Skip to content

Native Korean Speaker vs Non-Native Korean Speaker – Who should teach you Korean?

If watching K-dramas or listening to K-Pop has made you want to start a Korean language learning journey, you may be ready to begin looking for a teacher or tutor. You might also have a big question that you need to answer. Should you get a native Korean speaker as a teacher? Or should you get a non-native Korean speaker who is at an advanced level?

Learning Korean
Photo by Wes Hicks / free use photos

At first glance, the answer seems obvious but there are actually pros and cons to both. As a Korean language learner myself, I can honestly say that both options can be a great choice. Let’s look at the reasons why.

Benefits of a native Korean teacher

There are, of course, many benefits to having a native Korean teacher.


A native Korean speaker will be more reliable when it comes to accurate pronunciation. Someone who has learned Korean as a second, third, etc language may have worked very hard on their pronunciation skills, but native Koreans have been pronouncing their language their entire lives. There is less risk of learning incorrect pronunciation this way. A native speaker can also give you immediate feedback on your pronunciation so that you can be sure you are well understood when you speak.


A Korean teacher will always have the right accent when speaking. A learner who is very diligent may eventually attain a high level Korean accent but you are more likely to find this in a native Korean speaker. As a bonus, you can learn a variety of accents depending on whether your teacher is from Seoul, Busan, Daegu, etc. A language learner has probably only learned the standard dialect heard in Seoul. While you may not need to learn to speak other dialects, learning about them can be really helpful when you’re watching a K-drama that takes place elsewhere in South Korea!

Authenticity in language:

Someone who has spoken Korean their entire life will not only be able to teach you textbook grammar and vocabulary, but also slang and colloquialisms. They will also have a strong handle on cultural nuance. The Korean language is very nuanced, more than English is. A native speaker will be able to help you navigate that.

Benefits of a non-native Korean teacher

At the same time, don’t rule out the benefits of a non-native Korean teacher as well!

Understanding a student’s trouble spots:

To me, this is probably one of the biggest benefits. A Korean teacher may have a wealth of amazing knowledge, but they can’t always truly comprehend a learner’s challenge in some situations. A teacher or tutor who has learned Korean as a foreign language will be very familiar with those roadblocks.

For example, when I started I had an incredibly hard time learning how to pronounce ㄹ – was it R? Was it L? It was neither, and it took a YouTube video from a teacher who is at a very advanced Korean level to finally explain it in a way that I could grasp. After that I never had trouble with ㄹ ever again. He was able to help me understand because he knew the challenges of making a sound that does not exist in English.

Explanations of grammar:

A Korean teacher will certainly be able to explain grammar to a student. However, a non-native speaker has gone through the process of learning grammar rules in an instruction manner whereas someone speaking Korean since birth learned it via immersion. I have stumped more than one native Korean teacher with my questions before. It’s not because they aren’t good teachers. They just haven’t needed to think about what I’m asking because the grammar comes naturally.

If you don’t believe me, pick a complex English grammar point and try to figure out how to explain it to someone learning it for the first time. It’s incredibly tricky. Sometimes when my language exchange partner asks me about English, I actually have to Google it to find the best explanation because I’ve never thought about it. She does the same when I ask her about Korean grammar!

Learning Korean from native speakers vs non-native speakers
Photo by Scott Graham / free use photos

So which Korean teacher should you learn from?

As you can see, there are a lot of factors in favor of learning Korean from a native Korean teacher. And yet there are also a lot in favor of learning from a non-native Korean teacher who has attained an advanced level of Korean.

So what do you do? Who do you choose?

That’s completely up to you, but here’s my personal opinion based on my own experiences over the past years

Learn from both!

I personally learn from native Korean speakers

I take my formal Korean classes via the Korean Cultural Centre in Canada and learn from native Korean speakers. This way I know that I am learning a systematic curriculum from teachers who are certified to instruct me in Korean. I have enjoyed this process greatly.

I also have a language exchange partner who is Korean. I learn a lot from her about how to have a very natural sounding conversation. She teaches me a lot of idioms and slang, and I can rest assured that I’m not learning any bad habits.

But I also learn from non-native Korean speakers

At the same time, I have been learning vocabulary and grammar through stories from an advanced learner for two years now. Using short stories, she helps a group of us learn how to better understand Korean once a week. She also happens to be my study partner. Once a week we meet one on one online to work our way through a high intermediate book. Currently we are reading 어린 왕자 which is the Korean translation of “The Little Prince”. I have learned so much from her.

I also frequently use videos on YouTube from “Go Billy Korean” which is a very popular Korean language learning channel. Any time I find myself struggling with a grammar point I just pop over to his channel.. I know he will probably have a video that can help me understand it better. He’s also the one who taught me the correct ㄹ pronunciation that I mentioned earlier.

My recommendation?

Therefore, I strongly urge you to consider making use of both native Korean speakers AND non-native speakers as well. You will likely find that you can benefit from both types of teachers and your skills will only improve.

Please feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think and who you learn from!

Leave a Reply

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