Skip to content

Five Easy Ways to Improve Your Korean

Some days it can feel like you’re not getting where you want to be while learning Korean. Don’t feel bad – it’s a difficult language for English speakers to learn, so feeling this way is normal. However, I wanted to share five easy ways to improve your Korean. These methods will help you progress so that one day you’ll suddenly realize you’ve come a long way.

5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Korean

Easy ways to improve your Korean:

These are all things I am doing on a regular basis, and it is truly working for me. See if it will do the same for you!

시작할까요? Let’s start, shall we?

1. Reading – reading everything you can!

When you think of reading Korean, the obvious idea is reading the short dialogs and narrations in your textbook. Or maybe you have a Korean short stories book on your bookshelf. Those are definitely good ways to practice reading. After all, they are geared towards language learners, so they come with vocabulary lists and often include translations.

That’s not the only way to practice though. Another great way to improve your reading is to branch out into spaces that aren’t made for language learners. These options will make you work harder, but they’ll also introduce you to more natural Korean than your textbook or story collection has (I recently read a story about a tiger bowing to a chestnut; while entertaining, how often will that come up in my daily life?).

Thanks to the internet, there are endless resources for reading natural Korean. You can try Naver news to follow what’s going on in the world. If you’re overwhelmed by the news stories, don’t feel like you have to read the entire thing. Start small, working on just the first paragraph. As your confidence grows, you can read longer passages.

Naver News to help improve your Korean

There are also tons and tons of webtoons that are fun to read; as a bonus, many popular K-dramas are based on webtoons so you may be able to find your favourite one in this format. Although this is usually fairly advanced reading, if you’ve seen the drama adaptation you’ll already have an idea of what it’s about, which can help a lot thanks to the magic of context.

Social media is full of reading opportunities as well. Head over to Twitter and search for a topic that interests you – but instead of searching in English, search for it in Korean. You’ll get plenty of tweets that you can practice reading. Korean YouTube vlogs frequently have captions but there’s another layer to these videos; scroll down a bit and you’ll probably find comments in Korean as well.

Read captions on Instagram - and leave comments too!
Read captions on Instagram – and leave comments too!

My personal favourite way to combine social media and Korean reading is to hit up my favourite K-pop idols and  dancers, and K-drama actors on Instagram. Their captions are also usually in Korean of course, and at least some of the comments will be as well. (Bonus pro-tip: If you read an interesting comment in Korean, click on the username and check out their Instagram account too. Is it interesting to you? Great, go ahead and follow them! More content!)

2. Writing

Consider approaching writing practice the same way we just did with reading. If you are reading tweets and Instagram posts in Korean, respond with a sentence or two of your own. Did you just finish watching a Korean vlogger’s latest video? Leave a comment about how delicious their meal looked or how much you love their new couch. In the image above, I left a comment on a post on the official SHINee account telling Key that he worked hard and did well. Do you want to say something but you’re missing the vocabulary to express it in Korean? Perfect! It’s now a learning opportunity too. Look up what you need with Naver dictionary and get typing!

Don’t stop with comments. Your Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts are yours. You can do what you want with them. So feel free to post an update completely in Korean. You can include an English translation if you want, or let the built-in translation tools do the job for you (but check it first; these platforms don’t have the best translations sometimes!).

Practice your writing by keeping a simple diary
Practice your writing by keeping a simple diary

Keeping a diary is also a great habit to adopt. I’ve been doing it every day since March 1st and it’s a good exercise for me. Obviously I’m not writing multiple pages of in-depth introspection like I would in English (note – I don’t keep a diary in English!). Instead I’m just trying to write at least two or three sentences that are literally about my day. Recently I wrote:

오늘은 눈이 많이 온다. 이번 겨울에는 조금밖에 눈이 오지 않았지만 나는 겨울이 정말 싫다!

(Today it snowed a lot. This winter it only snowed a little, but I really don’t like winter!)

Is it riveting? Nope! But does it help? Sure does! And as I continue to improve, some day I will be able to write longer, more complex sentences and my diary entries will get longer too. Sometimes I post my entries up on Journaly.com and get feedback from native Korean speakers. This is extremely helpful and is helping me improve. Recently I got only one piece of feedback and it said “looks great!” so I know I’m getting better little by little. But don’t stress! Remember this is practice. It’s inevitable that you’ll make mistakes. It’s part of the process.

3. Vocabulary

There are so many ways to seek out new Korean vocabulary. You can try searching for frequency lists (ie the 2000 most-used vocabulary, etc). You can also find TOPIK lists, where they cover the vocabulary you’re most likely to see on a TOPIK exam. There’s something else that I feel works better to improve your Korean in a much easier way than random memorization.

Vocabulary from my textbook, all selected for this chapter to be able to talk about weather/seasons
Vocabulary from my textbook, all selected for this chapter to be able to talk about weather/seasons

I like to look for vocabulary lists that are grouped by topic. For example, I will find lists of vocab that are all related to:

Weather – Hot, cold, windy, sunny, rain, snow, humid, etc.

Food – Spicy, sweet, vegetable names, fruit names, meat names, soup, utensils, etc.

Items in specific rooms of the house – Bed, desk, dresser / couch, chair, coffee table, TV / stove, microwave, fridge, etc

Daily routine – Washing your face, brushing your teeth, making coffee, etc.

The reason these methods work better for me is that they fit together. While it might be great to know the word for sidewalk and the word for toothbrush, they’re not related and I’m not likely to string them into a sentence together. Groups of words mean I can write or speak sentences that make sense when you use them together.

Speaking of which, another way to improve your Korean faster is to make sure you’re not just learning vocabulary in a vacuum. People often ask which is more important to learn – vocab or grammar. The truth is, I think they’re both equally important. Take the words that you’re using and make sentences with them to practice them in appropriate context using grammar you’ve learned. For example, if you learned the word 발암 for wind, try making a sentence like 오늘 아침에 추운 바람이 불었어요 (There was a cold wind this morning).

4. Textbooks

First, select a textbook that is meant for your current level. I recently bought the Integrated Korean Intermediate 1 textbook since I started that level at the beginning of 2023. While there can be a certain joy in letting yourself learn things as you go by following your interests, I’m a big believer in having some form of structure as well. A textbook, like a class, can provide that structure and guidance. Everyone has a favourite textbook series, but at the end of the day, they all tend to have some things in common. They all provide you with grammar explanations, example sentences, and vocabulary that shows up in each chapter. Most also include written dialogs and narrations, with links to audio clips of native Korean speakers reading them.

Integrated Korean Intermediate 1 Textbook (I love this book)
Integrated Korean Intermediate 1 Textbook (I love this book)

Following along with a textbook while also exploring on your own can be a great combination that will help you improve your Korean.

5. Immerse yourself when you can (one of my fave methods!)

You may not be in a situation where you can just move to Seoul or Daegu for a year to learn and absorb the language. I feel you. Same. But don’t let anyone tell you that living in Korea is the only way to immerse yourself in the Korean language. It’s not, and in fact there are countless people who move there to teach English and never learn more than how to order food. You can’t learn via immersion if you don’t put in the work, and that means you can do it from home too, wherever that may be.

Here are some ways that I immerse myself in the Korean language:

Korean listening practice with Podcasts
Talk to Me in Korean and Iyagi (also TTMIK) are my two fave podcasts right now

Podcasts. Podcasts are a great method because they’re portable so you can listen while you walk, sit on the bus, or clean your house. I like to listen to Talk to Me in Korean’s podcast because they do episodes on specific topics (just like I mentioned in my vocabulary section) so you learn a lot of things to discuss on the topic of marriage, the cold weather, flavour, etc. What’s fun is they cover basic, common words in the beginner segment, slightly more complex and challenging terms in the intermediate segment, and then they speak in full Korean for the advanced segment. I like to use those advanced sections as listening practice. Even if I don’t understand a lot of it, I can often pick up and follow phrases and even catch the gist of the conversation.

I also like listening to their Iyagi podcasts even though they are way ahead of my level; they’re natural Korean conversations and I like the challenge of seeing how much I can grasp.

Variety shows. Variety shows are incredibly challenging for several reasons. One, they’re unscripted. Two, they’re not for learners so people aren’t slowing down their speech. Sometimes they’re not even speaking clearly; think of how you speak English when you’re excited and laughing. Three, more often than not, there will be 2, 3, or a whole group of people all talking over each other. For this reason, you’ll want to watch these when you can sit down and turn on subtitles if you’re a beginner or early intermediate learner. Over time though, you’ll pick up more and more. And it’s a great way to learn natural, commonly used conversational Korean, as opposed to the perfectly scripted dialog in a drama.

Vlogs. I mentioned vlogs before, but I really do love watching them. Unfortunately I have found most Korean vlogs have little to no speaking, but they do put captions on screen. While it’s not quite the same as listening to people having a conversation or narrating, you can still see some more natural writing like you do on social media.

Use your hobbies to help with your Korean comprehension
Using yoga to help me understand Korean

Find videos about your hobbies in Korean. Recently I had a little flash of inspiration and searched on YouTube for yoga videos that are in Korean. I found a great teacher (who conveniently has playlists that break down type of yoga or time commitment so I can choose what I want to do) and have done yoga with her several times now. It helps that I’ve done yoga for years so I know what I’m doing for the basic moves. However, it was also interesting to realize that because I know the Korean words for things like breath, hands, feet, legs, head, ribs, knees, up, down, left, right, forward, back, etc, I don’t have to look up at the screen that often to know what I’m supposed to be doing. There’s still a lot of narration that I’m not catching, but with time I’ll understand more and more.

News (radio or TV). Put on a radio station or a TV news channel from Seoul or Busan, or anywhere else in Korea. Challenge yourself to follow what’s being said. News shows that are broadcast on TV are particularly helpful because they come with visuals that can give you clues to what is being discussed. Keep in mind that news will be in formal speech, so less conversational, but it’s still great practice to improve your Korean. I haven’t done this much yet, but will update when I do.

Two bonus easy ways to improve your Korean:

Okay, those were five primary ways, but here are two more tips just for fun.

1. Label things around your house. For the longest time I could not remember that 설거지하다 was the word for “to wash dishes” for some reason. I finally stuck a piece of index card over my kitchen sink. I didn’t include any English, I just wrote 설거지하다 and 설거지해요 on it. Since I don’t have a dishwasher, I would stand there washing my dishes, looking at it daily. I learned it pretty quickly.

(I also learned to say 설거지하고 싶지않아요 – “I don’t want to wash dishes” quickly too, since I really hate washing dishes!)

Use a habit tracker to monitor your Korean stories
Trying to hit all four segments daily for March – so far so good!

2. This may be more important than the others combined. Be consistent. I truly believe that you can accomplish more if you commit to studying Korean for 15 minutes a day for 5 days a week than you can by only studying one day every week and a half or so for 3 hours. Cramming too much into one session and then not revisiting it for a couple of weeks (or longer) is never going to help get you to the level of fluency you want.

Make it a daily or near-daily habit to focus on one of these five ways at the very least. You’ll find you can improve your Korean much more easily and quickly if you commit yourself to doing it regularly.

What will you try first?

Please leave me a comment below and let me know which of the five easy ways to improve your Korean you plan to try first.

Did I miss something?

And if you have a tip you can share that has worked for you, please let me know in the comments as well!

Study hard! 열심히 공부해요!

 

Embassy of the Republic of Korean / Korean Cultural Center - 2023 Honorary Reporter

 

 

 

This post is part of the KCC Canada Honorary Reporter project.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *