The Ultimate Resource Guide for Korean Self-Studiers (Version 1.0)
I’ve had a love affair with the Korean language for nearly a decade.
My first K-drama was “Full House” (saw it on VHS when I was 15 with my 엄마). My first idols were Boa, 2PM, and BEAST (which recently disbanded and rebranded themselves as Highlight ㅜㅜ). I only started seriously studying Korean 5 years ago, half of which I studied by myself.
The beauty of the Korean language is that it is incredibly easy to pick up, even without a teacher. Learning the Hangul alphabet can take a few hours. And because Korean is phonetic, pronunciation is not difficult for English speakers, unlike Chinese or Vietnamese where there are various accents you have to master.
The beauty of the Korean language is that it is incredibly easy to pick up, even without a teacher.
As a Korean self-studier, I’ve amassed a list of resources that have helped me improve my speaking, listening, and reading comprehension skills, vocabulary knowledge, and cultural understanding of the Korean language. Many of these resources are all available online for free and come in various forms: blogs, books, mobile apps, podcasts, youtube channels, and so many more! And I’m sharing them ALL with you!
Check out my thoughts on how these resources have helped me gain the confidence to study Korean on my own and improve my fluency. Some of them require more intensive self-studying (i.e Howtostudykorean.com) while others are more fun for the casual learner (e.g Eggbun, TTMIK). I hope this extensive list (currently Ver. 1 until I update it later) will help anyone who plan to self study Korean and want more creative ways or diverse options to learn the language! Share, like, and comment! Fighting!
-Quan from SAY
Disclaimer: The following review of various Korean learning resources do not reflect the views/opinions of SAY Global Inc., the company that I co-founded. This guide is purely from my own views/experiences and aimed at providing educational value to the readers. I nor SAY Global Inc. was not paid to write this guide by any of the products/services listed.
You can’t beat old school! Sure there are tons of apps and online resources dedicated to learning Korean but if you want something physical and compact, I recommend all beginner level students to invest in at least one good hardcopy. Sometimes staring at the phone or computer screen can irritate your eyes. And printing materials off the internet can cost a lot of money in ink and paper expenses. The books I’m recommending all come with English instructions so they are super easy to read and understand. They are part of an entire system from Beginner to Advanced level and include workbooks for you to take notes and do exercises in. They teach you all the basic beginner level grammar, vocab, and idiomatic expressions you should learn to build a strong foundation for higher levels ahead. Best of all, these books are designed for self-studiers as much as they are used in actual Korean classrooms.
1. KLEAR Integrated Korean Beginning I and II
Hands downs, this is my first and favorite book that I used to learn Korean while studying in college. I’m biased because without this book, I would not have learned to enjoy Korean so much. It is published by the University of Hawaii through the collaboration of many Korean professors. The writing is very clear and concise. The lessons are arranged by chapters that focus on a theme or setting (ie. “At School”, “In Seoul”), where you get introduced to relevant grammar expressions and vocabulary terms that you’ll learn to use in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. You also get to follow along the story of a few central characters from different nationalities, all new to learning Korean. This book is actually in two parts so make sure to buy both Beginning 1 and Beginning 2. (Audio files are downloadable from their website or through separate purchase).
Get it here: http://amzn.to/2ttdbgY
2. Korean Grammar in Use: Beginning to Early Intermediate
Another strong contender. What I love about this book is that it is thorough in a digestible way, like a hearty kimchi jjigae that is rich but also fulfilling. I love how the book does an excellent job breaking down the grammar structures you will need to learn in order to get to a low intermediate proficiency. Furthermore, the book states that it teaches all the necessary structures to help you pass the TOPIK 1 and 2 tests, which is a big bonus for all the TOPIK takers out there. Similar to the KLEAR books, the content is easy to pick up and concise. If you like your textbooks heavy and colorful, this book is dense with full color pages (all 345 of them!) so it is definitely not a lightweight. The book also comes with MP3 CD’s for you to listen to the dialogues in each chapter.
Get it here: http://amzn.to/2sTLscd
3. Talk To Me In Korean: Level 1–3 Books (Grammar Book and Workbook)
Everyone knows TTMIK. They have been such an important part of my life and Korean learning journey. Even though I didn’t use their books to learn Korean, I am a huge fan of how conversational and personable they make their textbooks for the average learner. The lessons are all based on a series of published lessons, broken into 10 levels, which are available on their website. These books are best for students that enjoy bite-sized information that is straightforward without being too overwhelming. Each of the Grammar books also contain a companion Workbook that is meant to be used in conjunction. In the books, you can do various exercises to help you review over the vocab and grammar expressions you’ve learned. Not to mention, these books and their illustrations are beautiful to look at. I actually met Hyunwoo and he told me that the artwork was all drawn by his sister. For beginner level students, I recommend getting level 1–3 because these books comprise what most beginner level students should learn.
Get them here: https://mykoreanstore.com/
4. Korean Made Simple by Go! Billy
Billy is an American Youtuber who also teaches Korean online. He has a passion for teaching Korean and sharing with others his knowledge of the language and culture. In fact, he has published three awesome books to help learners of all levels get started with learning Korean. Each book contains over 1,000 vocabulary words and phrases through 20 in-depth and fun lessons! (Audio files for the books are free to download at www.gobillykorean.com)
Reason number one for the internet: FREE CONTENT. There is no shortage of free Korean learning resources on the web so let me share with you my favorite websites I refer to while I was studying Korean as a beginner level. Some of these resources I still use today.
Talk To Me In Korean is the most visited website for Korean learning materials. Their website is a portal into a world of outstanding content, most of them free for download. You can access over 1000 free lessons published as podcasts, downloadable pdfs, and Youtube videos all within the site. You can also visit their shopping site where you can buy all of the TTMIK books. The hard work that the TTMIK team has put into building their community of Korean learners over the past 10 years is also much to be admired. Whenever I visit the TTMIK site, I get this sense of friendliness, like I feel welcomed as a member of their global family of Korean learners. For all the beginner Korean students out there not sure where to start, this is your treasure trove.
2. How to Study Korean
Once you start learning more Korean grammar, you'll come across instances where you just can’t tell how to differentiate something as common as the topic markers 은/는 or the subject markers 이/가. I have found Howtostudykorean.com to be an essential resource for answering my tough grammar questions. Written by an expat with years of studying Korean and living in Korea, the blog is rich in incredibly thorough explanations of pretty much all the Korea grammar you'll learn or encounter at some point in your studies. WARNING: The material is not for the faint of heart. If you are deeply in love with grammar and enjoy reading about all its nuances and seeing it used in various examples, then this site will be your bff. It is unapologetically thorough for good reason and I have learned so much about the Korean grammar by just sitting down and reading through some of the lessons on the blog.
3. Naver Dictionary
According to the National Institute of Korean Language (국립국어원), there are roughly 6,000 common Korean words you’ll frequently use, of which 2,000 will provide you the basis to form sentences that are useful in daily conversations. That means, you’ll need a handy dictionary to help you learn the meanings of new words you come across. Think of it like playing Pokemon but instead of catching these Korean words, can you learn them all? I love using Naver Dictionary to help me “catch” all the new words, mainly because of its simplicity and straightforwardness.
Whenever I come across a new Korean word that I don’t know or if I have an English word that I want to translate into Korean, I go right away to Naver Dictionary. The translations are much more accurate than Google Translator and the examples that come with each word are fun to read.
4. Learn Basic Korean Words and Vocabulary with Dom and Hyo
Dom and Hyo are a Korean/American couple that make the nicest infographics for Korean learners who prefer to learn Korean words from pictures and charts. If you are a visual learner, check out this website. If you are teaching Korean to young students, you should check out all of their infographics on sale at their store. Definitely worth the purchase to help your students have something visual they can learn from rather than a list of words. The illustrations are also cute to look at, not to mention helpful for memorizing new vocabulary.
The best thing about learning Korean on your phone is you can always do it on the go. Many of these apps are also free, some you can pay a fee for extra features. Overall, I’m impressed how these applications make learning Korean more accessible for students around the world. Many of them also add gamification elements to make the learning process more enjoyable (Memrise, Duolingo) while others connect you directly with native speakers for language exchange (HelloTalk). You can download these apps on the Apple App Store or Google Play store.
Memrise is a language learning platform for both desktops and smartphones. They provide content for many languages, including Korean. I mostly use Memrise for drilling vocabulary and expressions. The philosophy behind Memrise is pretty simple: repetition. But, the platform does it in a fun way to help you make word associations and recall what you’ve learned from past lessons, especially words that you struggle the most with memorizing. Essentially, Memrise is the techy alternative to your old fashioned flashcards.
Duolingo is a useful and free language app that helps you learn over a dozen different languages on your mobile phone and desktop. As of November 2016, Duolingo has 150MM registered users learning one of the 23 different languages they offer, and they have 22 additional languages in development. Unfortunately, their Korean course is still under construction so you can sign in and be among the 174,397 (an counting) users who will be notified once the course is ready. Duolingo is mostly useful for learning basic grammar and vocabulary and compared to buying books or enrolling in Korean classes, it can be a much more budget-friendly option.
Eggbun combines interactive phone texting and language learning in a fun and user-friendly app. They started with Korean and now offer Japanese and Chinese as well. Eggbun makes learning a little less passive then Duolingo and Memrise by offering you what they call an “automated tutor” in the avatar of a cute egg-bun shaped character named Lanny. The app is beautifully designed, super user-friendly for both children and adults, and incorporate text and voice recordings of real natives to help guide you through the lessons and learn how to pronounce the words. For a more complete review, check out this post.
HelloTalk is a great app for finding language exchange partners. If you are in need of a native speaker to practice Korean with but don’t have access to one, HelloTalk may be a good option for you. The app lets you text, record messages and send stickers just like your typical messenger app. There are also correction features where your language partner and correct your mistakes right in the chat room. However, tread carefully. Finding a good language partner isn’t as easy as you would think. Be prepare to shop around and engage in conversations with many people. In a sense, this makes HelloTalk similar to any dating app. HelloTalk works well for some people and others don’t find it as valuable because there’s a lack of consistent practice or conversations tend to be too one-sided. However, for someone in the middle of nowhere without any Korean friends, this is the next best thing!
5. TTMIK App and KORLINK
Yes, TTMIK has an app too! Find it in the App store. There are two versions. I love the KORLINK version because it contains pretty much most of the content that is available on the TTMIK website. Now you can carry TTMIK on the go!
6. DictBox Korean English Dictionary and Offline Translator
I love using this dictionary app because of its offline feature. You can always access it wherever, especially when there’s no wifi connection. This comes in super handy whenever I’m traveling outside of Seoul and need a way to look up new words that I don’t know.
7. Naver Dictionary App
The Naver dictionary site that I raved so much about, except pocket sized ;) So useful when you don’t have your computer around or a friend to ask what the meaning of something is. However, make sure you have access to stable internet connection.
This is a very short category for me since I don’t use podcasts to learn Korean often. However, I’m a huge fan of one site: Talk To Me In Korean’s Iyagi Podcasts!
1. TTMIK IYAGI (이야기) Podcasts
When you get to intermediate level, invest some more time in developing your listening skills by listening to these recordings. There are over 100 podcast episodes covering various topics such as “Drinking Culture” or “Dream Careers.” Hyunwoo and various members of the TTMIK have playful banter as they discuss these topics. All of the conversation is also typed up in PDF format for you to read as you listen so it’s easier to follow along. You will really get a “feel” for how Korean is spoken while listening to these recordings. If you want to listen on your phones, download the KORLINK app! Whenever I am on long commutes, I listen to these episodes and they really make the ride more enjoyable and educational too!
We live in the age of the digital and video is at the forefront of this movement. As a Youtube addict, I love watching and discovering new Youtubers who have a passion for learning and teaching Korean. Some of these channels provide more formal educational content while others have their own unique teaching style. Go watch and support these channels!
1. The Infamous “Learn to Read Korean in 5 Minutes” video
Enough said. Watch it. And in literally five minutes, you will learn how to read Hangul.
When I was a beginner level Korean learner, I watched a lot of TTMIK videos to help me get a better understanding of Korean vocab and grammar. They have been around nearly a decade and have produced an insane amount of video content (over 1000 videos!) for you to look through and learn from! There are videos about Korean popular culture, hottest slang, current events, pronunciation, walking tours of Seoul, and so much more!
3. Sweet and Tasty TV (with Professor Oh)
Check out Miss Mina, one of the OG’s of Korean language and culture Youtubers. She’s actually been around since 2005 and I first found out about her from her KWOW (Korean Word of the Week) language series where she dresses up as multiple characters, one of which is the beloved “Professor Oh.” She has a very comical take on teaching Korean.
4. Learn Korean with GO! Billy Korean
Billy is an American who has lived in Korea and majored in Korean. He creates videos and has his own published book on how to study Korean. I love his dorky sense of humor and how he always wears the same plaid shirt and baseball cap in all his videos. He creates a lot of videos with his own perspective as foreigner learning Korean.
5. Korean Unnie
Korean Unnie is actually a TOPIK teacher and she makes fun videos that are very useful for beginner Korean learners.
6. Margarita 엠쌤
I really like Margarita’s videos because she provides a youthful face and energy among the many other teachers. She provides a lot of helpful tips for beginner level learners and I think her perspective is necessary for other young people trying to pick up Korean.
6. Learn Korean with KoreanClass101.com
KoreanClass101.com is a Korean language learning website and their Youtube channel focuses on providing more formal lessons on grammar and vocab. They have a great series on learning the Korean alphabet too!
I love using Instagram to learn Korean. There are a few pages that do a brilliant job with using the photo platform as a way to help share about Korean culture while also teaching the language.
1. Humans of Seoul
This is my favorite Instagram page for improving my writing and speaking. This page is based on Humans of New York, a popular photo project that focused on the daily stories of New York residents and grew so famous that other cities started copying the idea. Humans of Seoul captures the same inspiration and throws in the Seoul flavor. What is great about Humans of Seoul is that in every picture, there are both English and Korean descriptions. The stories are so relatable because they focus on the human experience. But, you get to also read the Korean translations, learn new vocab and sentence structures, and practice reading Korean out loud.
2. 90 Day Korean
90 Day Korean also provides online Korean educational materials and they have a super popular ebook that can help students learn to read the entire Hangul alphabet in less than 90 minutes. I like using their Instagram to study new vocab words, which they post regularly with high quality images.
And that’s it folks! If you read all the way to the end, a million thanks and hugs! Hopefully, you’ll find at least one of these resources useful in your studies. If I missed anything that you think I should include in this guide, please leave a comment! I look forward to updating the Guide to version 2.0 later this year. Hopefully, I can also create a downloadable PDF version :) Good luck to all the Korean learners out there! I hope my guide is helpful on your journey to self-study Korean. Fighting! 여러분 감사합니다!
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