15 June 2020
Filed under Korean, Languages   No Comments

I’ve wanted to talk about my experience studying Korean ever since I decided to have another go at a personal blog. Before I do that, I’ll talk a bit about my background with language studies and how it has become some type of hobby to me in recent years. This is a veeeeery long post, so if you’re only interested in some learning tips, you can jump ahead a few paragraphs (or just click here). (Unfortunately for my bank account, this post is not sponsored.)

My foreign language studies began when I was 8 years old, not by choice, but because my parents knew it would be important for my future if I could speak English. By then I was already very interested in pop music, and Brazil didn’t have much of it when I was a child (at least that I was aware of), so I listened to a lot of artists from the United States and, by default, was actually familiar with how English sounded. It turns out that my experience learning it was very smooth, and didn’t involve any studying techniques. I don’t recall ever sitting down and memorizing words, grammar (which I am pretty tragic at) and sounds, it all came somewhat naturally to me. I graduated from the English language school when I was 16, and then lived in the United States for one year. When I came back to Brazil, I did one semester of Spanish – which I had also grown up with, so once again not much studying involved. My English is definitely much better than my Spanish, though, as I’ve never had a chance to actually practice the latter.

The next language on my list was Italian, which has always sounded beautiful to me. Italy is also one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever visited, and I’ve always wanted to go back. I didn’t think I’d ever necessarily have a use for the language in my career, but I wanted to learn and thought that interest might be worth investing in. I had gone around asking different language schools if they had Italian courses, and all the ones I had found back then had a waiting list. Not because they were full, but because they didn’t have enough students that would justify starting a course. It took me a couple of years to receive a call from one of them asking if I still wanted to learn, and then I finally joined a class of 6 students. Within half a year I was the only one left, so I was pretty much taking private lessons for the price of regular classes. It would probably have been amazing, had it not meant the professor could go much faster than she would have with a regular group of students. For me, that meant more homework and much more studying to do, which ended up consuming an amount of time I couldn’t really spare. At that point, I was about to graduate, having 4 simultaneous internships and a scientific research article to finish. I got increasingly frustrated with my classes, as I felt like I was falling behind – even though the only student was me – and so I dropped out. This was 4 years ago, and I haven’t gone back to studying the language since. I do intend to! But I ended up being accepted into a Masters program in France last year, which was not in my plans at all, and so I’ve been learning French instead. Both languages come from Latin and have some similarities, so I figure I’ll be pretty bored if I study them at the same time.

I had a gap of several months between my post-graduate course in Toronto and my Masters course in France. My previous work experience isn’t exactly related to the area I’ve been trying to work in, which has made job hunting quite difficult, and so I didn’t really have anything to do in that time frame. I wanted to feel useful, and for a life-long student that means studying. At that point, the last language studying experience I had actually concluded had been Spanish, 5 or 6 years before. My dad had always suggested I learned Chinese, for career purposes, so I looked into that… I’ll be honest, it looked insanely difficult. But I realized I did want to learn a language that had a different writing in comparison to Portuguese, Spanish and Italian (French was not in the picture at that point), so I looked into more languages from Asian countries, such as Hindi, Japanese and Korean. Out of the options I had, it looked like Korean had an alphabet that was fairly simple. On top of that, some of my friends had been very interested in Korean music and television, so I knew they had a type of entertainment culture I would probably enjoy, which would make the learning process easier. Korean it was, then!


My first step into the Korean language was, of course, learning Hangul. I am aware that romanized versions of Korean words exist, but I couldn’t wait to learn a new alphabet. To be honest, romanized words are not even that helpful in terms of figuring out sounds, to me, because I always end up reading them like I read words in Portuguese, which makes everything sound way off. Remembering to read them with English pronunciation is more complicated than just reading the Hangul. No romanizations, then. I started learning Hangul on Youtube, with many different channels, but the one I’d recommend is 씨마일 한국어 (seemile Korean). The teacher has a very soothing voice and goes over the sounds many times. She starts going through the characters, and will then use words that are pronounced very similarly in English and Korean so that you can understand how combining those characters will result in that pronunciation.

I’ve been studying Korean for about 13 months and am now on an intermediate level of the language. I can watch videos of everyday conversations and have an idea of what’s being discussed, but I still don’t understand the vast majority of the vocabulary and verb endings. As for songs, I usually recognize enough words in the lyrics that I can understand what the theme is, but most of the time I won’t realize that until I actually read them (in Hangul!), not by just listening.

DUOLINGO (www.duolingo.com)

I find that exercises are the best way to memorize new words and sentence structures. Because I had successfully avoided having to sit down and study grammar, I was confused as to how I’d learn a new language without making it seem like a chore, which would inevitably get very boring after a while. Duolingo has helped me with constant reminders that I should study at least a little bit everyday. They have a point system, and for various months I was very excited about ranking well in their weekly member boards, so I’d practice over and over again for a long time. The website also counts the amount of days you study without skipping, which they show as your Streak. I’ve been determined not to let mine die, and it’s been 297 days since I started (I didn’t care about my streak at the beginning, so I butchered this number several times in the first couple of months).

Duolingo has “tips” under many of the lessons, that explain the basics of what you will be learning and practicing. I don’t use them alone, though. Personally, they never seemed very complete to me, but they are extremely useful in terms of serving as a guide so that you know what you have to look for in other websites. For example, Korean has different levels of formality, and Duolingo starts with the high one – which makes sense, as being overly polite will likely cause you less trouble than accidentally being rude – but I didn’t grasp the concept all too well with their explanations about it. So I asked Google where else I could learn that, and did my research. After reading some other websites, I went back to Duolingo and started exercising what I had just learned. I’ve done this with nearly every Korean lesson. As you approach the last ones, however, you’ll notice many of them don’t have tips (I don’t know if they’ll be added later on, but I hope so). What does save me is that, by now, I know enough of the language that I’m able to identify what is new once I start the lessons, so I do my research based on that instead.

TALK TO ME IN KOREAN (www.talktomeinkorean.com)

This is honestly my favorite language related website ever, and I wish there was a French equivalent of it. You can register and have access to most of their lessons for free, and it will take you from basic to advanced level if you stay with it. I don’t think using a single source is the clever way to go, but if I had to choose just one, this would be it. Each written lesson is accompanied by an audio version, which includes explanations, examples and dialogues.

Premium Members have access to exclusive lessons. Some of them are: short and useful phrases for beginners, pronunciation guide, sentence-building practice, essential irregular verbs, and common mistakes that Korean learners make. Whenever it looks like I’ll have enough time available to make it worth it, I subscribe for the month. My favorite paid feature is the quiz that is associated with every lesson, which gives me an idea of how much of it I retained after I studied. I go back once in a while and re-do all of them to see if I still remember everything, and doing poorly in any of them will tell me what I should review.

ROSETTA STONE (www.rosettastone.com)

I had always been aware of the Rosetta Stone CDs (or DVDs?), which I had seen many times in book stores. I also knew they were for language learning, but it had never occurred to me buying them. During the peak of the covid-19 pandemic in European countries, their website allowed people to register for 3 months of access to their language lessons, free of charge. I jumped at the opportunity and ended up completing their Korean course within 2 months.

I really liked it. This website actually covers something that the other ones I’ve tried don’t: the speaking aspect of the language learning process. Many lessons are focused on speaking into a microphone so that their little robot can tell you whether they understand you or not. I found no written explanations about anything, though. It’s perfectly possible I just didn’t explore the website enough, but it seemed to jump right into reading and speaking. If that’s truly the case, then I don’t see how it would work for complete beginners, but for people that have a grasp of the basics I’d say it’s very useful.

MANGO LANGUAGES (www.mangolanguages.com)

I wasn’t familiar with this website until someone recommended it to me on Twitter. It only had 1 Korean module when I tried it, which, if I’m not mistaken, took me about 12 hours to finish. Much like Rosetta Stone, I wouldn’t recommend this one for those who have just started learning, but for those on a beginner/intermediate level, it seems to work. They’ll give you a dialogue in the beginning of every lesson, and then explain every aspect of it so that you understand what is written there. There are lots of examples, and their format is based on showing you a word or a phrase, giving you time to repeat it out loud (no robots will be listening to you on this one), and then listening to what it should sound like. You’ll be the judge of whether you’re pronouncing the words anywhere near what’s correct or not. The phrases you’ll learn on this website seem like they would be very useful in a trip to South Korea.


A quick research will show you that there are many books that can help you study Korean. I ended up choosing “Korean Made Simple: A beginner’s guide to learning the Korean language” by GO! Billy Korean. There are 3 books in this series, depending on the level of the reader. Because my studies are often done on the internet, I ended up using the book more for the purpose of reviewing what I had already seen. One of my favorite aspects of it is that, at the end of every chapter, the author gives the reader a list of words to study. I finished the book without paying them much attention, but, now that I’ve decided to focus a little less on sentence structures and a little more on vocabulary for the time being, I’m going back and trying to memorize them all in sections. This book also has exercises, such as “translate this sentence from English to Korean” or “translate this sentence from Korean to English”, which is nice.


Ever since I started learning Korean, I keep a notebook in which I mostly write what I think is important or what seems that I’ll probably forget. I’ve tried to commit most things to memory these days, but the notebook is good to practice writing in Hangul. I recently started focusing on vocabulary, and so I have a different notebook that I use just to write down the words I want to memorize. Here’s hoping my hand-writing and my capability to read hand-written Korean will improve someday, because I admit I’m lacking considerably in both departments.

Fun fact: apparently it didn’t really register with me that we were in 2020 during the first 5 months of the year. I eventually noticed that all the dates in the first notebook were written as 2019, so I had to go back and fix them with liquid paper. 🤡 Also, some entries have explanations written in Portuguese and some in English. I didn’t intend to do this, but I must have been so tired from the Masters course and the intensive French classes, all of which were taken in English, that I accidentally switched along the way.

Rakuten VIKI (www.viki.com)

This is a streaming platform for movies and TV shows produced in Asian countries. From what I’ve gathered, it works with a donation system, so the content is subbed by subscribers and not by an actual staff hired by the website. As a result, there is a huge variety of languages available (at least for the shows I’ve watched so far). You can watch some of the content for free, with ads, or pay for a subscription.

The reason I would rank this higher than Netflix when it comes to Korean dramas is not even just the amount of content it has, seeing as it also has country restrictions, but because VIKI has a fun language learning system. When watching a Korean show, you can choose to view the subtitles in the language of your choice as well as in Korean. Clicking on any word from the Korean subtitle will open a little window with its definition and the option to listen to it. It is such a fun way to practice. It’s helped me understand many phrases that I hear often, but that I couldn’t spell out in order to look for their meaning. The translations aren’t always literal, so it’s not like you can just go to a translator in order to get the exact words that are being said. Watching things subbed in Korean becomes the perfect solution to that problem, and I’ve definitely learned a lot of common dialogue this way.

NAVER Korean Dictionary (phone app)

This one is the my most recent discovery in terms of Korean learning. The NAVER Korean Dictionary app has a free studying platform – it lets you create an account, and it will give you a short dialogue in Korean on a daily basis. It includes translations of the full dialogue and the key words in it, and you can do a few exercises in order to help you assimilate what you’re learning.


My decision to learn Korean was fairly random, and my learning process has involved several different websites, a few books, Youtube channels and phone apps. I feel I am progressing, and so I wanted to write about what I’ve done in case someone else is struggling to find alternatives that aren’t boring, or that allow them to follow a pace that’s comfortable and effective.

I hope this post is useful! If there is anything more you’d like to know about the sources I mentioned, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help. Thanks for reading!

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