You took the leap, waved good-bye to your home country, got on the plane and started your life in Korea. And then… you didn’t learn Korean. It’s okay! There’s still time. Here are some tips to get you on your way.
1. Join a class
There are lots of classes to choose from. Many universities, including Yonsei and Seoul, offer classes for foreigners. Check out the language centre in your local university to see if there are any options for you. If that doesn’t appeal, or if those options are a little out of your price range, one volunteer group that runs Saturday classes in Seoul is the Sookmyung Korean Education Volunteers group. They offer classes at a range of levels between 3 and 5pm costing just 1,000 won per session. See which option is better for you and get signed up.
2. Hit the noraebang
Luckily, the noraebang in Korea is as ubiquitous as kimchi and soju. If you’re brave of heart, head down and practice singing some of your favourite Kpop songs. Singing Korean songs is a fantastic way to improve by significantly speeding up your hangul reading skills. For those a little shyer, there are plenty of videos on YouTube that have noraebang versions of Kpop songs. YouTube noraebang is good for those moments at 2am when you’re at home in your pyjamas and feel particularly determined to become fluent in Korean.
3. Take a lot of taxis
Taxi drivers are great for Korean practice. They are usually talkative and each taxi journey is a new introduction. Taking regular taxi journeys will train you in answering basic questions such as “Where are you from?” and “What do you do for a living?”. The longer the journey, the bigger the conversational challenge! Another plus is that you can avoid the summer annoyance that is waiting around, sweating like crazy at sauna-like train stations (looking at you, Daerim.) Win-win.
4. Embrace technology
There are a variety of learning options available to you via the internet. Talktomeinkorean.com (interview with the guys behind the venture here!) is a fantastic learning resource. They offer videos, podcasts and downloadable PDFs that teach you vocabulary and grammar. Quizzes and listening exercises are also available for you to test your knowledge and keep yourself motivated. Websites like Memrise allow you to make flashcards online to help you review vocabulary and will allow you to chart your progress by making animated word gardens. They even send you helpful emails to tell you when you need to review words that you’re in danger of forgetting. Those word gardens won’t water themselves, you know. Explore your options and find what works for you.
5. Join a language group
Language groups offer you the opprtunity to practice your speaking skills in a slightly more relaxed environment. They can also allow you to expand your social circle and you can make some new friends that share the same linguistic goals as you. Perhaps you’ll even find some new noraebang partners? Hyunwoo Sun, the creator of TalkToMeInKorean runs a language exchange group in Korea called LanguageCast. They have meetups in Hongdae, Gangnam and Busan. Check out their Meetup page to find out about upcoming meetings.
6. Develop an interest in Korean cinema
Korea has a rich cinema industry with many internationally acclaimed films under it’s belt. Watching Korean films with subtitles is a good way to improve your language skills, helping you to improve your listening skills, learn intonation and pronunciation, and pick up colloquial words and phrases that you wouldn’t learn from a textbook. Also, they’re just fun. Most Korean films at your local DVD bang will have English subtitles (ask the person at the desk for “Yong-o jamak” and they will put them on for you.) Some movie theatres have screenings with English subtitles, too, so you can enjoy new releases and old classics on the real big screen. Check out the listings on Korean Film.
7. Go out and get drunk
Alcohol can be a wonderful tongue-loosener. This is true in a foreign language as much as your own. Once you have your inhibitions lowered, you can get a little braver and practice what you’ve learned. You’ll probably find out that you’re better at Korean than you thought and you can make some new Korean friends along the way. Don’t get too drunk, though. The post-Cass, charming and linguistically talented you can disappear into a slurring, incomprehensible mess after too many so-meks.
8. Learn a new skill
Korea is hagwon crazy. If there is anything you want to learn, you’ll find a hagwon for it. Join a class. Not only will you learn something new, you’ll also be in a class full of Koreans being taught in Korean. It will give you a good, immersive experience of the language and you’ll be able to achieve another, unrelated goal.
9. Try, try and try again
The only way to learn a language is to force yourself to use it. Take every opportunity you can to use the Korean that you have learned. Ask for directions, make reservations, order food. Even if the person you’re talking to is capable of speaking English, try to use Korean. Using Korean in everyday situations will help you to remember what you have studied and will allow you to build confidence. Being friendly and conversational in shops like Skin Food and Innisfree usually results in more free samples. Lots more free samples. If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is.
Don’t burn yourself out on studying. Down time is as important as study time. Take the night off and do whatever you want. Indulge in a guilty pleasure. Reward yourself for all your hard work with a good book, dinner with some friends, or your favourite McDelivery meal whilst you watch the latest episode of K-Town. Just me? I’ll get my coat…