One of the responses during my last contest was for an article about how I’m learning Korean in Toronto. Now I’ve written about a similar topic once before but that time it was more a review on different methods I’ve tried to learn Korean since I moved to Korea. But that was a while ago and it really didn’t answer my reader’s question, so I thought I’d write about how I’m currently learning Korean.
Now let me be frank and say I’ve never really formally studied Korean – the closest I’ve come are the free classes I take at the Korean Consulate. Every person I’ve met who has formally studied Korean – taken a university/college class or two, either here or in Korea – has WAY BETTER Korean than I do. I’ve only ever studied Korean as a hobby. First, because I was living in Korea (as an English teacher) and it would have been rude not to learn Korean while living there. Plus as I grew to love Korea, I wanted to learn so I could understand more about the country and culture.
Nowadays, I study Korean for three main reasons. I have a lot of Korean friends and I want to be able to speak with them in both English and Korean. I love and write about Korean culture so learning Korean makes a lot of sense professionally, it will make it infinitely easier to get a job writing about Korean culture. And finally, then I won’t need subtitles for Korean dramas, films and K-pop.
So, while I’m studying Korean for some good reasons, I’ve only studied it as a hobby up to this point. The first thing I will recommend – and I’ll be doing this myself this fall – is to either hire a private tutor or take a university/college class. If you are serious about learning Korean, then learning in a more formal environment will make it easier. In fact, I’ll go one step further and recommend you study for a semester in Korea once you get to the intermediate level. There are some great Korean university immersion programs and everyone I know who’ve done one both loved the experience and returned with much-improved Korean.
But if you aren’t able to get to Korea or if you are a more casual learner, there are several good options for you in Toronto.
I highly recommend that you use a Korean textbook of some kind to study, even if you are casual about it. There are two I recommend strongly because I use both currently. I’ve tried a few others over the years and the two that I’m currently using are my favourite. Wild Korean is great for anyone who has the basics of Korean (can read Hangul, knows some words). This is a great book for the casual learner or someone who studies a lot on their own. It’s beginner to low-intermediate and would be a great starting place for most people. Plus it offers some fun and interesting insights on Korean culture as well.
The other book I recommend is actually a series of books from Sogang University in Korea. The books come in different levels (1-6) with each level being broken into two parts (A & B); each part has three books – a student book & CD, a grammar book, and a workbook & CD (although you only buy two as the grammar book comes with the student book). Because there are several levels, this series is suitable for anyone from absolute beginner to advanced. However, as they were designed for use in a university setting, they do work better if you have a study partner or language exchange partner at least some of the time as there are some group exercises.
Language exchanges are a great way to practice your speaking (my worst skill) with a native speaker. If you are learning Korean in Toronto, it’s really easy to find a Korean language exchange partner because there are lots of Koreans who want to practice their English. The key is finding someone you can study with.I have a bad habit of becoming friends with mine and don’t end up studying much… which is why I have lots of fabulous Korean friends but don’t study Korean very hard… my bad! Seriously, it’s great to make friends but if you are serious about learning Korean, don’t forget to set aside some time to study.
I run a great Korean-English language exchange group called Say Kimchi which is a good place to practice language exchange in a group or one-on-one setting. I also use Conversation Exchange to find language exchange partners.
Korean Consulate Classes
The Korean Consulate in Toronto offers free beginner and intermediate Korean classes, which are 10 weeks long and offered three times a year (fall, winter and spring). They also offer culture classes. These classes are a great introduction to both the language and culture; and are offered at several different locations including the Korean Consulate and the Korean Canadian Cultural Centre. They are also a great place to meet other people who are interested in learning Korean.
One of the best resources out there for learning Korean is the website Talk to Me in Korean (TTMIK). They offer podcasts, PDFs, YouTube videos, books and so much more. Their lessons start at the beginning with how to say “hello” (anyeonghasaeyo, 안녕하세요) to high-intermediate conversations so there is something for almost all levels. Best of all, it’s mostly free. There are other sites of course, but TTMIK is by far the best (and the most fun).
Private Classes/Private Tutors
I had a private tutor briefly in Korea and this is by far, one of the most effective methods for me. Why? I know that if I’m paying for lessons, then I will study. Plus, a tutor (or a teacher in a private academy) will check your homework and I’m at the stage where I need to do homework and practice my writing. I also need someone who will make me speak Korean as I’m a huge wimp about it which is why I sound like a two-year old, and a slow one at that, when I speak in Korean. It took me a while to find one that worked well with my personality (I work better with positive reinforcement but they still need to be firm and assign homework); but in the month I had one in Korea, my Korean improved immensely. So I’m on the lookout for one for September.
I’m sure there are other options but since I haven’t tried them, I can’t recommend them. One method a friend suggested is to date a Korean. Okay, I have tried that one but not for the purpose of improving my Korean. 😛 I think it’s a very odd reason to date someone. But more importantly, in my experience and in that of some of my friends who have dated or married a Korean, it’s not the best method. Sure, you can and should talk to your partner in Korean as well as English (or your native language) but your partner probably won’t make the best teacher. In my limited experience, all I got told was how “cute” I was when I spoke Korean. The same thing happened with friends or the teaching experience would cause fights. Just don’t go there. Practice your speaking, sure… but find another way to study.
How are you studying Korean? What method do you recommend?