters which are easy to pronounce. This is because Korean (Hangul) is phonetically sounding language, with each character producing a particular articulations. This is different than the English language, where different parts of the world produce diverse sounds and particular words have rule exceptions. Korean is a pretty straightforward and uncomplicated language. (Except for regional dialects such as Busan and Chuncheongnam-do where words are slightly accented).
Hangul is blocked into characters of 3 or 4 letters and once read produces a word. To give you a basic reading lesson, ㅎis pronounced ha, 아 is pronounced ah, and ㄴ is pronounced nn. So when you block the words together as one, 한, this will read as 'han'. Basically, if you know the letter and its sound you can read Korean. The vowels and their combinations are a little bit more challenging, however reading and writing Korean is much simpler than most languages.
A great way to learn basic Korean phrases is by downloading a phone app. Some favorable apps are "Pop Popping Korean", "TenguGo Hangul" and "Korean Drama Talk". If you would like to use a computer, websites such as "Talk to me in Korean" and "Life in Korea - Speaking" are great resources. I learned the majority of my basic skills by studying from textbooks like "Elementary Korean" and "Korean for beginners".
2. Be active in listening and speaking Korean
The majority of my Korean learning came from listening to Korean people. To naturally understand the language, you need to listen to pronunciation and intonation. Korea is the perfect place to learn the correct basics, since you are immersed in the Korean culture and surrounded by Korean people all the time. From my time spent living in the countryside, I was forced to engage with Koreans who had a lack of English knowledge. One of the best things to happen to me was being constantly immersed in a Korean language environment where dinner-dates, meetings and shopping escapades were all in Hangul.
If you want to learn Korean fast and acquire a vast knowledge of the language, then living in the countryside is much more advantageous than living in a big city like Seoul. From my experience, the majority of my friends who have lived in a big city area learned far-less Korean than those who lived in a smaller city or rural town. In Seoul, Koreans like having conversations in English and most times you will get an English response, even if you tried speaking in Korean first. In the countryside however, the average person knows basic middle school English but is too shy to approach foreigners in the language.
3. Make Korean friends and do language exchange
Koreans are big on western culture and they love making foreign friends. A lot of Koreans, our age, have lived or traveled abroad and studied at some of the top universities in the world. Most of these Koreans are used to having foreign friends and are open to multi-diverse friendships. I have made plenty of Korean friends while living in Korea, and through our cultural exchange both their English and my Korean improved over the years. Having Korean friends can allow your overall cultural experience of Korea be more unique. By building bonds with Koreans you can increase your chances of being invited to a Chuseok dinner, making Kimchi in a farm field, or even attending a Korean wedding.
Another big thing in Korea is language-exchange. There are plenty of Meet-up groups, on the Meet-up App, who meet once a week to share Korean and English communication. These groups usually meet in local cafes or different allocations weekly. It is also another way to make some great friends, as plenty of foreigners join these Meet-ups too! The great thing about these Meet-ups is that they are free and a lot of fun!
For a more customized learning environment, some people prefer to pay for a private tutor or a 1 on 1. Korean tutors can cost anything from $20-$50 an hour, depending on your personal goals. You can find Korean tutors through your academy or online at the Korean Craigslist (there are plenty of tutors posting everyday).
Hope these tips help and best of luck on trying to master the Korean language!
It is no surprise that Tijana Huysamen, a South African born Capetownian, avid traveler and travel journalist, fell in love with South Korea and its people. After Tijana arrived in South Korea in 2010, she had the opportunity to live in the heart of the Korean countryside. During her time spent in Chungnam province she learned to speak Korean, prepare Korean food and experience the humble nature of the countryside people. After a year break in New York, Tijana jumped at the opportunity to return to Korea again, and is currently working at the CDI Jamsil Branch, in Jamsil, Seoul. Read Tijana’s Aclipse blog to gain a unique perspective on Korea and her shared experiences and adventures both in a major city and in the countryside. Follow Tijana on Twitter @TeeAnni or email firstname.lastname@example.org to request more information on teaching in Korea!