Nowadays, it's never been easier to start learning Korean on your own. With so many smartphone apps, YouTube videos, and great blogs in the digital world, there are lots of language learning opportunities that weren't available even 10 years ago.
However, most of us still want something a little more organized, focused, and, most importantly, written by language teaching experts. It's one thing to be fluent in Korean—it's quite another to be a skilled teacher.
That's why I'm putting together some of the best books for learning Korean. Whether you've just decided to learn the language, are looking for a little refresher, or want to nail down idioms and perfect fluency, I've got you covered.
You are likely already familiar with the famous language-learning podcast Talk to Me in Korean (TTMIK). They have a ton of amazing free resources on the site.
This textbook is an excellent collection of the Korean fundamentals that you can start with from Day 0. It also includes audio downloads, grammar lessons, and worksheet exercises.
However, what makes TTMIK perfect is that it's designed for self-study, including a large array of exercises and dialogues you complete on your own.
It's also focused on the conversational Korean you'll actually use daily. This is important because many traditional textbooks focus on high levels of formality that aren't exactly necessary for everyday life.
And yes, the other TTMIK levels are equally good, especially for people self-studying. They do an excellent job progression through the levels of building fluency.
You might be wondering why you should buy this textbook if all the materials are already online for free.
First, TTMIK is awesome, and you should support them and thank them for all the amazing work they do. But second, you'll be surprised at how much more useful a focused textbook will be, especially since textbooks don't receive on-screen notifications!
Don't let the title fool you. This is not the book you want if you're an absolute beginner. Once you've nailed the fundamentals and can make basic conversation, then you'll be ready for this.
Mastering Korean starts you exactly where you want to be, learning how to order food and navigate around town.
It is more modern than old school textbooks and even talks about Korean emoticons with a pleasant sense of humor to make learning more fun.
If you're looking for a structured approach, then this isn't it. But if you're moving to Korea and want what you'll need to get by daily, then Mastering Korean is perfect for you.
Yonsei is one of Korea's top universities. They have one of the most famous Korean language learning programs.
The Yonsei Korean series was developed by the language institute to help students develop well-rounded abilities in Korean speaking, listening, writing, and reading.
Each lesson is well structured and focuses on specific skills as well as important vocabulary words. The entire series is excellent and broken up into 12 books across beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels.
Since these books are academic, they are best used with a tutor or teachers who can help break down grammar concepts in more detail for you.
Easy Korean Reading For Beginners is another absolute gem from the folks at TTMIK.
This book is aimed at people in the upper beginner to intermediate range and includes fun short stories to help you build your reading skills.
If you've been studying Korean for about 1-2 months but are still having a little trouble with content written for native speakers, then this is for you!
It's also a great way to continue building your Korean vocabulary that will be a nice break from memorizing massive word lists.
Once you have mastered the basics, this is where you should head to next.
The Korean Grammar in Use series is the best grammar textbook you can find.
It does an excellent job breaking down usage, helping you construct your own examples, and generally making some of the more difficult parts of learning a foreign language fun.
It's also really well organized, making it easy to go back and review concepts.
If you're a serious learner of the Korean language and looking to do well on the TOPIK test, then pick this book up right away.
If you've started learning Korean because you love K-Pop, then you can't miss this one.
More of a phrasebook than an actual dictionary, this book has 500+ modern Korean slang words you'll often hear in K-pop and on TV.
There's no grammar focus here at all. Instead, you get example sentences in both English and Korean.
And while the sample dialogue is a little silly, it's also much closer to the way people actually talk than you find in many other Korean language learning books.
Even if you're a serious student, you'll be surprised just how helpful this fun little book can be.
This is another book that is famous in the Korean language learning community.
And what most people keep nearby when using academic style textbooks.
2000 Essential Korean Words presents a large number of vocab words and grammar structures that don't translate well into English.
Whether you work towards fluency or just want a little help with your conversational skills, you'll be happy to have this great book to answer any of your questions.
Integrated Korean is another academic textbook written specifically to teach Korean at SOAS (the leading UK Asian language institute).
As the name implies, the textbook focuses on building speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills. It also weaves in culture pieces, grammar, and more.
While the content is a little outdated, it can be a nice alternative to Yonsei's book since the chapters are better divided into manageable chunks specifically intended for self-study learners.
Once Upon a Time in Korea is the perfect textbook for you if you're not 100% sure on whether you'll learn Korean or not.
The book is bright, cheerful, and really does a good job convincing people who are the fence.
It does this by breaking down vocabulary and grammar across fun sections that revolve around a different Korean folklore tale.
That means you not only get the language learning part but a fun look into Korean culture that will help contextualize the things you are learning.
The only downside is that this book can be a little hard to find if you're not in Korea. If you do come across a copy, be sure to snap it up quickly!
There are two schools of thought when it comes to learning the language. The first is a more formal approach based on serious study, textbooks, and structure. The second involves focusing more on how people speak.
As you might imagine, Let's Speak Korean falls into the second category. If you want to absorb key phrases and expressions you'll hear on the streets of Seoul, then this is it.
It has 1,400+ expressions along with pronunciation and grammar guides to help you clearly link English and Korean phrases, so you understand what you're saying to people.
Let's Speak Korean also includes downloadable audio tracks so you can practice listening to native Korean speakers to improve your pronunciation. While you wouldn't want to solely rely on this to learn Korean, it's an excellent companion to something like TTMIK or Yonsei Korean.
While many of the books on this list for learning Korean are textbooks, this one is a little different. In my short story books, you learn the language through story simply by reading.
Sound too good to be true? Well, when you read stories at your level, you learn the vocabulary and grammar more naturally, through context.
So all you have to do is let the story guide you. In the short stories, you'll find language for your level, including the 1,000 most frequent words. The grammar is also accessible so you can pick up new structures without the stress.
Plus the stories come with the following to make life easier for you as a Korean learner:
- A glossary for bolded words in each text
- Full plot summary
- A bilingual word list
- Comprehension questions after each chapter
How To Use These Fantastic Korean Language Books
Honestly, there's no real right or wrong way to use them. The most important thing is that you find a style that works for you and stick to it.
If you've made your way halfway through a more formal textbook and you're getting bored, then take a break and look at something like The KPOP Dictionary instead.
Likewise, while books are a great place for structure learning, you do need some real interaction with Korean speakers. Form study groups, use Korean learning apps, and develop ways to practice that allow you to both improve your speaking and your listening.
And don't give up! It's easy to feel like you're not making progress, but learning a language is a process. You'll get better gradually over time. And before you know it, you'll be able to sing Korean rap songs at the Noraebang (Karaoke room).
Learn Korean With Books
Learning Korean is amazing. It not only gives you an opportunity to dive into a totally new language but also get an inside look into Korean culture.
These resources are the perfect fit to round out the Korean studies you may also be doing online, with friends, and even in the classroom.
But don't go out there and buy all eleven at once. Start with a couple according to where you're at right now in your studies. Because the rest will always be ready and waiting for you when you're ready to level up your Korean skills.