One of the most common beginner questions is “Is Korean an easy language to learn?” while Korean definitely isn’t the easiest language to learn, it’s also not the hardest out there! I’ll get into the 2 main parts; the writing and speaking because both of them have their own characteristics.
Wanted to get started on Korean? I talk about self studying over here and give some nice resources to help you make the first steps.
Korean Writing System
Luckily hangul (한글); the Korean writing system is one of the easiest things to learn! Korean’s writing system was literally invented to be easy to use and help boost literacy and education back in the 1400’s, and so is widely regarded as one of the best writing systems by many linguists.
Now of course Korean as a language has changed in that time; some things are pronounced differently, some characters have been removed or co-opted to sound nearly the same so reading it isn’t as 1 to 1 as it was back then. But still, many people agree that you can learn all the characters and get a good basis on it very fast – possibly within a day!
Get started on hangul here, where I show you which each character means and give you some resources to master 한글!
Learning to Speak Korean
Speaking Korean can be a bit more tough, especially if you don’t know or have experience with other languages. There are some sounds that don’t exist in Korean like they do in English, and others that Korean has but English doesn’t have anything close to.
The classic example is L, you’ve probably noticed a lot of Asian ESL speakers struggle with the sound but that’s because it doesn’t exist the same for them! The ㄹ character for Koreans is actually between our L and R sound. For English speakers we can feel the same kind of struggle with ㄱ vs ㅋ vs ㄲ! The difference can feel non-existent when you’re getting started out.
Maybe I should get into pronunciation more in-depth with it’s own separate post sometime. Though the best thing to do to learn how to speak and correctly pronounce Korean is of course through videos or podcasts or something audio instead of written out haha.
Is Korean Easy to Learn?
So back to the questions is “Is Korean an easy language to learn?” it almost feels like a cop-out answer but it can really depend on you, I’ll say there’s 3 different base levels of difficulty…
- You Studied An Asian Language: EASIEST – You can pull from your knowledge of similar language(s) to skip over some interesting cultural, structural or phonetic things that are different than other languages. If you know Chinese there are even some words in common/very similar because of Sino-Korean!
- You Studied Another Language (non-asian): MEDIUM – Here you already have a basis of studying another language to help you. What works best for you; audiobooks, youtube, textbooks, etc. finding out all that can be skipped over. Some pronunciation and things can still trip you up or take time to get a grip on. But you don’t have to relearn the basics of how a language works.
- You Only Know English: HARDEST – Here you’re really just starting out with languages; if English is your only language you just naturally absorbed it which means it will feel like a whole new thing. In English you don’t have to think about propositions, grammar, nouns vs verbs, etc. it all comes naturally to you. So it could be a part of learning Korean where you learn more about how English works along with it
Though this is all from my perspective as someone who studied a bit of Japanese before. Personally sometimes I feel like things are a bit easier, or harder, or medium. I only studied Japanese for a short time but going into Korean I understood my strengths and weaknesses in a new language. Then, some words in Korean and Japanese are similar because of the Chinese influence. But at times I felt like I had no idea what I’m doing haha.
But ultimately it’s dependent on how dedicated you are! If you see Korean as something fun and interesting then learning will be too and the tougher spots won’t feel as rough. If you see learning it as a chore then you’re setting yourself up to be frustrated and finding it much harder; no matter your language experience.