Can anyone list basic steps needed to start efficiently learning Korean independently?

I do live in a hole geographically, and I highly doubt that I could find a Korean person in a 100 miles radius (let alone a Korean teacher) :) I am aware of difficulties of learning a foreign language (English is my 3rd language) and I have already learnt 한글 and can read and pronounce it (though, since there is no Korean around to check it out, maybe my pronunciation more of Joey-of-Friends-learning-French type). This is where I stuck, since I just don't know where and how to move from here...

I do enjoy Korean TV and was wandering if watching it with 한글 subtitles will help me with my learning, but my abilities are nowhere near yet.

Thank you in advance!

  • What's your motivation for learning? Commented Nov 12, 2016 at 23:28
  • @topomorto I don't have a job offer in Korea and I don't plan to move there anytime soon, if that's what you asking :) Nonetheless, I have been mesmerized by Asian culture in multiple respect pretty much my entire life and with 한류 on the rise, this seems to me a pretty good opportunity to finally be able to embrace it personally. Korean culture took a considerable part of my heart (I'm not talking only about KPOP) and learning the language seems like a logical thing to do now. If I were able to learn it, at least on a basic level, next step would be visiting Korea and experiencing it fully
    – Vitalij
    Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 2:06
  • @topomorto Also, thank you for adding that #beginners tag, I was scratching my head trying to choose among the ones already present, since I was too low on rep to be able to add a new one!
    – Vitalij
    Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 2:09

6 Answers 6


Learning any language can be difficult. That being said, Korean can be quite a challenge if you are only used to reading romanized characters. Learning the Korean alphabet would be the first step which you have already started to learn and study.

As you mentioned, next would be pronunciation and with this new challenge the learning curve becomes a more steep. Although Korean is a phonetic language, some of the sounds, when combined, will feel strange at first. But with practice, the mouth and tongue can become familiar with the twists and turns they need to make the correct sound.

Lots of exposure to the language is the best way to make constant progress. And with that I mean to say, Korean music, television shows and movies. As this would give you a better sense of how the natural speaker might sound.

If you are not living in a metropolitan area where you can meet up with other individuals who are also eager to learn the language, there are resources online to make connections. Such as sites like Penpal Korea and Korea 4 Friend. Meetup also is a good way to make connections for language exchange.

If you own a smartphone there are tons of applications that are ready available and free. What I find valuable is that most of these applications have audio which will also aid you in fully understanding the proper way to pronounce Korean words.

  • Thank you for the insight! Like I said, I am already exposed to the language through 한류, and I don't find it phonetically weird or especially hard, so at least for my own ear I sound acceptable. I have already learnt 한글 but I have no idea how to use it to progress myself further. Meeting a native speaker, would be great, but, unfortunately it's not an option. Digital communication is, certainly, possible, but I just don't see how it could help me with active studies. Asking a newly found penpal - teach me Korean, would be inappropriate, at the very least.
    – Vitalij
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 22:54

This is an interesting question. I hope that one day someone, more qualified than me, will devise an effective learning path that we can offer (to absolute beginners) as a "standard path to learn Korean" here on stackexchange.

Meanwhile, I can tell you how I'm facing this task. I have to go to the Republic of Korea for a few weeks, next summer, and I'm teaching myself Korean as fast as I can since January. Korean is the fourth language I studied in my life, after French (at a public school, for eight years), English (language schools, many years) and German (language schools, four years). It is my second attempt to an Asian language after a year-or-so of Japanese.

The first step must be Hangul, as you already made. I discovered that the best resource for this task in a Android App called "Write it! Hangul". It is an app specifically devised to teach you the right way to read, write and pronounce the Hangul "alphabet" (even the right stroke order...). It uses a game-like approach and is very addictive. In a few hours (at worst a couple of days), you can learn Hangul well enough to read and write it without any hesitation.

Two other very good Android apps (both by Edsoft Apps) for these tasks are:

The second step, IMHO, must be a couple of good introductory books. Please note the plural. I still have to find a single textbook (regarding any foreign language) that can actually teach you a language when used alone. I always had to buy, study and "chew" at least two or three books, one after the other, to actually manage the basics of any language I studied in my life and Korean was no exception. The three books I used were:

"Korean Made Simple" by Billy Go.
Very nice and very well "engineered" book. It proposes a little unusual way to study Korean because it favors the very formal ~니다 form of verbs and sentences over the more common ~요 one. Billy Go explains that he made this choice in order to simplify the first part of the learning path. I did not have any problem to pass to ~요 form later. Strongly suggested book.

"Korean From Zero! Book 1" by George Trombley and others.
Another very good book. Clear, concise, well engineered. Strongly suggested (I used a digital copy).

"Lingua Coreana" by Andrea De Benedittis (Italian)
This is an Italian book I bought and studied just to see what the Italian market had to offer. It is not a bad book but the other ones are much better, IMHO.

Once you have a more-or-less clear "vision" of the Korean grammar, the main problem is vocabulary. As for grammar, I still have to find a single resource that can tell you the basic vocabulary of a language when used alone. For Korean, I'm using an app for Android called "Learn Korean Free WordPower" by Innovative Language Learning, LLC. I bought the premium version and I'm very satisfied with it. Besides this app, I'm using Memrise (quite disappointing, to be honest) and a few other websites and apps.

The most helping resources to learn Korean vocabulary, IMO, are the Video Blogs of Billy Go, George Trombley, Mina Oh (sweetandtastytv), and of the "Talk To Me In Korean" staff on YouTube.

I use Google Translator and Naver Translator to test my speaking. If either or both of these AI-based apps are able to understand what I'm saying, I can usually infer that I would be also understood by a native speaker (I already met a few Korean friends and I can confirm that this is usually the case). At the moment, I do not dare to write or speak Korean to anybody.

My next step will be... testing my knowledge of the language in the field. For this task, I plan to use HelloTalk, HiNative and Italki. Here is where I will actually try to write and speak Korean. It will still take some time to get there, anyway.

The last step of this learning plan, before the "first blood" in Korea, will be some chatting on KakaoTalk, the main IM/Chatting app used in Korea. Maybe during the 24-hours-long trip to Seoul... ;-)

BTW: an unexpected problem was the computer keyboard. I have a Linux Mint laptop with an Italian keyboard and I found quite uncomfortable to type Hangul. At first, I used the Branah Hangul Keyboard online (see: https://www.branah.com/korean) or the Google Translator one. Now I'm using a custom Hangul layout for the "OnBoard" on-screen keyboard I prepared myself (I'm a programmer. This is my job...). You can find it at Launchpad: https://launchpad.net/onboard . I'm using GITHub Atom as an Editor and LibreOffice as a WordProcessor.

  • 1
    Thank you for the detailed walk-through! Nice to see there are similarities in the way we approach learning a new language. When I was learning Hangul, I went through most of Android apps Google Play had to offer, and Write It!Korean is the best one by far, which is still on my phone.I was also considering italki for professional tutoring, and will check out the books you propose. Although, the more I learn, the more I see that taking approach, learning Korean through a proxy English language was a mistake, since my native Russian language is much closer to Korean in terms of pronunciation
    – Vitalij
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 8:51
  • ..., sentence construct, word choice and even meaning. It's not easy finding a Russian tutor online or good book to study from, so I got myself in a stalemate situation, atm :D
    – Vitalij
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 9:00

In addition to what others have already said, having studied semi-independently for the first year or so, I want to stress the importance of interacting with real Koreans (or even other Korean learners in Korean) from the beginning. When I was first starting about 12 years ago and finally did join a class, I was shocked how much I didn't know. I knew a lot of grammar, but I couldn't really piece together a sentence on the fly and was missing a lot of basics. There are so many more resources online these days, so you are lucky to be starting now. If you don't have Koreans near you, I'd highly recommend using something like iTalki and pay a private tutor to talk at least once a week. I've used it some and it can be really helpful.


I think you've made the right choice to learn 한글 first - it opens up Korean sources from 'real life', and means that everything you learn from now on will be reinforcing your knowledge of 한글.

People vary in their ability to 'just pick up' a language, but I'd recommend for most people that they follow a well designed course (whether a book, a website, or a class) that will get them up to lower intermediate level and build knowledge of the structure the language. Following a course is good if you can trust it to teach you things in an order that makes sense. I'm not sure exactly what course I'd recommend - I did pick up a book, but I'm not sure it was the best one.

Once you have the basics down I think it's important to follow your passion when it comes to filling in the gaps and building familiarly. As it seems you have an interest in songs, TV and films, it would be great to choose some favourites to learn from and pick up some knowledge in context. Some people find songs particularly useful as they can help vocabulary stick in your head.

I think it's hard to avoid picking up bad habits without having an opportunity to try your language out with a real Korean. There are opportunities to practice online (e.g. italki, hellotalk); and if you can find a Korean somewhere near you, they may be delighted to meet you!

Of course also bear this site in mind for particular focused questions that you want answers to. Reddit Korean is good for a more informal style of Q and A, and the aforementioned Italki also has a discussions page.

  • This "course" you are referring to is exactly what I am looking for. I need to take that intermediate step in order to be able to progress further freely and naturally in more casual way. So, I guess my question, could kinda qualify for being a specific one. What book did you pick up and were you considering something else you could point me to? Thank you for your attention!
    – Vitalij
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 22:44
  • 1
    @ITDesigns.eu the book I first picked up (a long time ago now!) was this one - one problem is that it doesn't take the 한글 first approach. It was a friendly book with a sense of humour though. I also tried this series, though I found it rather sterile. If you don't find korean.stackexchange.com/questions/537/… useful, perhaps "what's a good book or web-based course for beginners" could be a reasonable question here. Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 23:26
  • Sorry I'm not able to recommend anything myself... I never really found anything good so I struggled to get to the lower intermediate level. Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 23:28
  • Actually, that SO question you mentioned could be useful if people will keep posting relevant resources. I will follow it closely. The reason I have failed to fund it, is because there is no #learning -like tag and my question started #beginners tag, quick search didn't return anything relevant and I assumed question like mine was never asked. Thank you for the good find!
    – Vitalij
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 6:58
  • @ITDesigns.eu study-technique and resources might be relevant. meta.korean.stackexchange.com/questions/33/… is the reason we currently don't have a learning tag, I think! Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 7:49

You should try out Parrot (http://meetparrot.com). It's for video chatting with Koreans, especially useful for you since you don't have any Koreans living near you! The video chat session is like so: 7 minutes of only Korean, and then 7 minutes of only English. It's really useful for speaking as well as listening practice.

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P.S. I'm the creator of the app, so please let me know if you have any suggestions :)

  • Hi Edmund - I was considering giving it a go but was wondering why it needs access to "device ID and call information"? Commented May 30, 2017 at 12:57
  • @topomorto it does? I must've left that in the permissions by accident on android. It doesn't use that stuff at all, just whatever it asks for during sign up (name, location, email, pic).
    – bigpotato
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 13:00
  • It asks me for Camera and Microphone (for presumably obvious reasons), Location (which I can understand), com.sec.android.provider.badge.permission.READ and com.sec.android.provider.badge.permission.WRITE (Sounds like that's for putting notification icons up?) - and then I'm wondering why it wants to access 'Photos/Media/Files' and 'Device ID and Call information'. Commented May 30, 2017 at 13:06
  • Photos is for accessing your photo library when uploading your profile pic. I'll remove the device id / call information in the next version, that was a mistake. Thanks for letting me know!
    – bigpotato
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 13:09
  • Cool. If you happen to remember, feel free to leave a note here once it's updated? thanks. Commented May 30, 2017 at 13:11

A pretty good resource you could consider if you are looking to build your Korean vocabulary is the flashcard app called Beginner Korean app. The app introduces its users to commonly used Korean words and phrases from scratch.

Alternatively, if you are looking for more challenge or practice with your Korean vocabulary, you could also try Topik Locker app which is for intermediate to advance learners of the Korean language.

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