Learning Korean can seem like a real challenge because of its seemingly difficult alphabet, inaccessible pronunciation, and complicated grammar. But the truth is that it’s not that hard to learn! Especially if you hire an expert tutor who can guide your learning journey. Start learning Korean today and you’ll be able to enjoy Squid Game in its original language, understand what the very talented BTS are singing, socialise with people in South Korea if you every visit it, and much more! Take a look at our guide below and you’ll have a clearer picture on how to start learning Korean from the comfort of your home.
Learn the Korean Alphabet
Did you know that the Korean alphabet has a name? It’s called the Hangul and was invented in the 15th century. Today, the Hangul has 24 simple letters (with 10 vowels and 14 consonants) and 10 complex letters made out of different combinations of vowels and consonants. Although the alphabet may seem difficult at the beginning, the good news is that the most complex character requires only 5 strokes. This is great when compared with Chinese, where complex letters can take over 15 strokes.
Each letter in the Korean alphabet is called jamo and are written in syllable. Another peculiarity is that these letters mimic the shape your mouth adopts when you pronounce them, so learning the pronunciation system afterwards is not that complicated. In terms of punctuation, the Korean system uses Western commas, periods, and semi-colons.
|Korean consonant||Name of the consonant||Romanized spelling|
Name of the vowel
Learn The Korean Grammar System
Learning grammar is always difficult, but even more so if you are trying to become fluent in Korean. This happens because the system is not similar to the English one at all. To illustrate these differences, let’s take a look at a few examples.
In English, we typically use the structure Subject-Verb-Object and say “I love my mother”. Meanwhile Korean syntax is organised differently:
So, they would say something like “I my mother love”. Sounds confusing, right? Korean syntax can be hard to acquire at the beginning, but with practice and patience soon you’ll get familiar with these structures! Here are more examples:
- 저는 오렌지를 먹었습니다. (na-neun orenji-reul meo-geo-sseo-yo) = I + an orange + ate = I ate an orange
- 오빠가 축구를 합니다. (o-bba-ga chug-ggu-reul hai-yo) = Big brother + soccer + does = My big brother plays soccer.
Another important feature of the Korean grammar system is that sentences without a subject are also correct in Korean (not so in English). Sesil, one of our stellar Korean teachers, explains this: “For example, ‘Am Jisoo.’ instead of ‘I am Jisoo.’ is also safely in the field of Standard Korean Grammar. Although it might sound like the speaker was being lazy and did not include the subject ‘I’, either ‘Object+Verb’ or ‘Verb alone’ is absolutely fine in Korean.
Adjectives in Korean are also completely different from our English adjectives. Instead of having different forms for comparison adjectives, for example, they are conjugated as if they were verbs! So, you’ll have a base form (also called stem) and an ending that always changes (in regular and irregular ways).
Let’s take a look at an example:
저기에서 노는 아이가 예쁘다. (jeo-gi-e-seo no-neun a-i-ga ye-bbeu-da): The child playing over there is cute.
Here’s a short explanation of the example by Min-Jong, one of our professional native-speaking teachers:
“Here, ‘노는(playing)’ functions as an adjective for ‘아이’, and it comes from the verb ‘놀다 (to play)’. The conjugation is like this: 놀 (verbal stem) + 는 (adjective form suffix): ‘놀는’. But when ‘ㄹ’ in the stem immediately meets ‘ㄴ’, that ‘ㄹ’ is deleted. So, the final version is ‘노는’.”
Korean verbs, instead, are much simpler than the adjective system. Instead of memorising tenses or agreements, you’ll need to remember the different endings for nuance and mood. This is particularly important to show respect and politeness (one of the most distinctive features of Korean society).
For example, a verb in its infinitive form takes the particle “다”:
먹다 — to eat
요리하다 — to cook
보다 — to see
And if you decide to say “I eat” or “he eats”, you’ll see the verb remains the same:
저는 먹어요. — I eat
현수는 먹어요. — Hyunsoo eats
Now, the verb form will change depending on who your interlocutor is. In Korean, grammar changes if you speak to a friend or if you speak to your boss, for example.
넷플릭스 봐? - Netflix + see? (Do you watch Netflix?. Said to a friend.
넷플릭스 보세요? - Netflix + see? (Do you watch Netflix?). Said to a teacher.
You can also express your emotions by changing the ending:
미나가 요리해요. Mina cooks. - to deliver the fact or information that she cooks.
미니가 요리하네요. Mina cooks! - to express you are surprised that she cooks.
Some Korean Idioms You Need to Know
To truly become fluent in Korean, one of the elements you should master in addition to grammar or vocabulary is idioms. These are idiomatic phrases that generally bear no relation to the literal meaning of the sentence. Here are some of the most common idioms you should know to take your speaking skills to the next level!
|Something you want badly but cannot afford.|
|눈코 뜰 새 없다
(nun-ko ddeul-ssai eob-dda)
|I can’t lose time, I’m extremely busy.|
|제 눈에 안경이다
(je nu-ne an-gyeong i-da)
|Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.|
|식은 죽 먹기
(si-geun jug meog-ggi)
|It’s a piece of cake.|
|꿩 먹고 알 먹는다
(ggueong meo-ggo al meong-neun-da)
|To kill two birds with one stone.|
|To be enraged.|
|보기 좋은 떡이 먹기도 좋다
(bo-gi jo-eun ddeo-gi meog-ggi-do jo-ta)
|What looks good, tastes good.|
All in all, while Korean is not truly related to the English language, the effort it requires to become fluent pays off! With the resources we frequently share on Instagram, Facebook, and our blog, soon you’ll be able to hold fluent conversations in the Korean language!
A special thank you to our star teachers Sesil and Min-Jong for their invaluable contributions and feedback! They are native Korean tutors who will help you acquire the language effortlessly. Contact us today to get started.