I’ve always dreamed of learning languages and traveling the world (haven’t we all). I daydreamed about how I’d order sushi in Japan, travel around South America speaking Spanish and learn taekwondo in Korean.
But even when my dream came true and I first came to Korea, something stopped me. Call it what you will — procrastination, fear of failure, laziness, status quo — it held me back.
I had many false assumptions that I can now look back on. Some of them included:
“I am too old to learn a new language”
“I don’t have a natural “knack” for learning languages”
“Learning Korean will take me hours of boring study”
“It will take too much time to learn Korean”
Good news for all you aspiring Korean speakers out there — I couldn’t have been more wrong!
You don’t need to be “gifted” at learning languages (whatever that means) to have conversations in Korean. You just need to put in a little time, and have fun with it.
Learning Korean is really just about teaching your brain to recognize new patterns that it isn’t used to! Simple.
Set aside just 3 hours and you’ll be having your first conversations. A few months later you can pass as a 5-year “veteran” of the language and be a superstar. Trust me.
For those of you who have considered becoming a Korean speaker but haven’t yet, becoming one is both easier and more rewarding than you could ever imagine.
There are the obvious benefits like being able to order anything you’d like to your house, watch your favorite shows in Korea or guide a taxi without issue.
But there are also the intangibles — the little rewards that only Korean speakers get to experience every day. The way the barista’s face lights up at the cafe when you comment about her uniform. The smile on your new hairdresser’s face when you tell her how you’d like her to cut your hair in Korean. The old lady on the street who asks you for directions only to realize you’re not Korean, then sits amazed as you respond in turn with detailed directions about how to reach her destination. The deep conversations and connections you’re able to have with your Korean friends and loved ones that only come when you’re able to converse in their language.
This post is for anyone who has thought about learning Korean — or any language for that matter — but just hasn’t started yet. Here, I’ll explain:
- How to read Korean today
- How to have simple conversations after only a few hours
- How to learn the right words, the right way
- How you can reach conversational fluency within a few months
I absolutely love speaking Korean, and I can now say that deciding to learn Korean was one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made.
Let’s get started with the break down of how to have a 3 minute conversation in Korean within only 90 days.
You really don’t need to be to have fun with speaking Korean and make your life in Korea more meaningful.
Let me say it again. You don’t need to be perfect! You just need to be understood.
Learning to read and pronounce Korean takes only 90 minutes. All that requires is memorizing 24 basic symbols and associating them with their sounds, which I’l go through. The rest of the 90 days is the fun part, where you get to go out and practice what you’re learning, meeting all sorts of new people along the way that may just change your life forever.
Let’s get started!
The First Four Hours of Learning Korean
Here is your schedule for the next four hours. Copy it onto a post-it note and put it somewhere prominent. The laptop screen works well.
Hours 0-1: Learn the Korean characters and practice reading them. This is not easy, but can be done with a few simple associations and mnemonic devices. Plug in some headphones, get out a notepad, and start associating. Practice
reading words around you and start to speak them aloud. The 90 Minute Challenge should help systematize this step.
Hours 1-2: Keep the momentum going and start building up you vocabulary by learning Korean words that were adapted from English. These are vocabulary words (usually nouns) that require almost zero memorization on your part because they sound just like the English. You can learn and perfect 15-20 of these in just under an hour — spelling and all.
Hours 2-3: Equipped with some vocabulary, it’s time to learn how to ask basic questions and have your first interaction in Korean. Go to the local store and ask if they have one of the items you just learned in your vocabulary study. If you can’t, get on a Skype call with a Korean friend or language exchange partner and ask them a few questions (“Do you have a girlfriend?”). You’ll be using this for years to come, and within 3 hours you’ve already had your first interaction in Korean — score!
Hours 3-4: Upgrade your abilities and learn to make requests in Korean. This requires you putting your head down and learning just one simple language point. Then it’s time to hit the streets once again and make an order in your favorite restaurant or take a taxi.
I’d say that’s enough for one day. After that, take a rest and bask in your success! You’re already miles ahead of the majority and you’ve gotten there in only four hours!
How to Remember the Korean Characters Easily
This is the only piece of information you need to get started right now.
Did you know that there are fewer Korean characters than there are letters in the English alphabet?
Korean has 14 vowels and 10 consonants.
Unlike Japanese or Chinese, which have thousands of characters and each can have 10, 15 or more strokes, the most complex Korean character has only five strokes.
These symbols look foreign to us at first glance, but you’ll easily recognize them after making a few associations.
Since we’re learning a new language and have never seen these shapes before, it will be very difficult for us just to memorize them. Therefore, we need to ‘link’ them to something already in our minds in order to create an association.
We can do this using a visual learning technique to associate the new characters with pictures and sounds we already know.
The first letter of the English word in the picture has the same sound as the Korean character.
This will help to start to create the associations.
Take the symbol ㅂ for example:
We can associate that with a bed since the character looks like a bedframe and the letter “b” also corresponds with the sound of the character!
Need another example?
The character that makes the sound “ch” looks similar to the top of a church. We can associate this symbol with the church and easily remember the sound it makes that way.
Cool, right? Let’s take a look at the rest of the characters that we should memorize:
|ㅇ||silent (or "-ng")||zero|
That covers the consonants! There are also a few associations we can make for the vowels that simplify everything for us.
Luckily you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Just download 90 Day Korean’s free guide for learning the characters and see all the associations!
Your Korean Learning Schedule for the Remainder of the 90 Days
For the rest of the days, there are only a few key actions you need to take to ensure you get to conversational fluency. Let’s check back in with our schedule!
Day 2: Set goals (explained in more detail in this post). The importance of this cannot be overstated.
Day 3: Learn the pronunciation rules and character combinations. You’ll want to learn how to combine the vowels to make the
Days 4-89: Crack open the books for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week and spend at least an hour for every one of those 2.5 hours practicing speaking. It’s all about learning the key “helping” verbs and then peppering in strategically chosen, commonly used vocabulary words to your arsenal. And practice. This can’t be understated.
To help guide you, I’ve put together a list of 6 key elements to any Korean study plan that will help make sure you get 80% of the results with only 20% of the effort. Focus on these key activities and you’ll be conversationally fluent in only 90 days.
Get Help From Helping Verbs
To get early success in Korean and rapidly expand your speaking abilities, you can rely on helping verbs. Helping verbs in English are the verbs that help the main verb to express different tenses or moods.
The most common are be, do, have, will, shall, would, should, can, could, may, might, must, and ought.
With these, you can transform a simple sentence like “I study Korean” to a more complex one like “I should study Korean.”
To rapidly multiply the types of sentences you’re able to make and understand in Korean, you can make use of the same idea in your studies.
In fact, if you’ve gotten through the first 4 hours outlined in this post, you’ve already started to make use of different “helpers” when you asked simple questions at the store or made a request to the taxi driver.
Talk about an early win!
Once you memorize the right vocabulary, which we’ll talk about next, we’ll be able to use these verbs and just plug them into these sentences!
If you want to get a Korean Kickstart and learn a few of the most common sentence types in Korean, venture over to our post about 4 sentences you can start making right away.
Strategically Choose Korean Vocabulary and Phrases to Study
There’s no way to sugar coat it — starting to learn Korean means you’re going to have to learn new words and phrases. But it doesn’t have to be tedious and boring.
You can start with the most common verbs: to eat, to sleep, to drink, etc.
Here’s a list of 10 of the most commonly spoken Korean words to get you started:
But after that, how do you know how to choose which words to study? You can make use of the 80/20 Principle.
The 80/20 Principle is a law written by Vilfredo Pareto, where he showed that 80% of the wealth in a given society was held by 20% of the population. The law was also found to hold up in areas outside of economics. For example, Pareto noticed that in his garden, 80% of the peas were being produced by only 20% of the peapods.
The 80/20 Principle in general can be summarized as: 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort.
Therefore in language learning, it’s important to select the most important and relevant materials and focus on the 20% that give 80% of the results.
One way we can make use of this is to study only most frequently used Korean words.
There are a few ways to do this.
You can find a list of the most common Korean words. However, it’s important to differentiate between most commonly spoken words and most commonly written words.
Beware if the resource doesn’t differentiate. Since our goal is speaking, we’ll want to focus our efforts on learning to speak the way Koreans speak (which is quite different to the way they write!)
In each 80/20 Vocabulary lesson in the 90 Day Korean Inner Circle, we’ve carefully selected the most commonly used words – the 20% that will be used 80% of the time.
Once you’ve found a good resource list, you might want to consider using SRS systems or Anki decks to learn the critical words and phrases.
Material selection is most important. Then, once we have the materials properly selected, then we can refine the method. Using psychology, we can better encode the material so that it sticks better, and present it in the right order so that we make deep associations along the way.
To find a list of some of the most commonly used Korean expressions (and more), take a look at our Korean phrases post.
With the right practice, you’ll eventually be able to hit your goal! The three months will fly by, and when you finally reach day 90, it’s time to put your skills to the test. Of course, you’ll have been building up to the grand finale slowly week by week, but now is your moment.
Seize the day!
Day 90: Hit the town and have a 3 minute conversation with a local.
Have fun with it and be sure to crack a bottle of soju in celebration. Hit me up if you need any help along the way!
Image credit: Aleksander Markin
Learn to read Korean and be having simple conversations, taking taxis and ordering in Korean within a week with our FREE Hangeul Hacks series: http://www.90DayKorean.com/learn