So, you’re thinking about learning Korean. You’ve probably already asked yourself, “How long does it take to learn Korean?”
Truthfully, this is a really difficult question to answer. Everyone is different: they learn in different ways, and they have different goals. Different people will likely take a vastly different amount of time to “learn” Korean.
That’s why in this post, I’ll try to explain what kind of time commitment you’ll face should you decide to take up Korean. I’ll also look at some factors that could affect how quickly you learn.
There’s a lot to cover, so here’s what we will be looking at today:
- Defining what we mean by learn Korean and how long
- Why you must learn hangul!
- How long to achieve different goals in Korean
- Why defining your goals is important
- Is Korean your first second language?
- What language do you know already?
- Tips for speeding things up
- How far are you willing to change your lifestyle?
- What’s your personality type?
By the way, if you want to learn Korean fast and have fun while doing it, my top recommendation is Korean Uncovered which teaches you through StoryLearning®.
With Korean Uncovered you’ll use my unique StoryLearning® method to learn Korean naturally through story… not rules. It’s as fun as it is effective.
If you’re ready to get started, click here for a 7-day FREE trial.
What Do We Mean When We Say “Learn Korean”?
It’s really important to define what we mean when we say learn. To some, learning a language would mean total fluency: the ability to understand everything, in any situation.
To others, learning a language might mean practical working knowledge, or simply learning enough to order food and tell a few jokes.
There’s a wildly different time commitment required for each of levels. We’ll try to cover all these different situations.
Defining How Long?
It’s also important to define what we mean when we say how long.
Consider this. Two people learn Korean. If one person spends five hours a day for two years, and the other spends two hours a day for four years, who has spent longer?
To avoid confusion, we’ll discuss things today in terms of hours spent studying.
Why You Simply Must Learn Hangul
No matter what you want to do with Korean, you can’t afford to avoid learning this.
Once upon a time, Korean used Chinese characters, also known as Hanja. There were thousands of these symbols, and as a result, only a very privileged few were able to read.
In 1446, King Sejong published Hangul, the alphabet now used in Korea. One of his goals was to enable anyone, rich or poor, to read.
He succeeded, and Hangul is remarkably easy to learn.
It is so easy to do that this is essential for anyone who wants to use even the tiniest amount of Korean.
Time to learn: 3-6 hours.
With that out of the way, let’s look at some different scenarios.
So You’re Heading To Korea On Vacation
If you’re just looking to try a little Korean on for size during a vacation or business trip, you won’t need to invest too much time at all. I managed to pick up some Korean basics in just 4 days.
As mentioned earlier, the alphabet is astoundingly easy to learn.
Additionally, Korean follows its own rules and behaves the way it should almost all the time. That means that you’ll get a great deal of mileage out of every little thing you learn. No stupid exceptions and broken rules to worry about!
Spend a little time with online lessons or phone apps in the run-up to your trip and you should be good to go.
Time to learn some vacation Korean:
3-6 hours (Hangul)
1-2 hours a day for a couple of months.
Want To Do A Little More?
So you’re heading to Korea for a year or longer, and you’d like to be able to chat and engage with native speakers. Perhaps you’d just like a new hobby.
If this is your goal, you’re not going to be discussing Buddhist architecture anytime soon.
But you could engage people, have simple conversations, and ask simple questions with remarkably little time invested. Relatively speaking!
You’d be surprised just how satisfying a short, simple chat with a taxi driver in a foreign language can be. Or sorting out a problem in the bank, without needing someone to translate.
Time to learn enough Korean to chat, make friends, and run errands:
3-6 hours (Hangul)
1-2 hours a day for six months.
Want To Become Fluent?
Okay. You’re planning to go the distance.
You’ll want to develop a regular, daily study schedule for yourself and ideally attend weekly lessons.
You might also consider finding a language exchange. This can be a fun weekly social activity in which you take turns to chat with a Korean speaker in English and Korean.
I’m not going to beat around the bush here. If you want to achieve fluency in Korean you are looking at a considerable commitment.
Time to become fluent:
2000 hours of study, as a baseline.
Decide On Your Approach
Deciding what you want from the language is more important than you might think.
If you’re looking to become fluent then structured classroom lessons from the outset might be the best approach for you.
However, if you only want to chat with friends and order food comfortably, lessons are likely not the best approach.
It’s not uncommon for new learners taking lessons to become a little disheartened around the six-month mark. Around that time, they find that much of what they’ve learned isn’t all that useful in day-to-day life.
If you are planning to go the distance though, those introductory lessons will be laying important, essential groundwork for you to build upon. Even if they aren’t useful in the short term.
If you are just want to get started in Korean, and perhaps become conversational one day, phone apps and online lessons are probably the way for you.
Is Korean Your First Second Language?
If you’ve already learned a second language, that will speed things along. You’ll know more about yourself, and what works best for you.
You’ll be able to work through lulls in your enthusiasm better, knowing that the payoff is worth it.
If you’ve already been through the process of learning any second language, you’ll likely be able to pick up Korean a little quicker than someone for whom Korean is their first second language.
What Languages Do You Know?
Pre-existing knowledge can really help. For example, while English is a subject-verb-object (SVO) language, Korean is a subject-object-verb (SOV) language.
This is a big difference and can really slow English speakers down when they begin learning Korean grammar. If you’re already familiar with other SOV languages, this familiarity could be a major time-saver for you.
Knowledge of Chinese is another big factor. Korean and Chinese share much of their heritage, and Korean once used Chinese symbols for their alphabet. Koreans still learn many of these symbols alongside Hangul, and it’s called Hanja (Chinese-Korean symbols).
Let’s look at 學. In Chinese, this means learn. It’s also the Hanja symbol for the Korean word, 학, and represents study or learning in Korean too.
If you were already familiar with that symbol through knowledge of Chinese, then you’d have a headstart on all of the below words in Korean:
|학부모||Parents (of students)|
You can easily see how some familiarity with Chinese would benefit you as you progress with Korean.
You might also consider just learning some Hanja (Chinese-Korean symbols) to help you with Korean.
How Can You Learn Korean More Efficiently?
For most people, consistent study over time is better than intense bursts of study occasionally.
Choosing a phone app that suits you can really help. That way you can dip in and learn a few words as you sit on the train home, or in a waiting room. Finding online lessons that work for you is also really helpful.
While they might not function as the main method of learning for most, these are absolutely a great supplemental option to help learn Korean.
Whether you’re just trying to pick up some words for a vacation, or you’re going the distance, don’t underestimate how much benefit you could get from consistent study with an app or website, even only for 20 minutes a day.
Apps such as Duolingo, Memrise, or Lingodeer are great jumping-off points. Discover the 15 best Korean learning apps.
Another great way to make daily contact with Korean is through reading stories. Learn more about how to make my StoryLearning® method work for you.
How Far Are You Willing to Change Your Lifestyle?
Huge numbers of people around the world learn English simply by watching English language television.
If you’re willing to watch Korean television exclusively, it could have a massive effect on the speed at which you pick up the language.
Very few people want to take it this far, however. Especially if you share your viewing with friends or a significant other.
There are some lesser things you can do without too much sacrifice. Consider watching your regular TV shows or movies with Korean subtitles where possible.
Knowing Yourself: What’s Your Personality Type?
Learning a language is a process that benefits from regular use. If you’re willing to use the Korean that you’ve learned as often as possible, that’s really going to benefit you.
If you’re in a position to use it, you should be doing it every chance you get!
Some people are happy to get stuck in and will use what little they know whenever they can, even if that means making mistakes. If you have that confidence, go for it!
Many others don’t feel comfortable doing this and don’t like to get stuck in unless they’ve perfected what they already know. And that’s fine too!
The Big Question: How Long Does It Take To Learn Korean?
If we’re talking about achieving fluency in Korean there’s no way to dance around the fact that it will take a considerable amount of time.
However, if you just want to be conversational, it’s a different story. Korean is a fun and relatively quick language to pick up and use.
Assuming you study for 1-2 hours a day, you could be using basic Korean within a couple of months, and you could be making simple conversation within six months.
Above all, it’s absolutely essential to understand your goals. If you know for certain that you plan to go the distance and become a fluent Korean speaker, then taking the time early on to learn some Hanja (Chinese-Korean symbols) in addition to Hangul and Korean could pay dividends later on.
If you know all you’ll ever want to do is order food and chat with friends, learning Hanja would be a complete waste of your time.
To put it simply, it will really depend on you, your goals, your habits, and your personality!
That said, it simply doesn’t matter how long it takes. Learning any amount of a second (or third!) language is one of the most intrinsically satisfying things you can do.
So get stuck in!