Thursday, September 01, 2011

Ask a Korean! Wiki: How Long Does it Take to Learn Korean?

Dear Korean,

How long does it generally take an English-speaking person to fluently learn Korean?


Given that everyone has different aptitudes with language, the Korean is not sure if there can be such thing as a "general" timetable for an Anglophone to become fluent in Korean. But it might not be a bad idea to take a straw poll, just to see the range.

So readers, go right at it. Are you learning Korean? How fluent are you? (Be very specific here so that your comment can be useful. Can you read and write? Can you carry small conversations? Can you have a conversation about complex and abstract subjects? Can you read a newspaper? Can you write at a professional level? Etc.) How long did you take for you to get to your level? Did you take classes, live in Korea, live with a Korean spouse, etc?

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. I've been living in Korea for a little over three and half years.

    I began learning Korean as soon as I arrived, but never took any classes. For a long time I just practiced making simple sentences with whatever modifiers I knew. Unlike the Korean, I was very laissez faire about my language study... and why not? No one expected me to learn the language and people were amazed when I could spit out a sentence in the past tense.

    These days I am much more diligent in my studies. I would say I speak Korean conversationally. I cannot read a newspaper, nor can I fully understand the news , but I have many Korean friends and acquaintances who speak no English at all and we are able to have basic conversations about daily life, plans, aspirations, regrets... but not politics or philosophy.

    Although it took me around three years before I felt I was conversational, many Korean learners are conversational after a single year of study. It depends on, as the Korean pointed out, aptitude and discipline.

    Fluency is a slippery idea. It's confounded by people telling me that I am already fluent in Korean (I'm NOT). Because so few foreigners learn Korean (relative to foreigners learning English), my conversational speaking skills are highly praised. However, with my limited skills I could not work at a company and certainly could not deal with jargon specific to a field such as law or science.

    The best example of a foreigner speaking fluent Korean that I have seen is John Frankl. (See this video: He has been in Korea for over twenty years and has been diligent in his language learning.

    The two best Korean language learning "tools" I have are a flashcard program on my iPhone into which I enter new Korean vocabulary and grammar, and my girlfriend, a flesh and blood Korean.

    The biggest factor for an Anglophone learning Korean is desire and self-belief. I want to learn Korean and I believe I can, so I do.

  2. note: My name is Tom. I don't know why it says "Unknown"...

  3. Took a buddy out to a fantastic Korean restaurant last night, and then went for a walk (stuffed!!). He's going to Korea for the first time next week and wanted advice.

    I've been studying Korean for a few years, dated Korean girls, been to Seoul a few times, of course.

    The Korean language, to be honest, is friggin' ingenious. While it make take some time to get your mind around the grammar, EVERYTHING ELSE about it is incredibly smart.

    You see, going back a few thousand years, most of Asia was part of the China. If you weren't Chinese your 'country' would send emissaries to China to pay homage, often with gifts, etc (leading to international trade routes, like the Silk Road later on). And so of course, Korea has a rich history with China, sharing many cultural and linguistic elements.

    Around the time China was sailing around the world, discovering new lands, Korea was asserting itself as a distinct and unique people and country. They dropped Chinese, and the wonky Character based system (famously hell to learn, for young kids) and the ridiculous tonal language, and went for a simpler alphabet system with 'non-tonal' speech.

    They even adopted a more Confucian grammatical pattern, dropping the egotistical (i did this, I did that), and going for a more royal and dignified Subject-Object-Verb pattern (like Japan).

    It's almost like how when the Americans split from England, they decided to do everything different (not surprising, since, you don't declare independence from a system you LIKE) from their 'forefathers'.

    The system now, as I said, alphabet based, and non-tonal, makes it one of the easier languages to learn. The difficulty in learning to SPEAK Korean, is of course, that you actually have to find a Korean and get immersed in the Korean language. That's tough. If you go to Korea, you can find loads of language partners, but these days, about the only way to get to Korea (mid-to-long term) is by going over to be a student or English teacher.

    I've tried lots of Pimsleur audio tapes, and of course gone through lots of textbooks, but there is no substitute for actually living in a society for immersion.

    My advice? Read the books and check out some of the great FREE resources on Youtube (and for about a year, then enroll in a Korean class at a Korean University in Seoul. Go for 6 months to a year.

    You should be conversational after about 6 mos/1 Yr. There are almost no English in Korea (have fun with that) and so you will need to speak a little bit of Korean if you want to .. you know eat. This kind of urgency will force you to be very resourceful and THAT will push you over the anxiety to speak, etc and your Korean will soar.

  4. After only a 2 hour lesson in Hangul I was able to very easily read and pronounce all the words even though I was not able to fully understand what I was saying. Hangul is extremely easy to learn but I do have a strong aptitude for foreign tongues :P

    I am dreadfully out of practice of actually learning to hold conversational Korean though so my post really only pertains to Hangul itself.

  5. Getting on a full time Korean course in Korea is the way to get there quickly, but finding such a course is difficult. (They seem to be generally limited to summer vacation months at some universities)

    Otherwise Korea is now promoting Korean language and culture through the King Sejong Institute. ( ) I attended some classes in Sydney Australia and made good progress.

    The great thing about Korea is that although foreigners are not expected to speak Korean, they will find that most Koreans are happy to communicate in Korean with them.

    Here is a question for The Korean. Why do Koreans younger than me (in their 20's) not want to speak English with me, but Koreans older than me (middle age) are very willing to speak to me in English at some level?

  6. My experience was very similar to Tom's (posting as "Unknown"), except that my introduction to Korean was sink-or-swim -- I had 12 weeks to cram the very basics into my head with as much vocabulary as I could, and then I got tossed straight onto the streets of Seoul and was tasked with teaching Koreans in Korean. Other than those 12 weeks and another 8 weeks last summer, I've never had any formal instruction.

    I'm coming up on my fourth year anniversary of learning my first Korean word in October. As I said, other than those 12 weeks learning the very basics of grammar and some specific vocabulary, until last summer I was almost entirely self-taught. I studied textbooks and asked questions of native speakers (sometimes to random strangers on the street), and when I got home from Korea I become a rabid consumer of Korean pop culture. (Yes, I like kpop, but I also listen to more "serious" music.) I spent hours and hours watching Korean dramas and listening to Korean music - in about 1.5 years, I racked up more about 700 hours of listening practice that way, on just dramas alone. But I didn't really have anyone to speak with, nor did I really have any reason to read or write Korean. So when I got to Korea last summer, my ability to understand spoken Korean had grown exponentially (especially the more informal speech patterns, which I never used when I was there the first time). Unfortunately, the other three areas - speaking, writing, and reading - had pretty much stayed the same.

    Last summer while I was in Korea for eight weeks I participated in an intensive study abroad program at Cheonbuk University in Jeonju. I lived with a Korean family and studied Korean at an advanced level for several hours every day. I found that there were significant gaps in my vocabulary - anything technical or specific to a certain field; for example, many things medical or related to business or academia. However, I had almost no problems in conversations on all kinds of topics with my (Korean) friends, ranging from pop culture to school life to discussions about Korean and American history. Of course, there were words I didn't know, but I was able to converse very comfortably (if maybe a little bit limitedly) with my peers. (Those would be people in their 20s, mostly students.)

    Admittedly, my focus has been on popular culture and being conversationally fluent, and so my reading
    and writing skills are definitely subpar for one who's been studying the language formally. (Though I can read and write Korean in Korean, even if I sound like a first grader.) The news is quite daunting in either broadcast or newspaper format, and anything academic sends me straight to my dictionary. Neither have I applied myself very strictly, relying instead on good listening skills and a gift for languages and mimicry. But I don't have any problems eating in, navigating around, or living in Korea.

  7. I did self study + free courses on Saturdays for my first 8 months in Korea, but I was never able to have much of a conversation longer than 5 minutes. Finally I broke down and started taking lessons 3 mornings a week. I found the best way to practice at that beginner level was not with Koreans, but with other foreigners learning Korean (preferably other Asians, because with native English speaking foreigners/ Europeans, the conversation always goes back to English on the break times). Speaking with people on the same level boosts your confidence and fluency and preps you for the future when you have Korean friends. Now, after continuing lessons 3 mornings a week for over 2 years I've been able to pass TOPIK level 3 and have no problem chatting with friends in Korean only. But again, as everyone else has stated, it will be a long time before I learn technical language. I just don't use it often enough to remember it. But, I'm sure eventually if I live in Korea long enough and keep studying those topics will become necessary for some reason and I'll be forced to learn them.

    So to answer the question: 6 months of steady study, practice and classes in an immersion setting should be enough to be basically conversational. But, you can't be lazy about it.

  8. I lived in Korea + studied at university. I have lots of Korean friends and former lovers who I've spoken with.

    I can read well enough (I still need a dictionary for harder vocab though).
    I can hold conversations, though I still don't know all the grammar structures, I know most of them.

    I can talk about most things except for academic things. Same with writing. I know how to write professionally at least, grammar wise, but I no almost no vocab since it doesn't come up in conversation much.

    I can read some of the newspaper, but not all of it. Depends on the subject.

    Overall, it's been about 3 years now. I can understand most songs, articles, etc. Again, I'm not fluent, but I'm getting there. I'd say I'm at a conversational level.

    Took about a week to fully learn Hangeul to the point that I didn't think about it when I read it and to get the pronunciation right.

    I'd say it took about 3 months of living there to be able to start basic sentences and to be able to get around alone.

    By the time I was leaving I could get around by myself and I could have some small conversations.

    After another year without studying but continuing with friends I was able to start picking up on phrases in songs and on dramas and listening to friends.

    After another year I could start expressing feelings and such.

    But my vocab really started expanding with my 6 months of Korean classes.

    I know the difference in speech levels now and I can hold conversations using all of them, though I'm a bit slower in honorific deferential. :)

    I think a mixture of memorization and immersion helps.

    Memorization is just plain hard work. I'm really good at languages, but nothing helps me better than rewriting over and over. Korean classes will help with this, but you can also learn online.

    Immersion doesn't have to be in Korea necessarily, though it does help. Try to have a language partner, listen to more Korean music and actually study the lyrics and pick out what you know. Watch Korean tv shows without subtitles. Once you hear a phrase repeated enough times in the same situation, your brain will get used to it and you will come to understand as well. etc

    And yeah, I second this but the Korean language is beautiful and Hangeul really really is genius.

    Anyway, I can think in Korean now. lol So I think I'm pretty far gone. :) I'm much better at conversational Korean and slang simply from my friends, but I am starting to get better at the more formal kinds. I just keep craving more and more! :)

  9. I've done a degree in Korean Studies which took 4 years. 1 year was spent in one of the language schools in one of the big universities (although that wasn't a calendar year - closer to 9 months). I have no problems getting by entirely in Korean now, and my last job was selling car hire to Koreans over the phone in Korean. I've done some translation Korean-English, including government and academic papers as well as literary stuff.

    As I said, 4 years of study, and it's been about a year since I graduated. For about 4 years of those 5 years I've spoken at least some Korean every day. I've lived with Koreans for 3 years, and they've been people I speak to only in Korean.

    Practice makes perfect. For me, I found that no amount of studying from books and in clasrooms benefited my skills as much as just speaking it. I've had a system from when I was first in Korea whereby when I grasped a new piece of grammar or vocab I would force myself to use it 3 times and found that if I did that it usually stuck.

    I never stop learning or improving or thinking that I need to improve more. That attitute is the way to get better at anything.

  10. Just a comment on fluency-- I read somewhere that the measure of fluency is that you can explain to someone how to tie their shoes in the language, without using gestures.

    1. I don't even know how to do that in my own language LOL

  11. When I finished university my level would have been intermediate or upper level.

    I studied Korean for two years straight (while studying Japanese), then took a year of no Korean (to focus on Japanese) and then finally took my 3rd and final year of Korean.

    Japanese and Korean grammar are quite similar. Both languages are subject-object-verb (English is subject-verb-object).
    Both languages use Chinese characters, although Japan obviously makes more daily use of them than Korean.

    I already had a year of Japanese study at the university level before I started Korean, so...I had a bit of an advantage there. I could check my Korean against my Japanese to see if my grammar was correct.

    Anyways, I find that most people looking to learn a foreign language make a half-assed effort at it. For a language like Korean, you need at least 2 years of study at the university level before you can call yourself semi-able.

    Personally, I'm more confident in reading and writing in Korean than I am in speaking and listening.

    If I were to give suggestions to Korean language learners, I would say that they MUST take a class. A class at a university is ideal, imo, but if not, a class that will last a year and gives homework and tests.
    Next would be to watch tv programs, listen to music, whatever is in Korean that you can get your hands on. Watch tv dramas with English subtitles.
    Watch them over and over and over. I felt like that helped me with Japanese so much. I just wish the same option for Korean was available to me at that time.

    Picking up a book and trying to go it from scratch? No good, imo. Again, you need a teacher to help you with grammar points and most of all pronunciation!

  12. I've always liked learning about languages just for its own sake and because they're so interesting. I speak English and Spanish, and have taken 3 years of French and about a year of Portuguese. I also try to learn a few Chinese phrases and characters every now and then from my friends here at UCLA--Berkeley's favorite sister campus ;). That said, I'm all over the place and lack focus so I'm not very diligent. I forget things when I don't use them--I probably only remember the first 1.5 years of French.

    As for Korean, it didn't take more than 2 or 3 days to learn the hangeul, but I'm trying to listen closely to the distinction in pronunciation for p/b (ㅂ/ㅃ), t,d,dd (ㄷ,ㄸ), and j,jj,ch (ㅈ,ㅉ,ㅊ) as it doesn't always sound so clear cut, but the Korean's note that the double ones sound like Spanish really helps (except for ㅉ/ㅈ which has no real Spanish equivalent). For Anglophone learners, I think it might take a while longer to perceive this, as well as the difference between aspirated and un-aspirated sounds (ㄷ/ㅌ, ㅂ/ㅍ, ㄱ/ㅋ, etc). Overall, my Korean friends say I pick up well on the pronunciations and repeating stuff but I recommend taking a class and getting in as much practice as possible so you can do more than just parrot what others say, which only goes so far.

    I just began looking at this neat online resource here: (It even has a hanja section to learn the basic Sino-Korean characters and would probably be of interest to those with a background in Chinese or Japanese.) Sorry if this didn't contribute to the survey but I hope the link helps out anyone who is interested. Peace.

  13. I have been doing some intensive studying this summer (2 months) after a long stretch where I was listening to, but not actively studying, the language (maybe 3-4 years?).

    I can read fine, if too slowly to read aloud at a normal speed, but my spelling is atrocious - I can't hear all the vowel sounds cleanly, so there's a lot of guessing. I can use present tense, express wishes to go do something, and understand a fair amount of basic everyday conversation. (I can't necessarily participate - it takes way too long to sort out a response.)

    The vocabulary is the really hard part for me. There's a lot of words that sound the same, or similar, and a lot of categories to memorize (the different systems of numbers and group nouns short circuit my brain).

    I'm working hard on drilling the vocabulary, but I'm not acquiring anything near the volume I'd need to get good. I'd be thrilled if I could make it to kindergarten level one day.

  14. Hats off to you guys. If it is any consolation, it is also a lot of work for us heritage language types to attain any sort of adult level in "our language". I took a Korean for gyopo class once and the results of the first dictation were pretty sad.

  15. There are also Korean Slang! One way of learning this is watching Korean dramas :)

  16. the NSA has listed Korean as the hardest language for its English-speaking agents to learn, and Japanese as second.

    1. Both the NSA and State Department agree on the difficulty of Korean and Japanese, but latter mainly on the basis of its complex script. As spoken languages, Korean would probably rank as more difficult than Japanese, yes.

  17. I've been studying the language independently for five months. I live in Chicago. I can read (slowly) and understand (marginally). I cannot make sentences on my own yet, and I cannot speak in complete sentences. Right now I have enrolled in classes to improve my spoken Korean and improve my confidence with the language.

  18. I've been learning Korean since April of 2010. [About a year and a half ago.]
    I would label myself as ... conversationally fluent? for basic conversations. Best at writing and reading. My listening is really poor.
    I've learned by myself, mostly through the internet. I've done a lot of chatting, enough that I can pass myself off as a normal Korean for conversations (hence the "conversationally fluent" idea). I'm not much outside of the conversational range, but I'm learning slowly.

  19. I've been living in Korea for 2.5 years. I've never studied Korean formally, so my grammar and word choice is often awkward, but I can accomplish most things I need to in life.

    I can read a newspaper as long as it's not about politics, because I don't usually understand political terms, but I can follow and understand current events, albeit not perfectly.

    I've read two books in Korean that are for adults, one a biography of the outgoing US ambassador in Korea, one about the life of coffee farmers in the Nepal Himalayas.

    In the last week, I've called my credit card company to explain that I lost my card, talked to a friend's landlord, and had dinner with a friend who spoke maybe 50 words of English the whole time.

    I learned Korean by what I overheard from students, coworkers and friends, as well as signs, advertisements and announcements. In the last year and a half, I've been a bilingual user on Twitter, and I've learned a lot of Korean from reading and writing.

    Probably due to a lack of practice, I can't do what most people want to do, which is to understand dramas or music. I can understand many movies without subtitles, though obviously my understanding is not perfect.

    If you work in Korea, I'm roughly analogous to your polite Korean co-worker that usually understands most of what you say, but when things get complicated ("I told you last week to tell him this week that I told him I couldn't tell him"), it flies over my head and I pretend to understand.

  20. Ooh, what a fun question!

    Hangul- I first started learning Korean a little over two years ago. The only thing I really learned at that time was how to read and write, which probably took me a little over a week. That seems to be more than most people need, so I guess I'm a slow learner.

    Reading- I can now read very well, although I do consider myself to be slow. I probably read at about 1st-2nd grade speed still, and make occassional mistakes, although that's usually due to a few pronunciation rules more than anything. To improve my reading, I grab newspapers from Korean restaurants when I go. I don't understand it, but practice makes perfect! I also read Korean tweets, and sometimes I read kpop song lyrics in Hangul.

    Writing- I can also write, though spelling is still hard for me. My handwriting is pretty nice (I think), but a few of my stroke orders are apparently off. I suck at typing still. I ordered some Korean keyboard stickers about a week ago, so hopefully those will help when they come in. To practice writing, I copy down song lyrics in Hangul, write vocab words over and over again, etc.

    Vocabulary- My vocabulary in Korean absolutely sucks. Because I haven't actually studied Korean, I have only "picked up" random words and phrases from Korean songs and the occassional drama. I am now enrolled in a college-level Korean course and am attempting to learn a great deal of vocabulary using the Korean's methods. To practice my vocabulary, I write my vocab words about 10 times each (this also helps to ensure proper spelling). I make flashcards for new words. I take the vocabulary I am given in class and expand on it (ex- we are now learning country names and my textbook only teaches about 5-6 different countries. I have added about 20 more countries and languages to that list now). When I listen to a song and practice writing the lyrics, I pick a few words that I have heard in other songs and look up the meanings, then add those words to my vocab list and practice them too. I have only started doing these things recently.

    Grammar- I still don't know much grammar, but it has gone really well for my first 2 weeks of class. I understand eun/neun/do particles, i/ga particles (though I don't know when to use them still), and basic word order. I have no idea how to conjugate verbs or when to use what formality of language, but I can often recognize the same verb in different conjugations. The only method I have found to study grammar so far is using flashcards. I made a bunch of different flashcards with names and then test myself by using eun/neun with each one. So if the name I get is Yumi, then I put the neun card next to it, if the name is John, the eun card, etc. I have done this with the few grammar rules we have learned so far.

  21. (Continued)

    Pronunciation- My pronunciation is not that bad, or that good. It came slowly and I still have problems between a few of the vowels (especially compound vowels), and tensed consonants vs non-tensed consonants. It's a bit hard to mimic the sounds properly, but I think my accent in better than that of most beginning foreigners.

    Speaking- Since I don't know much vocab, any grammar, and my accent isn't that great, I really can't speak Korean. I can read out loud and practice basic sentence structure patterns by filling in the blank, but I can't think of actual sentences and then verbalize them in Korean. I don't know enough words to really practice speaking Korean just yet.

    Listening- My listening skills have steadily improved over time. First everything sounded like total gibberish, then I was able to distinguish a few sounds/syllables. Over time, my brain began to sort the sounds into separate words. It is easier for me when listening to Korean music than listening to spoken Korean, however. I feel there is a lot more common vocabulary in Korean songs than in normal speech, so I will hear the same words/phrases in songs and begin to recognize them all easily. Words are also held longer and sometimes exaggerated or accented, so I find it easier to hear/recognize. I can now pick out many words in songs I have never heard and raps, even if I don't know what those words mean. I can listen to a clip of the song and then repeat it back pretty well. Unfortunately, I recently realized that when I hear the words in Korean, I sort of visulaize them in my head in romanized format, rather than using Hangul characters. I do feel this has helped me with spoken Korean, but I am still worse at that by far. To practice listening to Korean, I listen to an insane amount of Kpop (I currently have about 300 Korean songs, and it's pretty much the only thing I listen to these days), and sometimes I watch Kdramas.

    Overall, I have not gotten very far, but things look promising. I can read and write, recognize grammar patterns and related words, and have a good-ish accent. My listening abilities still need a lot of work but have improved a great deal. I am only 2 weeks into my first class, but I have been doing an excellent job so far and do not feel lost or confused at all. It has been 2 years since I first learned anything about the Korean language, but I am a slow learner and haven't actually "studied" any Korean until about 2 weeks ago. As such, I am very pleased with my progress. I do think it would take at least a few years to become fluent, though I wouldn't really know!

  22. (Final continued)

    I learned Hangul from a website called That site seems to have moved to a new link, which I will post below. He explained how to read and write Korean better than anyone I have ever heard. He's great!

    I have also used in the past, and they're really good too. They have tons of lessons and lots of materials to go along with it. There is a free trial and even if you don't want to pay for an account, you can continue to access most of the material after your trial is over for free. The only problem is that the spoken lessons can be a bit slow and boring.

    You can follow Koreanwords on Twitter for a new vocab word each day. They are very consistent. The word is written in Hangul, and the pronunciation romanized. They give you the part of speech (verb, noun, etc), and then the translation of the word. They then use the word in a sentence (written in Hangul), and give the translation of the sentence. Very useful.

    The last website is good for reading practice, and points out important vocab words from the reading. There is more to the site but I haven't explored it yet. Just follow the link at the bottom of the page to the next lessons. So far, there are 17 reading practice lessons.

    Hope someone finds this novel of a comment useful!

  23. I have been studying for about 3 years. I am a 4 out of 6 points on the TOPIK exam which is considered intermediate. I took two semesters in college before I studied abroad in Korea and when I arrived felt like I knew nothing practical except Hangul. I took one semester of Yonsei's language program where I really buckled down to study, and by the end became conversational.

    The last 1.5 years have all been independent study. I can form relationships with people conducted entirely in Korean, I can certainly have all of the necessary conversations at a restaurant or hospital, bank, grocery store etc. Strangely, I can read novels with 90%+ understanding and yet most newspapers are usually a total mystery.

    The most important factor was how diligent I was with my studying. For the periods of time that I was studying 2+ hours every night by myself, that was when I really saw improvement. If I'd studied that way (while living in Korea) for about 1.5 years I'd probably be at the same level.

  24. I've been studying Korean for almost exactly three years. I began studying as a junior in college by taking a Korean class my university offered - it met once a day for 50 minutes. I also had 1 hour of conversation practice with a native speaker per week. In the summer of 2009, I spent 2.5 months at Sogang University's KLEC (I completed Level 3). I returned to college, took another year-long Korean class (50min/day, along with one hour of speaking practice with a native speaker per week), and moved back to Korea within a week of graduating to study again at Sogang's KLEC. I studied at KLEC from May 2010 - May 2011 and graduated the highest level offered (Level 7). During my year in Korea, I regularly met with language partners, spent a few weeks living with my best Korean friend's family, and made many friends who spoke no English. I spent a great deal of my time there speaking Korean constantly. I remained in Korea until August 2011.

    At present, I'm taking fourth year (advanced) Korean as a graduate student in Korean Studies. I am very confident in speaking and have very little problem communicating or being understood in most cases. At this point, the only thing that stops me from talking about more advanced issues (political/societal, etc) is a lack of relevant vocabulary. Sogang KLEC has a strong focus on speaking, but lags a little bit in terms of reading and writing - as such, my reading is a bit on the weak side (maybe high middle - early high school level). I hope to improve this year to the point where I can conduct academic research in Korean. Overall, though, I'm extremely pleased with Sogang's curriculum and methodology and would highly recommend it to anyone wishing to learn Korean.

  25. I have been teaching myself Korean for about 4-5 months now (using Internet Websites like Talk To Me in Korean). For me the easiest part has been the written work (I have a pretty good visual memory). The hardest part has been pronouncation (I don't think I will ever fully loose my "Canadian" anglophone accent) and using my ear to learn. Although I am still very much at a beginner level, as this is a hobby for me, I have still been pleased with my progress. It's really exciting to be able to pick out words and phrases that I didn't understand at all just a few months ago. So far the grammer has been very sensible. I am just at the point now where it makes sense to trade English tutoring for Korean tutoring with a teenage guy who attends my youth group (I'm in my 30's).

    I think basic conversation (low intermediate level) should be possible after 6 months to a year with a reasonable amount of effort.

  26. Around the time China was sailing around the world, discovering new lands, Korea was asserting itself as a distinct and unique people and country. They dropped Chinese, and the wonky Character based system (famously hell to learn, for young kids) and the ridiculous tonal language, and went for a simpler alphabet system with 'non-tonal' speech.

    They even adopted a more Confucian grammatical pattern, dropping the egotistical (i did this, I did that), and going for a more royal and dignified Subject-Object-Verb pattern (like Japan).

    Gah. Just gah. So much ignorance here.

    Korea did not simply drop characters, it developed hangul to be used for people who didn't have the time or resources to study Chinese characters. For a long time, the elite stuck to characters, and they still have a place in (South) Korean language today.

    Chinese characters were always kind of awkward to use for an agglunative language like Korean, but they remain in use due to the high number of homonyms.

    Koreans never used the Chinese spoken language amongst themselves, so there was no dropping of tones or SVO grammar because they were not adopted.

    As for "ridiculous tonal language" (insulting not only Chinese, but also Vietnamese, Thai and other SE Asians, as well as some Africans and Native Americans, hell even English to a small degree) and "wonky" characters...pfft. More royal and dignified SOV grammar patterns? pfffffft.

    It seems to me there are a few Westerners out there who feel the need to express their love for one Asian group by implicitly shitting all over others.

  27. "Korea did not simply drop characters, it developed hangul to be used for people who didn't have the time or resources to study Chinese characters"

    I don't know why you're so offended. You basically just agreed with me. The reason I called the Character/Tonal system of Chinese (I live in China and speak it) is because it's quite obviously harder for kids to learn. That's the point. It's so hard to learn that it could conceivably inhibit young children from developing. That's why the Chinese developed the simplified character system in the mid-20th century.

    The rest of your post was basically agreeing with everything I said. I'm sure Thai is a beautiful language, but the tonal systems are a pain, and character based writing systems take way way WAY longer for kids (and foreign language students) to learn, thus definitely making them a hindrance to economic development and progress.

    In other words, I absolutely love the Korean language and Hangeul. Sorry.

  28. 21tiger,

    "They dropped Chinese ... They even adopted a more Confucian grammatical pattern, dropping the egotistical (i did this, I did that), and going for a more royal and dignified Subject-Object-Verb pattern (like Japan). It's almost like how when the Americans split from England, they decided to do everything different ..."

    It is nice to hear that you like Korean language, but the implication you make here is that Koreans originally had Chinese language, then changed it to suit their purpose. That is not correct. Koreans had always used their own language belonging to the Altaic language family, which is distinct from the Sino-Tibetan language family.

  29. For how simple and straightforward the Korean alphabet is (I'm learning Japanese and the Hiragana/Katakana/Kanji:on'yomi/kun'yomi is a nightmare), I find it interesting that the US State department has categorized Korean as one of the most difficult languages for an English speaker to learn. They put it in Category III (2200 class hours) along with Arabic and Mandarin. I guess Korean isn't so easy to learn.

  30. As someone who's never really struggled with language acquisition in the past, Korean is definitely difficult. I think learning Hangul is the best place to start; I find being able to read what's written even if I don't comprehend all of it to be highly helpful. I have a friend doing minor Korean lessons for fun and what he taught first was Hangul, 'survival' Korean, then numbers and honorifics. I think like any other language, getting down the basics will make the rest easier. I am nowhere near proficient as my understanding of Korean is very minimal, but I could have a polite exchange with someone, and shopping in a Korean market would probably be easy.

    What was easy: hangul, the number system, and some of the honorifics.
    What is hard: The grammar is definitely difficult, especially if you're used to sentence structure in English, Spanish or Italian. Learning the infinitives of the verbs will help a lot, much like it does in Spanish, but there are always exceptions to the verb conjugation rules.

    But like all the other comments have proved, learning to speak a language is always subjective. I'd like to be somewhat proficient after a year abroad, but I know of plenty of people who only speak/understand conversational Korean after years of teaching in South Korea.

  31. According to the Foreign Service Institute in the States, it takes the average student about 2,200 hours of quality exposure (study, practice, etc.)to a language that is quite distant from English (a 'Category 3' language, and there is no Category 4) in order to be competent in the language. This assumes that the person is motivated and fairly consistent with her study.

    The numbers are probably similar for a westerner learning Korean. If you want to be able to hold a conversation on common topics, read the average newspaper article, etc., then hit the books and start practicing every chance you get. Do you spend one hour a day working on the language? Do the math; it's going to take YEARS before you can be competent.

    And to become an advanced language user? The skills literature suggests that 10,000 hours is what is needed to reach an expert level. Certainly, a great deal of the time would just be in daily usage of the language. Few foreigners in Korea have the time and motivation to do this, but I know a few who have been in Korea 10+ years who are near native speakers.

  32. I live in Korea now, and trying hard to learn Korean, but it's just too difficult to me. I can't even remember the basic vocabulary. All those square, circles, sticks just simply mess my mind up

  33. i think korean is a beautiful language yet a bit difficult to learn. all languages are beautiful :)

  34. Hello. I am a Kpop fan really. I know how to WRITE AND READ HANGUL(KOREAN)but then I don't know what does it mean. I can't throw out a conversation speaking in korean. I can start a convo by saying "Annyeonghaseyo" but then I can't reply. I know basic words like: annyeonghaseyo, mianhe, saranghae, menbong, choneun (name) imnida like that. I'm looking forward that someday I could fluently speak korean.

  35. Hello. I only know how to read and write korean but I don't know what does it mean. I only know how to speak basic korean. Could I ever learn korean if I know how to read and write korean? (even if I don't know what does the korean word that I can read mean?)

  36. Learnt reading and writing Korean in a day, it is that simple if you have the willingness to learn it that bad. I'm not in Korea. Building up vocabulary seems to be hard but I'm learning like 20 new words a day and remembering them well. It all depends on how interested you are. Now when it comes to conversation, I have no one to converse to in korean, so you get my answer there. Total beginner.

  37. I am a Singaporean currently self-learning Korean (but am not very dilligent). I find that speaking Chinese and English fluently helped my pronunciation and memorisation of Korean words, as some Korean words are similar to Chinese. On the other hand, a caucasian with a strong native English accent might find it harder to pronounce Korean words.

    Initially Korean may seem very easy as the hangul/alphabet is easy to learn, but when you get to the grammar it starts to become confusing and the memorisation of vocab becomes harder. On this part I would suggest "Memrise", it doesn't teach much about grammar though.

    Even though the grammar is very different from English, once you master the basics, just keep learning more vocab each day and saying Korean sentences out loud in daily life for practice. I learn French too and in comparison, Korean is actually a language that is much much easier to learn, especially if you watch Korean shows regularly.



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