Despite studying for 2 years and being in a relationship with a native speaker for all that time (she's fluent in English too) I still can't effectively communicate in the language. Basic stuff like 뭐 먹고싶어 and 나는 진짜 피곤해 are no problem but any kind of proper conversation is basically impossible.

I studied Spanish once a week for a year when I was 30 and then spent 3 months in South America and by the time I came home I could converse in Spanish so I know that I can learn a language, even in my 30s. But of course learning Korean is a whole 'nother level than learning Spanish.

Can anyone give me some hope that it's possible?

  • You sound a bit like me, maybe! How have you been learning so far (books, courses, techniques, etc.)? Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 17:25
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    I have just reached 18 and I am not sure how much the language learning ability will deteriorate after 30, but just a little advice. If you want to speak fluently in a language, learning grammar is the only effective way. Otherwise your learning progress will be greatly slowed down.
    – user237
    Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 7:25
  • @topomorto First I learned 한글, then I started listening to TTMIK and now I use Anki flashcards for vocabularly. I also google grammar or phrases as and when they occur to me to learn them. I practice with my wife but I feel like it must be boring for her because my Korean is so limited and I end up saying the same things over and over. Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 9:10
  • I've been learning for 2 years with korean gf. I can basically express my emotions and saying easy korean but never able to say them in complete proper sentence. I'm 34 this year, watch lots of korean drama, listen to a lot of korean music, spent 2 months in korea everyday facing her mom and family... and korean still very crap (I have completed many ttmik lessons and finished some learning books). I can read korean and recognize characters but only in the range of 300-400 characters only. Learning to read does help a lot. It helps you to remember better. Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 15:00
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    See Alexander Heyne's videos on goal setting & outcome goals versus habit tracking (and process goals): Why goal setting DOESN'T WORK (and what does) and Stop Setting Goals - Stack Your Habits. He does not talk about language learning, but the idea should also work for this.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 14:16

3 Answers 3


I'll start by depressing you further - I've been learning Korean on and off (and admittedly there has been a lot of 'off') for more than 10 years now, and I'm still pretty terrible! So if you really have the intention to learn Korean well, there's a warning there... intentions + time do not necessarily equal progress.

There's also a warning there for me not to ramble on too much, given that I haven't yet walked the path to success....

I think, for an English speaker, the main difference between learning Spanish and leaning Korean is that as an adult native English speaker already has a wide knowledge of Spanish. If you take a sentence pair like

mi gato es azul / my cat is blue

  • the alphabet is the same
  • The grammar is the same
  • three of the words are very similar
  • if you know 'azure' in English, 'azul' is easy to understand and remember.

if we look at one possible Korean equivalent:

내 고양이 파란색입니다

  • The alphabet is different
  • None of the words are at all similar
  • The word order of 'is blue' is different
  • you've had to make a decision about what level of formality to use

and things would be even more complicated if 내 고양이는 파랗습니다, because there's the topic particle, and the concept of descriptive verbs...

So don't knock yourself if you already know and can understand '뭐 먹고싶어' and '나는 진짜 피곤해' - There probably is as much learning in getting to that level of Korean as there is in getting to an lower-intermediate level of Spanish. I know people who lived in Korea for a couple of years and didn't get much past 안녕하세요? and 감사합니다, so you're already well out of the bottom league!

Anyway, here are a few things I am planning to do to to improve:

Really Immerse Like you, I'm lucky enough to have a Korean wife, and unlucky in that she's more fluent in English than I'll ever be in Korean. What I have been trying to do occasionally but need to do consistently is actually avoid English - have some days where we really just speak Korean to each other (apart from, perhaps, in explanations of how to translate some concept!). Don't think it's bad to say the same things over and over; that's exactly how native speakers got to where they did!

Actively build vocabulary It still happens to me so often that I can think of most of the words in a sentence, but am missing one important one. If I could fill in these gaps, The 'living in Korean' thing would get a lot easier.

use activities I really like To maximise the time spent learning Korean, I probably need to take note of the activities I really like. I don't like trawling through grammar books. I do like learning songs - so I think I'm going to focus more on picking through the lyrics to some songs.

do some more Korean conversation listening Listening is where I really fall down; I often find spoken Korean too fast to pick up the thread of what's being said. I think finding the right TV show or drama will help here.

A few other ideas:

  • Conversation is easier when you are the person controlling the conversation. If you're not speaking much, your counterpart has no idea how much you are understanding; If you can take the lead, your partner can adapt their responses to your use of language.

  • Get familiar with honorific words and structures. It's much easier to talk when you're not worry about whether you're being rude to or about someone!

  • find your Korean voice. People who are fluent in a language often seem to develop a whole personality native to that language. Perhaps find a 'hero' who you want to be like and talk (a bit) like!

  • meet other learners. There may be a meetup group near you that could inspire you (and introduce new topics to talk about in Korean, and new Korean words you wouldn't have otherwise heard.

  • Be inspired by those who have succeeded - whether that's Sam Hammington on 배틀트립, or 영국남자's videos, or whatever!

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    Anyway if you want to join me in some new year's resolutions, I'm all for it! Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 13:59
  • This is an exceptional answer and has made me feel more positive despite your first paragraph's best efforts :) Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 14:02
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    @MrMisterMan me too. Oh and welcome to the site... let's make this the year we make the breakthrough! Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 14:51
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    감사합니다. 네, 올해는 우리가 잘 해야 돼요. 화이팅! Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 15:13
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    Sounds just like me! To start off the new year, I just signed up the the TOPIK to 1) push myself with a goal and 2) measure my progress (assuming I re-take it periodically). Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 14:04

Time spent studying and listening in the native language is the only way to improve your speaking ability when studying a language with completely foreign grammatical constructs.

if you're studying spanish as an English speaker, you could kind of just wing it, learn a bunch of words, and translate from english to spanish directly and get by.

But for korean since every grammatical structure is completely foreign, you need to study a lot, and you need listening exposure to ingrain it into your mind.

i have studied korean for 2 years, and have put in approximately 2,300 hours of study, and I can communicate fine, at roughly the level of a korean child.

But if you are thinking that you are going to pick up a textbook and read it and learn to speak, you need to realize that language doesn't work like that.

Learn 1000 words, spend 100 hrs or so reading easy sentences, and then immediately jump into listening activities by watching things that a 5-7 year old korean child will watch.

At first you won't be able to catch anything because you haven't learned the various ways that koreans can pronounce their language. Based on pitch and voice type the sound of the voice changes considerably.

anyway if you do listening without subtitles on easy conversation for 100-200 hours you will find yourself hearing more and more.

Transcribing what you hear is also a very good exercise. After listening to an episode of something, it is also good to go actually read the transcript to learn the phrases that you were supposed to hear but couldn't.

Anyway if you study using this kind of method then pretty much anyone will be capable of communicating at a child's level after around 1000 hrs of study.

Children study for 10 years while having nothing else they have to do, so of course they are good at their language. It's difficult for adults to make that kind of time, so many think that older people can't learn a language. The age is not really the problem, the problem is that older people don't have the time and passion to learn a new language, especially if it is very different than their own.

Don't watch things with subtitles until you are confident that you can hear >90% of the episode without subtitles


I think learning phrases and sentences as a whole. That is what i am doing now, I was in your same situation. i am 35 and i spent 4 years studying korean randomly. my listening is good but my speaking is bad, for one i didnt practice speaking alot and two I tried to study just words instead of phrases. its easy to just learn the whole phrase and then you can speak it easily and it will help. Even long sentences, I memorize the whole sentence. try that.

  • Thanks, that seems like good advice. Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 14:13

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