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How long does it take to learn Korean?
So you want to learn Korean and are wondering how long does it take to learn Korean? Language always takes a long time to learn, and Korean is no exception. It takes time and patience. It also takes discipline because regular practice is the key to success. But what is a realistic time frame and is the Korean language worth your time investment?
If you study 1 hour each day, you will be able to have simple conversations within a year. For example, if you plan to pass the TOPIK II test, you could do it in a year if you study consistently. However, the TOPIK test is all about understanding the Korean language and it can take several years before you can really speak it fluently and be able to use your Korean in any everyday situation.
Various factors play a role in the speed with which a language can be learned. In addition, every language has its peculiarities and difficulties. We will discuss these factors and the specifics of learning Korean in this article.
So how long does it take to learn Korean?
Korean is different from many other languages in that it is not that difficult at first, but becomes more difficult over time and nuances. For example, the Korean alphabet that you start learning with is the easiest alphabet in the world. For that, the forms of courtesy are some of the most complicated. Even Koreans struggle with this.
The Korean alphabet
The Korean alphabet was invented to be simple. It was invented because the Chinese characters used until 500 years ago were too difficult to learn and many people could not read. Today, however, South Korea has one of the lowest illiteracy rates in the world.
So how long does it take to learn the Korean alphabet?
You can learn the Korean alphabet in two weeks if you practice half an hour each day. After that you can read and write everything. Over time you will learn pronunciation rules to perfect your knowledge, but what you have learned will be enough to eliminate the need for romanization (Latin letters for the Korean language).
We have eight videos on the Korean alphabet on YouTube. These videos last an hour in total and contain everything you need to know about the Korean alphabet to get started.
The first Korean words
Korean words are easy to learn because they are short. Most of the time, Korean words consist of just one or two syllables. This may not seem like that to you at first because, for example, 감사 합니다 for thank you and 안녕하세요 for hello, some of the first few words you learn have more syllables. These words are made up of several words, grammars and endings.
Due to the American influence on Korea, there are even many English words in the Korean language. These words are Korean (if you can put it that way) and called Konglish. Once you are familiar with Korean pronunciation, you will understand these words without ever having learned them. Examples of conglomerate words that Germans understand, even if they don't speak English well, would be
- 샌드위치 - saendeuwichi - sandwich
- 피자 - pija - pizza
- 아이스크림 - aiseukeurim - Ice Cream
- 초콜릿 - chokollit - chocolate
- 와인 wain - wine
- 텔레비전 - tellebijeon - Television
- 카페 - kapeh - coffee
- 카메라 - kamehra - camera
- 택시 - tekshi - taxi
But, as I said, original Korean words are not that difficult to learn either. What we recommend is to use index cards for studying. When memorizing, it is important that you repeat what you have learned regularly so that it remains in long-term memory. We are fans of index card programs like Anki, but index cards that you have written yourself can also significantly reduce the time it takes to memorize Korean words and help to consolidate knowledge.
So, you can learn your first Korean words after you master Hangeul, a week or two after you start learning Korean. Vocabulary learning will be a long-term project, but it won't take that long to build solid vocabulary.
The first Korean sentences
If you are learning your first simple Korean sentences, you have to internalize the different sentence order first. In Korean, the verb is always at the end. In German, the sentence order can change in certain cases, but in German the subject always comes first, then the verb and then the object. Here are two examples of Korean sentence order:
제 (My) 직업 은 (Profession) 투어 가이드 (Tour Guide) 예요 (is) - My profession is a tour guide.
가게 에서 (in store) 옷 을 (clothes) 사요 (buy) - I buy clothes in the store.
It's not that difficult. It's just different and you have to get used to it when you learn Korean. It takes some time, but it actually works automatically and once you have got used to it and, above all, are familiar with the particles, the sentence structure actually makes sense and fun.
Perfect your Korean pronunciation
We learn the Korean alphabet at the very beginning. After two weeks you can already read and write everything. You also know how to use the final consonant batchim correctly and that it is sometimes dragged over into the next syllable. Yes, but there are exceptions to the rules. Not very many, but similar to learning English with the irregular verbs, it will take a while to internalize these rules.
As a guide, we think you can perfect your pronunciation within the first year. When you're ready, you can check out our playlist for these rules on YouTube.
The Korean form of courtesy
As I mentioned at the beginning, politeness is a mystery even to some Koreans. In the beginning you will learn the -yo form and use it in most situations with a few exceptions. Since you are a foreigner, Koreans understand when you make mistakes. However, if you want people to think that you speak Korean well, sooner or later you will need to master the politeness forms.
Not now and not soon, but at some point on your way to becoming a Korean expert. I am often asked by beginners on YouTube what exactly the politeness forms are. As a beginner, you don't have to worry about that. The concept of Korean courtesy is impossible for beginners to fully understand, but you will encounter it again and again anyway, and the longer you learn the language, the easier it will be to access it.
The Korean Particles
The Korean particles can be compared to the German cases. In German you can also tell which part of the sentence the subject or the object is, although the sentence order sometimes changes. There are no cases in Korean and the conjugated verb does not change depending on the person. To do this, we add a particle to the noun in Korean. This particle defines which noun plays which role in the sentence.
For example, there are subject particles, object particles, theme particles, and location particles, but these names are not entirely appropriate and the Korean particles have many other functions as well. The subject particle and the topic particle often replace each other, and particles add subtle nuances to your sentences. The same applies here as with the forms of politeness. It takes a long time to fully understand the Korean particles. Probably years, so don't try to understand them from the start.
Gerhard tried that and it almost drove him insane before accepting that it would take time. Above all, don't let the particles hold you back! They will meet you again and again as you learn the lessons and will open up to you step by step.
The intricacies of the Korean language
Starting Korean is easy, but Korean gets harder the longer you study. This is because as you gain experience, you will encounter more and more subtleties and will need to understand them. I said at the beginning that learning vocabulary is easy. Yes, it is, but there are words that have no equivalent in German or words that have many different meanings.
Courtesy is very important, and the particles are one of the most difficult issues in the Korean language. Both concepts do not exist in this form in German. Korean is not a difficult language per se, but it is difficult to master the fine nuances of the language.
Factors that affect your progress
1. German as mother tongue
German is a good starting point for learning Korean. With a few exceptions, the German language knows most of the Korean sounds. With German as your mother tongue, pronunciation is not an insurmountable hurdle. There are exceptions such as the difference between the double consonants, but like so much in language learning, that just takes time and practice.
The sentence order in Korean is different, but much simpler than, for example, in German. While the sentence structure in Korean is always subject, verb, object, the sentence structure in German changes depending on whether it is a main or a subordinate clause. German also knows sentences with a sentence order like in Korean, even if they are not the norm. For example:
- I eat because I am hungry.
- He eats the apple that is ripe.
- You're supposed to do the homework.
In Korean, if the verb or adjective comes at the end of the sentence, you know you are right. Indeed, in Korean, if the particle is used correctly, the subject and object can switch places without losing meaning.
Of course there are languages like Japanese, Chinese or Arabic that are an even better basis for learning Korean, but German as a mother tongue is definitely a good prerequisite.
2. Previous language learning experience
How long it takes to learn Korean may also have something to do with your previous language learning experience. Because if you speak multiple languages, or maybe even grew up bilingual, it's easier to understand new concepts and you're already used to being exposed to multiple languages. Also, when you were learning your first foreign language, you also had to find ways and means to do it.
Learning methods that can be reused when learning another foreign language. So language learning experience is not a prerequisite, but it can affect how long it takes to learn Korean. And do not forget! We all learned English in school, and maybe even another foreign language, even though the practice and enthusiasm may have been lacking.
3. Your learning methods
We believe you can learn Korean yourself at home using books and YouTube. There are tons of resources online for learning Korean, especially if you speak English well. However, it makes a difference whether you are attending a course, having a tandem partner, traveling to Korea or maybe even living there or being in a relationship with someone from Korea. If you haven't found your study methods yet, you can read this article with our tips on how to learn Korean to get a system. We believe that learning should be exhausting. Like a real workout. Actively learn as much as you can!
4. How much time do you invest in the Korean language?
We recommend one hour of study per day. However, more important than the time you invest in learning the language is that you study regularly. It's similar to fitness training. It is better to exercise for an hour three times a week than a full day on the weekend. Therefore, if you don't run out of one hour a day, you should practice half an hour a day and keep practicing daily. You should choose a time investment that you can maintain over the long term.
5. Why do you want to learn Korean?
The most important factor comes at the end. Do you have a real interest and reason to learn Korean? We all know that. It's not just about language learning. We automatically record content that we really need and that inspires us, while information that is not important to us simply does not stick in our minds. Plus, it's hard to practice regularly if you're not sure why you're doing it in the first place.
Have you fallen in love with Korean culture, music, and cinema, or maybe with a real person? What do you want to do with your language skills in the future? Do you want to live in Korea or travel to Korea regularly? Do you want to build up a Korean circle of friends or is your interest in the language and learning itself.
Find short and long-term goals and reasons to learn Korean and write them down so you can always consult them before studying and never forget why you want to learn Korean. Not only will this help you stick with it, but like I said, your brain needs to be convinced that what you are learning is important in order to absorb and hold onto the information.
If you haven't found your reason to learn Korean yet or need a reminder, here is an article with many reasons to learn Korean.
Learning a new language is not easy. Korean is a particular challenge because many things in Korean, such as politeness and particles, are completely different. Other aspects of the Korean language, such as the alphabet and the sounds used to learn and form words, are simpler than most other languages.
Therefore, we do not believe that Korean is easier, more difficult, or takes shorter or longer to learn than other languages. In a year, if you practice an hour a day, you can build a solid foundation. Regardless of your personal background and learning methods, you can learn enough in one year to understand your favorite K-Dramas, have simple conversations, or pass TOPIK II. Perfecting the language and only getting along with Korean in everyday life in Korea takes more than a year and probably several years.
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