The Ultimate Guide for Choosing Your Korean Language Course

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Intro:

Joseph Gerocs, 6 year resident of Korea and puer tea fan, gives an in-depth overview of some of the Korean language courses available. He is part of an online language-learning site called 90 Day Korean, an online rapid Korean language learning program. But that’s only one way to experience the love for language learning. Check out this write-up and map out your next Korean course mission!

“What’s the best way to learn Korean?”

This question pops up all the time, and there is no easy answer!

It’s not because of a lack of Korean learning material. There is all you could ever want of it available, ready to be studied, practiced, reviewed, and perfected.

Think of the available Korean material like the sun. Everyday, we get to experience it for hours, as much as we want. However, it’s not super useful unless we harness it towards a goal.

Intro:

Joseph Gerocs, 6 year resident of Korea and puer tea fan, gives an in-depth overview of some of the Korean language courses available. He is part of an online language-learning site called 90 Day Korean, an online rapid Korean language learning program. But that’s only one way to experience the love for language learning. Check out this write-up and map out your next Korean course mission!

“What’s the best way to learn Korean?”

This question pops up all the time, and there is no easy answer!

It’s not because of a lack of Korean learning material. There is all you could ever want of it available, ready to be studied, practiced, reviewed, and perfected.

Think of the available Korean material like the sun. Everyday, we get to experience it for hours, as much as we want. However, it’s not super useful unless we harness it towards a goal.

Maybe you want to use the sun to get a suntan.

Maybe you want to harness it using solar panels to make electricity to charge your cell phone.

Maybe you to want to use the sun to light your living room by building large windows in your house.

It’s the same principle with learning Korean. You have all the resources you need, but that doesn’t really help you until you have one critical piece.

A goal.

Or many goals.

Mainly, you should have specific ideas of what you want to do with the language.

For example, maybe you only want to use Korean for everyday conversations. That’s it. In that case, it’s better to put more emphasis on speaking and listening over reading and writing.

Or maybe you want to become a document translator for the sports industry. In that case, you’d want to focus on reading, writing, and vocabulary that are geared towards sports.

Once you have a goal, you want to refine it so you can know exactly what you want to focus on.

Some examples for goals are:

  1. Have a 10 minute conversation with a Korean local about fashion
  2. Read the full “Deathnote” series of comic books
  3. Order beer and soju at the neighborhood restaurant
  4. Marry a Korean and speak Korean to the in-laws
  5. Understand a full episode of Pororo

These are all very distinct goals.

Imagine what life would be like if you didn’t define your goals. How would you know where you should be heading?

For example, imagine you walk out of your house and see a brand new parked Mercedes Benz with your name on it. You glance down at your hand, and suddenly you’re holding the keys. Christmas came early this year!

You jump in the car, pull out onto the main road, and floor it. There’s no traffic, so you’re able to drive freely without anything getting in your way. Maximum efficiency! Your passenger casually asks, “Where are we going?” Hmm, good question. You don’t know, but that doesn’t matter to you, because you’re making great time!

It doesn’t make sense to do things this way, and that’s what a lot of language-learning attempts look like. It’s full speed ahead without any destination in mind. With that kind of strategy, it’s no wonder people give up so easily.

But not you! You’re different, and you’re going to figure out how to make this work so that language learning becomes a delightful activity instead of a dreadful chore.

If you’re not keen on goals, that’s fine too. Some people prefer to set up systems that lead them in the direction they want to go instead of having a definite end goal in mind. While you’re deciding on these systems, make sure you are taking into account what kind of skills you want to walk away with in the end.

Once you figure out your goals, it’s time to decide on the content you choose. Yes, this makes a huge difference! Let’s look at an example why.

Have you ever heard someone who is using English as a second language use a sentence like this in English?

“Yes, that time would be appropriate for me

What he meant to say was:

“Yes, that time would be good for me

Most people would probably use the second one in English, instead of the first. It sounds more natural. But there are times when you would use the word “appropriate” in order to be more precise.

Do you need to learn the word “appropriate” in Korean? Well, that depends on what kind of results you want to have! Depending on your goals, it may or may not be unnecessary.

Once you choose what kind of results you want, then you can choose the content that will match up with what you want to achieve. After that, it’s all about execution.

We’ll assume that you’re going to put this article on pause right here, evaluate your goals, and then pick up again after this sentence. We’ll wait right here until you get back.

Ok, welcome back! Now that you know where you want to go, let’s take a look at the different options for Korean courses. There are various ways to study, but we’ll cover the big seven. You may find it helpful to combine multiple courses, and it really depends on your resources and how fast you want to get to your destination.

Some of these options will be only for people who are currently in Korea. However, if you live outside of Korea, you can often find a similar alternative.

1. TOPIK

This is the big one, the Test Of Proficiency In Korean. Some common reasons why people take this test are: 1) for Korean residency, 2) to attend university, 3) to work at a Korean company, 4) love of tests, and 5) bragging rights.

Currently there is no speaking portion of the test. In true Korean fashion, it is focused on listening, reading, writing, vocabulary, and grammar.

This test is offered in Korea five times a year, and two times a year globally in various locations. This will increase to six times in Korea and 4 times globally starting in 2015. There are two different tests (TOPIK I and II). Depending on your score, you can receive six different level certifications (1급 – 6급). The registration fee for the test is 40,000 won.

Here is a breakdown of the times for each of the tests:

topik_korean

 

If you’re looking to level up with your TOPIK skills, check out the TOPIK Guide, which has plenty of great resources for the TOPIK that are easily accessible. You can also get the practice tests and information straight from the TOPIK website here.

This test is intensive, so make sure you have a clear purpose as to why you want to prepare for it.

TOPIK – Pros and Cons Summary
Pros (+) Cons (-)
Self-study possible No speaking component
Great vocabulary base Some test content is rarely used by Koreans
Useful test certification Little chance for conversing


2. University Course

If you’re set on learning lots of Korean fast, then a uni course may be the way to go if you:

  1. Are in Korea
  2. Have money resources
  3. Can dedicate the proper time
  4. Want to be well-rounded in Korean
  5. Enjoy learning in a classroom environment

Many of the universities in Korea have their strengths and specialties. For example, the Yonsei course is vocab and grammar-heavy. So if you were trying to prepare for the TOPIK, then this would be a solid choice. Sogang is known for being focused on speaking. If your goal is to be able to converse better, then check out Sogang University.

Let’s take a look at Yonsei as an example since they have the most well known university courses for learning Korean.

They offer various programs depending on what time frame you can commit to. For example, Yonsei offers a regular program, an evening program, an advanced program, a summer special program, and a 3-week program. Some of these are standardized times, while others may only be open if there are enough students who applied.

Their standard program structure looks like this:

  • 10 weeks per level
  • 200 hours total
  • 4 hours per day
  • 5 days a week
  • 10 weeks
  • Monday to Friday
  • 9am – 1pm or 1:40pm – 5:30pm
  • 6 levels total (1.5 years to complete)

The costs are:

  • 60,000 won application fee (newcomers)
  • 1,680,000 won tuition fee

If you’re thinking about heading down the university route, then scout out some universities and pay them a visit. Some things to consider when evaluating the program:

  1. Cost
  2. Location
  3. Focus of program (grammar, speaking, vocab, etc.)
  4. Program length
  5. Feedback from students
  6. Reputation
  7. Textbook
  8. Feel of the program

The last point is extremely important! You want to make sure you like the program you’re attending so you are motivated to go back. Some people have excellent experiences with university courses, and others regret ever applying. Trust your instincts when you drop in on the administration office. Are they warm and welcoming? Or do they treat you like you’re just another piece of paperwork they have to fill out? Ask what the curriculum will be like. Are they using a book from 10 years ago with dated content? Or does it look like they have fun material that will motivate you to learn? You may even want to ask to speak to a teacher so you can judge what taking a class there will be like.

Here is a list of 10 universities in Seoul with popular Korean language programs. Take a look where they are on your map, visit their website, and then pay them a visit.

Universities in Seoul
Yonsei University (http://www.yskli.com/_en/)
Sogang University (http://klec.sogang.ac.kr/root/index.php)
Seoul National University (http://language.snu.ac.kr/site/en/klec/main/main.jsp)
Dongguk University (http://iie.dongguk.edu/user/lieeng/index.action)
Hongik University (http://huniv.hongik.ac.kr/~korean/)
Konkuk University (http://kfli.konkuk.ac.kr/Korean/index.html)
Sungkyun University (http://koreansli.skku.edu/Main.php)
Korea University (http://klcc.korea.ac.kr/main.mainList.action?langDiv=2)
Kyung Hee University (http://eng.iie.ac.kr/)

If you’re not in Seoul, not to worry! We’ve got you covered all over Korea. Take a look at this list of universities  and see which ones are closes to you.

When you visit or email the universities, make sure to ask lots of questions. If you’ve clearly outlined your goals, then interviewing the universities and asking good questions should make it an easy choice.

Universities – Pros and Cons Summary
Pros (+) Cons (-)
Effective curriculum Expensive
Learn balanced Korean quickly Time-consuming
Experienced teachers Fast-paced


3. Hagwon Classes

Or academies, if you prefer to call them that. This is going to be a mixed bag, since hagwons differ greatly in terms of their schedule, programs, costs, and overall quality.

Your best bet is to pop in, interview a few of them regarding their programs, and see which one is the best fit to match your goals and schedule.

Since we’re talking hagwons, let’s jump into an example program to get a feel for what they’re like, and then we’ll leave you with a few options to get you started!

Let’s take a look at the Seoul Korean Language Academy, which not only has a great name, but also seems to be well known in Seoul. You can use their info and process as a benchmark, and then use that to compare their program to the other ones you are considering.

These guys offer three different kinds of classes: 1) Korean conversation, 2) TOPIK preparation, and 3) business Korean. Let’s choose #1.

seoul_kla_fees

Here’s one of the Ganada text books that they are using for the course for English-speakers.

You can register for these classes in-person or online. If you register in-person, then you’ll take a placement test before paying the tuition and starting classes. If you register online, you’ll pay first and take a placement test afterwards.

This academy offers a 100% refund as long as you cancel before the class starts. If you cancel after the class starts, then the refund amount is prorated. For example, if you cancel after taking half the classes, then you will get a 50% refund. Make sure you ask about the cancellation policy in detail, since some of the cancellation language can be a bit confusing.

Ready to hit the streets and meet some schools for a 1-on-1? Here’s list to get you started!

Hagwons in Seoul
Seoul Korean Language Academy (http://www.seoul-kla.com/)
Ganada Korean Language Institute (http://gkli.co.kr/)
Metro Korean Academy (http://www.mka.kr/)
Easy Korean Academy (http://www.edukorean.com/english/)
YBM SISA Academy (http://www.ybmedu.com/)

So how do hagwons stack up against the other Korean language learning choices you have? Let’s take a look.

Hagwons – Pros and Cons Summary
Pros (+) Cons (-)
Many locations Can be expensive
Interact with peers and teachers Quality varies
Structured curriculum Classes are cancelled if enrollment is low

4. Free Classes

Stash that cash way in the piggy bank, because you’re getting your Korean for FREE!
Well, these classes are not always for free, but they can be!

Many organizations in Korea offer free Korean classes. If you’re in Korea long enough and keep your ears peeled, you’re bound to hear about these gold mines of Korean language instruction. You’ll often hear about these classes offered at universities, religious groups, and government organizations.

“So what do you mean that they’re not always free?” you might be asking. Great question!

Some of the free classes require you to pay a small amount to cover the cost of printing the class material. It’s often only a few thousand won, so it’s not a huge expense.

In other cases, the class may have an attendance policy, so you’ll have to leave a deposit. If you don’t attend the classes, they get to keep your deposit.

Make sure you know the rules when you sign up!

Most importantly, just because a class is free, it doesn’t mean it’s worth going to. Your time is valuable, and you need to figure out if the class is going to get you to your goal.

For example, if your goal with learning Korean is to be able to explain the precise way you like your gimbap prepared, then you probably don’t want a class where the teacher is lecturing 95% of the time. If that’s the case, it’s time to switch up and look for something new. If the instructor encourages lots of student discussion, then stick with it.

Also take into account the travel costs associated with going to free classes. Long travel times are fine if you’re able to use that commute time to brush up on vocabulary or sing along to some of your favorite K-pop. However, if you know that you’re the type who needs to sit down and fully focus to retain what you’re studying, then find something closer to home.

Think tradeoffs!

So, if universities were offering free Korean classes, why would anyone ever pay for a university class?

The free university courses often go at a much slower pace, are held a few times a month, and are often taught by less experienced Korean teachers. The whole course curriculum is vastly different, and the levels of the students vary. Both options have pros and cons, but don’t expect a free university course to be anything like a paid course.

Have a look for yourself at the free classes offered, and see if any fit what you’re looking for:

Free Korean Classes in Seoul
Seoul Global Center (http://global.seoul.go.kr/) The Seoul Global Center and Global Village Centers around Seoul offer Korean classes at their various locations. Most classes are twice a week using the Sogang University book. A placement test and attendance are mandatory. Classes up to 3B as well as TOPIK preparation are available, depending on the location.
Sookmyung Korean Education Volunteers (https://www.facebook.com/groups/37465297519/) There are 6 different levels offered every Saturday at Sookmyung University from 3-5pm. There is no level test, you choose the level on your own. The total fee for each class is 3,000 won (1,000 won for the class and 2,000 won for the book).
Gal Wol Community Welfare Center (http://kongbubang.wordpress.com/) Four different levels of Korean language classes. Levels 1 & 2 are taught in English, and 3 & 4 are taught in Korean. Buying the class book is recommended, but not necessary. They ask for a 1,000 won donation to cover the cost of copies.
Social Integration Program (http://socinet.go.kr/) This is an intensive program offered by the Korean government for people who want to get residency in Korea. There are certain requirements you must meet in order to apply for the program. The website is all in Korean. There are 6 courses totaling 465 hours. The last course is advanced Korean, focused on discussing relevant issues in and affecting Korea.

yeoksam_korean

social_integration_seoul

These are some of the more popular and well-known free courses in Seoul. There are plenty more out there, but it’ll take some searching and asking around since many don’t have websites.

Since these are generally more slower-moving and less intensive courses than some of the other options, this would be a good choice for people who want to get some basic Korean down and are available when the classes are offered.

Free Classes – Pros and Cons Summary
Pros (+) Cons (-)
Free or low cost Slower-paced
Interact with peers and teachers Varied course quality
Low commitment Difficult to find and sign up for

 

5. Paid Online Courses

“Pay for online courses? Are you nuts!? I can get Korean lessons for free!”

True.

Well, the free lessons part anyway. But that’s not the whole story.

Many of the free content available online is organized by people in their spare time, or as hobby. It’s not their full-time job, so it’s not nearly as comprehensive as paid programs, both on and offline.

As a result, free courses and content requires the learner to put together a plan and figure out what need to be added to be comprehensive. The learner also needs to weed out the things that aren’t important.

This works well if you have the time and the focus to organize it yourself.

For some people, this becomes way too much of a headache.

For others, it’s a pleasure. To illustrate, it’s possible that you can learn to:

  1. Fix your clothes when a button falls off
  2. Change your oil every 3 months
  3. Install a new hard drive when your computer breaks

You spend some time learning this skill, and then you are able to do it in the future if it ever comes up again. No need to ask for assistance.

For others, time is way valuable and it’s more efficient to pay a professional to take care of those chores. Korean language learning sites are the same thing. You can cut down your learning time significantly by finding courses that have researched, evaluated, and organized the important content and broken it down into learnable chunks.

So first you need to decide how important your time is. If you have time, motivation, and fortitude to create a detailed learning plan, then you don’t need paid online lessons. There is plenty out there for you to create a detailed course.

If you’d rather follow a structured strategy, then start shopping around for courses. Online classes provide you the benefit of being able to learn Korean from any location that has a computer and an Internet connection. Some require you to be available during certain times (i.e. for live classes), some have weekly lessons, and others have no time frame at all.

There are dozens of online courses out there, so it’s best if you sample them and figure out which one suits your needs the best. Hop on Google, ask around to some friends, and try out at least three of the courses before you make your decision.

Paid Online Courses – Pros and Cons Summary
Pros (+) Cons (-)
Structured curriculum Quality varies
No travel time Little or no peer interaction
Can be done anywhere Not free


6. Free Internet Resources

This can be both a great and a terrible choice.

It’s great because:

  • You can study on your own
  • You can study at your own pace
  • There’s no set structure you need to follow
  • It doesn’t cost any money

It’s terrible because:

  • You can study on your own
  • You can study at your own pace
  • There’s no set structure you need to follow
  • It doesn’t cost any money

Yes, the same reasons!

Really this whole setup can be used for good or for evil, it depends on how you put it together.

Let’s start off with what NOT to do first, and then we’ll end on a positive with what TO do.

Don’ts

Let’s go over what happens so often in Korean language learning.

You get to Korea, and you’re super excited about learning Korean. There are all these options you have for classes, but there are also free lessons everywhere! Why spend your beer/coffee/bibimbap money on classes when you can get it for free?

You sign up for some Internet resources, maybe watch a few videos online. It’s not clear where you should start practicing, so you spend a few hours on the first thing you come across.

Then you realize that what you’ve been learning for the past few hours is super-formal, which is not how Koreans speak in everyday life.

Then you spend the next few lessons going over some specific grammar points, but you’re confused about the conjugation.

You go out to practice your newfound skills at the restaurant, and the server has no idea what you’re saying. You get flustered, and go back to using body language and pointing at the menus.

It happens all the time, and is one of the biggest complaints that people have about learning Korean. They do some self-study, try it out, and then get frustrated when nobody understands them.

Do’s

Start off with your goals, and then form a plan. Once you have a plan, map out how you’re going to get there with the free resources available. You may want to use multiple resources combined together, i.e. one for listening and one for writing correction.

Free resources can also be a supplement to what you’re already doing. For example, if you’re preparing for the TOPIK, then you can use Anki and the Dongsa Verb Conjugator to help you study for the test.

In the end, you need to decide whether or not free resources will get you to where you want to go. Think about the people you know who speak Korean really well. Likely, they fit in some or all of these categories:

  1. Went through a lot of schooling
  2. They are around Koreans all the time
  3. They are able to map out a plan and stick to it

If you fit in with any of these groups, then you’ll be able to leverage these resources properly.

If you need a study roadmap or you have limited time, then consider going with a planned curriculum and then using these resources as a bonus. If you find a good paid program that fits your goals, it will be a shortcut since you won’t have to spend the time evaluating what is necessary and what isn’t. Also, they will have effective ways of explaining what you are learning.

Here’s a list of free Korean resources to get you started!

Free Korean Internet Resources
Talk to Me In Korean (http://www.talktomeinkorean.com/)
90 Day Korean (http://90daykorean.com/hangeul-hacks/)
Sogang University (http://korean.sogang.ac.kr/)
Easy To Learn Korean (http://easytolearnkorean.com/)
Matthew’s Korean Study and Reference Guide (https://sites.google.com/site/matthewpluskoreanequalsfun/home)
Korean Grammar Dictionary (http://www.koreangrammaticalforms.com/index.php)
Dongsa Verb Conjugator (http://dongsa.net/?search=%ED%95%98%EB%8B%A4)
Lang-8 Writing Help (http://lang-8.com/)
Anki SRS Flashcards (http://ankisrs.net/)
Cineaste Korean Subtitles (http://cineaste.co.kr/index.php)

If you’re the type of person who can put together a great study plan, make sure to add in some interaction with Koreans! It’s great if you can get most of this organized on your own. However, since you’re not in a classroom setting with other students and teachers, make sure you are able to practice what you’re learning with real people.

Free Internet Resources – Pros and Cons Summary
Pros (+) Cons (-)
Free Lacks uniformity
Requires no travel time Requires discipline and organization
Can be done anywhere People don’t highly value “free”


7. Language Exchange

A language partner is a great way to practice your Korean!

Typically this is a one-on-one meeting between two people to practice their second language with a native speaker. In Korea, it’s often done at a cafe, 1-2 times a week for 2-3 hours per session. This will vary depending on you and your partner’s availability.

Let’s go over the good, the bad, and the successful.

The Good

This is a great way to make friends, and to get help with things that require a native speaker. For example, your language partner may be able to help you with registering for an online shopping mall. Or, maybe you want to know where Koreans go to get the best carrot cake!

The big benefit to this method is that you get to interact with a native speaker who can correct your pronunciation. In addition, you can ask your partner to help you choose which Korean will be suitable for your goal and which is rarely used. If you use any of the free resources available to you, you language partner can help you sort through them.

Extra bonus points for you if you speak better Korean than your partner does English (or whatever language you’re exchanging)!

You’ve probably heard of language exchange romances happening; so make sure you know that is a possibility. If you have absolutely no interest in dating, make your intentions clear from the start.

The Bad

Most language exchange partners are not teachers. Being a native speaker of a language and a proper language instructor are two different things! Make sure you choose someone who is going to be able to help you learn Korean effectively.

Probably the most frustrating part of language exchanges is the fact that they are so unreliable. It has less to do with the individual people and more with the overall structure of the concept. People become busy, more pressing obligations pop up, and usually the voluntary language exchange is the first to get the axe.

In addition, the actual language exchange is burdensome in two ways: 1) you are using effort to study, and 2) you are using effort to teach. It can feel surprisingly unappealing after a while. What usually happens is the partners meet for a few weeks/months, and then slowly one or both parties start to cancel. Weeks start to fly by, and suddenly it’s no longer a priority.

The Successful

Avoid these problems by organizing important criteria and interviewing at least three language exchange partners. You want someone who is competent, reliable, and compatible.

First, you want to make sure that your partner can actually teach you the language. If it seems like he or she is going to have a hard time answering your questions, then it’s time to move on.

Second, ask questions about your partner’s schedule. If your partner is coming from across town, after work, and is squeezing you in for 2 hours before another obligation, then you can bet that you’re likely to get cancellations. On the flipside, make sure that you are not overextending yourself. When choosing the time and location for the exchange, make it a spot where you know it will be easy for you to show up. If it becomes a chore in any way, it’ll be that much easier for you to cancel. Predict your behavior, and set life up to make the exchange a welcomed event.

Lastly, choose a partner who you’ll get along with. If your partner bores you to tears, sets world records for talking, or reeks of alcohol every time you meet, then you’re not going to want to endure two hours of punishment.

Language Exchange Resources
Hanlingo (http://hanlingo.com/)
Meetup Language Exchange Cafe (http://www.meetup.com/Language-Exchange-Cafe/)
My Language Exchange.com (http://mylanguageexchange.com/)
Language Exchange – Pros and Cons Summary
Pros (+) Cons (-)
Practice with a native speaker No structure
Choose your own learning environment Language exchange, or dating exchange?
Make your own schedule Free isn’t highly valued

Hopefully this gives you a good overview of what Korean language learning choices there are out there. We couldn’t fit them all into one article, but this should give you a bird’s eye view of what each one is like so you can make your decision.

The main takeaway we want you to leave here with is that you need a goals and a plan. If you have clearly defined what you want and how to get there, then you’re much more likely to keep progressing and improve your language skills. More importantly, it’ll be easier to decide which activities are helping you and which ones are wasting your time.

So what are you waiting for? Today is a great day to start your new Korean language-learning plan! Remember the sagely Korean proverb:

“시작이 반이다”

(“well begun is half done!”)

Closing:

Joseph is part of 90 Day Korean, a rapid Korean language learning program that people can do from anywhere they have an internet connection and a computer. 90 Day Korean focuses on the 80/20 Rule and psychology, so learners can easily remember the 20% of Korean that is used 80% of the time.

Want to learn Korean? Stop by their site for the free Hangeul Hacks series to be reading and conversing in Korean in less than 4 hours.



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