I have been tackling Korean for a while now and I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience. Hopefully, this post will be helpful for those of you getting started with Korean.
Until recently, Korean was a rare language for Westerners to learn. The rapid economic development of South Korea and increasing interest in Korean culture in recent years seems to have led to more Korean learning materials being made available. Unfortunately, there are still less high quality learning resources than you would find for Japanese or Chinese. That aside, we did find some useful books that helped us to get started with this challenging but beautiful language.
Many foreigners find Korean a difficult language to pronounce correctly. The sounds are “different”, which can make listening quite challenging. In this respect, it was certainly much harder for me to get started than Japanese or even Chinese. The Korean speakers break down every syllable of each word which helps train your ear. Keep with this course and you will be speaking and understanding whole Korean sentences within days.
You can try out Pimsleur Korean for free with an Audible 30 day trial. Download a taster course here.
Elementary Korean is the golden standard for learning Korean. It is the most thorough and all-round introduction to Korean that I know of. The logical structure makes it easy to follow. This book is on the expensive side but you get 384 pages of material and tons of practice exercises to boot. On the downside, there aren’t a lot of pictures to break up the content so it isn’t the lightest read but this book will give you a comprehensive base in Korean. If you only buy one textbook for Korean, get this one.
Korean for Beginners: Mastering Conversational Korean
With its tricky pronunciation, complex grammar and elaborate honorific forms, the Korean language can present a daunting prospect. This was the first book I used. It is a nice option if you prefer a gentle introduction to Korean. It’s also entertaining with plenty of cultural information packed in. The $12 price is reasonable when you consider that an audio CD is provided too. This must be the first textbook I have seen that makes use of emoticons. The times they are a-changin’! ^_^
Korean Grammar in Use
The next logical step after Korean for Beginners. It goes into the grammar in more depth but still in a digestible form. I picked this book up in Seoul so it might be tricky to buy online.
Korean Grammar for International Learners
This is the most comprehensive grammar book we could find. It includes all the grammatical forms in loads of detail. It’s also packed with example sentences which I love. For some mysterious reason, the cover of this book highly resembles that of Kanji in Context (a Japanese learning classic). The mind boggles!
Spoken World: Korean
For as long as I can remember, Living Language have always made top notch course materials. Spoken World, their latest offering for Korean, is no exception. Get this for learning conversational Korean. There are six CDs included with a separate course book. The dialogues are easy to understand and introduced in a logical order. You won’t get much grammar from this one but it’s a nice little audio course. Highly recommended.
Klear: Korean Reader for Chinese Characters
A good introduction to the Chinese characters (hanja) used in Korean. This book teaches you the most common 500 hanja by frequency of usage in modern Korean. It’s a good choice if you want to learn to read Korean literature or you’re simply curious about the Korean hanja like I was.
I don’t own this one yet but it has positive reviews on Amazon. It is the follow-up to Elementary Korean.
So there you have it. Those are the best books we have found so far. Do you know of any other quality resources? Leave a comment in the section below!