How long does it take to learn Korean?

  • Hi! I'm thinking of going to South Korea for a year and wonder if it's possible to learn Korean within that time. Any ideas or experiences? Thanks for your help!

    19 May 2007, 04:51 Betty
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  • Difficult to learn Korean

    Hi Betty!

    A year is very short indeed - but you could definetely get to the level of having a basic conversation.

    For an introduction to only speaking Korean, I recommend the following:
    Making Out in Korean, by Peter Constantine, 1995 Yenbooks (slightly racy terms included, but very fun, trendy and colloquial).
    Korean in Plain English, by Boye De Mente, Passport Books, 1988.
    Korean in a Hurry, by Samuel E.Martin, Charles E. Tuttle Company
    A formal and more comprehensive guide to learn to speak, write and read, I recommend:
    Mastering Korean, by B.Nam Park, with cassettes, Barron's, 1988, this is the Foreign Service Institute guide developed by the U.S.Government, and it is effective though dull (no pictures or illustrations).
    Also highly recommended are:
    Colloquial Korean; A Complete Language Course, with cassettes, by A.I. Kim, 1997.
    Korean: Instant Vocabulary, Vocabulearn, Levels I and II, 1986.
    Pimsleur Language Program by Sung-Hyun Kirk Kim, 1998. Only 10 lessons are available so far, but eventually the full 30-lesson package would be most beneficial.
    If you can read Japanese, there is an excellent book with cassettes to teach vocabulary and writing for beginners: Kankokugo Kihontango purasu 2000, by Kim Dong Hahn, Goken Publishers.
    In buying a dictionary, you have to decide if you want to get one that uses one of the romanization systems listed above, which are confusing and incompatible with each other. I strongly recommend instead that you learn the script and get a good Hangul (script) dictionary, which may have pronunciation guides, but does not rely on a romanization system.

    Brian 19 May 2007, 04:52 - Report
  • Learning Korean

    I would allow a year to learn to speak, but to learn to read newspapers and use the politeness forms properly you would need at least three years of study, though you can learn to read simple Korean in about four months. The right-angle shapes and logic of the writing system make it easy to learn and can be learned in two days. It is fun to show off that you can read and write it but the tricky part comes in learning to read books and newspapers quickly, which takes a lot of practice.

    Frank 19 May 2007, 04:53 - Report
  • Sounds are difficult

    The more difficult aspect for the beginner is the difference in sound values of b and p sounds, j and ch,and t and d. This is compounded by the widely diverging romanization systems used for Korean: Lukoff, Yale, Horne, and McCune-Reischauer. This confusion can be easily avoided however if you learn the Korean script, Hangul, as soon as possible, and skip the middle step of romanization completely. This is strongly advised, because it will save valuable time, lessen your confusion, and greatly enhance the speed with which you learn Korean. It will also help you to avoid spelling mistakes (there are two T's, two P's, the script) when you start to write Korean Hangul script.

    Aaron 19 May 2007, 04:55 - Report
  • korean language

    it took me about 11 months to finally feel (kinda) comfortable speaking korean to the natives. i served an LDS mission in Seoul there and it took me atleast 11 months

    jon klynn 08 Aug 2008, 06:09 - Report
  • Love to learn Korean!!

    Is it Expensive to learn korean in School? 'cuz i'm planning to live/work in Seoul!! I heard it's beautiful place.

    Ray 01 Oct 2008, 07:43 - Report
  • I'm still waiting to meet a western foreigner that speaks korean....

    Yeah a lot of westerners here don't care, but I think for a significant minority this attitude is borne out of necessity, the language is extremely difficult.

    I did meet one westerner who had been here eight years. I don't have enough Korean to have given him a proper evaluation, but I would say he was conversationally fluent as opposed to knowing sufficient vocabulary and having the pronunciation of a native speaker. Anyway, he said it took him five years off and on study to get to that point. Apparently he was quite skilled at foreign languages, because he claimed to know four others.

    I'd skip Korea if you're looking to learn a language for the following reasons: 1. The listening and comprehending aspect is very different. Conjugated words can sound nothing like what you would find in a dictionary. For example, you would be taught that clothes is "oat" (not spelled this way but pronounced) but if you heard someone talking about clothes, they might very well say "o-she" The "o" sound doesn't help you at all because numerous words start with an "o" sound. (Ok, that wasn't an example of a conjugation, but it popped into my mind).

    Which leads me to the second issue in learning Korean: To western ears, multitudes of different words sound almost the same, and are difficult to both remember and hear. For example, Ganjung might be a word, then you would have Gunjung, Gunjang, Gunjohng, Gunjoong, etc, and they would all mean completely different things.

    This might not be so bad if there wasn't so much vocabulary in the first place. Actually English has far more, but very little of it is used on a regular basis. Korean uses a greater variety of words in everyday speech. There is a formal and informal word for morning, as well as name, age, house and a multitude of other examples. You would use a completely different word for sleep when telling an elder to sleep well as opposed to someone the same age or younger. Not only would you use a different word, but the sentence would be completely different as well. To an equal you would say "Jal jai-yo". To an older person you would say "Anyong-he jumoosay-yo" To a younger person you would say "Eruhm-e moh yay-yo?" What is your name? To an older person you would say "Suhngham-e ohtdokkay dweassayo?"

    In part this comes from Korean being a territory of China for hundreds of years, so about 40 percent of the vocabulary is Chinese. Unfortunately, nearly all these words have a Korean equivalent, although some of the more complex ones do not. You would use the Korean word for "left" when talking about your left hand, but use the Chinese word for left when telling a taxi driver to turn left. There are two completely different number systems, and you must use both together when telling the time. The hour uses the Korean number, while the minute uses the Chinese number.

    Korean also has multiple levels of politeness for EVERY situation. Every sentence must be clear on what level it is unlike in English where many sentences are virtually the same regardless of who we are talking to. If you wanted to say hi to a child you would say "Anyong". To an equal you would say "Anyong-haseyo" to an elder or superior you would say "Anyong hasheemnikga".

    Korean actually has far more complexities than this, and the fact that it has a simple alphabet is both a blessing and a curse. (When you study it for a long time you'll know what I mean, although I guess we are all welcome to learn the original Chinese characters).

    The main thing that you should know is that you will not I repeat NOT attain even casual conversational fluency in a year here, assuming you are planning to teach English and here and study at the same time. It might be possible if you enrolled in a university here to study full time, but even in doing this you would not come close to conversational fluency, although that might be possible after a second year of study, assuming you have a facility for learning languages and have a high motivation.

    If you're planning on teaching, probably the best you can hope for is to be able to ask answer basic questions about the weather, your job, country of origin, do you like spicy food, how old you are, how to get from point A to point B, does the supermarket have any bananas, how much does a steak cost etc. If the start to get into more details much beyond a yes or no anwer, you'll be lost. If they tell you the steak is sold out and it usually comes in every Wednesday when the meat truck guy delivers, well I'll just say anyone who can understand that in Korean after a year of studying while working, you have my admiration.

    Korea is very urban by the way, beautiful would not be my first adjective in describing the place.

    Robert 08 Nov 2008, 09:43 - Report
  • For Robert

    Hello Mr. Robert.
    When someone intends to learn a language, he/she learns it, even if he thinks it's the hardest language.
    It's a matter of "you want to learn it" or not.
    I know people who chose to learn Chinese, despite it's known to be hard, but they learned it happy

    Maħmūd 16 Dec 2008, 09:50 - Report
  • @Robert

    I'm living in the U.S. and have been studying Korean in the U.S. for a little more than a year at this point, while also working full-time. As far as I know, I'm not a linguistic genius. I decided to visit Korea a few months ago (about 1 year after i started learning the language) and I was able to understand most of what was spoken to me. Granted some conversations with natives would go beyond my capabilities but I would politely ask them to speak more simply to me and people were usually happy to do so. I was even able to visit Jeju Island get around using and hearing only Korean the whole time. Many of the restaurant owners were interested and very happy to hear me speaking Korean, and enjoyed sitting with me and my friend for some simple conversation with me. I felt that if I had more time, I could have done better, but I was happy to be able to communicate even at that simple level.

    If I had been able to spend the past year actually LIVING in Korea and attending one of the Korean language courses at one of the universities in Seoul, there's no doubt that I'd be beyond conversational level.
    If you really want to learn the language, its very possible.

    Rian 18 Jan 2009, 07:07 - Report
  • Hello there,

    I'm a 26year-old Korean guy. If anybody wants to learn Korean, just email me then we can meet up. feel free! I've been living in Seoul since born so I can show you "real Seoul". I'm into art-exhibitions and skiing as well. If you like, we can have a lot of fun together in Korea!
    Mono Lee

    PS my email below
    [email removed]

    Mono Lee 03 Feb 2009, 12:59 - Report
  • mono lee i want to be ur friend and help meto learn korean

    hiiiiii mono lee please if ur available just reply

    maya 07 Feb 2009, 08:37 - Report
  • Learning Korean

    I am very good a learning languages. I would love to go to Seoul for sometime for studying abroad. I have learned a few words and can understand them whenever spoken by Native Speakers. I think people like me, it should take no more than 12 months of dedication to learning the language. I have one question. Are Korean's narrow-minded when it comes to color? I wonder.

    Koy 04 May 2009, 01:57 - Report
  • being narrow minded about color

    I just love the Korean language. Are Korean's narrow-minded when it comes to SKIN color? I wonder.

    Koy 04 May 2009, 02:00 - Report
  • to Koy

    When it comes with skin color, I'm afraid I have to say 'yes' for your question.
    I guess most Koreans are a bit more open minded with the whites. But we (Korean inc. myself) doesn't have offense feeling for specific skin color.

    Daria 27 May 2009, 11:29 - Report
  • hello!

    I would love to learn Korean because I watch Korean soaps a lot and reading subs at the bottom of the TV while watching the actions give me a headache ... and I'm in the medical field and my patients are 99% koreans (I have a translator). I believe my patients would open up to me more and trust me in terms of patient care had i known or if i was conversational in korean. They're all elderly. from Los Angeles 07 Jun 2009, 09:41 - Report
  • i want travil to south kore or seoul

    hello every body my name is sally iwant learn speak korean and travil to south korea because i want see kwonsangwoo and kim hee sun ther both is a paupular actors in south korea and my friend /men*chin/theyre from south korea iwant seen them *** thanks for all***

    sally 12 Jul 2009, 05:41 - Report
  • i have one question my friend

    hi**** im sally i have one question abaut korean,s people. are korean,s like a person shame *yes*or*no*. i wonder i wonder so ican speak korean and writting and makeing a **kimche*** so wonderful

    sally 14 Jul 2009, 04:40 - Report
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