Learn Korean Online How to Choose the Best Course

Learn Korean Online: How to Choose the Best Course

1. Online Korean Learning Overview

Think about studying Korean

When you hear the phrase “learn Korean online”, what kind of images come to mind?

1. Attending a webinar-style class at a scheduled time

2. Taking Skype lessons 1:1

3. Logging into a Korean langauge website

4. Downloading worksheets

5. Watching pre-made videos

Everyone has different views of what the best way to learn Korean online is, and for very good reason: There are lots of options out there!

You’ve probably also heard horror and failure stories about how these online Korean courses don’t work.

There is some truth to that. They don’t work if you choose the wrong course!

Korean is a fun language to learn, and we don’t want to see you go down that road.

Instead, we’ll give you the breakdown of what Korean lessons are like, what you should look for, and what you can expect.

Once you’re matched up with the right course, you’ll have a far greater chance for success.

And most importantly, you’ll enjoy the whole experience a lot more!

Let’s get to it!

2. Online Korean Learning Goals

Online Korean Course Goals

“I don’t want to talk about goals! I want to learn Korean!”

If you skip this step, you’re bound for disappointment and failure.

If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s hard to figure out which direction to go. It’s like hopping in your car and going on a road trip, except you have no destination in mind. Maybe fun for a little while, but soon the excitement will wear off and you’ll question why you ever started in the first place.

Learning Korean is no different!

This is a very overlooked area. Doing this one thing will make a huge difference in the enjoyment and success you have with learning Korean.

It goes double for learning Korean online!

Imagine that you want to learn Korean because you married a Korean, and you want to be able to communicate with the in-laws (or just understand what they are saying). If you start up a vocabulary-heavy online program that helps you prepare for the TOPIK Korean Proficiency Test, you’re going to be wasting your time.

You’ll be much better off doing a course that teaches you practical grammar with lots of listening and speaking practice.

Or maybe your dream is to understand Korean dramas. In that case, enrolling in an online Korean speaking course won’t be that useful. You’ll have more success by focusing on listening, grammar, and vocabulary.

Not having clearly defined goals is the biggest reason why people fail when they learn Korean online. Take a few minutes to complete the following sentences about yourself.

Korean learning goals

Do yourself a favor and answer these questions before you choose your course. The more detail you have, the better. Not only will this improve your chances for success, but it will make it much easier to choose your course!

3. Free Vs. Paid Online Korean Programs

“Hats off to you, world wide web! Thanks to you, I can easily learn Korean for free!”

So while it’s true that there are many free Korean language sites, it’s not wise to automatically use a site or program only because it’s free.

Free and paid courses differ greatly. This makes sense if you take a look at how and why these programs are created.

The free sites are often done by people in their spare time. Many of these sites are made by people as a hobby because they love the language. Or they may be organized by a government or other organization. Since they content is free, the people creating the sites usually need to have a separate regular job to pay for their living expenses. Therefore, there the creators can’t dedicate all of their energy to making it the best it can be. Since they aren’t getting paid, they have less incentive to make sure it’s the best program out there.

Many free sites offer only pieces of the Korean language. Therefore, it is up to you to pick out what you need and build the course yourself.

There are some free courses that are more comprehensive, but you need to sort through them to know what they are and if they’ll help you get to your goals.

Conversely, paid courses are done by people as a business. It’s their profession, and they have to be the best at it! Otherwise, they’ll be on a strict ramyeon and gimbap diet for quite a while. Since they receive money for creating the courses, they don’t need a separate job. Therefore, they can make the online Korean language course their #1 focus. They can create the best learning experience possible since they have the time to dedicate to it. The paid courses have more resources available to be able to give you a better quality program. 

Does that mean that all online Korean courses are fun and exciting? Not at all! You’ll still need to sort them out and figure out which one is best for your goals. However, the value you can get from them is tremendous. They’re only a tiny fraction of what it costs to attend an in-person Korean language course, AND you get all the benefits of a developed and organized Korean language program.

So what to do? The bottom line is that free courses are good if you are willing to organize a program by yourself and sift through the content to find the best out there. This is for people who are motivated and have time to dedicate to this process.

Paid courses are good if you want programs that are already organized and planned out by experienced Korean speakers. They have already sorted the content out for you in advance and can fast track your learning. This is for people who have busy schedules and don’t want to have to learn how to structure their learning adventure.

4. Online Program Structures

Online Korean course structures

What is it like to learn Korean online?

How do I choose the right structure?

Great questions!

There are various online Korean programs out there, each with their own layout and style. The course structure should fit in with your lifestyle, budget, and learning preferences. You want to make sure you choose a program that is the best match for you so you keep moving toward your Korean learning goals.

Program structures generally fall into one of these categories:

a. Korean Language Membership sites

b. Live Online Korean Classes

c. Unstructured Online Korean Programs

d. Structured Online Korean Programs

e. Accelerated Online Korean Programs

f. Korean Smartphone Applications

The three main benefits to learning Korean online are 1) learning at your own pace, 2) learning from anywhere you have a computer and an internet connection, and 3) having a lower cost than in-person classes. There are drawbacks, too. Let’s take a look at all six options and run through the pros and cons.

a. Korean Language Membership Sites

These Korean online programs are set up where all of the course content is available on a website, and you can view them at your leisure. This content may be PDFs, videos, MP3s, or worksheets. Here’s an example of 90 Day Korean’s membership site main menu to give you a feel for what it’s like:

90 Day Korean Membership Site Main Menu

90 Day Korean Membership Site Main Menu

The pros for this style of online Korean learning are that all of the content is available in one area, you can log in from multiple devices (smartphones, laptops, desktops, tablets, etc), and you can navigate fairly easily through the different lessons. The course subscription fee will vary across the various types of Korean online courses out there.

It’s quite important to pick the right program. Some courses for learning Korean online simply throw a lot of vocabulary, grammar, and phrases up on a site and expect you to figure it out for yourself. It can feel like information overload, and you may not actually retain much information!

Before joining, it’s best to make sure that there is some kind of course structure so you will have a set path to follow. Take a look at the course structure and make sure it lines up with what you want to learn. If not, you may end up learning vocabulary, grammar, and expressions that you aren’t going to need. Language textbooks are full of this, and many membership sites simply emulate the textbook format.

The key with membership sites is to set a clear goal in mind and find the Korean content that matches what you want to learn. Then, figure out a way to hold yourself accountable so you keep moving forward to Korean language success!

Summary: 

Pros Cons
log in from multiple devices program quality varies
all content accessible in one place can be overwhelming if not organized
easy to navigate can have unnecessary grammar and vocabulary

b. Live Online Korean Classes

Learn Korean Online Video

Have you ever had a video chat session with friends over Skype or FaceTime? How about taking a live online class?  Well, live Korean classes are a mix of theses two. These are 1:1 or group classes with a private Korean tutor or a Korean teacher done over computer video chat. These will vary greatly in terms of quality, structure, and style. One example of this would be a 1:1 session with a Korean tutor that you find on Craigslist. You could meet three times a week for one hour each session and practice grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.

This is a fantastic way to get your pronunciation and intonation fine tuned. A native Korean speaker can help you with pronouncing those challenging vocabulary words that contains sounds not common in the English language. Also, you may be able to tailor the classes to match up with your goals and style of learning.

The big benefits for live Korean classes also come with huge downsides. Firstly, coordinating times for video sessions can be quite challenging. You may be reluctant to carve a piece of your schedule out each week, especially when flexible schedule classes are available through other programs. Booking these classes will affect your life flexibility. What if you’re stuck in traffic, the bus is running late, or your boss asks you to work late to finish a project? This starts to feel less like an online class and more like an in-person class.

Additionally, speaking over video chat can be difficult. Have you ever had to do a conference call? Then you know how hard it is to only have one person speak at a time. If there is even a slight delay because of the internet connection speed, all of that time will add up, significantly reducing the amount you will learn during your live Korean lesson. To top it all off, these are typically the most expensive online lessons. Having a qualified Korean instructor available to you in person is similar to paying a tutor for an in-person 1:1 lesson.

These live classes have big upsides and downsides, so use them wisely! One suggestion would be to use these as a supplement to a regular structured program. If you are in a remote area with few Korean people, or you are too shy to practice with Koreans you interact with, then this would be a great way to sharpen your speaking skills.

c. Unstructured Online Korean Programs

“I love you, Internet! Thanks to you, I have unlimited free Korean content!”

While this is true, it’s important to look at whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Unstructured Korean information is all over the internet. It’s very easy to find. Some examples are blogs, websites, PDF downloads, and YouTube videos. The “unstructured” part means that there isn’t a set curriculum. Perhaps someone who loves Korean posted a list of common travel expressions. Or a blogger wrote an article about common vocabulary you find at the bank or post office.

The positives for this style of online Korean learning are 1) they are free or low cost, and 2) you can custom tailor them to your goals. Since you can choose what content you study, you can be more confident that you will hit your Korean learning goals. Different programs have strengths and weaknesses, so you can hand pick the parts that you like the best.

Let’s talk about the flip side. The key thing to remember is that free doesn’t mean “no cost”. If you spend dozens of hours searching for Korean content to study but you never learn how to use it, then you paid a large price in terms of your time and motivation. It’s all about tradeoffs between time and money. How much is your time worth to you?

Learn Korean online balance time and money

Here’s a way to think about the tradeoffs. Lets say you want to learn how to talk to your hair stylist in Korean before your next haircut.

You know that if you learn the salon grammar, vocabulary, expressions, and listening that is necessary on your own, it will take you 20 hours of practice to become conversational with your hairdresser.

Conversely, imagine that there is an online program called “Korean for the Salon”. This program is focused on your goal so it has more custom-tailored content. The guesswork has been done for you, so you can focus on studying. It will take you 3 hours of practice.

Let’s look at a comparison:

Goal to Talk with Hair Stylist in Korean at Salon

This is a simplified explanation, but it is worth thinking about. What is more valuable to you: 17 hours or the cost of the “Korean for the Salon” course?

Unless you have unlimited time each day, then you want to be thinking in terms of tradeoffs. If you know anyone who got good at Korean in a short amount of time, then likely they make these evaluations all the time. It’s all about judging how to use your time and money resources most effectively.

How much is your Korean study time worth

Another pitfall of unstructured Korean programs is that studying without a plan is a dangerous way to learn Korean. You may be learning things that don’t match with your reasons for studying in the first place.

For example, maybe you want to learn Korean in order to talk with your Korean father-in-law. If you are studying from a site that teaches informal conversation that you can use with your spouse and you speak to him using the same language, you will offend him. It may all seem the same to you, but the style of speaking you learn has rank and respect built in. It’s important to choose what you learn so you don’t waste your time and become frustrated.

In fact, one of the main reasons why people quit studying a language is because they lose motivation. It’s much better to give yourself the tools to make sure you hit your learning goals. You will enjoy the rewards of your efforts much more!

The bottom line is that you want to make sure you evaluate your situation and decide if this is the route that is best for you. If you have lots of time to study, you can organize a Korean study plan, and you have great self-discipline, then the unstructured route could be a way to go. If you are worried that you will end up being the person that has been studying Korean for five years and still has trouble talking at a Kindergartener level, then you may want to look a little closer at what you’re doing.

d. Structured Online Korean Programs

“Failing to plan means planning to fail”.

Luckily, there are online Korean courses who have done the planning for us. Everyone, say “hello” to structured online Korean programs!

These are programs that are set up with a specific curriculum to make sure that you are learning the correct parts of the language in a logical and effective order. For example, it’s much easier to learn to talk about the “time” in Korean if you first learn the Korean number system. It seems simple, but it’s a critical part of learning a language.

An example of a structured online Korean program would be the Sogang University course. Sogang’s in-person program is famous for being focused on the speaking aspect of Korean. In other words, Sogang students tend to be strong speakers of Korean. Sogang University also has an online course to help you learn Korean.

Sogang University's online Korean program

Sogang’s online Korean program
Source: Sogang University

Let’s talk good news first. Since these structured courses have already developed a curriculum, they’ve already done the guesswork for you. You don’t need to weed through mountains of Korean language material to pick what you need since that is their specialty. If you pick a structured course with a good reputation, you can feel confident that you will learn what they promise to deliver.

This doesn’t mean that you can choose the first program that comes along and have guaranteed success. You still need to do your homework and be sure that the course is going to get you to where you want to be. If your goal is to learn to speak to taxi drivers, and you’re signing up for a course that is preparing you for the TOPIK Korean Proficiency exam, then you’re going to have a mismatch. The TOPIK doesn’t have a speaking component.

Also, you need to make sure you aren’t bored to tears. Just because a course has been around for a while doesn’t mean it’s a good way to learn. If a course boasts how they started in 1995, but they haven’t updated their material since then, you may want to ask around to people who have taken it recently. Some learning methods are dated, so don’t punish yourself if you can avoid it. Take a look at the program’s social media and recent reviews, and see what people are saying about it these days.

In summary, online structured Korean programs will save you on the guesswork for planning, and can offer you a clear path to get to a desired result. Make sure what they are teaching fits with what you want to learn. And most importantly, make sure it’s fun! If you’re using your online lesson time to catch up on sleep, then you probably won’t get very far.

e. Accelerated Online Korean Programs

Accelerated online Korean learning programs

“Fasten your seat belts ladies and gentlemen. We’ll be there before you know it!”

If you want to get up and running with Korean as fast as possible, then you may want to check out accelerated Korean programs. In order to learn Korean fast, you need to lighten the load. Think of a race car. Not only do race cars have fast engines, but they have cut out all the unnecessary items to make it easy to get to the finish line.

Accelerated online Korean programs operate using a similar principle. They don’t require you to have a fast engine. Instead, they help you lighten the load by streamlining the content you learn. These courses focus on the most essential parts of the language, and cut out the material you’re unlikely to use in everyday life. An example of this would be 90 Day Korean. This program focuses on the 20% of the Korean language that is used 80% of the time. To help remember the material, stories, mnemonics, and associations are used to make sure you wont’ forget what you’ve learned.

If you want to learn Korean that you’re going to use in your day to day interactions, then you’ll want to check out this type of program. You’ll be speaking and conversing quickly, and the associations will help you recall the words when you need them. Think of it as “lean” Korean learning.

Some of the cons for this course are 1) your goals may not match up, 2) it’s not good for academic learning, and 3) you need to practice on your own. If your goal is to give a formal speech at a university graduation, then this isn’t going to help you. This will also be a slow method for preparing for the TOPIK Korean Proficiency test. Finally, you need to go out and practice what you’ve learned or its less likely to stick.

To sum up, accelerated online Korean programs can help you develop your Korean skills at warp speed. However, it only matters if your goals match up with the course goals and you put the material to use.

f. Korean Smartphone Applications

Korean learning smartphone apps

We live in a smartphone application wonderland these days, and there are plenty of Korean language learning apps to go around. These apps will vary greatly in terms of quality, functionality, and ease of use. One popular application we will look at is Anki. This is an SRS (Spaced Repetition System) that can help you with vocabulary, expressions, listening, and pronunciation.

One of the biggest upsides to using smartphone apps is that you can study anywhere. Even if you’re on a crowded subway or waiting in line at the post office, you can still go to your Korean language app and log in some study time. Since a lot of apps focus on vocabulary and expressions, they are great for academic learning.

There are a few downsides to learning Korean via smartphone app. First, the functionality is fairly limited. This means that you’re not going to be able to do as complex tasks as if you were at your computer. An example of this would be copying and pasting a vocabulary word that you want to learn so you don’t forget it. Second, smaller screens make it less appealing to study. Tablets help, but it’s not as good as looking at a regular size computer screen. Lastly, they’re slower than what you can run on a computer. Although smartphone processing speed continues to increase, so does app size and complexity. Small wait times add up and slowly chip away at your desire to study.

In short, apps serve as a great supplement to your standard online Korean study plan. Figure out what you want to brush up on, and pepper in study sessions throughout your day via smartphone so you can keep sharpening your skills.

g. Online Program Structures Summary

Now that you know the ins and outs of the online Korean course structures, you can figure out which best matches your style. You may even want to combine some courses depending on your available time and motivation level.

Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy yourself. Korean learning should be fun! If you infuse your Korean studies with an attitude of excitement, you’ll greatly enjoy the experience.

5. Online Korean Learning Advantages

Pros of studying Korean online

Location

The biggest advantage to learning Korean online vs the other methods is that you can learn from anywhere you have an internet and a computer. Whether you’re chilling on the beach or on a business trip in another country, you can still keep your Korean study going strong.

Cost

Not only is there freedom of independence, but the cost is significantly lower than that of in-person courses (sometimes even free!).

Learn Korean online

Technology

Another benefit of learning Korean online is that thanks to video chatting applications such as Skype and Google Hangouts, you can chat with Koreans from wherever you are in the world. Join a course, find a penpal, or get a language tutor and chat from half-way around the world!

Flexibility

One big reason why students learn Korean online is because of the flexibility with course speed. In a perfect world, we’d all like to be able to attend a few classes a week and do all of the required studying. However, for most of us, that’s just not possible!

Often, with online Korean learning classes, you can go at your own pace. That way, you can do less Korean studying during your busy times, and more Korean studying when you have a lighter schedule.

6. Online Korean Learning Disadvantages

Cons of studying Korean

Schedule

You can’t have the good without the bad, unfortunately. Since you’re not in a classroom setting, you may not have the chance to interact with other students and teachers. If there is no scheduled curriculum, then it’ll be up to you to make sure you keep up at the pace you want. This will not be good for the procrastinators out there!

Internet Limitations

You also may run into problems if you are using video to participate in classes or have 1:1 conversations. If you have a slow internet connection, you may find it frustrating to try to talk with people, especially in a second language.

Learn Korean typing

Pen vs. Keyboard

There is something to be said about writing things down with a pen and paper. Some people learn Korean better this way, instead of having to take notes in Korean on a computer with a keyboard.

This goes doubly if you don’t know how to type in Korean yet!

7. Learning Korean Online Common Mistakes

There are six common mistakes that come up often when people learn Korean online. They are:

  1. Unclear Goals
  2. Lack of Plan
  3. Narrow Focus
  4. Bad Course Fit
  5. Lack of Focus
  6. Consistency

Think of the people you’ve heard say “I’ve been in Korea X number of years, but I still haven’t learned Korean”. Whether that “X” is 1, 5, 10, or 20 years, what they usually mean is that they haven’t learned the basics well enough to have simple interactions. Typically people who say this are limited to a few key Korean words and body language when they communicate in Korean.

Most of the time, these people have tried to learn Korean but didn’t get very far. Many of them also tried to learn Korean online. However, likely they were thrown off by one or more of the six common problems that plague their ability to learn Korean. Learning the language seems unnecessarily difficult, and they quit because of a lack of progress.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s cover all six common mistakes to make sure you avoid those traps, and keep on the path towards Korean conversational glory!

1. Unclear Goals

Feel lost learning Korean

You need a clear end result in order make sure you start in the right direction. Otherwise, you’re going to feel lost!

Are you planning to take the TOPIK Korean proficiency test so you can become a resident of Korea? Do you want to know the meaning of your top 20 favorite K-pop songs? Do you wish you could chat with the in-laws when you visit the Korean countryside?

Having clear goals will point you in the right direction when you start off, and allow you to have something to work towards. With a clear future vision in mind, it gets much easier to push past the times when you don’t feel like hitting the books. Do yourself a favor and do this before anything. The clearer and the more measurable your goals are, the more likely you will be to get there.

2. Lack of Plan
Checklist of Korean learning goals

Have a list of clear goals
Photo: Oliver Tacke

Ok, let’s take a look at the Korean study checklist.

Goals? Check.

Plan? Hmmmm, 잠깐만요! 

Now that you’ve got your goals ironed out, it’s important to figure out how you’re going to get there. You need to figure out what kind of actions you need to take in order to get to your end destination. If you have a set course to follow, the whole process will become much more enjoyable for you.

It’s okay if you change direction or fine tune your plan once you get moving. The main thing to avoid is simply stabbing in the dark with your study strategy and hoping you’ll pick up the right part of the language. It’s a very frustrating and demotivating way to learn Korean.

3. Narrow Focus
Narrow Korean learning goals will slow you down

Be focused, but not too narrow
Photo: Andrew

The various parts of the Korean language compliment each other, so make sure you balance them out.

For example, you may want to learn to have a five minute conversation with a native Korean person. In order to do this, you’ll need to know how to speak.

An important thing to keep in mind that if you only focus on speaking, and don’t put time into listening, it’ll be more of a monologue than an actual interaction.

You should be focused on the parts of the Korean language that will help you achieve success. 

However, realize that those parts are often made up of different components.

If you choose a good program to learn Korean online, you should have a clear action plan with a focus that covers the necessary part of the language.

4. Bad Course Fit

This happens all too often.

Make sure your online Korean course fits your goals

Bad fit Korean courses are painful for everyone involved!
Photo: olle svensson

Instead of picking the right course for you to learn Korean online, you end up picking the one that your friend chose. Or the first one you saw on a flyer in the subway. Or the course with the nicest logo.

Make sure you choose the Korean program that matches what you want to learn. When searching for Korean courses, make sure you find out what the program promises to teach you. You can do this by looking at their curriculum. If you know what you have to look forward to, you’ll have a lot more fun along the way! Not only that, but you’ll be more likely to use what you learn, which will help you improve quicker.

5. Lack of Focus

Have you ever been on the phone with someone who was typing or working on a computer while you were having a conversation? Likely, that person was only half-listening to you, and had to ask you to repeat yourself several times.

Annoying!

Distractions will destroy your Korean learning progress

A recipe for Korean study disaster
Photo: Jordanhill School D&T Dept

That’s because it’s not possible to multi-task. Sure, you can do multiple things at one time, such as talk on the phone while walking. However, you can’t focus on two things at once. Walking is an autopilot activity, so your brain can handle it without needing you to tell it what to do.

The same goes for language learning! Make sure your Korean study time is focused study time. That means eliminating distractions and setting up your environment for maximum concentration on your Korean learning. One hour of focused time is better than two hours distracted study. With just a few simple focus actions, you can be sure you’ll learn Korean in record time!

6. Consistency

What is the key to maintaining a healthy diet?

It’s two days of healthy eating, followed by two days of junk food, right?

No!

The key to a healthy diet is consistency. Of course you may stray here and there, but the people who get the best results are the ones who stay on course as much as possible.

Maintain a healthy diet of Korean learning

Stick to a healthy diet of Korean study!
Photo: with wind

The same applies when you enroll in a course. If you’ve got a study plan, make sure you set up your days to do a little learning each day instead of cramming everything into one day. You’ll reduce your stress and set yourself up for better language retention.

Summary

Now that you know the common mistakes when choosing how to learn Korean online, you can make sure you safely steer clear of them.

 

Wrap-Up

That covers some of the popular ways that people are learning Korean online.

What are your favorite ways to study Korean on the internet? Feel free to leave a message in the comments below!

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