The top 10 Korean hacks

Whether you've been studying Korean for years or are considering giving Korean a try, the following 10 hacks and simple tricks can help you to learn Korean fast and effectively.

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1. Start with Sounds

Now that you've decided to learn Korean, it's time to dig into the language learning process.

But where should you even begin?

The answer is simple: sounds. Learning how to hear, pronounce and recognize written Korean sounds is a great place to get started even before you begin memorizing words and their meanings.

In order to do that, you're going to need to learn Hangul, the Korean alphabet.

Even though the Korean alphabet might seem very foreign at first, it's actually more simple than it looks. Fortunately, Hangul was developed to be learned and used. Hangul has 24 letters: 14 consonants and 10 vowels. In addition, there are 16 diphthongs and double consonants, so it's possible to count 40 letters in total. One big advantage of Hangul is that it's phonetic. There are no hidden sounds like in English or French. Everything sounds exactly how it's spelled!

Korean also uses around 3,000 Chinese characters, or Hanja, to represent words of Chinese origin. Fortunately, though, you don't need to worry about learning Hanja - it's only used in more limited contexts like dictionaries, academic writing, religious texts, newspaper headlines, classical literature, and family names. Just focus on Hangul!

The first step in your Korean adventure is to spend some time just focusing on Korean sounds and spelling so that they are no longer foreign to you. Study the Hangul alphabet and practice pronouncing different Korean words.

You can also study Hangul with this fun online comic.

Listen to pronunciation guides on YouTube, watch movies or series with subtitles in Korean and read along, or use Rocket Language's Hear It Say It audio recognition to learn to recognize and repeat sounds.

2. Learn on the Go

Let's face it: you probably have a busy life, and it's difficult to set time aside to study Korean. Fortunately, however, one of the best ways to take advantage of your free time is to learn Korean on the go.

A great way to do this is by taking advantage of American academic and polyglot Alexander Arguelles' Shadowing Technique.

This language learning technique involves listening to Korean with earphones and simultaneously repeating it out loud while walking outdoors. There are three main keys to this exercise:

  1. Walk outdoors as quickly as possible. If you feel shy or embarrassed to do this in public, find a road or path where you can speak Korean loudly and proudly without many other people around you.
  2. Maintain a perfectly upright posture. According to Arguelles, maintaining a good posture contributes to this method's efficacy.
  3. Articulate well and in a loud, clear voice. This is very important in order to effectively learn the rhythm, structure and sound of the language.

Say the sounds as soon as you hear them. Don't wait for the entire word. In fact, at first you may only catch a small portion of what's being said and sound like you're speaking nonsense.

This may feel silly at first, but its results will amaze you. By speaking out loud as soon as you hear Korean sounds, you're developing a sense of how the language is structured and sounds, even if you don't understand everything that's being said. Don't worry if you can't catch and repeat everything. As you improve, you'll gradually begin developing the accent and rhythm of Korean. You'll also understand more and more words as your studies progress.

Try it with the first Audio lesson from Rocket Korean. Download it for free from here, save it to your phone or MP3 player and you're ready to go!

Some other great tricks for learning Korean on the go include taking advantage of your morning subway or bus commute by studying flashcards or listening to Korean eBooks or music in the car.

Make learning Korean a part of your life, and you'll be amazed how much time you have to study when you learn on the go.

3. Learn the Practical Words First

Learning a new language requires learning a lot of new words. There's no way around it. Many people use their "bad memories" as an excuse for not learning a new language, but we have some comforting news for these people (and even those with great memories): you don't need to know all--or even the majority--of the words in a language to be able to speak it well. In fact, you don't even need to know half!

We don't even use the majority of our active vocabulary on a daily basis, and only need about 3,000 words to understand 95% of common texts. By extension, just 300 words make up 65% of all written and spoken materials. That means there are approximately 625 words and their forms that can help you to go beyond a beginner level in any language, and 1,500 that can have you communicating at an advanced level.

So what does that mean for you as a Korean learner?

By learning the practical words first, you can cut your work in less than half. You'll be able to communicate faster and with significantly less effort.

Here are the 6,000 most common words in Korean. It may sound like a lot, but if you learn all of these, you'll be able to communicate in pretty much any situation. You can speak well even if you only know half of them!

4. Take Advantage of Loan Words

Even if Korean is considered one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn, this fascinating language actually borrowed a few words from English. These words can save you time when learning some Korean vocabulary.

That's where Konglish comes in. Konglish, or Korean language-style English, is the use of English words in a Korean context. These words are made from blending English and Korean words together. Let's take a look at some of them:

  • 아이스크림 – [ah-i-seu-k’eu-rim]: Ice cream
  • 키스 – [ki-seu]: Kiss
  • 라디오 –[ ladio]: Radio
  • 컴퓨터 –[keom-pyu-teo]: Computer
  • 비디오 – [bi-di-o]: Video

There are also some words that sound like English words but don't mean the same thing. This similarity, however, can make them easier to memorize:

  • 아이- [ai] – (sounds like "eye") means child
  • 눈- [nun] – (sounds like "noon") means eyes
  • 많이 – [manh-i] – (sounds like "many") means a lot of
  • 비 – [bi]- (sounds like "bee") means rain

These words are definitely your friends and can make learning some Korean vocabulary much easier and faster.

Here's a handy list of Korean words by letter that are easier to learn because they sound like English words or have English roots. Take advantage of them!

5. Hooked on Mnemonics

As many who have learned a foreign language already know, simply repeating vocabulary usually just isn't enough. Sometimes, our brains need a little extra jump start to remember tricky words.

That's where mnemonics come in. Basically, mnemonics involve telling yourself a fun, goofy or memorable story, song, or rhyme to associate with a particular word. For example, one trick for memorizing the Korean word (milk, pronounced "woo you") in Korean is to remember: "He tries to woo you with milk."

Another extremely helpful mnemonic device for learning Korean is to use pictures to help you memorize the meaning of words in Hangul or Hanja. Here's one trick for memorizing the word for "yoga" 요가 (yoga), for example. All you have to do is visualize this helpful image:

Image courtesy of Korean Vocabulary Mnemonic Sketches,

You can even make sketches to help you memorize Korean words.

It may sound like extra effort, but you'd be amazed at how effective mnemonic devices are in making your learning faster. They're also fun!

And remember, if you have troubles memorizing a word, phrase, or grammatical rule, you can always make your own!

6. Keep a Korean Vocabulary Notebook and Flashcards

Keep a journal, document, or book with all of the Korean vocabulary you learn in one place.

Not only does keeping a vocabulary journal help you to organize all of your new words and phrases, but the very process of writing down a word and its translation, notes, image or mnemonic device helps you to memorize it.

This notebook can be transformed into study-friendly flashcards by using flashcard generating programs like Anki for your phone or computer. You can use your Anki flashcards on your phone to learn on the go when you're on the bus, walking to work or simply waiting in line at the grocery store.

Your Korean notebook and flashcards are a fantastic future reference for studying. They can be used anywhere and anytime you have a few free minutes.

7. Break down the words

Let's be honest: every time you look at a Korean word, it probably doesn't sound anything like its meaning. So how can you learn it faster? Break down the word into a simpler form. Let's take the word "지우개," or eraser, as an example. You can break it down like this:

  • 지우 = means “to erase.” (In this case, 지우다 is the base verb).
  • 개 = means “tool.”
  • Put them together, and you've got "erase tool." It makes sense, doesn't it?

The great part about this is that you have now learned three words for the price of one! This will come in very handy when you start to break down more words in the future. Then, you can start to recognize other words that have similar parts, like this one: 이쑤시개 Now, if:

  • 이 = tooth
  • 쑤시 = to poke or pick (쑤시다)
  • 개 = tool

What do you think this word means?

If you guessed toothpick, you're definitely right!

You can use this helpful hack to break down any new Korean word. Remember, though, that this isn't always easy to do when you're starting to learn the language. With time, it will become easier and easier, and it will really help increase your vocabulary and even improve your grammar!

8. The Scriptorium Technique

Linguist and polyglot Alexander Arguelles developed another excellent technique for improving your writing and speaking skills simultaneously. It's designed to help you to really focus on the individual components of Korean.

The Arguelles' Scriptorium Technique involves three basic exercises:

  1. Read a sentence out loud.
  2. Say each word aloud again as you write it.
  3. Read the sentence aloud as you have written in.

The purpose of this exercise is to force yourself to slow down, pay attention to detail and look up anything you don't know. It's important to be thorough and meticulous. Find good source material and then copy it carefully, saying each word out loud as you go. Make sure to take the time to check any vocabulary or grammar that you're not sure about as you come across it.

The Scriptorium Technique is a fantastic way to refine and polish your Korean language knowledge, especially at intermediate and advanced levels.

The key to mastering this technique is to take your time, be as detailed and thorough as possible, and remember... practice makes perfect.

9. Read, Watch, Listen

Movies, music, television series, the radio, books, newspapers, magazines...Anything you can read, watch, or listen to are unbelievably useful for learning.

You've probably already heard cases of people teaching themselves a language by watching movies or playing video games. While these things don't directly teach grammar, they do help learning it significantly.

Reading, watching and listening has a remarkable effect on your brain. Simply by being exposed to the language, your brain is put to work. It starts trying to understand new words by making connections to previously learned words and seeks to make sense of any new structures.

Basically, you're learning without knowing that you're learning. After a while, you'll find yourself using words and constructions that you didn't even study! This is all thanks to your brain's ability to soak up vocabulary and grammar while reading a book, listening to the radio, or watching a series.

If you're extra motivated to learn and practice, use the Shadowing Technique and learn on the go while listening to and repeating your favorite Korean radio station, podcast, TV series or movie. This is a great way to pick up the rhythm, structure, sound and rules of the Korean language without needing to hit the books.

10. Interact... Without Needing to Travel

Try to interact in Korean on a daily basis. Speaking as much as possible is one of the best tricks to learn a language fast. Here are some great ways to practice speaking (and writing, its slower version) as much as possible:

  • Speak with a friend, family member or neighbor in person
  • Write a letter or email to a friend, family member, co-worker, or yourself
  • Visit a local store or neighborhood where Korean is spoken and interact with the locals
  • Join a weekly or monthly Korean conversation group...or start your own group!
  • Speak online with a friend, family member, co-worker, or fellow language learner (Skype is great for this)
  • Contribute to a blog or forum in your target language
  • Sing along with music in your target language
  • Watch a movie, series, documentary or video and repeat the character's lines
  • Read a passage from a book, newspaper, or magazine out loud
  • Talk to yourself in your target language (this really works!)

The key is to interact, speak, and think in Korean as much as possible. This can be done anywhere and everywhere. Take advantage of all of the excellent Korean learning resources, and make Korean a part of your daily life!

By following these ten language learning hacks, you'll learn Korean faster, better, and enjoy doing so.

안녕히가세요! Annyeonghigaseyo!

Sujung Lee: Rocket Korean