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How to Learn Korean

Looking to learn more about the Korean language? You’ve come to the right place. With over 75 million speakers, Korean is the official language of both North and South Korea. However, Korean also has a significant foothold in other countries across the world, including over two million speakers in China, one million in the United States, and half a million in Japan. Linguistically, the Korean language is believed to be part of a family of Altaic languages that includes Japanese, Turkish, and Mongolian. Although Korean descended from a different language family than Chinese, you’ll find some similarities between the languages such as some Korean vocabulary words which are based on Chinese characters.

The rising influence of the Korean language can be attributed in part to the popularity of Korean pop music and culture and to a budding interest in Korean cuisine. There are also large Korean communities throughout the United States and likewise, the US has a strong military, diplomatic, and cultural influence on the Korean peninsula. For those who would like to get beyond a few Korean words or phrases and actually learn Korean, there are also a growing number of online resources for the language. Although, as you might expect, not all programs or websites that offer Korean lessons are created equal and the language is considered especially tricky for English speakers to learn without the proper support.

Rosetta Stone, trusted by millions worldwide including educational institutions, corporate clients, and government entities, offers a robust, dynamic language program in Korean. Backed by over twenty-five years of experience in language learning, Rosetta Stone has an immersive Korean curriculum backed by a proven methodology that stimulates your brain’s natural ability to learn the language and creates deeper connections through speaking-focused lessons with real-world context.

Learning Korean for Beginners

Although Korean might be considered one of the more challenging languages to learn, it’s also in high demand and, with the right approach, doesn’t have to be overly difficult. In fact, there are some distinct advantages to learning Korean over other languages like Japanese and Chinese.

While some sounds in Korean can be tricky for English speakers, Hangul, the Korean alphabet, consists of 24 characters (14 consonants and 10 vowels) and is phonetic, which makes it straightforward to learn and mostly intuitive. Korean grammar follows an SOV (subject–object–verb) structure which can be unfamiliar at first for English speakers, but there are grammatical markers that help. Initially, these particles that label the subject, topic, and object of a sentence can be confusing but as you learn more Korean, you’ll find these same markers become incredibly useful. The Korean language also throws other curveballs like using titles frequently in the place of names. However, you’ll also recognise many English words that the Korean language has absorbed into their everyday speech such as “computer” and “chicken.”

Here are a handful of common Korean words you should learn:

Hello/Goodbye – 안녕하세요 (An-nyeong-ha-se-yo)
Thank you – 감사합니다 (Kam-sa-ham-ni-da)
Sorry - 죄송합니다/미안합니다 (Chway-song-ham-ni-da/Mi-an-ham-ni-da)
Please – 주세요 (Ju-se-yo)
No - 아니요 (Aniyo) Yes - 네 (Ne)

Rather than learning Korean words through long, tedious lists of vocabulary and rote memorisation, Rosetta Stone encourages learning Korean in the context of conversations. Contextualised learning, where words are presented in the situations in which they’d occur, is part of Dynamic Immersion, the methodology that is the backbone of the Rosetta Stone language-learning program. This approach presents Korean vocabulary in 10-minute, bite-sized lessons rich with audio and visual cues that will prepare language learners to adapt in real-world conversations that don’t follow a script.

How to Learn Korean Pronunciation

The most crucial aspect of learning any language is to understand and be understood when speaking with locals. No matter how many Korean words and phrases you’ve memorised, knowing vocabulary won’t help you to respond with confidence when you engage with a native Korean speaker. To get comfortable with conversational Korean, you’ll want to not only learn vocabulary but also have plenty of practise with pronunciation.

The Korean language is intonational which means that some of the patterns of speaking, like a rising voice that indicates a question, are similar to those in English. However, the rhythm of sentences in Korean can be quite different, where pauses are more frequent at the beginning of sentences than the kinds of pauses that English speakers tend to take at the end of their sentences. There are also some tricky nuances of pronunciation with double consonants and some vowel sounds which don’t have exact equivalents in English. The Korean writing system, however, can make it a bit easier to decipher the pronunciations since it uses syllabic blocks and isn’t a tonal language. While there are some differences in pronunciation related to regional dialects, there are two basic standards in Korean. In South Korea, the standard dialect is based on the Korean language as it is spoken in Seoul. For North Koreans, the standard language is based on the Pyongyang dialect.

Honing your Korean pronunciation requires plenty of practise and consistent feedback. That’s why Rosetta Stone embeds their patented speech recognition engine, TruAccent, into every lesson. This adjustable tool encourages Korean language learners to speak words out loud, comparing your accent to that of thousands of native speakers and allowing you to fine-tune your pronunciation until you’re confident you can say it like a local.

Learn Basic Korean

If you’re feeling intimidated about where to start in your journey to learning basic Korean, let Rosetta Stone help. With units built on teaching common conversational phrases and words in a contextually rich learning environment, your Rosetta Stone Korean lessons scale naturally towards enabling you to speak the language.

As you progress through your Korean lessons, here are a few other tips to keep in mind to ease anxiety and help you build more quickly towards becoming a confident Korean speaker.

When in doubt, use polite Korean

One of the tricky things about the Korean language can be registers or the speech levels based on the situation and the audience. At first, just focus on learning and using informal, polite register which is a good compromise between the more formal registers which aren’t often used in everyday situations and the casual registers which may come off as rude when used with a stranger.

Learn the Korean alphabet sounds, not the names

When you learn the Korean alphabet, Hangul, you can ignore the actual names of the letters and just focus on the form of the characters and the sounds they represent. For instance, the letter ㄱ is called “giyeok” which is spelt 기역. But that name doesn’t really relate to the sound that this Korean letter makes, which is like a “g” or a “k” depending on the word.

Chinese characters can help you learn Korean vocabulary

It’s not absolutely necessary, but you’ll find if you are familiar with some Chinese characters, it may help you to pick up Korean vocabulary more easily. It’s also handy that many of the new words that are being added to the Korean language, especially in South Korea, are often in English. Words like “taxi” and “ice cream” have both similar meanings and pronunciations in Korean.

Don’t get tense about Korean grammar

Believe it or not, Korean grammar is one of the more accessible parts of learning the language. Korean tenses are more straightforward in comparison to other languages like French or Spanish, where you might have to spend hours learning how to conjugate various verbs across different tenses and subjects. In fact, when you first start learning Korean, you don’t really need to worry about using pronouns at all. Korean verbs do change depending on factors like when the action happened and politeness, but these changes are predictable and require adjusting only the final letter of the verb. For example ‘to do’ (하다) will always be 해요 (do) regardless of whether ‘I do’, ‘he does’, or ‘they do’.

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Can You Learn Korean on Your Own?

While you could probably pick up some Korean words and a few basic conversational phrases in Korean, it would be difficult to learn the language on your own. Because of the complexity of the language and the lack of online resources, it’s crucial to have a thorough, dynamic language learning program if you want to learn Korean. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t accelerate your language-learning journey with experiences that get beyond Korean lessons and into the heart of the culture.

Immerse yourself in K-pop culture

K-pop is a general term for popular music in South Korea, but it has extended to embrace much more than a few modern South Korean boy bands. Today K-pop has an expansive fan base all over the world and there are lots of opportunities to become part of the Korean pop culture and interact with Korean speakers online.

Watch K-dramas or movies

Given the blossoming interest in Korean culture, many streaming services like Netflix have invested in bringing Korean dramas and films to a wider international audience. Watch them with the subtitles off and soak up the everyday slang and nuances of pronunciation in Korean speech. You may also pick up some pointers about Korean culture you might otherwise have missed.

Read Korean cartoons and manga

While they may not be as ubiquitous as their Japanese cousins, Korean manga, referred to as manhwa, is a popular and easily accessible way to begin reading Korean. Because of the illustrations and shorter length, comic books can be more digestible for beginner language learners and provide a gateway to reading Korean.

Speak Korean daily

No matter which methods you choose to enrich your Korean lessons, the amount of time you spend practising and speaking Korean daily is directly related to how quickly you’ll feel confident in real-world conversations. Rosetta Stone makes this easy with bite-sized lessons that sync across devices, so you can learn Korean anytime and anywhere. Rosetta Stone also offers live tutoring with native Korean speakers who also speak your language. You can get one on one or group guidance to hone your pronunciation and practise having unscripted conversations.

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The Benefits of Learning Korean

Learning a language, in general, can have many benefits, including encouraging cognitive gains and providing more opportunities in your professional and personal life. If you’ve hesitated to start learning a new language because you think it might be too difficult or time consuming, let Rosetta Stone welcome you to language learning software and an award-winning mobile app that puts speaking new languages within reach and at your fingertips.

In addition to the basic advantages of language learning, there are a few things about learning the Korean language that may make it a particularly attractive endeavour for language learner

Here’s a glimpse into how learning Korean may benefit you.

Learning Korean increases career opportunities

Knowing how to speak a second language always looks great on a resume, but learning Korean can be especially beneficial for those in business. South Korea has a strong relationship and excellent trade ties in many important industries like entertainment, shipping, and automotive fields.

Korean can help you learn other languages

Some of Korea’s written language is based on Chinese characters, so knowing Korean vocabulary can help you learn words in other related languages more quickly. Korean also has many grammatical similarities to Japanese such as sentence order and the use of markers, so knowing Korean may make learning Japanese feel more intuitive.

Learn Korean culture and cuisine

When you speak Korean, it’ll be much easier to feel at home enjoying K-pop culture and Korean cuisine. From ordering off of menus in the Korean language to understanding song lyrics and movie quotes, knowing the language can provide invaluable cultural insights and help you feel like part of the Korean community.

Learning Korean can provide educational and travel opportunities

Of course, speaking the language makes it easier to travel to destinations in both Korea and China, but it also opens doors to explore when it comes to studying abroad. South Korea has a reputation for a very rigorous, highly competitive educational system that’s one of the best in the world and there is often demand for bilingual students and teachers.

Try Our Award-Winning App

Surround yourself with Korean whenever, wherever with the Rosetta Stone app.

Download a unit and knock it out on the train or a flight. Select a 5-10 minute lesson and sneak it in while you wait in line or for your ride to show up. And explore dynamic features, like Seek and Speak, where you can point at an object in the real world and get a translation.

The best part? You don’t have to choose between app or desktop. Both come with your subscription and sync, so you can switch between devices seamlessly.