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Just saw a comment asking about my self-study method and thus I’ve decided to write up a post on it. ^^
It’s been 3.5 years since I’ve started learning Korean, and my memory is abit hazy. I realised that I never talked much about my self-study method as a beginner, since this blog took shape slowly over the past few years and I always end up talking about how I self study Korean when I’m at the intermediate stage and beyond. I’ll try to recount how it was for me then (: If there are any further questions, feel free to drop me a comment / email or read my past archives.

Note: I completed 2 levels (basic 1 and basic 2) at SKS – which is equivalent to around 20 weeks of lessons and erm 80hrs for those who are interested in the numbers (:

Prior to studying at SKS, I actually planned to self study Korean right from the start. Failed.
This was the first foreign language that I took up (and was serious in) and hence there was alot of things that were new to me. Alot of the beginners may be overwhelmed with the differences between Korean and English (or other European languages) and I find it difficult to adjust to it too.

Pick a good textbook / resource.

I stupidly started learning Korean with a conversation book – I started using the Teach Yourself Korean  and it was a major fail. Since it’s not really a textbook and well, it’s designed for tourists. (Actually I don’t see any use for tourists too). Bad start. I learnt the alphabet and that’s it. It was pretty impossible to progress with that book as I have no idea that Korean uses conjugation and the definition of a word in Korean is different from that in English.

So I took up the lessons at SKS. The beginner lessons were really helpful, as it gives me a basic idea of the language. Basic cultural knowledge, and basic grammar structures. I see it as a ‘foundation’ that I can build up on next time. But I found the lessons terribly slow and very expensive, and thus I decided to self-study from then on.

To digress a little…..

I’m not saying SKS is bad. But when you are in a language class, particularly those that are not designed for a special purpose (ie. intensive classes for academic purposes), you find that there are people with many different goals, purposes and learning paces. Some want to learn the language just for fun, some for work purposes, some just see it as ‘enrichment’ etc etc. Not everyone has the time (passion) to invest in the language and you see a vast differences in learning paces.

Personally, I love to go at my own pace and take charge of my own learning. And I was confident (too confident? hahaha) that I could learn more on my own and perhaps rejoin the class at a later stage.

Back to the point…

I have a feeling that I’ll go on and on about this topic, and to prevent boring everybody, I’ll do it in a Q&A format and include my own experiences if there’s a need to. Erm I don’t think anyone wants to hear the full details about how I studied Korean right? >,< After going through this journey, I have a better idea of what to / what not to do when it comes to learning Korean. So I’ll share those instead of listing down how I did it ^^

Q: What goals did you set up for your studying in the beginning?

A: Nope I didn’t set any. I started self studying just for interest’s sake and I didn’t know how long that passion or interest will last me. It’s like a challenge that I took up, and I wanted to proof that I could self study on my own (some of my previous classmates were doubtful).

Q: What textbooks to use?

A: Talktomeinkorean.com!!!! I can’t stress this more. TTMIK is the best for self-learners. You learn through a wide variety of mediums (audio, video etc) and this helps to make the learning journey more interesting (: It’s easier to remember new vocabulary and grammar points when you hear the conversation and explanations.

TTMIK wasn’t set up yet when I started learning Korean, so I used koreanclass101.com instead.

Sogang Online Korean Program I used this as my main learning tool. Multimedia again. (:

I’m not saying that traditional textbooks are not good, those can wait until you get a good foundation in the language. It’s the stage where people tend to give up easily. And maybe even more so when they feel that learning a language is like studying in school. Try to make things as fun as possible!

Q: Learning vocabulary is so tough. I can’t seem to remember anything. What should I do?

A: Please. Never ever use vocabulary lists. I’ll be really really impressed if you can remember everything (long term!) from a vocabulary list. I’ve tried using lists when I first started and I’m always very disappointed with myself that I can’t seem to remember anything. It makes learning very daunting – there are tons and tons of words to know, when can I ever remember all of them? ):

 Learning vocabulary is tough only if you try to force yourself to memorise. Always learn words in a context – drama line/song lyrics/ example sentence. Anything with a context.

What to do when you see a new word:
1. Check it out on Daum/Naver
2. Write down in your Korean notebook – together with the example sentence / context where you heard or seen it

Even so, never try to memorise. Make sure you understand the word at that point of time. If you forget it later on, so be it. After you have seen the same word over and over again in different contexts, and after checking it time and again on the dictionary, I’m sure it will be etched in your brain ^^

Q: How many hours did you study per day?

A: For some reason, I get this question quite often (: There’s no fixed number of hours – that doesn’t work for me. I admit that I started self studying during a period where I had loads of free time and I remember studying from morning till late afternoon (with lunch break) and then continuing after dinner. I was so absorbed into the world of Korean that time just flies. Not that I think everyone should do that (: And no, I don’t do that everyday.

Instead, try to integrate Korean into your life. Listen to Korean songs, watch Korean dramas (: Don’t feel guilty if you didn’t study for a few days. But remember, it’s tough if you want to re-start your learning journey all over again. So make sure you still study conscientiously.

Q: Should I focus on grammar first? Or vocabulary?

A: Mmm. A tough question. I would say if you study using ttmik or sogang or any textbook, you will learn both at the same time. I put more focus on grammar though. I’d review the grammar points that I learnt, but not the vocabulary (: Do not sacrifice one for the other – learn both at the same time ^^

Q: How to practice writing / speaking?

A: As a beginner, your writing and speaking is most likely limited. I didn’t really practice either much during the beginner period and I spent more time building up my proficiency first. But I think it’s helpful to use twitter or other SNS (: Koreans are really friendly and they will be willing to help you out (:

Try imitating the drama lines. I like to mumble to myself and recite some famous drama lines as I’m walking along the street. xD

Read out aloud all the conversations or textbook materials and listen very carefully to the audio. You can record yourself and playback to see how you sound like – although I started doing this only quite recently (:

Q: Writing. Speaking. Listening. Reading. What should come first?

A: Nothing should. You should aim to be good in all 4 components. But as a beginner, try to focus more on reading and listening. ^^ It’s hard to practice writing when you barely know anything. Listening is very important. Keep repeating and playing the audio and keep yourself exposed to Korean. Get used to the sounds of Korean. Listen to the online Korean radio and keep it playing in the background.

Q: When did you study? and Where?

A: No fixed time (: Study at the time when you are at your peak. It may be midnight or the wee hours of the morning, it’s up to u! (: Personally, I usually study at home. Since I want to hear the audio clearly and I don’t want to hurt my eardrums by blasting it loud when I’m outside.

Other pointers:

1. Don’t just use one textbook / resource
Study from a variety of resources. It may seem very repetitive and a waste of time, but it’s actually a very good method. You get to see the same words in different contexts and that strengthen your memory of it. And different books offer different explanations (some more detailed than others) on grammar points, and using a few books at the same time helps in getting a clearer idea of the grammar structure.

2. Learning a language is about time and effort

There is no shortcut. Your proficiency and skill will be directly correlated to the amount of time and effort put in. That’s particularly true for self-learners. Unless you are so lucky to spend a few years in Korea… that’s a different matter. (:

3. Don’t think about progressing / seeing results

You may end up being disappointed when you find that you are not progressing as smoothly as you think. Don’t turn Korean into one of your school subjects, treat it as your interest and passion.

4. Bottlenecks are part of the journey.

Don’t get disappointed if you are stuck. It’s not a smooth upward journey for me too. I get stuck, annoyed, frustrated sometimes and it’s about taking a break and coming back again. Sometimes you make huge progress within a short period of time, other times, it feels that you are at that same level no matter how hard you try. It’s normal and part of learning.

5. Be happy if you are complimented. And be even happier if you are criticised.

I’m always secretly pleased when people tell me I’m good in Korean. And I’m very very grateful to those who point out my mistakes and tell me that I’m still not good at certain aspects. It helps me re-evalute myself and to work on the parts that I’m weak in. For self-learners like us, we don’t have teachers. It’s difficult to get feedback and hence I’m all the more grateful to those who have helped me in my learning journey.

6. It takes awhile before you find your own pace.

It’s very easy to get overwhelmed when you first started to self-learn a language. So many things to learn and no clear direction to go. Trial and error. Just keep trying until you find a comfortable routine. And that routine is different for each individual.

7. Don’t focus on one particular component.

If you have plans to be fluent in Korean eventually, you know that you have to be good in EVERYTHING. Thus, don’t try to choose or focus on one particular component right from the start. That’s not saying that you have to do everything in equal amounts. I tend to be better in reading, but I make sure that all the other components are also progressing (just at different rates). (:


Phew! I’m done with the post ^^ Like I mentioned, alot of memories are pretty hazy and I can’t remember all the difficulties I’ve faced when I first started learning Korean.

Please leave me a comment~!! I tend to answer better if there are specific questions, so keep them coming ^^ I may write a part 2 if I get enough questions. Or even a ‘how to self-study Korean for intermediate learners’ if there are people who are interested ^^

p.s. The questions do not have to be directly relevant to the post (: