How I learned Korean

This post is followed by a YouTube video (here) and it is offering a wider perspective and more information. It is a part of the new series called Lifehacks by Tina.

Learning a new language can be difficult. Particularly so when that new language has absolutely no connections to any language you have already heard or mastered. Sure, I had some familiarity of Japanese from watching Sailor Moon when I was a child, but that doesn’t transcend “Moon Prism Power, make up!” and it definitely doesn’t suffice in creating any background for learning Korean. If anything, it can make it more difficult and cause more confusion. In any case, Korean language is something different. You can google about its specifics but here are some basic – interesting – facts:

  • It is a language isolate and its classification is very controversial
  • Some say it is a part of an Altaic language family, others dispute it
  • Some say it is similar to Japanese, others disagree
  • It is considered one of the hardest languages to become proficient in
  • In order to learn the language you need about three times more time than mastering some Romanic language

History note:

You probably know by now that the language has its own writing, Hangeul. The writing was reconstructed in the 15th century and the language that Korea uses today is considered to be the most logical, scientific language that exists.

My personal experience:

Okay, so some of the info above may not be that motivational, particularly regarding the difficulty of comprehension. So I will tell you something about my own personal experience in order to get this story closer to you. When I just arrived to Korea I had genuine trouble with speaking to people (you can read about my first experience here). Almost no one spoke English and fitting in seemed like an impossible task. Since I was aware that the society will not change, I accepted that the change has to start with me. I decide to do my best to pick up the language; at least enough to have a basic conversation and to know what I am eating in the restaurant (as it wasn’t the case most of the time, to be honest :).


We had an obligatory Korean language class two hours per week which is not nearly enough to move from “Anyeong, Tina eyo”. Most of the (western) students didn’t manage to learn reading in Korean by the end of our four months exchange. Other than the obligatory classes, we also had an opportunity to learn the language in the Korean Language Centre as a part of our scholarship. All Europeans refused this offer but I decided to take on it. By the end of the first month, all western students gave up. I stayed. And succeeded 🙂

So, the most important question (and the point of this post actually) :


I took all the classes I could possibly take. That’s ten hours per week (and the classes were Friday evening, until 9pm). Other than that, I used every free moment during my academic time to go to a coffee shop and learn. I started to walk around with my Korean language books everywhere. Geeky as it may sound, I am super proud of it as it may be the only time in my life I dedicated to something so passionately. Even my entertainment life was adapted to my learning: I listened only to Korean KPOP music (SNSD and 4 minutes are my favourite) and watched only Korean movies (I can recommend Old Boy, My Sassy Girl and Spring, Summer, Fall,Winter,…and Spring to name just a few titles).

How did I learn?

  • Read my class notes, repeat it out loud and practiced pronunciation
  • Listen to songs and tried to followed the lyrics
  • Think about it all the time and created logical connections in my mind (some similarities between other languages and the reasoning behind it)
  • Hanged around with local people and used it every day
  • Did things on my own and spent less time with English-speakers

This was my method and I think it is a great one. I didn’t have a mobile app at the time; it was 2013 and it wasn’t that popular to do so. Some super modern Japanese girls had electronic dictionaries and you could see them all the time walking around and practicing with them. I was jealous as I never seen such gadget in my life. 🙂

The point of it all was to perceive this as a personal challenge. As mentioned, at one point all of the western students gave up and I actually thought about doing the same as, even though I was getting better at it, it didn’t suffice super high-standards I always have for myself. But I decided to stick around and do my best of it.

It was a lesson of persistence and the perception of seeing obstacles as challenges.


I can understand and have a basic conversation. I also can understand most of the songs (the context of course, not every lyric). I can understand the culture from deep inside as stepping out of my comfort zone made me stronger and gave me the unforgettable lesson about my own strength and possibilities. That is the reason why I shared this experience and tips: to tell you how to learn but more importantly to assure you that you CAN achieve anything you put your mind to.

With inspiring thoughts,




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