Whether you’re trying to learn Korean or learn how to bake; Being a beginner is one uncomfortable and hard level to be in.
You start out knowing nothing. Then, you start stuffing your brain with Korean and it can sometimes feel like you’re drowning.
I get you.
I’ve been there and I understand how it feels. That’s why I wrote this post, to give you 11 useful tips that will make it a little easier to learn Korean, even when your brain hates you for trying.
As a beginner, it’s hard to know what path to take, who to listen to, and where to start getting your feet wet.
What you need is something to help you get your mind and body ready to study and learn Korean…
And it all starts here.
Whatever you do from here on out can make or break you, so it’s up to you to take these tips.
These are long-term tips that will help you feel more at ease as an absolute beginner, who hasn’t even learned Hangul yet, and beyond.
These tips are the very words of advice I wish I had when I started studying Korean.
I give them to you hoping that you will benefit from them and come back in a couple of years with some amazing progress and a happy mind with it.
So, shall we dive in?
1. SET BOTH SHORT AND LONG-TERM GOALS FROM THE START
No matter how drastic or whimsical the goal may be, it still counts.
Set short-term goals to track your progress but have long term goals to work towards. This way you never lose sight of your end goal.
You should start with making long-term goals because your short-term goals are the stepping stones that you climb as you make your way to your big goal.
Your short-term goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, reasonable, and timely. Or, SMART.
What this means is that you should set a goal that isn’t too drastic or ambitious that you can’t reach it.
Because if you set this goal and you work your ass off to reach it but end up failing by the smallest hair, you’ll feel like crap.
Goals are all about making us feel confident and accomplished, so make sure you keep that in mind whenever you make yours.
Long-term goals can be a little more whimsical and based more on fantasy than reality.
In fact, they can be so long-term that you’ll most certainly die before you can reach them!
The bigger and more ambitious your long-term goal is, the longer you can work hard to achieve it.
My first goal was to learn enough Korean to talk to Kim Namjoon easily and naturally. Although that was a total fantasy for many reasons, it helped me get to where I am now.
I still haven’t met him and I still haven’t had a conversation with him, but I’m confident that if I did, we could talk easily in both English and Korean.
2. START SPEAKING KOREAN FROM DAY O.N.E.
This is so important. I can’t even put it into words how important it is. The best way to really learn Korean is to…ya know…use it!
You see, when we’re just starting out doing something new, especially when it comes to language, it’s easy to get caught up in the preparation stage and never actually go on to perform the act.
This is SO dangerous!
The sole purpose of learning Korean is to speak it, right? So what do you think you need to do to actually speak Korean?
If you said “Speak” then you’re on the right path.
Now I know you’re probably thinking, “But…but, I don’t have anyone to speak to and I just learned Hangul yesterday!” I get you. I was there. Hell, I’m still there! (About the lack of Korean speaking partners bit…I conquered Hangul four years ago.)
The thing people forget is that whether you have someone to talk to or not, that doesn’t take your speaking ability from you.
You have at least one mirror and at least one phone, I’m sure.
Use the mirror to have conversations with yourself and use the recording option on your phone to record your speech. You can even compare it to a native Korean’s speech.
You may feel crazy and the truth is, you are. You’re freaking nuts. Totally bonkers.
Why? Because you have the courage to do whatever it takes to excel at something you love.
That’s what I like to call a good kind of crazy. Keep it.
3. SUBMERGE YOURSELF IN KOREAN CONTENT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.
Most people will tell you immediately at the mere THOUGHT of studying Korean, “Go to Korea.”
My eye twitches every time I see that.
Like, you think that thought didn’t cross my mind? Do you think I would be HERE studying if I could be THERE?
And so I’m here to give you some actionable advice you can use no matter your circumstances.
The truth is, immersion can be done two ways: By flying to the country, or by making an effort to immerse yourself.
Option two takes more dedication and effort, option one takes more money.
But, when you’re just starting out and you don’t know whether you’ll actually like Korean, going to Korea is a costly and scary sacrifice to make.
Or maybe you know you love the language but you don’t have the means, in that case also, too costly.
Instead, take it easy and slowly turn everything around you into something Korean. As much as you can, of course, don’t make your family mad because the TV is in Korean.
Start small and build up.
For example, when I started learning Korean, I would put sticky notes on things around my room to remember the Korean word for them. When I got used to that and progressed a little more, I switched my phone into Korean. Then, once I got used to that, I started experimenting and downloading apps that are only in Korean.
Now, four years later, seeing too much English actually freaks me out.
That sounds contradictory considering I’m writing in English, but you’ll get what I mean in a bit.
4. LEARN KOREAN BOTH ACTIVELY AND PASSIVELY.
A lot of beginners focus only on actively learning everything and totally forget that we’re all humans and that we all have this wonderful ability to passively soak up information and use it later when the time feels right.
Active learning, such as studying grammar and doing number drills are great for getting the things you need in your head right away, but forgetting about the importance of naturally acquiring a language should not be overlooked either.
I’m going to use my lovely step-mom as an example here:
My step-mom came into the family only speaking Arabic. My dad speaks Arabic so this wasn’t an issue for him, but me and my siblings speak Arabic like a two-year-old at BEST. (That’s saying a lot because I swear my two-year-old sister speaks Arabic better than us by a long shot.)
When my step-mom came, communicating with her was so hard and uncomfortable because she didn’t understand anything we said in English…
Which is what we would accidentally resort to when trying to speak Arabic.
Now, she can understand around 70% of what we say in English, all from living with us and tuning in on our random rants and conversations for three years.
Passive learning is powerful, don’t ignore it.
5. BE CONSISTENT AND PERSISTENT.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “Consistency is key” at least once in your life, and if you haven’t, there you go.
When it comes to building a new skill from the ground up, consistent effort is the key to constant improvement.
Now, I’m not saying you have to train like a superhero and study for five hours a day every day and do all of this extra crazy stuff that will just end up burning you out in the long-run.
What I am saying is, keep studying, keep moving, keep growing.
Even when you hit a roadblock and think of giving up, go around it and come back to it later.
When I was an upper-beginner, the grammar particle ~은/는 것 tripped me up so much, I thought I was losing my mind! I learned it three freaking times and still, nothing made it stick or click into place.
I watched videos, listened to podcasts, found answers in forums, and still; I couldn’t understand what it was used for, why I would ever need it, and how the hell it was important.
Eventually, I just turned on autopilot and kept moving forward without giving it too much thought.
Until one day I was watching a video in Korean (probably a BTS Bomb at that time), and I noticed something.
It was that grammar particle being used.
It was being used so much and in so many different ways that I started to slowly key in on it. It was like a lightbulb exploded in my head and all the glass shards were bits of knowledge soaking into my brain.
Since then, I have never forgotten how to use that particle.
Sometimes, you have to take a deep breath and trust that your problems will be solved at a later time and just keep moving forward. Because chances are, your answer is right around the corner.
6. TAKE MANY BREAKS.
In the beginning, there’s so much to know and so much to do and oh my that all looks so interesting—but I’m warning you, take. It. Easy.
Unless you want to hit total burnout before you even make it past 안녕하세요, I suggest you calm down and look at everything more strategically.
When you’re a beginner, it’s so exciting because you progress so fast. The learning curve is as steep as the end of a cliff, but instead of going down, you’re running at lighting speed up the side.
It’s easy to get caught up in the whole process and start to skip breaks…and meals…and water…but remember, gravity has the upper hand here.
And when you suddenly start to feel the consequences of what you’ve done, you’re gonna fall and crash.
The only way to avoid this is to schedule proper breaks into your Korean study sessions.
Even if it’s just five minutes every hour, do it. You need some time to get up and move around.
Your body will not appreciate you being so idle, ignoring its cry for nutrients, and then suddenly getting up like you’re strong enough to do so.
It may not seem that bad at first, but when it becomes a habit, it becomes a bad one.
Take care of yourself and give yourself time to rest and recuperate. Your body will thank you later.
7. BE EASY ON YOURSELF.
Expanding on my last point, it’s also very important that you give yourself some grace.
Don’t curse yourself out because you can’t get something right the first, second, or even third try.
Life ain’t about being perfect on day one. It’s about falling on your face so many times that you eventually learn how to stand up tall and avoid falling.
So, when you fall, don’t get mad and scold yourself. Instead, look for ways you can improve.
Especially in the beginning, you have zero knowledge of the Korean language, except maybe the usual “사랑해” or “오빠” and whatever else you may have picked up from Korean entertainment. So naturally, you’re gonna feel like you’re pushing yourself into hot lava at times.
But that’s OK because you’re learning how to grow.
Whenever you make a mistake, place a word in the wrong place, use the wrong word, or fail to understand something, don’t look at it as “I failed. Life is over. Just gonna quit now.”
But instead, look at it as “Oh, look. That doesn’t belong there! I just learned how NOT to say something in Korean. How useful!” And keep going.
When I joined my first ever Korean class, I had been studying Korean by myself for a year and a half, so my Korean was pretty good, but my pronunciation lacked a lot.
My teacher had pointed this out and I felt kind of embarrassed, because she told WHOLE class, but instead of using that as a reason to stop learning Korean and hiding under my blankets instead of going to class (and I’ve been homeschooled my whole life, so that would be my natural reaction anyways), I used the next week to improve my accent and pronunciation.
And guess what? Now, no one wants to believe that I’m not at least half-Korean!
Hard work pays off, but you gotta be good to yourself or you won’t get the best out of your efforts.
8. MAKE ALL THE MISTAKES NOW!
(… or as many as you can.)
I’m telling you now, make every mistake possible, because when you’re a beginner, it’s less embarrassing and more acceptable.
When you’re a beginner, you know next to nothing, so of course, you’re going to make mistakes! That’s inevitable.
But, if you’re too afraid to make mistakes now and try to be perfect in every aspect, when you hit a higher level and get more confident only to make a huge mistake that you could have avoided if you had made it before, you’re going to feel terrible.
The higher your level is, the more self-aware you become.
Suddenly, you know enough to catch your mistakes. But guess what? If you didn’t make them before, chances are they’ll come out eventually.
It’s easy to make mistakes and you will make many. But being afraid to make them will only hold you back because we learn best from making mistakes.
Just yesterday, I went out with my Korean teacher for lunch and we talked in Korean most of the time, but oh boy, the number of mistakes I made!
I didn’t stop speaking though, because I anticipated I would make mistakes.
Lots of them.
Speaking is the hardest part of learning Korean, so if I walked in there trying to be perfect and not make any mistakes, the second I made one, I probably would have stopped using Korean all together.
So yeah, long story short: Mistakes are a beginner’s best friend, so make the most of them and learn and grow as much as you can. Because when you become self-conscious, you’ll hate the feeling more than anything.
9. MAKE IT ENJOYABLE.
Learning Korean can be one hell of a boring task.
Yeah, watching the shows and listening to the music is fun, but when it comes down to actually learning the real language that Koreans use on a daily basis; It can be boring as hell.
So, t’s important that you try to change things up every once in a while.
If you’re used to studying Korean in your room, try to study outside.
If you usually study with reading materials, find some fun Korean videos or podcasts to learn from for a day.
If you haven’t watched a KDrama in a month and you really miss it (aka me) then set your hardcore studies aside for a day and kick back with some passive learning activities – Watch yo fave drama.
The key to keeping a language alive is finding something you love to do in it.
In your case, it could be anything from KDramas to Korean webtoons, but in my case, it’s literature and KDramas. Use those hobbies and interests to your advantage.
10. TRACK YOUR PROGRESS.
I wanted to mention this sooner, but so much goes into this so I wanted to wait until I got you excited.
Are you excited?
I hope you are.
There are many ways you can go about this, but tracking your Korean learning progress is great for a few reasons.
- It gives you an idea of your progress rate and shows how steady or unsteady your learning growth is.
- It gives you something to look back on when you’re feeling like quitting (and we all do at some point).
- It also helps you assess whether you’re reaching your goals, need to work harder to reach them, refine them, or just make new ones.
With that being said, I’ll leave it up to you to decide how you track your progress. Because everyone views progress differently depending on their ultimate goals.
But, just try to keep some sort of tracking system so that when the going gets tough, you have a reason to keep pushing through.
11. DO NOT GIVE UP.
Everyone, and I mean e.v.e.r.y.o.n.e falls into a pit at some point and wants to throw in the white towel, throw out (or burn) all of their notebooks and just watch their favorite KDrama with hard subs and a snack.
If that ain’t a mood, I don’t know who you are or why you don’t understand this.
But, it’s so important that you push through every single hardship you face.
Learning Korean is something you’re doing for yourself, so when you stop learning and give up for whatever reason, the only person you can blame is…well, yourself.
Even if it’s something external that you can’t control, if you use that as an excuse to give up on something important to you, was it ever that important?
Having a passion for something includes fighting for it.
If you stop fighting and give up, you won’t get anywhere. But if you keep going no matter how hard or uncomfortable it gets, you will see the return is greater than the effort.
We all want to give up at some point, and it’s almost always right before we make a huge leap of faith or take one small step that launches us up into the air.
Whether it’s fear or something else holding you back, or even fatigue, I want you to know that you’re not alone. But if you REALLY want this, you’ll find a way to get it.
Sometimes you might need a break, but don’t let a break turn into a hiatus and a hiatus turn into a huge regret. You’ve got this, but you just have to keep going no matter what life (or people) throw at you.
Alright, I’m logging off now, but I hope you gained some life from this post.
Learning Korean is a process, a journey, and it will take time, patience, persistence, and consistent effort from day one.
You will need to take it seriously and start speaking from day one, make goals that encourage you to keep moving, make mistakes, and throw yourself into a pool of Korean.
But also, you need to learn how to be understanding of yourself, take breaks, be willing to track your goals and progress with a mind to grow and not to scold, and keep going no matter what happens.
You got this.
Until next time, my fellow lingo-geek!