The Mezzofanti Guild Language Learning Made Simple

10 Reasons Why The Korean Language Being Difficult Isn’t True

Korean Language Is Easy

UPDATE: If you need something to help you learn Korean then this site here is one of the most comprehensive I’ve used.

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Today I’m going set the record straight on Korean.

I hear and read a lot of defeatist nonsense about how much of a Goliath the Korean language is.

The main excuse I hear from expats who have been living in Korea for many months or even years as to why they never bothered learning Korean is that it’s just too difficult – they tried when they first got here but then gave up shortly after.

I was chatting to an expat in a bar last week who concluded that I must be good at languages to explain my success so far.

Bullshit!

Putting the necessary hard work aside, the language isn’t as hard as he or anyone thinks it is.

I’ve read comments on other sites from people who talk about how futile learning Korean is because it takes so long to be able to speak beyond a few basic phrases.

Languages like Korean, Mandarin and Arabic tend to draw this kind of negativity from people and it usually comes from bitter people who gave up at some point early on.

So today I’m going to set your mind at ease and hopefully give you a new burst of enthusiasm for learning it.

Crucial to success in any foreign language pursuit is staying positive. If you think of it as difficult, it will be difficult!

Before I go any further, one site I relied on heavily when I started Korean was Rocket Korean. It’s one of the most comprehensive audio-rich tools I’ve seen anywhere for studying Korean.

Here are just a few reasons why I believe Korean being a difficult language to learn isn’t true.

 

Reason 1: The alphabet can be learned in an hour or two

This is an obvious point and I talked about this before so I won’t repeat myself here. See this previous post I wrote.

Even though Korean newspapers do use the occasional Chinese character, Korean hangeul is an incredibly simple and easy-to-learn alphabet.

This little comic strip that’s been floating around is quite good:

Korean alphabet

Also typing in Korean is really easy to pick up too (I recommend you practise this early so you can use Naver and Daum to look things up).

The online Branah keyboard is excellent for this if you don’t have the Korean keyboard set up.

 

Reason 2: Korean grammar is actually very simple and straightforward

I’ve studied over 10 languages and Korean has one of the easiest grammars I’ve ever seen.

While there’s probably a lot I could say about the finer points of grammar, here are just a few in point form:

There’s no need to worry about gender or number when dealing with verbs. “He eats”, “she eats”, “you eat” are all conjugated exactly the same way (it gets only slightly different if the person’s older than you or in a position of authority which I’ll explain below).

Nouns don’t change according to case. Many languages (especially ones like Greek and Russian) often have many different noun forms depending on what the noun is or what it’s doing. In Korean this is done with a few basic suffixes called case markers that are extremely easy to learn. For example, is an instrumental marker (by/with/using) so if I attached it to the end of the word for the Korean language (한국말+로), it means in/using Korean. If I’m ordering ice-cream and I want my ice-cream in a cone I can attach it on the end of the word cone to mean in a cone. If you’ve never seen an agglutinative language before then it will take a little while to adjust to but overall Korean is a very simple agglutinative language.

While there is a copula verb to be (이다 – for sentences like it is a house”), there is no auxiliary verb for action or descriptive verbs. For example, “I am happy” is simply “I happy”.

Past, future and progressive verb tenses follow an insanely simple and consistent pattern. Apart from a few minor changes that happen to some verbs, it’s usually just a case of attaching one of a few appropriate endings to a word. Once you get used to the patterns, you can spot and use them very easily.

Passive and causative verbs, adjectives and adverbs are all formed using extremely basic patterns with few irregularities.

 

Reason 3: Korean phonetics are a piece of cake for English speakers

For English speakers there’s nothing terribly unusual about Korean phonetics.

Unlike Arabic and Hebrew there are no guttural sounds.

There are no consonant clusters like Georgian or Polish (where you have 4 or more consonants in a row).

There are also no tones like many other East Asian languages.

For the most part Korean is usually pronounced exactly the way it’s written, unlike English which is full of words that sound nothing like the way they appear on paper.

The only exception to this is that like every language, Korean assimilates and omits sounds sometimes when combined with others.

This happens in pretty much every language though and is just an evolutionary process determined by what’s more comfortable for us to pronounce. Some letter combinations (e.g. putting n and l together) just don’t feel right when spoken.

Try saying nlion or nlight and you’ll see what I mean!

One example from Korean is 편리 which means convenience. It’s written pyeon-li but is pronounced pyeol-li where the n becomes an l sound. The latter is much easier to pronounce which is why these types of words evolve over time in every language.

As another example, 맞다 (to be correct) is not pronounced maj-da as it’s written because that would be too awkward to say naturally so it’s pronounced ma’-da (a glottal stop in place of the j).

Don’t let these things concern you because these basic phonetic changes are easy to adjust to after a little practise and even more so when you understand why it happens.

 

Reason 4: Many words are made up of smaller, single-syllable words

This makes learning Korean vocab a walk in the park trust me!

Firstly I should add that there are some great lessons made by TTMIK called Word Builder lessons that explain this well which I highly recommend you check out.

Many compound Korean words (particularly ones that are derived from Chinese) are made up of single syllable words and you can usually take a rough guess at its meaning if you can recognise them.

For example, if you see the word (hak) you can be pretty sure it’s got something to do with education or learning:

– academy
– school
– student
언어 – linguistics (study of language)
– science (subject)

You’re miles ahead for vocab if you already know Mandarin Chinese too! 🙂

 

Reason 5: The blessed 하다 verbs are a cinch!

This is one thing I friggin’ love about Korean verbs.

Many Korean verbs are actually just nouns connected to the verb to do (하다).

For example, the verb 행복하다 (to be happy) is literally happiness + do = doing happiness.

What I usually do when I learn a new noun is get on Daum or Naver and search to see if there’s a corresponding 하다 verb that goes with it. It’s all about killing two birds with one stone.

So easy! 🙂

Oh and 하다 verbs are amazing when it comes to forming adverbs, causatives and passives because they’re all identical in form.

 

Reason 6: Respectful forms and honorifics aren’t a problem at all

I’ve talked about this at length before so I won’t repeat it here (see this post) but I just want to say that this is nowhere near as tough as people make it out to be.

Generally it’s just a matter of adding or dropping -요 (or -야 if you want to be casual) on the end of sentences depending on who you’re talking to.

There is of course more to it than that but for most learners that’s all you need to worry about in the beginning.

Honorifics likewise follow a pretty simple pattern of using the infix -시- for verbs. Once you practise it a few times and be mindful of the people you’re talking to or about, it’s really a piece of cake.

There’s only a small amount of extra honorific vocab too but you learn those just as you would any other vocabulary.

 

Reason 7: Korean word order can be a son of a bitch but here’s how you can make it easy

This is the most challenging part of learning Korean in my opinion but I’ll explain how I’ve simplified it for myself.

First of all, for us Korean is backwards.

Not backwards in the ‘primitive’ sense of the word – I mean literally backwards. English is a S-V-O language whereas Korean is S-O-V (e.g. I went to the shop in Korean is I to the shop went).

Now, this is very easy for short sentences and there’s nothing challenging about a simple sentence like I went to the shop. The problem is when you have relative clauses or longer sentences with extra information embedded in it.

For example, a sentence like “Remember that pretty girl who works at Samsung that I met yesterday?” is where an English speaker would have huge headaches.

A few months ago sentences like this were making my hair fall out! 🙂

The trick I’ve found useful is to practise breaking it down into its smaller parts (sometimes I use what linguists call phrase tree diagrams (Google it) to help visualise it too).

I did this on paper for a while but these days I don’t need to. It comes much more naturally with practise:

Remember that pretty girl who works at Samsung that I met yesterday?”

Subject: the pretty girl

Main verb: remember

All the extra information: who works at Samsung that I met yesterday

So if we only had to say “Remember that pretty girl?” it would be very straightforward.

The rest of the sentence describes the girl. It works like a big long adjective coming before the subject.

The reason why this is weird for us as English speakers is that in English we tend to state the person or thing we’re talking about right at the beginning in a sentence like this. Before I say anything else about where she works or when we met, you know that I’m going to talk about a pretty girl.

In Korean you say all of the descriptive stuff before you even mention the girl.

So if you’re a really slow speaker then the person you’re talking to is not going to know who you’re talking about at first, especially if it’s a long sentence.

This gets really awkward sometimes!

One thing you can do as a new learner to fake it till you make it is say the same thing by making lots of little sentences – e.g. “Remember the pretty girl? I met her yesterday. She works at Samsung.”

My other vital bit of advice for you is this: STOP THINKING IN ENGLISH!

I use caps so you realise how important this point is. 🙂

If you’re thinking in English and trying to say sentences like the example above in the middle of a conversation then you’re going to really confuse yourself.

The sooner you start thinking in Korean, however limited it may be, the more coherent your sentences will be.

 

Reason 8: There’s an abundance of excellent material to learn from

There is so much good material around for learning Korean.

After popular languages like French, Spanish and German, Korean is up there as one of the languages where good quality resources are abundant and overflowing – both paid and free.

There are many free resources I’ve found amazingly useful such as My Korean from Monash University, Berkeley Intermediate College Korean, TTMIK, Matthew’s Korean Study and Reference Guide, and TOPIK Guide. YouTube also has a bazillion learning videos, talk shows and kdramas with subtitles.

This is an excellent beginner series:

As far as good quality paid resources go there are just too many!

I used Elementary Korean by Ross King and Jaehoon Yeon when starting out which is an excellent book (the audio’s not the best but the book is brilliant). I also bought Korean 2 from Seoul National University which was worth every cent.

A few months ago I reviewed the brilliant Talk To Me In Korean books that you can watch here.

90 Day Korean is excellent and has loads of good reviews as well.

The Rocket Korean course with Taewoo and Sujung is outstanding and good at improving conversation and listening skills. What I like the most about this Korean online course is that it’s very comprehensive with great dialogues to learn from (loads of material from absolute beginner up to advanced).

If you’re into podcast-style learning then KoreanClass101 is great too.

Of course, italki has been my number one paid service that beats anything else I could have spent money on. The experienced Korean language teachers I’ve had on there have helped me more than anything to get where I am now with Korean.

There’s just tonnes out there for Korean. You’ll never have a problem finding resources.

 

Reason 9: Konglish gives you a good head start

This kind of feels like cheating but it’s not really.

Korean has actually got a lot of loan words from English.

Apart from the fact that Koreans are fanatical about learning the English language and therefore most of the people can speak at least a little, you’ll find a lot of borrowed words that have become assimilated into Korean.

An example off the top of my head is 체크하다 (check + 하다 verb). Korean of course has its own verb for to check something but this Konglish verb is as much part of the language now as anything else.

See here, here and here for some lists of a few other Konglish words.

It’s always a good idea when you’re learning any language to start with cognates and borrowed words as it’s a good way of rapidly expanding your vocab.

 

Reason 10: Korea is one of the easiest foreign countries in the world for any native English speaker to move to and live long-term to learn the language

This is a very important point.

Since being in the country is so crucial to learning any foreign language properly (online lessons are great but they have their limits), this is something you should take into consideration before starting anything.

The great thing about Korea is that there’s an abundance of ESL jobs here with free accommodation, free flights and very good salaries that will put you in the midst of the language you’re trying to learn (as long as you stay away from expat-magnet shit holes like Itaewon and Hongdae!). You can do this in other countries sure but very few of them offer the same perks you get here.

I live in an area surrounded by limitless ways for me to practise my Korean every single day.

It’s one of the best immersion opportunities that you could ask for – learn a language through immersion and get cashed up at the same time.

 

Hope that encourages you to stick with your Korean! Please share this around on Facebook if you found it interesting or useful. 🙂

Also make sure to check my Essential Language Learning Tools page where I’ve listed some of my favorite Korean resources.

 

This was written by .

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  1. Glad to hear the Korean is going well, Donovan. The language actually doesn't sound too bad, from what you've said. What intimidates me is the alphabet – not so much the memorization of letters, but how it's written. One of my best friends when I was in undergrad was a Korean major and she told me that the letters are written in blocks or something, which sounded very confusing!

    Reply
    1. Thanks!

      Yea it is in 'blocks' but it's so easy to learn. The alphabet is the easiest part about it so don't be put off by that 🙂

      Reply
      1. I agree, after a day or two in Korean class I was able to write and read. Although I didn’t know what it meant, I could already put it together. It truly is the easiest part. It’s brilliant what King Sejong did.

        Reply
    2. Hello, Memrise is an excellent app that helped me learn the Korean Aplabet in 4 days. The great thing about is that it teaches you six words a day and then quizzes you to refresh your fading memories of the letter.

      Reply
      1. Yes, I am currently using Memrise, too. It’s a wonderful app and whenever I use it I always learn more than 6 words because it’s so addictive and fun. I use it daily and can always revise and test myself when I feel memories fading. It also makes learning the alphabet fun and exciting by relating the characters to memorable things – like the character for the letter ‘S’ looks like a snake’s tongue.

        Reply
  2. A wonderful follow up pat would be to look at how Hongul came about, specifically as it was designed for ease of use. Fun stuff, & I enjoyed the post. Erin

    Reply
    1. Yea it's definitely got an interesting history behind it.

      Thanks!

      Reply
  3. Great article. I’ve never studied any Korean, but one thing that has always bugged me about language learners is this kind of defeatist attitude and that language xy can’t be learned, etc. Anything can be learned, sure some languages have concepts that are foreign or different to your native language, but it doesn’t make it impossible. It’s just a matter of motivation and dedication.

    I recently started studying Arabic and I’ve had so many people tell me it’s impossible and I’m puzzled as to why. Why would you go out of your way to tell me my goal can’t be achieved? Jealousy maybe? I do t know, in any it does motivate me even more.

    Reply
    1. Good on you. I completely agree.

      All the best with Arabic 🙂

      Reply
    2. it's rare to see people who learn Arabic because other learners who encountered some difficulties going around saying Arabic is so challenging and so on, even some natives will discourage you. Well the grammar (irregular past verbs), vocabulary, and pronunciation are bit difficult, and maybe that's why Arabic is the first in the language difficulty ranking list, but that's not a reason to fall back, anything difficult can turn easy, depending on your mindset! If you are enthusiastic and not easily discouraged by others (or are, but can learn to overcome pitfalls), then you can truly do anything!and I hope you achieve your goals.

      Reply
  4. Thank you so much for posting this! I’ve been wanting to learn Korean for a few months now, but I haven’t started actually learning it.. The reputation it has among some language learners as being the most difficult language for an English speaker to learn is intimidating, but your post gives me a lot more confidence in myself. ^^

    Reply
    1. Excellent!

      Glad I could help boost your confidence 🙂 Korean's definitely worth it.

      Reply
  5. Totally agree! But its all about the hard work. I never intended to put effort into learning the language when I moved here 11 months and 3 weeks ago. I thought i would just “assimilate” the language… it would just ooose into my head becuase I live here. But no. After 5 months, all I know were the basic basic basic phrases (like hello and good bye and thank you). So then I started studying. And yeah, it is hard. But yesterday, after about 6 months of focused studying I wrote my first Korean Proficiency Test (TOPIK). While I definitely don’t feel comfortable and fluent enough to have any conversation I want, I can communicate. The effort I put in is directly proportional to what I got out.

    Reply
    1. Good on you, Peter.

      Yea a lot of people are under the illusion that simply moving to a country means it'll be easy to pick up the language by osmosis or something. They're fooling themselves because as you say, it's all about hard work put in.

      Hope you did well on the TOPIK.

      Reply
  6. very insightful post.. I am sure it will help many beginners 🙂

    Reply
    1. Thanks!

      Reply
  7. Excellent post! I have been working my way trying to just memorize vocab mostly out of intimidation to try and speak actual sentences. I think that this gives me a better perspective on how I can approach my learning. Time to learn some grammar…

    Reply
    1. Thanks buddy.

      My advice is to stick with dialogues rather than grammar at first though. I didn't touch Korean grammar until the 8 month mark.

      Reply
      1. I’m completely opposite. Grammar is the most fun part and the easiest part to learn. And I would be pretty lost without knowing it. So boring not to be able to write sentences. Therefore after little over 5 months, I can easily write sentences with my vocabulary.

        Reply
  8. Chinese definitely gives you a leg up with Korean vocab, but don't forget that Japanese does the same while also giving you a leg up with grammar!

    Looking forward to checking out the resources you listed in Reason #8. Many I hadn't stumbled across yet!

    Reply
    1. True. I should have mentioned Japanese. Korean has definitely inspired me to take up Japanese at some time soon.

      Glad I could help with the resources. 🙂

      Reply
      1. That’s me in reverse! Learning Japanese has inspired me to learn Korean.

        Reply
        1. Japanese has easier pronunciation than korean because it doesn’t have all the tongue twisters that 한국 has.
          I just started about a month ago, and “I grammar am studying.” Whish it the second hardest part. The first being memorizing vocabulary words. But ive noticed that if I watch korean shows or listen to songs, and a word catches my attention, ill look it up and its instantly stored in my brain. So kpop helps me as much as any instructional video.

          Reply
  9. Great stuff! Thank you! After 10 years in Korea I knew I was never going to assimilate it.
    Now I take some formal lessons. Found a book in English that explains the grammar.
    I never thought grammar woud be the place to start. But for me, it is so necessary.
    Now I just have to do the work. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Thanks. Glad I could help.

      Best of luck with it 🙂

      Reply
  10. I think that language learning takes a long time no matter which language you study. The rankings of difficulty putting Chinese, Japanese and Korean at the top of difficult and the various romance languages at the bottom are only telling half the story. People maybe assume that the languages in bracket 3 are 3 times as difficult as the languages in bracket one. Instead I think that if you the romance languages a rating of 1.0 then maybe the bracket 3 languages get a 1.2/1.3. Harder yes, but not by a lot.

    I also often feel that the difficulty of Chinese is overstated and this often unnecessarily scares many people away.

    Reply
  11. I get a bit tired of the excuses also, and I do wish that Koreans would put a bit more pressure on foreigners to learn Korean. That said, Korean is more difficult to learn (for English speakers) than languages like French or German, simply because the languages are unrelated. When studying German, you're going to run into the familiar quite frequently, and that helps a lot psychologically. With Korean, you'll only run into familiar vocabulary with words borrowed from English, but they are fewer and don't make up the core vocabulary.
    For casual learners, the psychological barrier of unfamiliarity can be huge. If you try learning a language through a once-a-week class, you might survive in German, but you'll fail studying Korean that way. I think that's why so many casual learners in Korea give up, and then make excuses.

    Reply
    1. I agree that Korean is most definitely more difficult to learn for an English speaker than any European language is.

      And I think you raise a very important point about the fear of it because it is vastly different which ultimately has an effect on peoples' attitudes. I guess the point of posts like this is to show people that even though it is very different, there are many 'easy' aspects as well.

      Reply
  12. Just a couple more thoughts:

    Reason 7: Word-order is very confusing and disorienting when you first start learning; but once you hit an intermediate speaking level, it becomes quite natural. Often the "difficult" things of a language that beginners get caught up with are not the most challenging aspects in the long run.

    Reason 10: But Korea also might be one of the easiest countries to live in without learning the native language. There's very little pressure to learn the language, and people often assume you won't know any Korean, and insist on using English.

    Reply
  13. 맞아요. 한국말 안 어려워요! 진짜 쉬워요. TTMIK이 가장 좋아하는 resource 중의 하나예요^^ My Korean도요.

    Reply
    1. 뭔소리를 하는거냐?

      Reply
    2. 한국어는 정말 어렵지 않으면 Gretchen씨가 실수를 그렇게 많이 하지 않을 겁니다.

      Reply
  14. Hey, try with polish 😀 It won't be so easy 😀

    Reply
    1. Polish has its own scoops of dificulty. However, a native mandarin speaker will find Polish easier to learn. In my old home town of Gliwice,there is High tech Uni, and back then we had many asian studying. They spoke,read&wrote in Polish. Currently, I’m studying Mandarin. It will be 5th language for me. Im also keen to learn Korean. I have found Korean interesting language. It has many similarities with Chinese, which may help me out in studying Korean.

      Reply
  15. Wonderful article, I speak several languages which I've learned on my own, but I must admit so far I've been kind of lazy with Korean, but with the encouragement that you give with your article Donovan, I'll start over with my Korean, 'cause I have already some knowledge of it, but not as much as I know that I could be if I had had a more positive attitude, besides, the grammar coincides in many aspects with Japanese and Chinese about which I have a much higher degree of knowledge, so I'll start with Korean since tomorrow, it's an interesting language, I'll tell you more aboutt my language learning Donovan, I 'd like to become your friend, greetings from my city, Lima in Peru !!..CESAR

    Reply
  16. Took Korean at Monash – concur with all your points

    Difficulty is all relative anyway.

    That said, I have rarely use it since leaving Monash – although I hear they're doing a Korean version of Homeland/Prisoners of War, and would love to read the 삼국사기

    Reply
  17. The people who are saying the Korean language is hard to understand are those people who do not have the time to actually learn this language. This post should be seen by others in order to help them determine that Korean is not hard to understand.

    Reply
  18. I'm learning Korean and I have to admit that it's not difficult, at least now at the beginning. I don't know what's in store later on 🙂

    Reply
  19. i still don't believe all this, ofcourse it may seem really easy to have a basic conversation in korean after living there for almost a year and studying it everyday, but how much can you understand when you watch a korean drama or korean tv without subtitles? and how much can you understand when you read a korean news paper or book? my guess is about 50%.. and how are the results of that topik test… still waiting for an update

    Reply
    1. Don't believe what exactly? That Korean's easier than people make it out to be?

      Did you have a different experience with the language?

      If someone told me that they understood 50% of a TV drama after one year of study, I'd say that's a very good accomplishment and something to be proud of (listening comprehension takes a lot longer than reading comprehension does).

      Reply
      1. (i wrote a long reply but it won't post, so maybe i have to break it up) well first i should of been more positive like you and say that's good you came up with reasons why Korean is not as hard as people make it out to be because you are trying to encourage foreigners to learn Korean and it's not 'impossible', kind of like how Benny always writes about how xyz language is so easy… etc. however, i still think it takes at least 3 times longer to learn, not 1.3 times or whatever, for a speaker of English, even for an experienced polyglot, compared to say French or Spanish…

        Reply
        1. i know theoretically Koreans are not 3 times smarter so the language shouldn't be 3 times as complex, but like you said earlier, it's so different from English, i think it really does take that much longer. Like you, I have studied several other languages, and I would say that difficult languages such as Chinese can be hacked at maybe 1.5 times the speed of let’s say learning French, if ignoring most of the characters.

          Reply
          1. However, Korean and Japanese, so far, I still think they are twice as hard to learn as Chinese, for a native speaker of English. I have studied Korean on and off for several years and I think my Korean is not at all what I want it to be at, but Koreans always say that my Korean is excellent and better than any other foreigners they met. But honestly it’s not that good. So I would bet you too, probably you are in at least the top 0.1% or 1/1000 percentile of English speakers who tried to learn Korean, due to so many giving up and not sticking with it.

          2. So I’m sure they are all amazed when you speak but the main reason why I still think Korean is so difficult, is like you said in your opinion, is the opposite word order. Honestly it really does cause that many problems for many years to come. My analogy is like say you are right handed, and now you have to learn everything over again with your left hand. Of course it may seem like you are getting a hang of after a while opening doors and little stuff like that, but playing tennis, golf or speed writing, no matter how much you practice, it’s still going to take years and years to get your skills up to the same as your right hand.

          3. Another thing also is the nuances, when you get to a more advanced level and know all the vocabulary and most of the grammar, but sometimes it’s still so hard to catch the exact meaning. And one other thing I disagree about is the Hangeul. I think this is one of the most under estimated things about Korean. It’s like saying you can learn all the keys on the piano in an hour. I used to think like that at first that Hangeul was easy to learn.

          4. However, only after many years of studying and reading Hangeul, and having my reading speed less than half of what I can read English or even process words in any languages that uses the English alphabet such as French, made me realize just how long it takes to learn how to read. I’ve even asked several Koreans about this who have studied English for several years and lived overseas. Even when knowing all the words in a text, they say they process Hangeul at least twice as fast as English.

          5. My theory is, to get up to the same speed as English in Korean, probably you could learn all the kanji or Chinese characters in almost the same amount of time. Just like learning a piano, basically as native English speakers, we read English like how concert pianists play.

          6. And about that 50% thing, basically what I mean is that reading news or listening to something would still be incomprehensible. (Based on that 98% theory) I think even after studying Korean for 3 years, understanding a television show will only be at 90%, but you could get that same level of understanding learning Spanish at least 3 times faster. Anyways sorry I got carried away and wrote so much. since there has not really been any other polyglots trying to seriously study Korean before such as you.

          7. I know that Steve Kaufman dude tried it a few times but he keeps making excuses saying ‘there’s not enough interesting content about Korean to interest him’ but honestly I think he’s having so much trouble with it, that everything seems uninteresting because his comprehension is so low compared to the other languages he’s learned, as well the Hangeul slows him down so much. (I know he speaks Japanese, but because he lived there for 12 years.) that girl from hangukdrama said she just passed Topik level 6 after 5.5 years of studying. Although she is Singaporean and only focused on Korean so maybe she had some Chinese advantage, although she didn’t live in Korea I think.

          8. So I’m wondering about you, as an experienced language learner, I wonder how long it would take you to pass Topik level 6, (C2) living in Korea, doing the same thing you are doing….. My guess is about maybe 3 years, or whatever the number will be, still 3 or 4 times longer than say doing the same thing in a similar European language or almost double what it takes to do the same thing in Chinese. Oh yea that step 4 you mentioned, ok I would agree it does make learning Korean so much easier ‘if’ you can recognize them, but that’s the problem.

          9. That’s why I think Hangeul almost slows you down a bit compared to Chinese or Japanese, because those Chinese characters are so unique it seems I can pick them out so much easier compared to the Hangeul since sometimes Hangeul uses the same character in many words but it’s actually different, so it throws you off for self-study, unlike Chinese or Japanese where you know for sure it’s the same character.

          10. And I wouldn’t go as far as saying the phonetics are a piece of cake for English speakers, definitely you could say Japanese phonetics are a piece of cake, but I still think this comes down to so few foreigners learning Korean well, so I’m sure you get so many compliments on your Korean pronunciation, however, I still think there’s a long way to go to get to that level where it sounds ‘kind’ of normal to a native speaker. Even Chinese tones are easier than trying to pronounce Korean the way actual Koreans speak, in my opinion.

          11. And that thing about there being a lot of resources for learning Korean, I kind of half agree with that. I’ll say there are enough resources out there so definitely foreigners shouldn’t have any excuses learning Korean to at least an intermediate level. However, I just find there is absolutely no comparison in the resources for the other languages you mentioned such as French, Spanish, and German if you want to get to an advanced level. For example in those languages you can find so many audiobooks in those languages with translations.

          12. But Korean, I can only find those children’s and teen books without audio or translations because they are made in Korea designed for native Koreans. And I also use a lot of phrase and slang books; however they are all designed for Korean speakers, so all the instructions are in Korean to describe the English. For example, they have a lot of example sentences of English TV shows so I just want the book for the Korean translation. However, the rest of your 4 or 5 points I mostly agree with.

          13. as a native speaker, i agree with your points you made in your response. even though i’m largely fluent in korean, i sometimes have a hard time voicing my ideas in korean correctly, and my parents and my very fluent korean friends often don’t understand me. overall, i feel like the korean language is downplayed in this article

        2. as a native speaker, i agree with your points you made in your response. even though i’m largely fluent in korean, i sometimes have a hard time voicing my ideas in korean correctly, and my parents and my very fluent korean friends often don’t understand me. i feel like korean in this article is kinda downplayed

          Reply
  20. I've been learning Korean, and your article is SO spot on! Every one of those things I've been coming across in my studies. The full conjugation of verbs can be a little staggering because there are so many options, but pegging down the root word at least helps me understand the gist of the sentence.

    I think Japanese and Chinese set me up into thinking the Korean written language would be similarly difficult, instead of the really easy system it is.

    And like you said phonetically it's not too difficult, I use sounds I don't use often, but they aren't sounds that I can't physically speak. I think Korean speakers learning English have a much harder time!

    Thanks for your article and also the links to other the other resources. I will look into them.

    Reply
      1. Since I commented above, I checked out conversation exchange which you recommended and found some really awesome Korean's learning English that I've been able to have sessions with, and it's been so helpful to get instructions and tips from native speakers. And I feel good being able to give back tips on English expressions and pronunciation.

        Thank you so much for posting those recommendations~

        Reply
  21. Thank you very much for this post! I was wondering before if going to Korea to be an English teacher was the right path for me, and after reading this, I've decided it's what I want to do. 🙂 Thank you again.

    Reply
  22. This was a good primer on Korean for beginners. Your word order section really helped me a lot. I usually get tripped up on more complex sentences than "I went to the store." But Korean has been fun to learn so far — I've actually learned more about English grammar than I was taught in grade school by studying Korean.

    I would also recommend the "Korean Verbs" page of the English wikipedia (a GOOD breakdown of Korean verb construction) and Memrise.com for vocab. I have the Memrise app and it's nice to be able to drill myself on Korean while waiting in line or something.

    But I will say that I'm disappointed with your recommendation of becoming an ESL teacher for the free perks and/or just to help people learn the language. People who want to teach English in S. Korea have to remember that the main (infinitive) verb in that statement is to *teach*, not just for their benefit, but for the benefit of their students. And there's more to teaching students than creating lesson plans, especially if you're teaching children.

    Just like we wouldn't want our children to have teachers who are unqualified and just consider it something they do on the side while they "explore" our country and language, neither do Korean people. Not to mention, ESL positions are contracts, so if they decide they don't want to learn Korean, and that was their only reason for accepting the ESL job, they can't just leave without penalty, and if they stay they will resent "being stuck" with a teaching job. I know I wouldn't want to be taught by anyone who just felt stuck with the job.

    But I do agree that jaded, disgruntled expats have some of the most negative attitudes ever about the language and the country, but that's also because they got bored with S. Korea after treating the country like a playground instead of because they actually wanted to teach.

    Reply
    1. I completely agree with what you said and I get equally frustrated with the many expats in places like Korea who don't take their jobs seriously.

      I wasn't suggesting that I went to Korea solely for the perks but in my situation language learning takes precedence over English teaching (I'll admit openly and honestly that ESL teaching is not my life's ambition or passion).

      Reply
  23. Great post, thanks for letting people know. As a Korean living in Australia, I noticed many Australians, English speakers are afraid to learn Non-alpabet languages. Probably It is kind of prejudice, but understandable. At a first glance, It is obvious that languages like Spanish, French, German, which based on Alpabet are easier to learn.

    Reply
  24. This post is a bunch of bull. I'm not saying that anything you posted is incorrect because it's not. I've been learning korean for the past year and I honestly love it. But the fact that you're disregarding the fact that it isn't challenging and "a piece of cake" is like looking down on people. It is very challenging and very different, that's why I like it. The concept is easy but learning is difficult because the system is very different. Also, and some words are only used in songs. For example: 그리워=I miss you. mostly used in just songs. 보고싶어=I miss you. More colloquial and used in normal conversations. Most of my Korean friends even say that's it's difficult. Your post is so bias. I love the korean language and learning it but posts like these really irk me. Yes it's easy if you pick things up easily. It took me about a week to perfect the alphabet which is the average time. Yea, you can learn the whole alphabet In a few hours, but actually perfecting the sounds? That takes a while. There are characters that sound so similar to one another, you really have to train yourself to learn the differences of these pronunciations, I've practiced so much that the pronunciation just comes natural now. Everyone goes at different rates and is never always a piece of cake. There were lessons that I easily picked up on in about an hour and other lessons where it took me a few days and I had to ask my friends. Also, the usage takes a while to perfect. Posts like yours can really discourage people just by saying that it's easy In Every point that you make. If it's hard for someone that comes to your post, it won't make them feel too good if they see that "it's a piece of cake" or its "So easy".

    Reply
    1. I see what you're saying, but I think that the whole point of this post was to ENCOURAGE people, not look down on anyone. Donovan is showing us that Korean not as impossible as everyone says it is. For me, I was really inspired by this article to study harder because I am reassured that there is hope to speak fluently…someday haha.

      Reply
  25. Thanks for this very inspiring rundown. We need more sensible talk like this about all language learning because, as Bruce Lee said, “no self, no enemy.” It’s really the ego that makes language learning hard because we set it up as hard in our minds in order to avoid recognizing that we didn’t actually try. Or as some advertisers say, we want to “get more done by doing nothing” (i.e. it’s really laziness).

    The real trick is to approach all work as play. At the very least, we can take the sage advice of the guy who said: “Don’t wish it was easier. Wish you were smarter.”

    Articles like this definitely fulfill the second wish. Thanks again!

    Reply
  26. Korean can be INCREDIBLY difficult if you are attempting to get a full understanding of the language. Subjects are often omitted, leaving multiple interpretations at times. Many words, especially concerning emotions, have either.no direct translation in English or have very deep and nuanced meanings beyond what you’ll learn in a textbook.

    Reply
    1. in his own words: "STOP THINKING IN ENGLISH!"

      Reply
      1. haha learning other languages is also difficult just by that statement you made. especially in languages where the grammar is very different from your native tongue’s. it’s pretty dang hard to “stop thinking in english”, as it is in this case, and to begin to orient the mind in a completely different language. that understanding comes with a LOT of study if you’re not a native

        Reply
    2. This is exacly what makes things easy, it`s only difficult if you try to fit Korean in the English logic

      Reply
  27. I'm 100% interested in learning Korean. Everyone around me tells me I'm weird or stupid because I enjoy K-pop and Korean dramas more than American ones. So, when I told everyone I'm going to learn how to speak the language they laughed at me and told me that it's so hard to learn, etc.

    But thanks to your article I know that they are wrong and that it is truly possible for me to learn the language.

    Reply
    1. Any tips you can give me that will make learning the language easier would be REALLY appreciated.

      Reply
    2. Violet, it sounds like you are in high school. Lots of kids attack "everything" that's different or that they don't understand. Most people have that reaction trying to get a burst of I'm-accepted good feeling. There's TONS of young people who love K-Pop and K-Dramas and know it's very cool. They laughed at you? Learning Korean is a serious and valuable thing to do. They are an cool/amazing/interesting people and you'll be able to connect with them as a friend. 🙂 Your friends would laugh if you said you were going to learn how to write bank checks, but they'll be wishing they'd done it with you in a few years. A thought: kill any expectations you have for your learning performance. They don't do any good, and can slow things down and frustrate you. Everyone learns differently at different speeds, but everyone will succeed if they just stick with it. Set a goal of doing a certain amount of learning every day or week–then it's just a matter of time.

      I'm a beginner, but I and lots of other people like Korean for Beginners by Henry J. Amen IV & Kyubyong Park. There's lots of good web sites. At the moment I am liking howtostudykorean.com because it is written clearly.

      Reply
  28. 한국어가 어렵다는건 한국인도 압니다.
    한국인도 한국어가 어렵다는건 압니다.
    한국인도 압니다,한국어가 어렵다는건.
    한국어도 어렵다는건 한국인도 압니다.
    ex.내가 알고, 당신도 알죠.
    당신도 알고, 나도 알죠.
    당신도 알죠, 나도 알고.
    나도 알죠,당신도 알고,
    same mean,different word.different placement.
    Anyway nice writing.

    Reply
    1. 압니다? I would think it is 입니다

      Reply
      1. i don’t know why 압니다 has to be 입니다

        Reply
        1. 압니다 = 알고 있습니다

          Reply
  29. thanks alot for this amazing encouragements and explications , i'm arabic , i speack fluently arabic , french and english and i'm learning now korean also 🙂
    thank you again

    Reply
  30. i really want to learn korean because it’s such a beautiful language and i’d love to visit, but i’m already learning German and Mandarin.

    Reply
    1. Mandarin will help you a LOT for vocabulary, which I think is one of the hardest parts. Native Chinese speakers learn Korean much (much much much much) faster and more easily than native English speakers. Native Japanese speakers learn it fastest, in fact it's pretty easy for them — they're cousin languages and the cultures share a lot.

      Reply
  31. My biggest problem is that I don't understand what is being said most of the time and when I do recognize a word, by the time I process its meaning, the speaker is usually speaking about a different subject I know quite a few words, but its like they are never used even through there are words that I know would be used every day. I keep plugging away and hopefully I will start picking up more.

    Reply
  32. It is easy in the beginner level. But things that are easy at the surface can also be complex. I'll address your main points:
    1. People always mention that hangul is easy to learn, but spelling is hard and there are exceptions/special rules to be learned. But the thing that really makes spelling hard are the phonetics of Korean. So much sounds the same to anyone who is not a native, unless you're blessed with amazing ears. So many consonants sound the same, same goes for vowels . Moreover, like in some languages sounds 'disappear', change (and sounds different from how they're written), and the slurring…Of course these problems exist in other languages but Korean listening for example takes loads more listening practice than for Japanese.

    2. Korean grammar is simple in that there aren't so much exceptions or usages that seem illogical. However what makes it difficult because there is a plethora and seemingly unending grammar to learn and this is simply because the grammar is so unlike English. Politeness levels and formal vs. colloquial is just icing on the cake.

    3. Again here I disagree with you. Korean phonetics is easy in that you don't to do anything difficult with your vocal cords or tongue. What makes is hard is distinguishing b/t sounds and applying it yourself in conversation. Even the most fluent Korean speaking foreigners are instantly distinguishable form natives. While I have seen much more Japanese speaking foreigners that could fool me for a while.

    4. True this is useful. One of the best things about East Asian language 🙂

    5. 하다 is a godsend.

    6. In a basic sense this is mostly true. However there's much more to it than that and it can be hard to switch (especially mid-conversation ㅂ.ㅂ)

    7. Cool points.

    8. The resources available are the best thing about learning Korean!

    9. Konglish is useful. Figuring out how they transform or spell it in Korean can be tricky though.

    Reply
    1. Great comments, though I disagree with a little, e.g., that Korean is easy at first. My difficulties in word order aren't SOV, which is easy and helpful (since, if the speaker speaks so that I can hear when the sentence ends – not always that easy, but at least easy in reading), I know what the core of the predicate is, unlike in English, where the main verb could be any one of a number of words, some of which look like nouns. The problem is with adj. phrases coming before nouns but adj. coming after them etc. — and all of this put together. In reading, I can sort it out, but in listening, it is over-load.

      Ten years ago, I struggled to find decent resources in print or online. Either things have changed a lot or I can search better (but there are still some dreadful textbooks around).

      Reply
  33. The grammars fits nicely with each other in a intuitive way all based on the principles that govern everything in the language.

    Students and courses usually try to hurry up and build stuff upon English and explain the grammar in a way that makes sense in English. And to accomplish that incredible anachronic act they have to create hundreds of fake rules. Let me give a example with what I know well, if you are studying Japanese and want to understand why there's no such thing as a "is/are" verb in Japanese and look in regular grammar book you'll see several "meanings" the number depends on how much the author wants to connect Japanese with its English translations, the most he wants the bigger the usage list is. Since it's not a part of the language's logic but a artificial construction it gets confusing and even contradictory and there's exceptions for everything.

    But if we forget English and just show the ideas that each grammar represent things become pretty simple, so let's forget that's there's a language on the other side of the world called English when there's something like "is/are" and learn the following things:

    1- You can drop out of the phrase anything that you think it's clear from context, and when I say anything I mean anything really. Things that were said before also don't need to be said again because they become part of the context

    紅葉。
    Literal translation.: Momiji
    Possible translation: My name is Momiji (the "my" and "name" part is clear from context so this imaginary person is probably presenting herself)

    好き
    Lt: Like
    Pt: I like nuclear reactors (in this imaginary dialogue the "nuclear reactors" part was said before so it doesn't need to be said again nor it needs a dummy noun like "he" or "it" to represent it).

    2- You relate something with something else (wherever it's state, action etc) by putting in front of it は (if you want it to become the topic/theme/subject of the entire conversation) or が(if you just want to relate it without turning it into the topic)

    俺は太い
    Lt: I (topic, relates to) fat
    Pt: I am fat

    犬が好き
    Lt: Dog (relates to) like
    Pt: Dogs like this food (again, the "food" is clear from context or was said before)

    Those two guys just tell us that both things are related and nothing more, so 犬が好き can mean "I like dogs" with the "I" cut off due to obvious context or mean "the dogs like something"

    Just conceptually understanding those two things already puts one way ahead of the translation machines around him, he will see those same principles over and over, unnecessary words trowed away, things being direct relating with each other without any "is, are" developing a more deeper feeling with those concepts and using them as a base for more specific principles and grammars instead of getting just confused.

    A classic example of the damage of the opposite approach in the real world is the simple phrase I used above: "Momiji". Textbooks and courses will usually teach a much more rare and odd phrase "my name is Momiji" because that's what someone would say in English. If things end up here then this wouldn't be a big deal but then they try to convince people that there's a equivalent to "is" in Japanese (they usually say it's だ), starting give translations to the aforementioned は, が and all the other little dudes and things become a giant snowball of flaws and mistakes that only seems to get bigger.

    Reply
    1. One of the problems for an American learning Korean is precisely this leaving out of "unnecessary" words. This is not just linguistic – it is also cultural. I have had conversations in Korean and English where this has caused problems in understanding. What's important in one culture and context is not necessarily so in another. Korea was — and still largely is — a homogeneous culture, so that people can make references to some-thing that every-one in the group and most every Korean would know but that some-one knowing "perfect" Korean but never having been to South Korea or a large Korea-town would not. This is true in general (e.g., I don't know t.v. personalities or local stores or even many relatively new chains in America, since I have not lived there for a long time), but especially so for Korean.

      Reply
  34. 한국어는 정말 어렵지 않으면 Gretchen씨가 실수를 그렇게 많이 하지 않을 겁니다. you made mistake too.

    Reply
  35. Hi, great article cheers and it’s spurred me on. I’m looking to head out early 2015 with CELTA.

    Could you explain why the expat-magnet shitholes are shitholes?

    Reply
  36. The thing is, a lot of the websites explain about how the sentences are formed and what the alphabet is, and they teach simple words and phrases, most of which I already know. I can read Korean but I don't understand what I'm reading. I've actually gotten to the point where I'm mixing up my English phrases around but I still don't understand Korean. And I don't have the money to buy anything to help me with it.

    Reply
  37. Thanks! Great article, except for the swearing 😉
    Everyone around me tells me "Good luck, Korean's super hard" or doesn't take me seriously. I learned the alphabet in a few hours and I realized they are just intimidated for no reasons. I've come to realize that most of these people have little to no experience with learning languages. Being bilingual (French and English) and having taken German and Italian in school, studying ASL and spanish on my own, I am used to approaching new languages, –even though I'm no linguist. This article sure helps me remind myself to not get discouraged (never tackled an Asian language/symbol based language.) I'm excited!!! Thanks for all the tips 🙂

    Reply
    1. this is not to intimidate you in any way, but i feel as if the information provided in this article may not be accurately preparing you for korean. as a native, i, with a large number of other koreans, believe that the literary component of the language is the very easiest. not sure if you’re more proficient in korean or not, so i would just like to say that people are more intimidated by the complex grammar, which reaches far beyond what donovan demonstrates in his video ho posted in which he spoke korean. just be prepared haha 🙂

      Reply
  38. I just recently strted learning Korean on my own ( mainly by watching dramas with subtitles, listening to music and some basic videos – now I can read and make simple sentences and understand some words). You just made learning for me so much easier! 감사합니다 !
    I do know 7 other languages ( fluent in 3, A2 in 3 more and a beginner in one other) but Korean is in no way similar to anything I know ( except the pronunciation) and to me as a translation/linguistics student it has been easy to learn languages. But I just couldn't grasp Korean simply because it's so different. But now thanks to this short summary of grammar and everything else I will slowly but surely move forward. Thank you so much for inspiring me to learn even more! Now I'm learning numbers which is hard because they have 2 systems, but I know I can do it 🙂

    Reply
  39. You construct a syllable. Not identical to English syllable but close enough for ‘fake it to make it’.

    A syllable has either two or three characters. The pattern is consonant, vowel, consonant.

    1 – A front consonant is mandatory, but O character is a silent place marker in the front position.

    2 – a middle vowel is mandatory in the second position. The vowel is normally horizontally oriented in writing style (like -) (so, positioned below the opening consonant) or vertically oriented, (like l) so positioned to the right of opening consonant.

    3 – The 3rd character is consonant – but it is optional.

    So a syllable can just be the sound of a vowel (ee) by having O in front, and l next to it and no final consonant. Thus the sound ‘ee’ would look like “Ol” and that would be a ‘syllable’ in the Korean context.

    One added thing: while O is a silent place marker in the first character spot, in the last character spot it is the consonant sound of “ng” as in king.

    The reason the alphabet is easy to learn is it is fully phonetic and the explanations of the shape is often the shape your mouth must make to make that sound. This makes learning it so easy that they have been called “morning characters” – a smart student can learn to read Korean in 1 morning, but normal people learn in about a week. That’s why they have 99% literacy and Koreans say only ‘idiot’ is illiterate in Korea. They literally can’t imagine a person of minimal intelligence not being able to read.

    Reply
    1. Correction: some syllables have four letters, e.g., 읽 as in "to read"

      I don't think it is fully phonetic (even accepting changes such as "hap-nida" to ham-nida) because of the diphthongs.

      Reply
  40. I'm studying Korean and I am enjoying the process. But to say that it is "easy" is just not accurate. It's not easy. It requires a lot of time and persistence and effort. And to be honest, I'm thankful because I know so few people will be able to accomplish fluency — which will make my skills special. Korean is not easy and it doesn't help to bs people into thinking it's a piece of cake.

    Reply
    1. Korean relies heavily on clauses and turning things into nouns. Completely unnatural for English speakers. You can understand all the words in a sentence and be completely lost for meaning. Also what you read and what you hear are not the same. There are tons of pronunciation rules. The grammar as well is not nearly as simple as you make it out to be.

      Reply
      1. Final point to make: your post is kind of like Tiger Woods telling us how easy golf is. It is NOT at all helpful for a beginner. Go listen to Steve Kaufman (a man who knows 12 languages) and he will tell you himself that some languages are more difficult than others. And he specifically references Korean. This is a guy who is fluent in Chinese and Japanese. The founder of Lingq. And he's right. Korean is no walk in the park. Cut the nonsense.

        Reply
      2. Thank you for your narrative. I think an American or European person has to be a genius to consider Korean easy language to learn. It is complex and definitely gorgeous language. All of the points that you have made are true but to me seem so oversimplified… I was not able by any means to learn writing in just an hour, to really feel like I mastered the basics it took me a week. Maybe you have a fantastic concentration :):):). I don’t think there is anything wrong in saying that Korean can be and is rather very challenging for many of us, and it doesn’t have to be discouraging because it is hard. It is worthy language, and it does get better. I have been studying it for two years and I must say, it felt to me for the first year as if though the words just continuously decided to slide off my mind ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ. But man, I am pushing them back in. Thank you though for encouraging us, onward and onward and onward.

        Reply
  41. "I've studied over 10 languages and Korean is super easy."

    You ARE an amazing man.

    I've been here for 8 years and know a handful of expats who have a decent grasp on the language. It's an isolate. It's difficult for mortals.

    Reply
  42. Thanks for taking the time and effort to explain all this very useful information.

    I was unsure about whether to learn Korean or a European language and now I’ve decided to go for Korean.

    Reply
  43. I learned Hangeul alone in an hour. I was convinced I would learn Korean easily and quickly. I made a promise to myself to be fluent! 15 years later I'm still studying Korean daily. I've used your suggested resources and 200 more. I'm still a beginner considering conversational ability. I'm curious, what is your advice?

    Reply
  44. 이 분은 한국어를 유창하게 할 수 있는 것처럼 말하고 있는데 제 생각에는 한국어를 그리 잘 할 수 없다고 생각합니다. 분명히 기초 한국어를 배우는 것은 쉬운 건데 한자를 모르면 고급 어휘를 외우는 것은 아주 어렵습니다. 한국어 lexis은 60~70%가 한자어라서요. 저는 한국어를 공부한 지 4년이 됐는데 한국어를 배우는 것은 절대로 쉽다고 말한 적 없습니다.

    그런데 한국어를 배우는데 가장 어려운 점은 한국인들이 백인들에게 보통 영어로 말하는 것입니다 ㅡ.ㅡ

    Reply
  45. 그리고 한글을 1~2 시간만에 배우면 잘 읽을 수 없을 것 같습니다ㅎㅎ

    Reply
  46. 13000% agree with you!
    i always said korean is easy.
    spell and alpabet and reading can finish into 2 hour.
    i watched so many non native korean speaker who come from another country
    they speak well about 6 month later after come on korea.
    maybe korean is most easy language in the world.

    Reply
    1. The easiest language in the world is Esperanto.

      Reply
    2. haha um i hope you’re kidding
      the writing and reading in a language isn’t the only components that make it up, as i expect you to know
      spoken korean is HARD, and i’m a native so know some stuff about korean
      also, i’m pretty sure the only contact you’ve had with korean is through the alphabet, i’m pretty sure if you tried to have a conversation with a korean, you wouldn’t be saying this
      pls don’t make hasty judgements based on irrelevant evidence

      Reply
  47. It’s nice that this article helps people who want to learn korean, or rather say it encourages the people.

    However,is this article just focused on the people who want to learn how to READ Korean?! Like it said, Reading korean is relatively much easier than any other asian langauges, But Grammar is peace of shit? That’s seriously the funniest bullshit ever…

    i’m sure the writer doesn’t speak Korean or at least just a very little basic acknowledge about it..

    Reply
    1. I agree. I hate it when these beginners act like they speak flawless Korean and blab on and on about how easy it is when they have absolutely nothing to show. Newsflash: Learning new languages after 10 or 11 is not EASY.

      Reply
  48. I'm Korean American and here's my gauge of the language, take it at face value. Korean is hard! Some have pointed out these out already either in Korean or English.

    You can say the same thing literally hundreds of ways with endings, honorifics, sentence structure and time markers.

    Learning hanjja . It's 60-70% of the vocabulary and the root words can be hard to discern because it's commonly written in hangul. College level Korean is hard to understand for a high school student.

    I've grown up around the language, and my level is objectively good to very good. I've dated a Korean girl with near 0 English ability and we were able to communicate with konglish and a dictionary. The language is far from easy. It is arguably as hard or harder than Japanese, according to my own studies and my grandfather who is fluent in both languages.

    The written language was meant to be easy and constructednintenfully by King sejong. He wrote that a smart man can learn it in a day and a stupid man in a week (sorry if it's not a perfect quote but you get the idea), so I'll give you that.

    It's an interesting language, but I feel you can discourage people if they come in with the idea it is super easy and find that they aren't 2 standard deviations above the mean in language proficiency.

    Reply
  49. I agree. Korean is easy
    Well, people don't use it much, but I think it's definitely worth it,
    Korean is amazing, you know. It can write any sound that something can make.
    I'm learning Korean(two years), and I really love it. Thanks.
    Next time maybe I'll start Japanese?

    Reply
    1. i don’t really know where you’re at in your korean, but as a native it will get harder. grammar is veryyyyy subjective in complex situations, so get ready for the ride to get rougher

      Reply
  50. Disagree strongly: I speak several languages too, aside from European languages such as including (Putonghua) Chinese and Japanese. Korean which I’m currently struggeling with must be the most difficult language in the world. Thanks to the extreme limitation of sounds you come across the same 300-400 syllables thousands and thousands of times, which makes remembering the words as hard as possible (even Chinese is easier here, thanks to tones and Hanzi), the grammar particles are used mutiple times too, the language has apparently more exceptions than rules and work in very different ways than f.e. Western languages. (That’s why picking a dictionary to make some sentences usually ends in anything but proper Korean.)

    Reply
    1. keep at it though!! personally, i think korean is really fun to talk in, and i feel like if you became very proficient in it, you would probably enjoy the language a lot 🙂

      Reply
  51. Remember that pretty girl who works at Samsung that I met yesterday?

    In this sentence, the subject is you not that pretty girl.

    that pretty girl is direct object.

    Reply
    1. It’s the direct object of the matrix clause and the subject of the embedded clause.

      Reply
  52. I'm sorry, but I disagree on many of your points (but I agree about attitude being important, so my negative attitude does hurt my efforts).

    I simply have not been able to learn Korean. There are lots of reasons for this. One is that I wrote to three university Korean language programs to enroll but did not get an answer from one of them. At my university, I got kicked out of the Korean class offered to foreign students. There is no hagweon in our town that teaches Korean. When we finally got our school to offer Korean for foreign faculty (at a moderate price, but basically less than what we got paid), the teaching was bad (extended detailed explanations of grammar and all the possible forms of politeness and formality all in Korean, with-out any checking to see the levels of the people in the class: some had been in Korea for a few years; some were fresh off the boat). Information on the course (hours, days, changes, apparent discontinuing of the class etc. ) was usually unavailable. Finally, the government has instituted a course for foreigners, but at least my teacher spends almost the whole time talking and explaining stuff that many in the class have no idea what it is about (e.g., after one hour of one topic which I could not follow, I asked one of the better students what the categories were in the boxes we were supposed to fill out. He told me that one box was future and one past – I knew that was wrong, and during our break asked an advanced student in another class, who explained completely in about one minute every-thing that neither I nor my class-mate had understood for the entire preceding hour), and the teacher asks if we understand and does not wait for an answer or ignores the few of us occasionally brave enough to say anyo.
    For various reasons, I can rarely use Korean at work.
    I tried a language exchange with an English teacher, but we wound up spending much more time on English (Okeh, that was my fault for not being assertive).
    I am shy and find it hard to impose on people the way Koreans come up to us to practice their English. also, I don't know what to say. In stores and restaurants, there is the simple stuff like how much, do you have etc. But then staff are not interested in going beyond that. Also, with my limited ability, I find it hard to think of what to say. Any-way, the usual response to what I say is often ?????? or some terrible broken English that is a translation of what I have said. (E.g., sagwa du gae jusay-yo. -> ap-PULL.) Even when I try to keep speaking Korean, the other person often either does not understand or continues with meaningless English. Out of politeness, Koreans who speak English will tell me I have great pronunciation, but when I am buying things etc. it is obvious that I don't. Korean phonemes are not easy: aspiration and lentis are hard to change and hear. (pang/ppang,p'ang). Koreans who do not know English (almost all the Koreans around here), do not understand me when I say English words (e.g., when I ask for a brand name of a product, often right behind them) unless I work very hard to Koreanize them. I cannot hear the difference between kyeok and seyot (and other non-apparent minimal pairs) at the beginning of names unless they are exaggerated for me – No, I mis-hear rather than cannot hear.

    I have studied a number of languages in various settings, from in-country to tapes to classes. None of them (including Amharic, Quechuan, Indonesian, Russian, Meskwaki, Nahuatl, Mongolian). In fact, after I had been in Korean three or four years, I took a trip to Taiwan. To get ready, I asked a fellow American who knew Chinese to give me some survival Chinese. In a few hours' work over less than two weeks, I learned more usable Chinese (not vocabulary – I knew over a thousand Korean words by then) than I Korean – and I could use it when I went.

    Reply
    1. Contd.

      The word order is not particularly difficult. Remembering words, getting speakers to slow down and repeat (they usually just say some-thing else when I say I don't understand and want them to repeat), trying to figure out where words end and what the actual sounds are are much more difficult for me. Dictionaries (online and many of the paper ones) give inadequate translations. Also, if it's some-thing I've heard, I might be looking under the wrong spelling. If it's a paper dictionary, the word might not be in the dictionary because it's some sort of combination.

      I used TTMIK for over a year and didn't get very much out of it — even though it's obvious they have put a lot of work into it. There was a lot of distracting chatter in a lot of the programs. I guess this was to make it more palatable, but for me it was not good.

      Also, you are right about "ha-da" (along with "it-da") – It is my crutch.

      I know that you are right that "Crucial to success in any foreign language pursuit is staying positive. If you think of it as difficult, it will be difficult!" – But with all the barriers I have, it is SO HARD to maintaining a positive attitude. I guess, in spite of my best intentions, I was burned by trying to learn Korean using Rosetta Stone (expensive and confusing) before coming hither. Still, I think I am long over that cause.

      Even having learned the way Hangul is written, I often cannot decipher a lot of hand-written work I get. this even applies to simply telling whether the name is, say Kim Hyeon or Kang Niyeol.
      Finally, I am slightly dyslexic. It seems that for native speakers of Korean dyslexia is not much of a problem in learning to read Hangul, but for me it is a constant error-creator. (I almost never have any problem in any other alphabet, even for languages I scarcely know.) My guess is that the Koreans are going from word to syllable. That is, they already know the words when they start learning how to read, and are simply looking for matching syllables. I, on the other hand, read most words letter-by-letter, making it really easy to "see" things backwards (ah/eo, ya/yeo, o/u, yo/yu etc.). Only with syllables and syllable sets that I have seen thousands of times (e.g., kim, hap ni da) do I not have a flipping problem.

      I'm writing this long diatribe to say that not all people who say Korean is hard are lazy people who have come to Korea for a free ride.

      Reply
      1. Very interesting! Many years ago when I was learning Mandarin in Taiwan, I met a Canadian who spoke English, French, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, Italian and Spanish. However, Mandarin seemed impossible for him. We both started at the same time and after one year, I was fairly conversational with most people and he still struggled to say basic stuff. My best friend is Russian and he always mentioned how this Canadian guy had a flawless Russian. However for me, Russian seems impossible and even today I struggle with it and I learned languages people considered more difficult like Hungarian. I guess some languages make more send to our brains than others or at least that I how I feel.

        Reply
        1. Correction: I guess some languages make more sense to our brain than others or at least that is how I feel.

          Reply
      2. thank you for this!! as a native i appreciate it

        Reply
  53. Great article! Just curious though… Why the hate for Hongdae and Itaewon?

    Reply
  54. I've never learnt Korean, but I don't really believe this. I have learnt Chinese, and while I can imagine that the lack of tones and characters makes Korean a bit easier, I just know that all the languages of the Far East are terribly difficult to learn for anyone who doesn't belong to that cultural sphere.

    Reply
  55. 한국어쉬운데? 영어가더여려워

    Reply
  56. Hey Donovan, when you get a chance, would you mind doing a review on Elementary Korean? Thanks!

    Reply
  57. Even though I am a native speaker of Korean, I've considered Koran language not to be easy one because rules in grammar, orthography, etc. perplexed me in making use of instinction as a native. After all that's said and done, I presume that almost every learner of a language faces the same difficulty at any stage of acquisition: grammar or phonetic systems that are entirely different from their mother tongues, some execeptions and even exceptions of exceptions,

    Reading this article convinced me of how easy it seems to learn Korean at the beginning level and I also saw your perspicacity on Korean language. Thanks for sharing your insight and this was really helpful.

    Reply
    1. same for me, in terms of the using instinction to speak. sometimes i mess up and have to start my sentence over, makes me look stupid in front of my parents haha

      Reply
  58. Great post. The language is accessible, but it does take quite a bit of effort. Volition will get you there. that and a few good books. There's a new one out called "As much as a Rat's Tail: Korean Slang, Invective and Euphemism"

    Reply
  59. Truly difficult part of Korean language is its sentence endings. Korean has hundres of sentence ending conjugation particles and they have all tiny nuance differences.
    Non-native Korean would very hard to get all of their nuance differences.
    Korean language is very emotional sensitive language. It is quiet hard to translate these nuance differences, and it would have very long sentences to express Korean nuance exactly.
    But if you get these all, You will find how Korean can express tiny nuance differences so well.

    Reply
  60. How long did it take you to get the basis of the Korean language down? Overall from start to when you were able to communicate well enough to talk with fellow Koreans, how long did the learning process go?

    Reply
    1. Hi Rode,

      I was communicating at a very basic level by about 4 months but it wasn't until about the 7 month mark that I was comfortably communicating. Still plenty of mistakes and far from perfect but by that stage things were picking up a lot of momentum.

      Reply
  61. Yes, Korean is not a extremely difficult language, but looking at some of the points that you have put on your post such as 맞다 which should be pronounced like mat da, show me that you are not even at the point where you can tell other people it is easy. I'm also guessing that you haven't learned 한문 which is difficult for even native Koreans to learn and master. Also, you may think that you have the Korean phonetics down, but what you think and what Korean natives hear might be very different, especially when your pronouncing 펀리 as 펼리, good luck saying that to a korean speaker and hoping They'll understand. And yes, you might say, "Well other korean people complimented me on my Korean." Well first of you are a foreigner, and that impresses korean people, and second of all korean culture is just like that, we compliment even though it's not true. So in conclusion, I would just like to ask that you would refrain from calling Korean easy when the things that you are teaching are not all 100% correct. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. haha your username ain’t very nice
      also, is hanmun necessary for korean?? idrk why you mentioned it bc isn’t it literally just chinese..
      and about his pronunciation, he released a video soon after this post, you should see it. his pronunciation is notttt as good as it seems like it might be, haha

      Reply
    2. but in general i agree with you, at least he’s getting people interested in korean though

      Reply
  62. Totally agree!! I’m korean learning English for a quite long time. For korean English is so backward. For example ‘I didn’t go to the shop yesterday’, Koreans say 나는 어제 가게에 안 갔어(I yesterday the shop to not went). How Different it is!!! Whenever i speak english my head is just messed up with the words and it’s so hard to assemble the words in right way. I need to stop thinking in Korean but that’s the most difficult part!!!

    Reply
  63. Im planning to vacation in korea next year if all things allow. I really prefer to visit the actual country and get out of the cities so I’m planning on trying to pick up some conversational korean by then. Would you say rosetta stone would be up to this task or do you recommend something different? Thanks for such an informational posting :).

    Reply
    1. Hello Scott
      Ive been learning Korean for 3 years, bit by bit and its slow progress being my first new language. I am currently in Korea now and have been here for 4 months. I personally would not recommend Rossetta Stone if you want to truly progress and save some money. I did it for about 2 years to start and truly wish I could have that time back… I wish I had simply learnt key phrases, pronunciation and the most frequent vocal instead. if I had I would have been well ahead of where I am now. I found Rossetta Stone easy do be motivated to do as it was kind of fun but I made minimal gains and after a while after initially thinking it was great, decided it was a bit of a hoax and dropped it half way through. Its definitely not the best way to learn Korean, and it costs alot when you consider you can learn for almost free.
      I personally have now found the method that works for me best is using sample sentences that seem like every day utterances with bits of basic grammar and new vocab and repeating it over and over until I can use it confidently and manipulate with alternative vocal (this is basically the chunking method that Donavan talks about on this site -I stumbled upon this method myself after failing to get results with conventional adult paper study methods). I would recommend using the TTMIK material as its free and presented well to find the sample sentences and basics. However I do find the Talk To Me In Korean material a little to entrenched in English explanations which makes ‘thinking in korean difficult’. If you try to speak korean thinking in ‘english’ and translating you will not progress much. Thats my experience anyway and Ive been a rather committed learner. Good luck

      Reply
  64. Your great positiv attitude is good! i don’t know your korean level but for me begining was very easy for daily conversation but once you arrive intermediate / advanced level in korean is very confusing….grammar is not simply sov…other things about the words, korean use more words than european language especialy for feeling. there some word which simply not exist in english too…
    in korean one word is enough to express that many words needs in english to express same thing.
    i continue to study in full time for my 2nd years without break now my level is getting better but i not feel fully comfortable with. there so many words to learn yet.
    korean needs really a lot of time to learn well. fighting!!

    Reply
  65. Donovan,
    Thanks for your clear positive and encouraging explanation do you have any experience to compare learning Korean with learning Japanese?

    PS no need to use friggin

    Reply
  66. I agree with most of the article except with 3 ” KOREAN PHONETICS ARE A PIECE OF CAKE FOR ENGLISH SPEAKERS”… at least partially.

    Yes, like some languages, (eg Dutch or Italian) Korean is read as it is written, with very consistent pronunciation rules.

    Yes, if you hear how Koreans pronounce English words (unless they had proper training) you can see how different Korean and English phonetics are. It takes a bit to get used to make the PROPER sounds…

    Also sometimes Koreans have the habit of changing a bit the pronunciation, especially of the first word.

    For example “Yes” is “Ne”, but often I heard it pronounced as “De” (something that indeed confused me in the beginning…)

    I would not say Korean phonetics are hardcore (like mandarin ugh…) but they are not easy-peasy either.

    It takes practice. I hope one day to learn to be fluent in Korean. In the end even an easy language requires some commitment.

    “STOP THINKING IN ENGLISH!”

    That’s the BEST advice you can give someone learning a new language… stop making translations in your head and use the language you are learning 🙂

    As books go I recommend also:
    Korean – A Comprehensive Grammar-Routledge (2011)

    It’s really quite good in explaining the Korean Grammar.

    Also there are several courses on Youtube too 🙂

    In any case: FIGHTING! 😀

    Reply
  67. I am beginner in Korean language , also . I am filipino . I started to learn the characters and how to pronounce them . But , after that . Am i going to memorize all the korean words ? To be able to communicate with them ? please answer me .

    How can i learn it fast even if i had school works and don’t have enough money to buy books .

    Thanks 🙂

    Reply
  68. I’m trying to learn Korean after studying Mandarin for five years. I’m a native English speaker, and Mandarin came so easy for me. I was BAFFLED by people who kept telling me how amazed they were that I was learning Chinese and how hard it must be…

    BUT, and here is the thing I don’t see anyone mentioning, the languages you find easy or difficult are very directly related to your learning style (visual, auditory, reading, kinesthetic). I am a visual/reading learner so Chinese characters were not hard for me to memorize with pinyin and an hour or so to study every night. To this day, even though I hear Chinese more than read or write it, I can read Mandarin better than I can listen to it.

    In Korean, of course learning the alphabet was easy, but I’m having a heck of a time trying to remember how to say words. For one, words in Korean are like tongue twisters to me even by themselves, let *alone* in a full sentence. Korean “understand” for example, “aradulruyo (?)” vs. the Mandarin “dong” or “mingbai.” And I keep reading that Korean phonetics are easier than Chinese. Seriously?!

    And then, of course, grammar. Even English grammar is a mess for me. As a writer and blogger my English grammar is good simply from native-speaker instinct and constant usage, but if someone asked me to explain English grammar to them I would be at a total loss. So Mandarin grammar was a breeze to pick up. Grammar almost identical to English + easy words to pronounce and remember (not a single word changes based on its place in the sentence) meant Chinese was perfect. In comparison, the reversed Korean grammar + single words being a mouthful to say, let alone remembering how to change them based on their usage in a sentence is killer to me.

    I really need to stop comparing Korean to Chinese, because when I do I immediately go “Korean is sooo hard!” But I know if I wasn’t a native English speaker and was learning ENGLISH and Korean, I’d think Korean was easy.

    -shrugs-

    It’s all in your mindset, as everyone says.

    ANYWAY, all that being said, there is a new language learning app (Mango Languages) that you can do online or via a smartphone, and all you need is to be a member of an affiliated library (there are a TON connected to Mango) to get free lessons. They offer sixty languages or so, but I use it for Korean. Right now they only have basic Korean but it is all very useful (teaches you introductions and basic conversation starters, how to buy things and order food, and traveling terms). If you want to go to Korea I highly recommend using Mango to start studying Korean so you won’t be helpless when you get there. The only thing is you need to know the alphabet before starting lessons because it doesn’t teach you.

    Sorry for the long rant. For all my complaints about Korean, I think it is one of the most beautiful languages out there (subjective, I know) and I am determined to become at least semi-fluent in it. If you find any language hard, I suggest discovering your learning style and trying to tailor your study habits around them. (If you are visual/audio for example, try watching shows and movies in the foreign languages. If you’re audio/kinesthetic, try learning songs in the language. There are always ways to make language-learning easier and also fun for yourself.)

    Thanks for reading!
    Trii

    Reply
  69. Mostly people are able to correctly build shorter sentences, but, as soon as a longer sentence comes most of the non-Koreans start fumbling or say out an incorrect sentence.

    Reply
  70. I love this post! I’ve been telling my friends this for quite some time now, but I’ve seen so many ‘it’s too difficult’ comments that it’s actually started making me feel like maybe I’m crazy. I learnt the alphabet in less than an hour and although I’ve not been strict about my learning, reading hangul has been the easiest out of the whole learning process. I would also like to add that it is really easy to learn correct pronunciations if you’re a native spanish speaker as well.

    Korean is not as intimidating as people make it out to be.

    Reply
  71. I have been self studying Korean for some time now and am currently at the intermediate level ~ I would say that Korean is probably the easiest to read and write out of the big 3 popular Asian language ( Chinese, Japanese, Korean). However, that is mostly thanks to the phonetic alphabet (Hangeul) that King Sejeong invented to boost literacy in the country for the peasants who could not invest a lot of time into learning to read and write “Hanja” or the Chinese Characters that were exclusively used to write Korean. However, speaking and listening can be a bit more trickier…. However, the Korean alphabet being easy to learn makes learning Korean a lot more encouraging… I learned Hanguel in a couple of days and was able to go out and sing my favourite karaoke songs and read signs in my local Korea town!!! However, just because you know how to read and pronounce the words does not necessarily mean you know what you are reading….. It took me a while to advance to Korean intermediate level.. and to get there I used College level textbooks, kept a diary in Korean on Lang-8 a website that allows native speakers to correct you writting, and attended weekly Korean language exchanges to converse with Korean students. I would say the beginner stages can be easy but once you get to high intermediate it gets harder and harder ….. For example the word (pullDa) 풀다 can mean to solve something, untie something, loosen something up, or to release stress…. plus there are different honorific endings depending who you are talking to or talking about

    Reply
  72. Can’t agree all of it. Although it doesn’t have gender or numbers for nouns and alphabet is really easy, follow-ups(어미) at the P, they are horrible….
    하다 –> 하고 한다 하는데 한데 해서 했다 했고 했는데 했었고 했었는데 했었습니다 etc.
    It’ll take so long to get used to all those variations for every words..

    Reply
  73. Korean characters are ridiculously easy to learn, it only takes few hours. But as a Korean I cannot agree to your article. Of course it is not a bad language to learn as an entertainment, it is impossible to actually ‘master’ the language- grammar and spelling. We joke about how not even Korean editors/writers/journalists, etc. don’t know about proper grammar and spelling. There are too many rules and exceptions to those rules. You’ll see once you go into depth.

    Reply
    1. haha true

      Reply
  74. You’re saying that hangul can be learnt in two hours? You maybe can learn the alphabet in two hours, but you cannot then already read up speed!

    Reply
  75. Thanks so much!
    This has definitely made me dedicated to learn Korean. One thing that I’m a little overwhelmed about though is the fact that it seems that a lot of the letters have a bunch of different ways of pronouncing them. I find it a bit daunting. It also doesn’t help that I have trouble telling what people are saying apart. It all just kind of squishes together in my head. Any tips on that?
    And one last thing, would you say that a free Korean learning website/app is less helpful than a paid one? Or are they about the same?
    Thanks again!

    Reply
  76. Great article, thanks!

    Reply
  77. Hongdae’s a fantastic, artistic community, btw. I assume the shade thrown was strictly related to its ability to provide an immersive Korean language environment, which few areas in Seoul can. If you’re not in a particular hurry to learn the language and don’t want to live in the mountains or on a farm, why not Hongdae.

    Reply
  78. I’m gonna have to seriously disagree with you.

    Honorifics are easy/grammar is simple? I would really like to hear a native speaker’s evaluation of how appropriately you use honorifics and grammar. Yes, constructing the forms is quite easy. But knowing when to use them is not.

    I concur that the alphabet and phonetics are easy. But that’s not enough to say, “oh, this is an easy language.”

    And Konglish is worse than actually learning Korean words. If you say “golf” to a Korean, they will have no idea what you’re talking about. You have to pronounce it 콜프 and figuring out how Koreans pronounce English words is more confusing than trying to learn straight Korean words.

    There is a reason the Navy classifies Korean as a level 4 language (that is, the hardest type of language for an English-speaker to learn). The number systems alone are mind-boggling.

    Reply
    1. I am at a near-native level in Korean and I will agree with this. I highly doubt the person who wrote this is actually any good. I have only ever met 2 people (out of probably 3000 who have studied for at least a year and a half in country) who are actually good enough at Korean to even sound truly natural. Also, the writer’s evaluation of the pronunciation is ridiculous and asinine. Pronouncing Korean like a native is so difficult it takes a minimum of two years completely immersed in the language and a non-stop focus on improving pronunciation to achieve. Even then, you have to have a natural affinity for correct pronunciation. For example, the most famous of all foreigners who have learned Korean, Robert Holly (로버트 할리), doesn’t even come close to naive pronunciation. In fact, 99.9% of all foreigners who learn Korean give away the fact that they are foreign with just the first word they say.

      If you really think Korean is such an easy language, then please upload a video of you speaking Korean. If you are at a level where you’re qualified to say whether or not Korean is an easy language or not, then there is no reason to not post a video

      Reply
      1. I think what this site wanted to achieve was to make people believe that they could learn Korean. Just having someone say that you can do it makes it so much easier.
        I had been trying to learn Korean on the thought of ‘Korean is soo hard to learn. I’ll never be able to do it’ but when I found this site it suddenly became much easier. Please try to cheer people on, not discourage them.

        If you absolutely have to say something negative then at least add a little “But you can do it if you try your best!” at the end. Or maybe even make it constructive criticism.

        Please don’t take this personally, I just want to try to encourage people to learn a new language. 🙂

        Reply
      2. I agree. I’ve learnt Korean for more than 4 years, and I don’t speak exactly like a native Korean. Pronunciation, intonation, and all that stuff mean that, while you’ll be able to communicate quite fairly well after a few years, you’ll need maybe at least 6 years to speak fluent and natural korean?

        Reply
      3. in response to your claim that donovan is “no good”, i will have to agree and disagree on that. since this post, he has actually posted a video of him speaking korean, and as a native speaker, i can say he’s pretty good for a non-native. without the leniency of being a non-native, however, his pronunciation is far from good and he made a good number of grammatical errors in his video talk. but all of that is irrelevant, since his purpose is mainly to get people interested in the language. even if he may get a little cocky about how easy korean is, i would suggest for you to let it go, because he’s overall generating a positive focus on the language.

        Reply
    2. hey rayanne, i’m a native speaker, just want to suggest some things here. in general i agree with you in that he seems to downplay korean and not fully grasp the bounds of the language, and according to his video he posted not long after this post, he doesn’t seem to be as good at korean than he seems to present himself to be in the article (he’s good on the general language, but there were many mistakes of his on specifics of his speaking). but, he is still bringing more attention to the language, which is a good thing. i would say just let him off the hook. now if he were, in his article, gloating about how easy the language is and how he’s so good at it, i would be triggered too, but that isn’t the purpose of this article, so yeah 🙂

      Reply
  79. Hi, This is really cool and thank you explain very well to easily understand.

    I found this site with the key sentence ( WHY WE SHOULD LEARN KOREAN.)
    I was a little bit surprised with the fact that there are lots of people who want to learn Korean than I had thought.

    Actually, I’d like to add something to explain about real-life grammar.
    as a native Korean, I never seen the Korean grammar book,
    but I believe there might be no explanation about real-life conversation.

    I’d like to mention 2 things.
    These might be easy to learn Korean and hard in the meanwhile.

    We use the S-O-V in order, but as an agglutinative language
    but we can understand S-V-O in order sentence.

    Tyler studies Korean.
    타일러는 한국어를 공부합니다.
    타일러는 공부합니다 한국어(를).
    Both of them we understand.

    We omit the every particles in real life, while English speakers should tell every particles in their sentences.
    (especially, josa *조사 ; a postposition which adds the meaning by sticking to after the Noun)

    1. Tyler has lunch.
    타일러는 점심(을) 먹습니다.

    2. I bought an Iphone yesterday which I’d always dreamed of.
    How was it?
    I love it and it is beyond my expectation.

    (나(는)) (어제) 갖고 싶었던 아이폰(을) 샀어.
    (어제 산 아이폰은) 어때?
    (그것은) 아주 마음에 들어 그리고 기대 이상이야.
    –> 아주 마음에 들고, 기대이상 이야.
    All particles are in the parentheses able to leave out.

    It was hard to write in english with my deficiant english and ‘d like to explain more,
    but it will take a long time.

    Please leave the comment and let me know who wants language exchanges.
    (between Korean and any other languages)

    Both of them we can understand.

    Reply
  80. i study japanese & i was curious about just how korean sounds so i took a korean cours on memrise to check it out..and i must say that i was shocked-i had no idea that this language is such difficult in spelling! i completely didnt feel korean not my language but i think that if someone really wants something he/she will achieve it so i wish good luck everyone learning korean 😉

    Reply
  81. Hi Donovan,
    As a multiple translator myself I’ve always been interested in different languages but actually never dared to embark in one with a different alphabet. Even if I’m not young anymore, let me tell you that your article has encouraged me and made me feel that an Asian language could be, for the first time, more accessible than I ever thought. I’ve saved your article and I’m seriously considering studying Korean by myself, which would be my first approach to Asia ever. I also feel drawn to Korea from the cultural point of view and I think the approach to a country’s culture is not complete without the mastery of its language. If I start it will be my fifth foreign language, and I feel fortunate to have found your article. HUGE THANKS!

    Reply
  82. I think Mr. Carter is spot on. Lots of the consonants in Korean are different from those of English and are extremely difficult to get.

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  83. I am lower intermediate level in Korean and a big annoyance to me is I can’t process Korean sentences efficiently in my head. When I read Korean, I often read the first few words then I skip the middle to wherever the next verb comes up (usually the end). Only then do I try to figure out the overall meaning from the extra information in the middle. Yes I know! Very inefficient.

    So watching kdramas without English subs? Forget about it.

    My big question, is there a way to understand Korean sentences quickly and efficiently? Like without having to wait for the verb that typically comes at the end of the sentence sloooooooooow.

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  84. SO WOULD YOU SAY KOREAN IS HARDER OR EASEIR THAN MANDERINE CHINESE?

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  85. I feel you’re not being sincere with your points. While it is fairly easy to get to a level where you can express basic needs in Korean, it is far from easy to progress past that point. The grammar is the furthest thing from simple after learning the basic structure and the language completely changes when going from common to honorifics. There is a reason Korean is the only category 5 difficulty language for native English speakers.

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    1. ^^i agree, i have the slight notion that donovan might not know korean as best as he seems to think he is, in the best way possible, just in terms of the actual bounds of the language. i also get the feeling that he might be too confident in his knowledge, as he is pretty well versed for a non-native, and makes it seem to the readers that it’s simpler for him than everybody else claims it to be, but he is actually getting a decent amount of people interested in the language, so it’s not so bad

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  86. I have recently decided to learn Korean, because I love K-pop, and the language is very interesting to me. I wanted to search what people have said about learning Korean, and I found your website. Everything you said convinced me that it’s really not that hard to learn. I used the comic you attached here to learn the alphabet and other related things. I checked Duolingo to check if they had Korean, but unfortunately, they didn’t. My friend told me about this app called Memrise, so I got it. It’s pretty useful, except for when the person who says the letter or syllable kind of makes it sound like a different letter. I saw all your references to places to start learning, and I’ve checked out a few. I might watch some videos, but I’m also looking for other apps that straightforwardly help you practice how to write and speak in Korean. If you have any other recommendations, I’d really appreciate it.

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  87. Besides kpop what are your reasons for learning Korean? Why do y’all wanna learn Korean?

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    1. Kdramas. I love the twists and turns, some of the stories are so unexpected and unheard of. I really wanted to get the real essence of the story so I decided to learn.

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  88. before anything else, i’d like you, the author, to know that anything i say from here on out is not to antagonize you, i just need to express my thoughts because i feel they are relevant. please stay with me 🙂

    so i’d like to address a few points in general,
    the title triggered me. as a native speaker, you can’t just go “korean isn’t difficult” because it most definitely is. even when i speak korean to my parents, because i’m not super proficient in korean, they often don’t understand what i try to say. keep in mind that korean was my first language and i’ve been exclusively speaking only korean in the house since i was able to speak lol

    i want the author to know that, as you may live in korea and speak korean alot, i’m pretty sure you’ve encountered koreans who are surprised and complimented your ability to speak korean. however, not meaning to cast doubt on your korean, koreans often very very rarely come into contact with foreigners, and they often don’t hold foreigners to be very intelligent. so when they meet a foreigner who speaks at least a bit of korean, they’ll proabably be like “omg wow” and shower them with compliments. also, complimenting when you don’t really mean it is, i’m pretty sure, a cultural thing for koreans (not saying it’s unique, just a cultural characteristic). especially among korean women, who i’ve seen many times over-compliment somebody, which would definitely look weird in western culture but normal in korean. that is just to tell you, don’t let the compliments of natives boost your ego up too high, because they often don’t mean it as much as you think they do.

    as for the points in the article:
    when you said grammar was very simple, i was shocked, because even i have a lot of trouble trying to figure out korean grammar. as an english speaker, you can almost always just use your english instinct to figure out the correct english grammar, but for korean grammar, that isn’t always the case. i imagine you to be a very good korean speaker for a non-native, who hasn’t really been immersed in the deeper, more nuanced korean speech and grammar. when you take into account situations, feelings, possibilities, and more factors, you can come up with a really realllly large amount of sentence endings that grammatically make sense. they’re all very subjective and emotional. for instance, your “blessed” ha-da verbs are actually really complex. on the spot, i can think of more than a dozen endings based on ha-da, and i’m not even that good at korean tbh.
    as for the subject of pronunciation, there’s a lot more to korean pronunciation than i think you know. i’m pretty sure you think your pronunciation is pretty good, based on the article and its use of language, and i think that you’re just been over compliments by some of your friends in korea. i’m not gonna lie, i don’t think i will ever meet an english speaker who has a “good” korean pronunciation. even i have a slight “american” lilt, and i’ve spoken it all my life.

    i’ve also seen your video in which you speak korean, which was shortly posted after this post, if my memory serves well. earlier, i was excited to hear you speak and to see if you were as good as that article made it seem like you were, but after listening to your korean, i can say that, as a non-native, you’re prettty good at korean, but just in general, you’re not really good at all. i am not trying to trigger you, i am trying to tell you the truth. i feel like because your talent and hard work towards the korean language has made you proficient non-native-wise, that you have gained an unproportional confidence in your abilities. to you, the korean language isn’t difficult because you only mastered the beginner’s korean, if you could say that. you have a LOT more to learn, assuming you’re still at the proficiency of the video i watched, which you’re probably not, but for the sake of my comment, let’s assume lol. this brings me to my last point: i would advise you to not sound to confident in how “easy” korean is, because frankly, you’re not all that super good. it would be nice if korean grammar was emphasized more realistically in this article to prepare english beginners for what to expect. it’s not cool to tell people that a language’s grammar is “super simple” and have them hit a wall later on.

    other than that, i really appreciate what i hope is your bringing-to-attention of others to the korean language, because i really like it and want other people to experience it, if not fully then at least a bit. again, please don’t take my comment personally, because i mean no harm. i am just giving my thoughts 🙂 have fun with korean

    Reply
    1. i mean to say “you’re not super good” in place of “you’re not that good at all”
      sorry, that sounds extremely rude

      Reply
  89. While I appreciate the motivational aspects of this topic, Korean is objectively evaluated not only to be difficult among the world’s top ~two dozen languages for an anglophone to learn, but—excluding the notorious script of Japanese—the most difficult.

    The last time I looked, NSA (unclassified) and State Department rankings of difficulty put Japanese and Korean at the top. We’re not talking wishy-washy ‘feelings’ and ‘opinions’ about it. It’s about what sort of hoops a learner who would be intending service in some capacity to the country would have to go through to be an effective communicator in Arabic, Russian, German… Japanese, Korean. The government wants you to know. This stuff matters; that’s why they tell you.

    None of these assessments take into a account some peculiarities about Korean-acquisition pedagogy. While it’s not a big-time language for learning popularity, the resources for Korean are considerably greater than for, say, Tibetan. You want Tibetan, you take what you can get, but you better get a tutor, because the material is so sparse, that the likelihood of finding something useable in the library stacks or internet is practically zero, at least the last time I looked.

    But, the resources for Korean in one way or another are going to throw some idiosyncratic or shared ball-bearing under your feet, or exclude info that really should be on the same page. This is the same for Korean or Western learning materials. They mess up somewhere; and an inherently difficult language should bend over backwards—no matter what approach (vocab-, syntax-, convo-, text-, audiovisual-, 360-degree-VR-in-the-street-real-world-immersion- [I just made that one up, but go for it if you want to make splash in the Korean language-teaching world], etc. –method) is taken.

    I’m not playing favorites here. I don’t know any that are firing on all cylinders, and some aren’t playing with a full deck, they’re one 맥주 short of a six-pack. That includes the big-shot internet Korean sites, as well as the horrid textbook (King/Yeon) I spent $100+ bucks on enrolling in my university course (King was department head, incidentally). Don’t even think of acquiring any language economically and rationally at university unless there is some academic need for it (eg. Linguistics there required taking a language, whether you knew 5 languages or just English).

    Almost universal now is the idea that one must not only learn Hangǔl, but it must be the grand central station of conversational acquisition. Yes, you must learn Hangǔl. Absolutely. If what we are talking about is not some vaguely conceived idea of messing around, ‘learning’ (=learning about), etc. Korean, but driving forward to the ability to talk to people on the street, stores, and cafés, then you will need reading ability just handle store names, menus, directions, and so forth.
    It is not an easy language to read at speed. Sorry. You can pick up the letters in twenty minutes, you can crawl through words and phrases in a week. It is not something you want to assimilate vocab, syntax, affixes, phonology, phonetics, morphophonemic and the like data in a holistic fashion. That is the job of audio-visual resources and a semi-transcriptional representation of normal—non-street—pronunciation. A good example of the latter is the older (defunct) Teach Yourself Korean series by Yeon (same guy as above) and Vincent. That book got that part right;  typos and poorly arranged notes and explanatory lacunae were its particular set of irritating ball-bearings. You’ll also need the script for auxiliary materials and references: bits and pieces of clarification that only come through the native script. The exception are the transcriptions typical in linguistic references and papers etc. which, however, are highly specialized and impenetrable for all but linguistics boffins. Learn Hangǔl in parallel with more normal or sensible vectors of acquisition. You will want to type it, but handwriting is something that can wait. That said, reading and writing may be something you greatly enjoy.

    That’s a sketch, as you’re probably feeling depressed now. Don’t be, but try to get a good tutor, if you can afford it, or look into a language-exchange arrangement. Don’t start Korean as your first second-language attempt. At least try Esperanto as a sort of toy-language that is dead easy. Spend a month with that. Then maybe Spanish. Then Korean. Go for it. It’s a challenge worth the effort. Beware of on-line arguments and disputes! Don’t get entangled in them, it wont’t help your progress (eg. “that’s ridiculous, the Koreans don’t pronounce it ‘p’; it’s a b.” “No they don’t, I’m a Korean”.
    blah, blah, blah.

    Finally, the old-time language writer and polyglot Mario Pei once wrote something very simple and very wise: if you don’t need to learn a language, you probably won’t succeed. By ‘learn’, he meant getting to the point of being comfortably conversational in it, of course. There’s no end of people talking about how they recommend this course or that, and ‘I did really well with Pimsleur’, ‘KoreanClass101 is cool’, etc. Who actually completed to advanced and street-language level? Do you know? You only know what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it, and how far you’re getting. The only thing you have confidence in is your tutor or language-buddy.

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  90. Totally disagree on “Elementary Korean”. It is a horrible book, and very effective in removing fun from learning.

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  91. I’m not a huge fan of this article, respectfully, because I think it misrepresents a few reasons why people give up. Firstly, just right off the bat, the Korean alphabet being easy doesn’t change anything. Yes you can pronounce things sort of in a couple sessions if you’re good at that kind of thing and yes the phonetics are mostly easy (even if some sounds are difficult for English speakers). What this article doesn’t mention though is the severe lack of resources Korean has. I own about a dozen books on learning Korean and over half of them are horribly wrong. There’s no standards. But the main reason I think people here get frustrated with Korean is because most Koreans don’t get how language learning is achieved and don’t have resources that can help. That’s kind of a hidden reason they hire us in the first place. English tends to be flexible. Despite the obsession with getting it perfect here, the fact is English is spoken by so many different demographics of people with different accents and from different home countries, English speakers are used to hearing their language spoken many different ways and we rarely have trouble understanding. The average Korean can’t understand anything but perfect Korean, and don’t have the patience for it because they don’t encounter someone getting it wrong very often. This makes practice difficult especially for a beginner and creates a steep initial curb most will never surpass. Beyond that, the way we think, not just our scentence formation but the way we deduce concepts every day, is so fundamentally different there is a reason why they need years of formal study to get “ok” at English. It is no different for us. There is no reason the average learner should be ashamed he can’t do something in three months that a Korean learning English takes years to accomplish. Most of them are completely forgiving of you not knowing much Korean but those who aren’t seemed to have missed an important fact – and we are self loathing about it but it really wasn’t our choice. Most people here have had mandatory English lessons several times a week from 3rd grade through high school. Almost all that go to college continue learning English there too. And millions more spent additional hours and hours at private academies studying further. After all this, the number of Koreans who are truly functional in their second language are not a massive group. Even if I wanted this level of dedication I couldn’t attain it because the resources barely exist. There are not enough classes, not enough teachers, and no where near enough teachers that understand the differences between our two languages well enough to teach effectively. If I had a dedicated Korean teacher or teachers that wanted to work with me at that level and text resources that I could trust and that taught efficiently I could learn, most of us could not just the rare minority that get lucky with their contacts. I’m not failing to learn Korean because I’m not trying, not dedicated, and don’t care. I’m not improving in Korean because the resources I, as a learner, would need to make my success possible do not exist in a way I can access them.

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  92. There are many ways in which I disagree with this article, but most of that was already said before, so I’ll add only this (because of my experience with many foreigners, who tried to learn Hangul that way, and because I am a teacher of Korean myself) – DON’T use this terrible comic strip for learning. It uses Revised Romanization, which fails to differentiate between voiced and unvoiced consonants. I mean: id vailz do tivverenzhiade pedween foizd ant unfozd gonzonandz, you see? Try McCune–Reischauer or just simply learn hangul without trying to connect it to the Latin alphabet, it’ll be much easier that way, without trying to understand why Busan or Joseon aren’t pronounced the way you’ve been taught.

    Reply
  93. “Remember that pretty girl who works at Samsung that I met yesterday?”
    The subject is not the pretty girl. In this sentence you have an occult subject:
    “Do you remember that pretty girl who works at Samsung that I met yesterday?”. So the subject is “You”, the object is “that pretty girl who works at Samsung that I met yesterday”. Also, there is a dependent clause inside this subject: “that I met yesterday”. I’m no English expert but probably this is a very informal way of using this dependent clause, probably it should be something like “whom I met yesterday” or “of which I met yesterday”. But that’s actually something I don’t know. 🙂

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  94. Hi Donovan,

    Just saw this post linked from Shannon Kennedy’s Korean resource page. I love it!

    I agree with every point, and love all the resources you listed. Also was surprised to see my Australian alma mater mentioned in the list of free resources. Go Monash, you did something! haha

    Dana

    Reply
  95. This is a bit off. First of all, Korean phonetics are harder than you let on. For one thing, people devoice initial consonants and even unaspirated consonants have a bit of aspiration. Good luck trying to tell if someone said 작하다 or 착하다. Koreans actually listen to the exact intonation to tell the difference.

    Second, South Koreans don’t write initial ㄹ or ㄴ even when it’s pronounced. 못 일거요 is pronounced monilgeoyo.

    Third, Koreans do use polite forms every single day. Go to a restaurant, they will ask 몇 분이세요 but you have to respond with 세 명 because you don’t use respectful counter 분. And of course a lot of the time people will say things like 실례합니다 that you are expected to understand which is not just removing 요.

    Further, there are a ton of homonyms. 이, 김, 들다, etc. Also ones that are spelled differently, but sound the same like 개 and 게

    Spoken Japanese is actually much easier. It has easier phonetics (no diphthongs or doubled consonants), fewer vowels, very regular grammar, sharing only some downsides with Korean. Only Kanji is an issue for serious learners.

    Also Spanish is very easy, very predictable to read (moreso than Korean where people make huge tables of final+initial consonant pronunciation), pretty easy to spell and easy phonetics. For English speakers it offers a lot of cognates with Latin and French loans.

    In conclusion, Korean is medium difficulty. Russian is much much harder, lots of languages are easier.

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  96. I wouldn’t call learning Korean super easy. I myself learned hangul pretty easy and understood the basic sentence structure well but it got complicated when the use of past, present, and future tenses/verbs came into place. And as you said, when a sentence with subjects that has adjectives and/or objects came into place and the past and present forms are used, it gets really frustrating. But in the end, it’s kinda subjective. A learner’s background (where he is located and what his culture is) as well as his native language also come into place.

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  97. I am recently learning Korean by myself so the thing I am struggling with is feedback and dialogue. Do you -or any of you commenters- have any other websites/podcast/forums I can check out that can help me with this? Thank you, guys!

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  98. Thanks for the article. I am looking to learn how to read and write korean so I can better understand some of these kpop songs that I am really into.

    Reply
  99. Very Informative article!

    Thank you very much for the article. I was looking to learn Korean language and its difficulties, I agree with every point, and love all the resources you published.

    Reply
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