So you want to learn Korean and wonder how long it takes to learn Korean? It always takes a long time to learn a language and Korean is no exception. It takes time and patience. It also takes discipline because regular practice is the key to success. But what is a realistic time frame and is Korean worth your time investment?
If you study for 1 hour every day, you will be able to hold simple conversations within a year. For example, if you plan to pass the TOPIK II test, you could do it in a year if you study consistently. However, the TOPIK test is all about understanding the Korean language and it can take several years before you can really speak it fluently and be able to use your Korean in any everyday situation.
Several factors play a role in the speed with which a language can be learned. Besides, every language has its own peculiarities and difficulties. We discuss these factors and the specifics of learning Korean in this article.
So how long does it take to learn Korean?
Korean is different from many other languages in that it is not that difficult at first, but as time goes on and nuances become more difficult. For example, the Korean alphabet, which begins your learning, is the simplest alphabet in the world. For that, the courtesies are some of the most complicated. Even Koreans have trouble with this.
The Korean Alphabet
The Korean alphabet was invented to be simple. It was invented because the Chinese characters used until 500 years ago were too difficult to learn and many people could not read. Today, however, South Korea has one of the lowest illiteracy rates in the world.
So how long does it take to learn the Korean alphabet?
You can learn the Korean alphabet in two weeks if you practice for half an hour every day. After that, you can read and write anything. As time goes on, you will learn pronunciation rules to perfect your knowledge, but what you have learned will be enough to not need romanization (Latin letters for the Korean language) anymore.
We have eight Korean alphabet videos on YouTube. These videos last an hour in total and include everything you need to know about the Korean alphabet to begin with.
The first Korean words
Korean words are easy to learn because they are short. Mostly Korean words consist of only one or two syllables. It might not seem like it to you at first because, for example, 감사합니다 for thank you and 안녕하세요 for hello, some of the first words you learn are made up of more syllables. But these words are composed of several words, grammars and endings.
Due to the American influence on Korea, there are even many English words in the Korean language. These words are verkoreanized (if you can say so) and called Konglish. Once you are familiar with Korean pronunciation, you will understand these words without ever having learned them. Examples of Konglish words that Germans understand even if they do not speak English well would be
- 샌드위치 – saendeuwichi – Sandwich
- 피자 – pija – pizza
- 아이스크림 – aiseukeurim – Ice Cream
- 초콜릿 – chokollit – Chocolate
- 와인 wain – wine
- 텔레비전 – tellebijeon – Television
- 카페 – kapeh – coffee
- 카메라 – camehra – camera
- 택시 – tekshi – taxi
But also original Korean words are, as I said, not that hard to learn. What we recommend is using flashcards to study. When memorizing, it is important that you regularly repeat what you have learned so that it remains in your long-term memory. We’re fans of flashcard programs like Anki, but even homemade flashcards can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to memorize Korean words and help solidify knowledge.
So you can learn your first Korean words after you master Hangeul, one to two weeks after you start learning Korean. Vocabulary learning will be a long-term project, but it doesn’t take that long to build a solid vocabulary.
The first Korean sentences
When you learn your first simple Korean sentences, you must first internalize the different sentence order. In Korean, the verb always comes at the end. In German, the sentence order can change in certain cases, but in principle, the subject always comes first, then the verb, and then the object. Here are two examples of Korean sentence order:
제 (My) 직업은 (Occupation) 투어 가이드 (Tour Guide) 예요 (Is) – My occupation is tour guide.
가게에서 (In the store) 옷을 (clothes) 사요 (buy) – I buy clothes in the store.
It’s not that difficult. It’s just different and you have to get used to it when you learn Korean. It takes a bit of time, but is actually automatic and once you get used to it and especially familiar with the particles, the sentence structure actually makes sense and is fun.
Perfect the Korean pronunciation
We learn the Korean alphabet at the very beginning. After two weeks you can already read and write everything. You also know how to use the final consonant batchim correctly and that it is sometimes dragged over into the next syllable. Yes, but there are exceptions to the rules. Not very many, but similar to learning irregular verbs in English, it will take you a little while to internalize these rules.
As a guideline, we think you can perfect your pronunciation within the first year. If you’re ready, you can check out our playlist for these rules on YouTube.
The Korean form of politeness
As I mentioned at the beginning, the forms of politeness are a mystery even to some Koreans. In the beginning, you learn the -yo form and use it in most situations with a few exceptions. Since you are a foreigner, Koreans also understand when you make mistakes. However, if you want people to think you speak Korean well, sooner or later you will have to master the polite forms.
Not now and not soon, but sometime on your way to becoming a Korean expert. I’m often asked on YouTube by beginners what the courtesies are exactly. As a beginner, you don’t have to worry about that. The concept of Korean politeness is impossible for beginners to fully understand, but you will encounter it over and over again anyway, and the longer you learn the language, the easier it will be to access.
The Korean particles
The Korean particles can be compared with the German cases. In German, you can also tell which part of the sentence is the subject or the object, although sometimes the sentence order changes. In Korean, there are no cases and the conjugated verb does not change depending on the person. For this, we attach a particle to the nouns in Korean. This particle defines which noun plays which role in the sentence.
For example, there are subject particles, object particles, themaparticles, and place particles, but these names are not entirely accurate, and Korean particles have many more functions. The subject particle and themaparticle often replace each other, and particles add subtle nuances to your sentences. The same applies here as with the polite forms. It takes a long time for you to fully understand Korean particles. Probably years, so don’t try to figure them out from the start.
Gerhard tried that and it nearly drove him mad before he accepted that it would take time. Above all, don’t let the particles stop you! You will encounter them again and again as you learn the lessons, and they will reveal themselves to you step by step.
The subtleties of the Korean language
Starting Korean is easy, but Korean gets harder the longer you learn. This is because as you gain experience, you will come across more and more subtleties and need to understand them. I said at the beginning that learning vocabulary is easy. Yes, it is, but there are words that have no equivalent in German or words that have many different meanings.
Politeness is very important and particles are one of the most difficult subjects in the Korean language. Both concepts do not exist in this form in German. Korean is not a difficult language per se, but it is difficult to master the subtle nuances of the language.
Factors that influence your progress
1. german as mother tongue
German is a good starting point for learning Korean. The German language knows, with a few exceptions, most Korean sounds. With German as a native language, pronunciation is therefore not an insurmountable hurdle. There are exceptions, such as the difference between double consonants, but that, like so many things in language learning, just takes time and practice.
Sentence order in Korean is different, but much simpler than in German, for example. While the sentence structure in Korean is always subject, verb, object, the sentence structure in German changes depending on whether it is a main or subordinate clause. For example, German also knows sentences with a sentence order like in Korean, even if they are not the norm. For example:
- I eat because I’m hungry.
- He eats the apple that is ripe.
- You’re supposed to be doing your homework.
In Korean, you know you’re right when the verb or adjective is at the end of the sentence. In fact, in Korean, if the particle is used correctly, the subject and object can exchange places without losing meaning.
Of course there are languages like Japanese, Chinese or Arabic that are an even better basis for learning Korean, but German as a native language is definitely a good prerequisite.
2. previous language learning experience
How long it takes to learn Korean can also have to do with your previous language learning experience. After all, if you speak multiple languages or maybe even grew up bilingual, it’s easier to grasp new concepts and you’re already used to being exposed to multiple languages. Also, when you were learning your first foreign language, you had to find ways and means to do so.
Learning methods that can be reused when learning another foreign language. So language learning experience is not a requirement, but it can affect how long it takes to learn Korean. And don’t forget! We all learned English at school, and perhaps even another foreign language, although the practice and enthusiasm may have been lacking.
3. your learning methods
We believe you can learn Korean by yourself at home with books and YouTube. Online, especially if you speak English well, there are countless resources to learn Korean. However, it makes a difference if you are taking a class, have a tandem partner, are traveling to Korea or maybe even living there or are in a relationship with someone from Korea. If you haven’t found your learning methods yet, you can read this article with our Korean learning tips to get a system. We believe that learning should be strenuous. Like a real workout. Actively learn as much as you can!
4. how much time do you invest in the Korean language?
We recommend one hour of study per day. More important than the time you invest in learning the language, however, is that you study regularly. This is similar to fitness training. It’s better to work out for an hour three times a week than a full day on the weekend. Therefore, if an hour a day doesn’t work out, you should practice for half an hour a day and keep up the daily practice for that. You should choose a time investment that you can maintain for the long term.
5. why do you want to learn Korean?
The most important factor comes at the end. Do you have a genuine interest and a good reason to learn Korean? We’ve all been there. It doesn’t just apply to learning a language. We automatically absorb content that we really need and that excites us, while information that is not important to us simply does not stick in our memory. Plus, it’s hard to practice regularly if you’re not sure why you’re doing it in the first place.
Did you fall in love with Korean culture, music, and cinema, or maybe a real person? What do you want to do with your language skills in the future? Do you want to live in Korea or travel to Korea regularly? Do you want to build a Korean circle of friends or is your interest the language and learning itself.
Find short and long term goals and reasons to learn Korean and write them down, then you can always recall them before learning and never forget why you want to learn Korean. Not only will this help you stick with it, but like I said, your brain needs to be convinced that what you are learning is important to absorb and retain the information.
If you haven’t found your reason to learn Korean yet or need a reminder, here is an article with many reasons to learn Korean.
Learning a new language is not easy. Korean presents a special challenge because many things in Korean, such as politeness and particles, are completely different. Other aspects of the Korean language, such as the alphabet and the sounds used to learn and form words, are simpler than in most other languages.
Therefore, we do not believe that Korean is easier or more difficult or takes shorter or longer to learn than other languages. In a year, if you practice an hour every day, you can build a solid foundation. Regardless of your personal background and study methods, you can learn enough in a year to understand your favorite K-dramas, carry on simple conversations, or pass TOPIK II. Perfecting the language and getting by in everyday life in Korea using only Korean takes more than a year and probably several years.