How to Learn Korean in Toronto

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 Exchange

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?

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

12 thoughts on “How to Learn Korean in Toronto

  • July 20, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    Hi! Thanks so much for this post! I am just starting to learn Korean (my husband is Korean and you’re right, not the greatest teacher) I’ll be checking out the online site for now but seriously thinking of taking formal Korean lessons in the fall or next summer.

    • July 23, 2012 at 10:07 am

      TTMIK is a fabulous site. But yeah, I think formal classes are the way to go if you have time (and the opportunity).

      • May 9, 2013 at 8:58 pm

        Check out LanguageYES! I found them after searching unsuccessfully for good, low-cost Korean classes in Toronto on kijiji. They have an awesome program with classes once a week which I am pretty sure is still running. If you love Kpop, kdrama or just Korean in general, I suggest it. I think I only paid $195 or so and can’t complain.

      • May 9, 2013 at 9:43 pm

        Lol, thanks but your recommendation would mean more without the website listed as yours. I checked out the website and while pretty, it took a lot of clicks to find very little information. No locations (other than cities), no info on teachers (other they are native speakers) and no costs. Based on the website I can’t back up your recommendation.

  • July 22, 2012 at 8:02 am

    I started learning Korean about a year and a half ago though classes in a college. My teacher is a qualified Korean teacher and it helped sooo much. I’m not very good at self study so being forced to by a teacher was really good for me. Unfortunately I can’t study again until next year so I’m trying to improve my speaking skills with my husband until then.

    • July 23, 2012 at 10:09 am

      Hi Nic, you’re yet another person who’s said that classes in a college/university were a good investment. And I’m like you, I’m not so good at self-study unless listening to K-pop and watching K-dramas and movies count.

  • August 9, 2012 at 12:10 am

    Hi 🙂 Your posting is pretty interesting and you know about Korean a lot even than me. Hahaha. And it’s glad to meet someone who likes Korea very much.
    I’m international student who is studying in Toronto now. I came in Toronto 1month ago and I stayed in Nova Scotia last 6 months. So I’m experiencing different provinces. Are you an one of SayKimchi organizer?? I registered that meetup site as soon as I arrived in here, but I haven’t participated it.
    If I have a chance to enjoy there, I will^^
    Hope your Korean improving!!! And I’m also struggling in English!!!

    • August 9, 2012 at 9:26 am

      Hi Mihyeon, I am the organizer of Say Kimchi 🙂 Did you find my blog through the meetup site? I look forward to meeting you at one of our events! ^^ Thanks for your encouragement in studying Korean, it’s so hard. And good luck with your English!

  • November 21, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    I’m Korean and I’m here to study English. I want to be friend many foreigner.

    And I’m university student in Korea if you want share our language please call me 4168809884. I’m very nice and kind haha

    • November 21, 2013 at 8:23 pm

      Hi, I recommend checking out Say Kimchi, it’s a Korean-English language exchange group in Toronto so you can study English and meet Canadians.

  • December 18, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    Thanks for all the resources, this post is very helpful. I am totally new to Korean language and would love to start learning it. Unfortunately the application just closed for Spring 2014 beginner class at KECC, I’ll wait for summer sessions. Just wondering if you may know any places to learn K-Pop dance classes as well? Thanks.

    • December 19, 2013 at 11:16 am

      Hi Lili, there are great Korean culture clubs at both U of T and York U that offer K-pop dance classes. I know there are a couple of private ones as well, although I’m not sure how to contact them. However a great place to look for them is TKMG’s Facebook page.

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