best way to learn korean

Korean is a difficult language to learn, but it’s made much easier by following a concrete set of steps. If you are visiting Korea, the first thing to understand is the difference between formal and informal speak.

For English speakers, learning Korean is a process that can be both frustrating and fun. Like any foreign language, Korean grammar and vocabulary are often best practiced with a partner using flashcards. If you have access to media such as Korean dramas, podcasts, or tv shows, or can join a language exchange, this will supplement what you learn in Korean classes.

The more Korean culture you take in, the better! Whether you’re practicing in Seoul or Seattle, use these learning resources to take your Korean language skills to the next level.

Formal vs. Informal when speaking Korean

For language learners who come from respect-based cultures, the friendliness of the American language can be a little off-putting. As part of the formal vs informal process, we’re going to focus on Korean pronunciation and Korean vocabulary.

This is especially true for languages that have both formal and informal speech that is used based on the relationship of the speaker to the audience that he or she is addressing. 

Perhaps one of the most well known languages with both formal and informal forms is Spanish. To illustrate:

Singular Informal, tu             vs.             Singular Formal, usted

Over seven years ago my husband and I joined a Korean American faith community in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. One thing that we quickly noticed was that there is a strong sense of respect and hierarchy in Korean American culture.

From the way you receive a refill of water from an elder (hold out cup with both hands) from the way that you address an elder when speaking, the language and culture reflect a deep-seated belief in the importance of etiquette and polite interactions.

When considering the language itself, there is both an informal and formal way of addressing your audience. Here’s a quick summary between the two:

Formal Language

If you are addressing someone considered higher in status, importance, age, etc. (e.g. a granddaughter speaking to her grandmother) then you must use special nouns or verb endings to be respectful.

If you use them incorrectly, you run the risk of insulting your audience. The special nouns and verbs used are called “honorific”. When using pronouns, the general rule is to add the honorific suffix –nim to the word:

 Father (in general) abeoji    vs.  Your friend’s father, abeonim

Informal Language

If you are addressing someone that is considered less than you in status, importance, age, etc. (e.g. an older brother speaking to his younger sibling) then the informal noun and verb form is used.

Perhaps one of the most common uses of formal vs. informal language is the initial greeting in Korean:

Hello (formal), n-nyung-ha-se-yo vs. Hello (informal), an nyoung

While languages with both formal and informal forms rules of communication might at first seem suffocating, over time I have learned to appreciate the distinctions between addressing a peer and addressing someone who has earned the right, if by nothing else than the wisdom of age, to be esteemed.

At the end of the day, the formal form has much to teach:

  1. Humility: there is always someone who knows more than me
  2. Age Matters: there is wisdom in old age and it is still important to revere and honor those who have lived longer
  3. Accountability: I fall somewhere within the hierarchy, too, and should be an example to others who are still growing and learning

So, the next time you struggle through the differences between formal and informal in Korean and when to use what form, keep in mind that the purpose of language is communication for relationship.

Oftentimes what you are communicating goes deeper than what is being said; it is building a deep and respectful bond.

The best way to learn Korean online?

informal and formal korean

How long has it been since you picked up a brand new hobby or habit? Think back to that process. Repetition likely played a big role in making it possible, and this is the best way to learn Korean. 

You want to follow this technique by immersing yourself in the Korean language. To begin with, take a sentence and repeat it over and over. If you have someone to do this with you, take advantage of the opportunity whenever possible.

Once you have a bit of basic Korean down, try to switch tenses. Put what you’re saying in past tense, future tense, and repeat until you can move easily between them.

Practice with a native Korean speaker

Alongside repetition, the best way to learn Korean is through immersion with a native Korean speaker. Repetition and immersion actually go hand in hand, as they work perfectly together. Live Lingua offers affordable lessons with a native Korean speaker where you’ll work one on one to progress at the level and speed that is right for you. Your first lesson is free!

Live Lingua has over ten years of experience building the best immersive language learning platform for anyone with Skype. No matter your ability level,  there is no intimidation because it’s just you and your instructor. Here’s the rundown on Korean lessons with Live Lingua.

Memorize the need-to-know common sentences

This is especially poignant if you plan to travel to South Korea. You must be able to ask basic questions at the airport, your hotel, and at cafes. Here are the essential common Korean phrases to practice. If you get started now, especially if you have an upcoming trip to South Korea, you’ll be much more comfortable once you’re in a live speaking situation.


Listen to Korean media

Korean pop, commonly known as K-pop, is currently the most popular Korean media with the international audience. Listening to songs by Korean artists can help you become more comfortable with sentence structure and can even boost memorization.

Korean ((한국어, 조선말, Hangugeo, Chosŏnmal)  is not only  the official language spoken in North and South Korea, but also in Yanbian, a Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China. It is a difficult and charming language, historically and culturally rich, and still debated where it comes from. If you are curious about the Korean world, follow these simple steps to learn it!

Learn Hangeul, the Korean alphabet.

The alphabet is the first and good step to learn a new language, in particular those far from ours. The Korean alphabet is relatively easy, even if it might sound strange to you.

L’Hangeul was invented  during Joseon Dynasty in 1443. It has 24 letters, 14 consonants and 10 vowels. However, if we include 16 diphthongs and double consonants, there are 40 letters in total. This language has  about  3000 Chinese characters, called Hanja, to represent words borrowed from China. Unlike Japanese Kanji , Hanja is used  in limited contexts

such as  academic articles, Buddhist texts, dictionaries, newspaper highlights, surnames and  classical literature before Second World War. It is not adopted in North Korea anymore.

How to count in Korean

how to count in korean

Counting in Korean can be difficult because there are two different ways, depending on the situation: a Korean, of course, and a Korean system with  some Chinese characters. The Korean system is used to indicate numbers of objects and people (between 1 and 99) and age. For example: 3 children, 7 bottles of beer, 28 years of age. Here is how to count up to 10 :

1 = 하나  “hana”

2 = 둘  “dool”

3 = 셋  “set”

4 = 넷  “net”

5 = 다섯  “da-sut”

6 = 여섯  “yuh-sut”

7 = 일곱  “il-gop”

8= 여덟 “yuh-duhl”

9= 아홉  “ahop”

10 = 열  “yuhl”

They use the Korean-Chinese system for dates, money, addresses, phone numbers, and numbers greater than 100. Here is how to count up to 10 with this system:

1 = 일  “il”

2 = 이  “ee”

3 = 삼  “sam”

4 = 사  “sa”

5 = 오  “oh”

6= 육 “yuk”

7 = 칠 “chil”

8 = 팔  “pal”

9 = 구  “goo”

10 = 십  “ship”


Common Korean Phrases

Try learning the words and sentences to say:

Hi/Hello = 안녕 “an-nyoung”

Yes = 네  “ne”

No = 아니요 “aniyo”

Thanks = 감사합니다 “gam-sa-ham-nee-da”

My name is… = 저는 ___ 입니다 “chonun… imnida”

How are you?  = 어떠십니까?  “otto-shim-nikka”

Nice to meet you = 만나서 반가워요 “Manna-seo banga-woyo”

Goodbye = 안녕히 계세요  “an-nyounghi kye-sayo”

Try to learn the different speech forms.

It is important to learn the difference between levels of formalities in spoken Korean. In Korean, the ending of verbs changes according to the age and status of the interlocutor as well as the social context. It is important to understand how the formality of speech works so that you can have a proper conversation.

Basic Korean Phrases

common korean phrases

Korean is one of the most unique languages in the world, a difficult one to learn as it doesn’t easily link to other languages. The closest languages are even quite different — Japanese and Swedish. 

These greetings in Korean and common Korean phrases will get you going.

Hello and Goodbye – 안녕하세요 (An-nyeong-ha-se-yo)

Please — 주세요 (Ju-se-yo)

Honored to meet you – 반갑습니다 (Ban-gap-sum-ni-da)

Excuse me/pardon – 잠시만요 (Jam-shi-man-yo)

I’m sorry -죄송합니다/미안합니다 (Chway-seong-ham-ni-da/Mi-an-ham-ni-da)

Where is the bathroom? — 욕실은 어디 있어요 (Hwa-jang-shil-o-di-ye-yo)

One beer, please — 맥주 한잔 부탁드립니다 (maeg-ju han-jan-bu-tag-deu-lib-ni-da)

How much? – 얼마예요 (ol-ma-ye-yo)

I don’t speak Korean very well – 한국말 잘 못해요 (Han-guk-mal-jal-mot-hae-yo)

Can you help me? — 너 나 좀 도와 줄 수있어? (neo-na-jom-dow-a-jul-su-iss-eo)

To get a little dirty, see our guide on How To Curse In Korean.

How To Order In A Korean Restaurant

how to order in a korean restaurant

One aspect of religious life for Korean Americans is the idea of a shared meal. In honor of the many friends Korean families invite to meals (and the women who cook for more than 200 people each week), here are some of my favorite Korean dishes:

1. Tteokbokki: Rice Cakes in Hot Sauce

Tteokbokki has become a type of soul food for me as I’ve worked and lived alongside Korean Americans. The dish is fairly simple consisting of cylinder shaped rice cooks cooked in a hot red sauce. The bland mushiness of the rice cakes paired with the kick of the sauce creates a warm dish that is perfect on a cold winter’s day.

2. Kalbi: Korean BBQ

If you have never been to a Korean BBQ restaurant run, don’t walk, until you find one! There is nothing in this world like freshly grilled Kalbi. Kalbi is tender beef with a touch of sweetness that has been cut extremely thin to grill quickly. The best way to eat Kalbi is around a large table with plenty of family and friends to enjoy!

3. Bibimbap: Mixed Meal

For many Westerners, their first experience with Korean food is a nice big bowl of Bibimbap. Aptly translated “Mixed Meal”, bibimbap consists of rice, mixed vegetables, chili pepper and sliced beef placed separately in a large bowl. The meal is complete when a fried egg is placed on top, a little red pepper paste is added, and then all is mixed. I imagine this to be a leftover meal of sorts in Korean homes. It screams of comfort food.

4. Mu Guk: Korean Radish Soup

Mu Guk is a mild tasting soup that consists of a water broth, Korean radishes (called mu), sliced beef and scallions. The broth also contains a small amount of soy sauce, garlic and sesame oil (a staple oil in Korean cooking). I’ve eaten this mild soup on cold winter days and hot summer afternoons. It can either fill you with warmth or sweat the toxins out as it is served extremely hot in temperature!

5. Jajangmyeon: Noodles in Black Bean Sauce

Jajangmyeon and I had a love/hate relationship for many years. If you can get over the initial look of this dish then what awaits is culinary delight. Thick Jajangmyeon noodles create a base for the dish. Black bean sauce is then paired with pork, a variety of vegetables and a little sugar to create a thick paste that tops the noodles.

6. Miyuk Guk: Seawood Soup

Last, but not least, is my personal favorite. Miyuk Guk is a broth-based soup that is loaded with cooked seaweed and beef (or seafood). Since seaweed is filled with iron the soup is given to post-partum mothers to help replenish the iron lost while giving birth. It is also traditionally consumed on birthdays.

My list of foods could go on and on as I have a deep love affair with Korean food. Now I leave you to go and taste for yourself the wonderful tastes and flavors that Korean food has to offer! 잘 먹겠습니다 (Bon appetit!)!

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