“How can I learn Korean fast?”
There is no magic to language learning. Ask the best language learners, and they’ll tell you that it is because they put in the time.
However, there are things those fast learners do that they don’t tell you. It’s not that they’re hiding these secrets. They either don’t think about their habits, or assume that everyone operates this way.
They use simple strategies that yield amazing results in a short amount of time. Instead of simply adding more time, they make sure the time they do spend is maximized.
In short, the most outputs for the fewest inputs. Ready to supercharge your Korean study habits? Here are 12 simple tips that you can use starting today!
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1. Block Off Time Beforehand
Before you even open a book, decide how much time you will dedicate to learning each day, week, or month. Then, go to the calendar and block off that time. For example, if you’re planning on studying for one hour a day, then block off that time. This should be dedicated Korean study time, and nothing else. No email, text messaging, phone calls, TV, or music. Just you and the Korean alphabet.
2. Have a Notebook Nearby
While you’re focused on studying, distractions will come up. It’s inevitable. You need to send Mom a birthday gift. Your dog is depressed and needs a new sweater to cheer him up. Your spice rack needs to be put in alphabetical order.
As these things pop into your head, write them down and get back to studying. You can handle them once your study session is finished.
3. Build a Fortress
Your study area needs to be sacred. It should not be a place in the middle of the living room with the TV on, your roommates walking past you every 5 minutes, and your phone notifications buzzing non-stop.
Instead, it should be a comfortable and quiet area with no distractions. It doesn’t have to be a separate room, but it should be a specific section of your room.
For example, you might want to block off a corner of your room with a desk and comfortable chair that is only used for getting work done. You should not be studying in your bed if it can be avoided. You don’t want to mix you sleep environment with your Korean study environment.
If you live with other people, find a way to minimize the chances of them disturbing you while you’re studying Korean. It could be as simple as closing the door or letting the other people know not to disturb you between certain times.
4. Stock Supplies
You want to make sure that you’re fully stocked up on the necessary supplies so you have no reason to avoid studying. Without question, you will have times where you won’t want to study. In those moments, it’s easy to find other activities that you “need” to get done.
Maybe you need a new pen because yours is running out of ink. Or you might need a cup of coffee to help you power through since you didn’t sleep well the night before.
The key to avoiding these situations is to plan ahead and know what might derail your Korean study sessions. Keep a stock of pens, pencils, notebooks, paper, and any other items you might typically use while studying.
Keep your refrigerator and pantry packed with high quality food and snacks to fuel your body for maximum study effectiveness. Avoid high sugar snacks and drinks that will cause your energy levels to spike and dip too much.
Instead, stock healthy food and drinks to keep you with a slow release of steady energy. Taking these few extra precautionary steps will help ensure that you learn Korean as fast as possible!
5. Clear All Distractions
This one will be painful for some, and almost impossible for others.
Turn your cell phone off.
Not vibrate, not ring once, but off.
Silent mode will also do, as long as you keep it face down.
Mobile phones are one of the biggest time wasters out there. It will quickly erode any progress you’re making, and it will cause your study sessions to seem ineffective.
Avoid this at all costs!
Some people may need to keep their phones on in case of an emergency. If that’s the case, make sure you set it up so you have the fewest distractions possible.
For example, maybe you’re waiting for a phone call about a delivery you’re supposed to receive. In that case, you can set your phone to ring or vibrate.
However, turn off all other notifications from social media sites, messengers, and email. Those messages and emails will still be there when you’re done studying, and likely nothing in that department is all that pressing.
This goes the same for any other alarms or notifications you may get. If you have alerts set up on you computer, make sure to turn them off so you can keep focused on your plan to learn Korean fast.
6. Utilize Free Time
If you take public transportation or you carpool, then you’ve got some golden time to help you learn Korean fast.
Instead of playing Anipang, Angry Birds, or Clash of Clans, put that time to use studying Korean.
While it’s true that it may be more challenging to study while standing on a crowded subway or bus, there are ways to utilize that time.
As long as you have enough room to move your thumb to touch your smartphone screen, then you always have a way to keep moving forward with your Korean studies.
One example of this is to use an SRS flash card system such as Anki so you can do vocabulary review while you’re commuting or traveling.
The great thing about using smartphone apps to learn Korean fast is that you can do them almost anywhere. So the next time you are waiting at the dentist office, standing in line at the post office, or waiting for a friend at the cafe, you can get in some Korean study time!
7. Cut and Paste Phrases
Some people like to study vocabulary words by reading sentences containing the word, and then recognizing the word by the context in the sentence.
For example, let’s say you want to learn the word for “subway” in Korean, which is “지하철”.
If you were doing flash cards, you could put “subway” on one side, and “지하철” on the other.
If you want to learn Korean fast, it’s best to have a variety of ways to study and identify the word. So you may want to make one card with just the word, as in the above example.
Then you should make another card with an entire sentence, where “지하철” is the only word you don’t know.
If you type in the word “subway” into Naver dictionary, then you come up to a page that looks like this:
There are multiple sentences giving examples of the word “지하철”. You could find a sentence where you know all of the other words except for “지하철”. For example, maybe you already know the word “타다”, which means “to ride”.
In that case, you can copy and paste the sentence from Naver. So your flash card may look something like this:
Front: “지하철을 타다”
Back: “to ride/take the subway”
That way, the verb “타다” can clue you into the meaning of “지하철” if you’re not sure of it. Also, you can learn which verbs match up with which nouns. Another win!
8. Write It Down
Imagine this scenario: You go into a store in Korea to buy some mosquito repellent, and think to yourself “If I knew what to say, I would ask the store clerk in Korean”.
Have you had a similar situation?
Or maybe you took action. Possibly you were at a cafe, and you wanted to know the word for “paper cup”, so you looked it up in your Korean dictionary. Then you used it when you ordered your drink.
(Bravo for doing that, by the way. It’s a great way to learn Korean fast!)
Then you thought to yourself “I really need to memorize the word for ‘paper cup’”.
Well, that is the perfect opportunity to write it down! If these are words that you will likely use again, make sure you write them down somewhere or take a screenshot on your smartphone so you can add them to your flashcard deck later.
Then, when you sit down to study, you’ll have a nice stack of useful vocabulary words that you’ll be excited to study!
9. Prepare Phrases Beforehand
During your regular daily routine, think about what kind of interactions you have with Koreans.
Maybe it’s to order your favorite gimbap in the morning.
Or perhaps you often get phone calls from your delivery person when you make orders from Gmarket.
In those cases, you’ve got the perfect opportunity to practice your Korean!
Anticipate those situations, and learn the correct phrase that you will need to say. You can even write it down and read it directly from an index card.
This is helpful even if you already are speaking Korean regularly.
Switching up your routine will also grow your skillset.
Instead of ordering a hot americano at the cafe, try ordering a smoothie with ice.
Or instead of telling the delivery person to leave the package at your door, ask if it can be delivered tomorrow when you get home after 3pm.
Your Korean will improve quickly, and you’ll have a lot more fun using it.
10. Ask For Clarification
Learn this magical phrase to help you learn Korean fast:
“다시 말해 주세요”.
This means “please repeat that one more time”.
One of the common mistake that Korean learners make is to assume they understand what the other person has said.
It usually stems from embarrassment or shyness, but it’s not a good habit.
Instead, it’s much better to ask the other person to repeat what was said so you can get a solid understanding. It may be that your Korean friend has a unique accent, or that your friend is using a word that you’ve never heard before.
In either case, you’ll be able to expand your vocabulary and listening ability simply by asking for clarification.
Plus learning Korean is way more fun when you understand what other people are saying!
11. Explain Away
One frustration that Korean learners experience is not being able to remember the correct word for what they want to say at the time they need it.
Or, they try saying a word, but their pronunciation is incorrect.
In either case, you aren’t able to express yourself properly.
Instead of throwing in the towel and resorting to dictionaries and hand gestures, a better strategy is to think of another way to explain what you’re trying to say.
In other words, if the direct route doesn’t work, go for an indirect route.
Maybe you say the word “wallet” (“지갑”), but your pronunciation is off. Rather than get frustrated that your Korean friend doesn’t understand, try instead saying “the place where you keep money, usually in your back pocket”.
Your friend will respond with “지갑!”.
Mystery solved, and you can continue on with your conversation.
How many different indirect routes should you take?
As many as you need to get your point across!
12. Correct Pronunciation
For native English speakers, the “으” vowel is one of the most challenging sounds to make. That is because the sound doesn’t normally occur in English, so we have to make special efforts to pronounce it correctly.
Often times we can’t be sure we’re doing it correctly unless there is a native Korean speaker around to correct us.
It’s inevitable that you will make pronunciation mistakes. The key is to make the correction as soon as you can without getting frustrated.
If you use Tip #11, you can always explain your way into the words you’re trying to communicate. Once you’ve identified the word, practice it a few times, and ask your Korean friend to confirm that you are saying it correctly.
That way, you’ll be confident the next time you use that word. It gets much easier when you can read the Hangeul, so if you don’t know it yet then now’s the time to learn it!
Don’t feel alone on this issue. Koreans have the same situation with learning English. Ask them how they feel about the pronunciation difference between “survivor” and “survival”, and they’ll surely sympathize with your pronunciation challenges!
The people who learn Korean fast are the ones who put aside set time for studying and make that time as effective as possible.
You don’t have to use all 12 tips all at once. Try one, put it into action until it becomes a habit, and then go onto the next.
You’ll be surprised at how much faster you’ll learn Korean by only doing a few small actions over time. And the faster you learn, the more you’ll be able to enjoy putting your Korean to use!