Okay so, learning Korean by yourself is totally possible, right?
But when it comes time to actually speak Korean, it’s kind of hard to do that with no one to speak to…right?
When I started learning Korean, I didn’t have any thoughts about making friends, so I kept to myself most of the time.
…Or so I thought.
I’ve studied Korean for the most part, alone, in my room, blasting BTS in my headphones, keeping 100% to myself at all times. Which worked most of the time, but lowkey failed when I finally joined an official Korean class that required me to actually, ya know…speak.
After literally a week there, my Korean teacher told me that although I have some amazing Korean skills, my pronunciation was weak and slurry, so she had to listen REALLY hard to understand me.
Of course, that hurt my pride and I wanted to crawl into a hole and possibly never come out.
But instead, I thanked her and then immediately thought about how I could improve my Korean pronunciation within a month.
I didn’t have any Korean friends, so that wasn’t an option.
I didn’t have any language exchange apps at the time, either.
And I didn’t have anyone around me who spoke Korean good enough to judge me.
So, I had to get ~resourceful~ and fast if I wanted to make up for the amount of “Ugh” I felt after hearing that.
This is exactly how I got so good at Korean pronunciation that Koreans either, think I’m part Korean, or full Korean (if they don’t see my face) and get SO shocked when I tell them that I’m actually 100% American.
It’s pretty simple, but so effective.
Parts of Korean Speech, as I See It
No, I don’t mean verbs and adjectives and all that stuff. I’m talking about what goes into actually speaking Korean.
The way I see it, there are two parts that go into speaking Korean naturally and clearly.
You can’t actually speak Korean if you don’t know what it sounds like to speak Korean…It’s just not possible. So, listening, or consuming a crap ton of Korean content will help you MAJORLY when you actually speak.
Think about babies for a minute.
They spend most of their baby years listening, absorbing everything we say (which is why you shouldn’t say dumb sheet when they’re infants because they will use it against you later) and eventually, they start to speak.
My baby brother is the perfect example of this.
There are about 3 languages going around my house at all times: English, Arabic, and Moroccan Arabic.
Most of the house speaks in English, my dad and step-mom use Arabic, and then my step-mom uses Moroccan Arabic when she speaks to her family.
So, my baby brother, only 2 years old, has to pick and choose which language to focus on.
He chose English, and whenever I say something new to him, he just listens and doesn’t respond. He’ll usually respond the next day, after he’s processed it.
This is how we naturally learn a language, so I realized as I was coming up with a plan to get myself speaking more naturally and clearly, that in order to speak Korean like a native, I had to surround myself with natives.
I had to first understand what Korean sounds like when it’s spoken on a daily basis, and not just what the perfectly perfect textbook Korean sounds like.
I dunno about you, but rapping textbook is NOT how I wanna speak Korean. Just sayin.
This is the part that everyone either avoids like the plague (lowkey lowkey me) or rushes into, sounding like an ignorant tourist asking what the French word for “Baguette” is, and still getting it wrong because he never gave a second to actually learn how the damn word is said.
Why do people avoid it?
Well, because it’s scary…? Like, really, learning a new language is SO humbling because you make so many mistakes, you could literally become a millionaire if someone gave you a penny for every mistake you made in the first YEAR of studying it.
It’s nerve-wracking and embarrassing to say something only to find out it’s completely wrong.
One of my ultimate mistakes, to be honest I still have no idea to this DAY how I accidentally said this, but I did anyways. I was with my Korean class, eating lunch, and I wanted to ask my friend who speaks Arabic how to say “This is really delicious!” in Arabic.
Instead, I asked her how to say, “This is f*cking delicious!” and my Korean teacher almost choked on her food because I said it a little too loud…
Just to illustrate: 정말 vs. 존나 totally different words but for some reason that day, they mixed up badly.
The thing is, even though I was embarrassed and had the whole class choking and laughing, I felt happy to know that I was corrected.
Speaking is embarrassing because of these things, but once you get it, you’ve got it.
Most people don’t look at that part, the part where you have to fall on your face multiple times before getting up and staying up, so they avoid it.
They only see the scary part where they say the wrong thing and people laugh.
Trust me, when they laugh it’s not that they have lost hope in your amazing Korean skills, it’s because you made a cute mistake, just like a baby learning how to say “Broken” but pronounces it as “Bloken.”
Why do people rush into it?
Well, most probably because they’re in a rush to be fluent. But these people have an advantage over those who avoid it.
One of the BEST tips I’ve gotten from fellow Korean learners (Korean Reddit to be exact) is to speak Korean from day ONE.
Imma say that again for those in the back: Start speaking Korean from day ONE.
And again if you glazed over, and because I’m a children’s teacher and this is how I get people to actually listen:
SPEAK KOREAN FROM DAY O.N.E!
Got it? Good.
So, as I was saying, people who rush in have an advantage because they get more speaking practice earlier on, so their mistakes are everywhere, and they can fix them earlier on than those who wait until they’re confident enough to speak.
P.S. No one is ever 100% confident to speak in their target language in the beginning, you have to push yourself into the Korean waters and get soaked in mistakes so you can later dry off with some nice success towels.
I have no idea what that analogy was, either. But you get me and that’s what matters.
But of course, the disadvantage of rushing into speaking Korean is that a lot of these people tend to skip Hangul like it’s a YouTube Ad.
If you know me, you know how annoyed I get when people ask the question “Can I learn Korean without learning Hangul?”
Like, my g, my amigo or amiga, my homie – Can you learn English without the ENGLISH ALPHABET?
The answer is “No.” so please go study Hangul before I Kimchi slap you.
So, this becomes a problem because although they’re super brave about speaking, which is SO admirable, they often butcher the language because they don’t know Hangul and rely on Korean romanization to be their savior.
And 10 times out of 10, they’re being lied to.
Just like you can’t ever master English using the Korean alphabet, you can never master Korean using the English alphabet. Hangul exists for a reason.
King Sejong did not invent Hangul, the easiest alphabet system to learn (yes, I Googled it.), so that you could butcher the Korean language with the English alphabet.
That turned into a rant but anyways, onto the methods of actually learning.
Part One: Consume
This is probably the BEST part of the whole method I’m sharing. Or at least, it’s my favorite part.
This is the part where you find a bunch of ways to completely immerse yourself in spoken Korean, so that your ears and brain get used to how the language should sound coming off your own tongue.
And no, it doesn’t require you to jump on a flight to Korea so that you can people watch in Hongdae. Although, if that’s what you wanna do and you can, then sure go ahead.
But I sure as hell don’t have that kind of money, so let’s get back to my top 3 ways you can immerse yourself in Korean so that you’ll be speaking better in no time.
Watch: K-Dramas, Korean Variety Shows, Korean YouTubers, VLives, etc.
Find a bunch of content you can actually watch with your eyes and not just listen with your ears.
Variety shows, youtube videos, and VLives are probably better than K-Dramas for this sort of thing. However, if you’re a true beginner, using K-Dramas is also good because they clean up their speech more, so it’s easier to understand.
But if you’re looking to get that good ole’ natural-spoken Korean, then lives, YouTube videos, and variety shows are better.
The best way to go about this is to actually mix them together.
So, if you’re into NCT and consume their content regularly, just remember to listen more intently next time you watch “ChenJi’s This and That” or another of their daily videos.
If you’re into ASMR, then JSMR is good for this too!
And then when you feel like watching a drama, go for it! Just remember to really listen.
You’ll surprise yourself with how much you actually recognize from your other studies!
Oh, and try to use things that have a lot of “normal” and daily occurrences so you don’t walk away from a drama speaking like you’re from the Joseon Dynasty…
Like, that’s cool and all but no one speaks like that anymore.
Doing this part is easy, but I wanna make one more note about it: Don’t take notes!
Focus ONLY on just listening. This part isn’t really for increasing your vocabulary (although it will naturally), it’s about getting your ears used to the way Korean is actually spoken.
Plus, it’s hella annoying when you have to pause a drama every 5 seconds to look up or write down a new word. That’s one way to ruin a good K-Drama.
Listen: K-Pop, Korean Podcasts or Radio Shows
To be 100% honest, K-Pop isn’t the best way to learn spoken Korean, but it’s good for getting your ears used to how different words can sound sometimes.
I can’t count how many times I’ve mistaken one word for another because of the way the artist pronounces it.
To be fair, I don’t even understand what people say in English songs half the time so…maybe I just suck at listening as a human.
The main focus of plugging in your favorite Korean bop is to just have a way to listen and not see. It’s harder to comprehend something when you don’t have someone or something illustrating it in front of you.
Something you might’ve understood through piecing together words, paying attention to the situation and the hand movements of someone, you may stare into space, comprehending absolutely nothing when it’s only in your ears.
That’s why I recommend watching AND listening.
When you’re watching, you can understand easier because you have so many visual clues, but with listening, you only have your ears and whatever knowledge of Korean that you’ve gotten this far.
So, practicing solely listening to things in Korean will strengthen your listening skills way better and quicker than just watching.
I recommend that if you’re already listening to K-Pop, then look for some podcasts or Korean radio shows to listen to so you have the spoken Korean in your ears, too.
K-Pop is good when you’re feeling poetic, but not when you wanna actually speak with proper grammar. I swear, Korean artists literally look at a perfect Korean sentence and ask themselves how many ways they can mess it up until it juuuust makes sense, theoretically.
I would give examples, but can’t think of any right now…interesting.
Again, don’t take notes! This listening work isn’t a test. You’re not doing this to test your knowledge, but to just get used to spoken Korean.
Don’t try to understand everything right now, that’ll come with time.
Start by listening to stuff like this while doing chores or something that doesn’t require your brain to do.
Like showering, if you’re okay with that.
However, don’t do it while studying or doing homework, because you’ll confuse yourself so much that you won’t get anything done and you won’t be fully engaged in what you’re listening to.
If you don’t wanna listen to me and still study with Korean podcasts in the background, go ahead but let that be passive learning where you don’t focus on it. Let it be in the background, getting into your subconscious mind while your conscious mind does all the thinking.
Part Two: Regurgitate (Couldn’t think of a better word…)
This is the active learning part. Where you actually sit down and do some proper studying that requires you to actually speak Korean.
There really are only 4 simple parts to this activity (but I added 5 because why not?):
- Find Simple Reading Material
- Record Yourself Reading Aloud
- Listen to Recording and Note Where You Sound Awkward
- Repeat, Focusing on What You Wanna Fix
- Do This At Least 10 More Times (Or until satisfied)
I’ll break them down a bit more now.
1. Find Simple Reading Material:
This is pretty straight forward, but sometimes it’s not easy finding reading material on your level.
The truth though: Just about anything can serve as great reading material.
This is where it’s fine to use your textbook’s example sentences or stories, random (but accurate) vocabulary lists, Instagram captions, Tweets, etc.
The main goal here is to just find something short and sweet so that you can read it out in a reasonable amount of time.
The longer it is, the longer it’ll take for you to read it, and the more likely you’ll get bored and give up.
Find something short, sweet, simple, and that you understand at least 80%. If you don’t understand what you’re reading at all, it’s hard to speak out loud naturally because you’ll have no idea what you’re saying.
So long as you have a good idea of what it means, you’re good.
But remember, you can always do a quick dictionary run if you don’t understand something at all.
So, don’t stress about finding something you understand 100% from the get-go.
I literally used a vocabulary list I made on Quizlet and some example sentences from Sejong Hakdang’s textbooks for my daily Korean speaking practice.
The simpler, the better.
2. Record Yourself Reading Aloud:
You might be tempted to start reading at a normal speaking pace, but let me hold you right there.
Although that’s an AMAZING idea, you’ll kill your motivation right away.
Start by reading very slowly, carefully pronouncing every word, and even if you mess up, DO NOT stop recording yet! Keep going until you’ve read everything, then repeat.
Do it slowly a few times, until you’ve lowkey memorized the material.
But don’t listen for mistakes yet.
Go back and start recording yourself as you get faster and faster, closer to speaking pace. Then, once you feel like you’ve gotten the hang of it, record your last one for good luck, then take a listen.
And I mean a good listen.
3. Listen to Recording and Note Where You Sound Awkward:
I know, I know, it’s cringe! But you have to do it, no matter how much you hate listening to your voice, eventually you’ll become numb to it.
I’ve heard my voice so much through recordings that I’m officially so numb to it, a frozen arm would be jealous.
(I don’t know either. I’ve had too much tea…)
For now, just ignore the sound of your voice and focus on judging the way you’re speaking Korean. I know that doesn’t make sense, but trust me, try it and you’ll understand.
Make your primary focus to listen to the way you’re speaking Korean and not to judge how you actually sound, as in voice and stuff.
Oh, god I hope that makes sense to you.
Then, as you’re listening to the recording, really try hard to notice where you sound awkward and then make a note (mental or physical or digital) to fix it the next time around.
This is why listening is so important.
If you keep immersing yourself in Korean content, keeping Korean in your ears as often as possible, you’ll be able to almost automatically hear where you sound off. Then, because you listened so much, you can guess pretty well how to fix it.
And then of course, you can fix it because you have a pretty good idea of how YOU should sound speaking Korean, based on what you’ve heard from all these other people.
4. Repeat, Focusing on What You Wanna Fix:
Now, the simple ending is to just repeat the process over and over again until you’re confident with how you sound.
I’d say about 10 times per session should be good because you don’t want to study too little and then forget everything, or study too long and completely burn your brain out.
Start with 10 reps (after getting to a good speaking speed) and then adjust how many you do each time, depending on how long you can focus without taking a break, schedule, or any other life things that pop up a lot.
5. Do This At Least 10 More Times (Or Until Satisfied):
As I mentioned up there, after getting to a point where you’re speaking at a pretty normal speed, repeat the recording and tweaking steps about 10 more times over, or until satisfied.
The truth is, I can’t actually tell you how much you should do because I don’t know how you learn, how long you can stay focused at once, and what kind of life you live (whether you’re a busy person or not).
So, the most important thing is to just experiment with it and see what works best for you.
Okay, so at the beginning of this post I talked about my story. How I got into practicing my Korean speaking skills and why it meant so much to me.
I want you to know that I’m not special, and that’s why I told you that story.
I’m not a special case.
Just like you, I wanted to get better at speaking Korean, but didn’t have many people around me to help me.
So, I resorted to a two-part and five-step method that I’ve used since then, up until today, to skyrocket my Korean speaking skills, improve my Korean pronunciation, and raise my confidence up so that I spoke less like a confused baby and more like a confident toddler.
Yes, I see myself as like…a 4 year old in Korean.
I truly believe that if you take out the time, maybe just 30 minutes every day for a week to practice speaking whilst listening or watching something fully in Korean every other time you can, you will see AMAZING results within just one week.
But you know what gets the BEST results?
Keeping it up for the rest of your life.
I know that sounds daunting, but let’s just be real here: Language will never not be growing.
You’ll always have to learn something new. I mean, think of English!
We have so much slang that I cringe just thinking about people trying to learn English. That cannot be easy.
The best way to really get your speaking skills up is to practice every day.
Plug a Korean podcast into your ears while jogging, watch your favorite K-Dramas, and obsess over your bias as you learn to accept the beautiful Korean language into your head.
And then of course, practice speaking daily!
Speak to yourself, your annoyed friend, your cat or dog, your PC, etc.
You can even send me a voice note on Instagram speaking Korean! *Cough* @lingolobbi *cough* I’ll 100% respond, most probably hyping you up like the underrated hype-woman I am.
But just speak every single day, even after a week or a month or a year.
Speaking Korean is the only way to actually speak…Korean. Yeah. That makes sense.
Anyways, before I end this off, I wanna run over the tactical parts again.
Parts of speaking:
- Listening – Because you have to have a way to get used to the way Korean sounds when it’s spoken naturally and passively pick up new words and phrases.
- Speaking – Or the regurgitating part where you basically spit out everything you’ve taken in from listening.
5-Step Process for Speaking Korean Better:
- Find some short, sweet and simple Korean reading material.
- Record yourself reading it out loud, slowly at first and then at a good speaking speed.
- Listen to the recording, figure out where you sound awkward, then make a note (mental or physical or digital) where to focus on improving during the next round.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 at normal speaking speed.
- And then, repeat at least 10 more times, or until you’re satisfied with how you sound (or you’re just dead tired).
Gosh, ya girl is written out!
I hope this helped you out with your Korean studies.
Of course, I’m not saying you’ll wake up with perfect Korean pronunciation after doing this once, but over time you will surely get better.
I’ve been using it for most of my Korean learning years (I started using this method about a year and a half in) and still use it today, but it’s become a habit now.
And, of course, not to toot my own horn but I’m pretty proud of my Korean pronunciation. People are always so blown away by it, and I love it, but I’m also working hard to keep it up every day.
And you should, too.
- Record yourself speaking Korean right now and save it.
- Then, record you saying the same thing after you’ve used this method for a week, and then save that.
- Then, compare them! I promise, you’ll see a difference.
That is all I have for you today, so please soak it up!
Feel free to re-read it if you have to, bookmark it, and even join my newsletter to get updates whenever I have new stuff up on the website and podcast (coming soon), as well as stuff that I don’t share with anyone else.
As always, have a good day or night wherever you are.
Until next time, my fellow Lingo-Geek!