FEED YOUR S[e]OUL EP05: Tips on How to Learn the Korean Language (featuring the KOREAN MOVIE NIGHT at Novo Cinema Souq Waqif)

I started watching Korean dramas the time when I came to Qatar in the latter part of 2009 as my escape from loneliness and boredom. To overcome the feeling home-sickness, they became my constant companion until I developed an increasing fantasy about Korean dramas.

Few weeks back (on December 8-9-10), the Korean Embassy in Qatar also hosted a Korean Movie night at Novo Cinema – Souq Waqif featuring three different movies, namely: Little Forest (2018), Sinkhole (2021), and In Our Prime (2022). Same with K-dramas, I’ve never imagined that I will get so “addicted” with their unique and unexpected plotlines, the visual feast and great cinematography, plus their very culture being ingrained intentionally in every story.

But even after many years of watching them – still, I could barely speak and converse in Korean – except for very few expressions like mianhae (sorry), gwaenchanta (no problem), pali pali (hurry), among others. And I must admit that it is because – I also didn’t devote time to learning it. IN SHORT, I WAS LAZY as I was already satisfied watching online content with no inclination to really pursue it.

Just like the Arabic language (which I also failed to learn even after more than 10 years of working in Qatar), having daily English conversations in the office didn’t require me to learn how to speak or write in Arabic. As in Korean movies and dramas (even music), having English subtitles make it easier to understand without the need to learn Hangul.

In this episode of FEED YOUR S[e]OUL, we will try to appreciate the many advantages when you learn a certain language, and some of the practical ways on how to learn the KOREAN LANGUAGE.

As to the many benefits of learning a new language, I summarized them into two: to understand and to express.

FIRST – TO UNDERSTAND, not all translations we get online are grammatically correct or convey the same message or meaning. In some cases when a certain phrase or sentence – when translated incorrectly will mean differently – more so, when it will have a bad meaning, could put you in a difficult situation.

SECOND – TO EXPRESS, knowing a language will not only make you understand it but can also give you the confidence to speak and write. One of the most rewarding aspects of the human experience is our ability to connect with other people. Communicating using the KOREAN LANGUAGE, for example, will give you an advantage when traveling to Korea (when commuting, ordering food, asking for directions, etc), if you want to pursue education in Korea, or be employed in a Korean company… or even to simply sing along (during concerts) or express our thoughts in the Korean language (during online discussions).

But how do we actually do it? Where do we start?

This topic also posed a personal challenge to me that while I may be one of the first to be talking about K-dramas and Korean culture in our family and circle of friends, I couldn’t understand straight-up without subtitles and I couldn’t talk and write the language as well. And now could be the best opportunity to finally take up a pen and finally start learning it. For all I know, my years of polishing a gun will be deemed useless if I won’t load a bullet on it, hehehe.

10 Useful Tips For Learning Korean

An online article outlined ten ways to quickly learn Korean. It says that there are several approaches that will help us to be fluent in the language. ​I kinda summarized it and tailor-fit it (with Youtube videos) for our readers.

At the very beginning of learning any foreign language, you need to thoroughly master the alphabet. This will be a great start on your way to language acquisition. In fact, the Korean alphabet is not as complicated as it might seem at first glance compared to the other Asian languages.

Unlike other languages that evolved from pictograms, Hangul was invented by King Sejong in 1443. It was created with the aim of being as simple as possible for the people. Prior to the adoption of Hangul, Koreans used Chinese characters. Hangul alphabet consists of 24 letters (14 consonants and 10 vowels). The shape of the consonants is based on the form that the mouth takes at the time of pronunciation. Vowels simply consist of vertical and horizontal lines.

To say that you can learn Hangul in just two hours is no exaggeration. Another plus is that Hangul is a completely phonetic language. That is, it almost always sounds like it is written (with the exception of a few pronunciation rules, but they can be learned very quickly). For example, more than 60% of words in English contain letters that simply cannot be read (knee, wrist, daughter, island, etc.). Hangul in this regard is much simpler and easier to master. Depending on the status of the interlocutor, you need to choose a speech style. If you are a beginner, then you should start with an officially polite style.

Having once mastered Hangul, you can begin to form your vocabulary. Better to start with numbers (both Korean and Chinese numerals are used in Korea), days of the week, and simple conversational phrases. Then add words that are related to your reason for learning a language. If you decide to learn Korean for the upcoming trip, pay more attention to the words related to the direction of movement and transport. Do you like Korean food? Then work on food-related words. And be sure to write the words in a notebook as you learn new ones. This will help you practice writing and capture words in your memory. The effect of memorization will be much better if you imagine a picture or a funny story.

Korean has many words of loanwords and Korean-style English words which are called “Konglish” (Korean + English). Such words make up a significant part of everyday vocabulary. Borrowed words are words that sound and mean the same as English words. They are easy to remember, because they sound like English, though with a Korean accent.

For example:

컵 (keop) = cup

카페 (ka-pe) = cafe
초콜릿 (cho-kol-lit) = chocolate

카메라 (ka-me-ra) = camera

택시 (taek-si) = taxi
인터넷 (in-teo-net) = internet

Other konglish words sound like English words, but have a different meaning. Koreans often shorten some English word to make a new konglish word:

에어컨 (air-con) = air conditioner

노트 (note) = notebook

Search basic konglish words online and you will be surprised at how many Korean words you already know.

Try to do it every day – this is the best way to keep information in your head. You can also change the language on your phone or write reminder notes for scheduled daily activities in Korean. Surrounding yourself with Korean does not mean exhausting yourself by studying every day hourly. On the contrary, you can reasonably spend your free time. To practice Korean, you can use the time while you get to work or on lunch break – get benefit from this. Test yourself with the help of training cards or download some interesting educational games on your phone. If you often drive and use hands-free, then listening to audiobooks and podcasts is right for you. Free time is always there if you really want to quickly learn the Korean language.

One of the simple, but extremely important methods for quickly learning a language is to determine your individual type of learning. There are three main types:

(a) visual (visual memory works well);

(b) auditory ( information is better absorbed and stored by the ear);

(c) kinetic (memorization using movements).

While some students apply all three types, you can use your own basic one, which will help maximize the effectiveness of training. Having understood the methods that are suitable for your type of training, you will be happy to discover that learning and memorizing new words is much faster.

A structural study using private lessons with an experienced tutor will provide you with an additional impetus, which is simply necessary for a short way of learning. The tutor will not only help you deal with the difficulties and tricks in grammar but also make you be responsible for achieving goals. A good Korean teacher will focus on your learning style and apply an individual lesson plan. One-on-one classes with a professional teacher will allow you to learn a language much faster, regardless of what goal you pursue (work or personal interest).

Spending more time talking is without a doubt the best way to improve your language skills. Find Korean language groups nearby on sites like Meetup. If there are no Korean communities near you, you can also try to find a companion on forums and groups on Facebook, for example. Commit to meeting with your language partner weekly, and of course, set the rule to communicate only in Korean. Instead of just chatting every week, prepare topics for conversation in advance, thereby getting a more detailed conversation. Another communication option is to use KakaoTalk, the most widely used communication application in Korea. There is a chance that your Korean friend will be your language friend and he will certainly install this application on your phone. Practicing communication with a native speaker of Korean, you will learn slang, and idioms and improve your pronunciation.

As you learn the language, you may encounter many interesting and funny moments, but over time, your motivation may decline. Try to find new ways to remain interested in learning and refresh ordinary activities, for example, start practicing in groups with people who are similarly minded to you. Group classes in the Korean language, in contrast to self-study, are more dynamic. You can interact with other students, and the teacher can immediately answer all your questions. This is another great way to enhance your speaking skills while improving grammar and pronunciation.

Add more Korean to your daily life: watch dramas, films, and TV shows, thereby increasing your vocabulary. Include subtitles, if possible, and write and learn all unfamiliar words. After some time, you will be surprised at the ability of your brain to compare words and phrases with their meaning, even if you did not have time to thoroughly learn them. Another good habit in learning a language is listening to Korean songs. After listening to the song once, you are unlikely to understand something. Try to find keywords and collect from them a common meaning. Then you can sing along while listening – this is a good option to improve your pronunciation.

If you have time and money, the best way to learn the language is to be completely immersed in Korean culture. Organize a trip to Korea and you will be forced to talk and read at every step. Of course, many Koreans will be able to speak English with you, but try to communicate only in Korean. As a last resort, explain that you are learning the language.

All the above tips are very useful in order to quickly learn the Korean language, but without specific goals, you will feel overwhelmed by taking this whole stream of new information. Dramas and movies are also a great starting point to learning the language.

And just as how we appreciate and really admire the discipline of BTS and other Korean idols and actors for their dedication and hard work, may it be our motivation as well to spend time learning Korean. If K-pop idols need at least 1000 repetitions before they dance on the stage, let it be the same discipline that will encourage us to go on… even slowly… but consistently.

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