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An online magazine about Korean culture, food and hallyu based in Toronto, Canada

My Korean Language Journey

My Korean language study started out as just a hobby but it later became a means for me to meet new people and learn more about the Korean culture. I also now consider it as a fun way to exercise my brain!

My study has actually started many years ago but it did not progress until 2014. It is a very long journey, but I am slowly getting to my destination. I now have some reference books and workbooks, and I want to get more, but most of my studies are still done online. I consider myself as a mid-intermediate level learner, as I can make simple sentences and understand some conversations but I am still lacking in vocabulary. I hope that by writing about Korean language learning, I can help other learners and myself.

My Korean Language reference books: 1 – Vocabulary; 2 – Korean Verbs, 3 – Korean-English Dictionary; 4 – Survival Guide

My Korean Language reference books: 1 – Vocabulary; 2 – Korean Verbs, 3 – Korean-English Dictionary; 4 – Survival Guide

My introduction to the Korean language

I was a high school student in the Philippines when I first encountered the Korean language. I knew how to speak Filipino and English, the 2 official languages, and I really had no interest in learning a third one. But one day, while channel surfing, I found a Korean sitcom called “Nonstop”. I actually don’t remember why it became one of my favourites on TV. The acting was probably bad and the plot was most likely simple and shallow, and I had to read subtitles too! “Nonstop” sitcom was my introduction to the Korean language, and it really piqued my curiosity. I was not used to hearing this language before anywhere in my city or in my school. It intrigued me so much, that eventually I had taught myself how to read and write Hangeul.

Online sources say that many Korean language learners have learned Hangeul with much ease. Hangeul is the Korean alphabet that was invented in the 15th century by King Sejong. It is composed of 8 basic vowels, 13 diphthongs, 14 basic consonants, and 5 double consonants. These letters are combined to form syllable-blocks, and one or more syllables form a word. Like other learners, I easily grasped how to read and write, however, I did not study grammar and composition at all. For some time, I just practiced by scribbling names or random words at the back of my notebooks. I actually did not have any purpose or practical use for studying Korean and I was doing it more as a hobby than as a necessity, so my learning eventually came to a halt.

Hallyu and my rediscovery of the Korean language

When I entered university, Hallyu (or Korean Wave) has already reached the shores of the Philippines. I no longer had to switch to foreign channels on TV to find Korean programs. Korean dramas were bought by local TV networks. More and more people gained interest about Korea through TV, films and music. Hallyu had an immense presence in the media that was hard to ignore.

At university, I also realized that there was a steady inflow of visiting Korean students in the country. I met a couple of Korean students in some of my classes. And I also became more interested in Korean dramas and music, which had become more accessible. (I became a Big Bang fan around this time.) With all these influences that surrounded me, I thought I could revive my language learning through self-study! But again, I was not successful in doing this because I was an Engineering student and I had to focus my attention on my classes, projects, and maintaining my marks!

Shortly after my graduation, my family moved to Canada. This time, I really thought that I would give up on Korean language learning. I thought that it would be much more difficult for me to study in North America, but boy was I mistaken! I found ATK Magazine, which became my go-to place for anything Korean because of its various contents. 🙂 It is also here where I discovered the Korean language study website, Talk To Me In Korean or TTMIK. (More about learning through TTMIK in another article.)

Online learning and language exchange apps

Now being someone who has a full-time job, I find that allotting time to study can be quite tricky. When I found out about Talk To Me in Korean, it immediately became my virtual classroom. They have designed their own curriculum (Levels 1-9) that has provided me a structure for learning. But the pace was entirely up to me. (Hooray, it’s time to learn grammar!!!) I was studying with TTMIK almost every day and night for a few months. I listened to podcasts on my morning commute, during my work break, while running on the treadmill, and even before I sleep. I kept a study notebook for writing drills and building vocabulary.

I found an unofficial TTMIK app on Android that contained free grammar materials found on the TTMIK official website. I also started following TTMIK on SoundCloud, where I can listen to audio lessons/podcasts anytime I want to brush up on my studies. I followed them on most of their social media channels and it has helped me tremendously.

I have a friend who works for a Korean electronics company (Yeah, the big one!) and he’s amazed by the amount of things I learned through this website in a short time. He told me a few times to consider working for his company! (But that is easier said than done, I told him.)

I also downloaded a language-exchange app, called HelloTalk, where I met a couple of amazing language-exchange friends. One of them actually lived in Toronto for a short time so we were able to meet in person. She returned to Korea last year but we still keep in touch. Whenever we talk, she’d ask when I would come to Korea to visit. So sweet!

Find and download this app: HelloTalk (free) from the App Store and Play Store

Find and download this app: HelloTalk (free) from the App Store and Play Store

What I realized during this process is that while I like learning a new language, I also enjoy the feeling of satisfaction when I am able to help others learn. This is the motivation that I was lacking in my first years of language learning. Because I like helping others learn English, I keep using my language-exchange app. The more I use it, the more I learn.

Final Thoughts

In my Korean language learning journey, I had many false starts. But I realized that all the right conditions should come together in order to actually get running. One has to find motivation, then dedicate time (even just spare time), and make sure the experience is fun. Also because of technology, location does not even matter anymore. There are so many resources available online and on mobile, that made it possible for me to study anywhere in the world and anytime that I want. In my next articles, I want to share with you my resources, tips, and stories about Korean language learning.

We’d love to hear about your Korean language learning journey! Please leave a comment and tell us about it.

2 Comments

  1. It seems a lot of people online start learning Korean because they discovered K-dramas. I have a hard time figuring out K-drama’s that I actually like since most of their plots simply do not appeal me. However, recently I did discover one “Dear My Friends”. I like its story a lot more than the ‘popular’ soap opera’s Korea often offers. Perhaps I am just looking in the right way, who knows. Planning to see misaeng (미생).

    I started learning Korean because I wanted to talk to a few friends I recently got to know. They are all Korean and I have become so fond of them I simply had to learn their language. Korean would really help to communicate with their family, especially kind 외할머니.

    I’ve been learning Korean close to one year and a half now, but I a still but a humble upper beginners. This year I attended Korean classes at the Korean Cultural Center and that really has helped me a lot. I even participated (but did not win) in their Korean speaking contest.

    Recently started reading Korean Folk Tales & Aesop’s Fables (by TTMIK) in Korean. It is really helping me get a proper feel for Korean even if it is a slow process.

    Learning Korean is quite a challenge, but it is simply fun! I hope to hear more from you off your language journey.

    • Hi Nick, thanks so much for sharing your story! 🙂 I’m an avid supporter of TTMIK too and I think the work they do is helping a wide range of learners out there. I’d recommend that you also catch Hyunwoo on Arirang Radio on Wednesday nights (Korea time). You can download the free mobile app. His segment on the show is something I always look forward to. 🙂
      I’ll make sure to check out their iyagi/fables ebooks. I heard short clips of it and they do sound interesting! Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment! 🙂

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