11 tips for keeping up your Korean language skills

So you’ve begun your Korean journey? Use it or lose it!

After a year studying Korean at an intensive hakwon (private institute) in Gangnam and a year on exchange at universities in Seoul (Chung Ang University) and Daejeon (KAIST), I was impressed with my own progress and quickly picked up the language. But a year after returning home to Adelaide, I’ve found it hard to get that same improvement. The first obvious solution is to find a language school, but there were none in Adelaide up to my intermediate level. I brought back many textbooks from Korea but don’t have the time or discipline to work through them. So I’ve put together some tips for Aussies at home wanting to keep up Korean language study or get started. Beyond books and classes!


1) Write a Korean journal

No matter how basic your Korean skills are, put pen to paper! The sentences you practice will be simple at first but will be really useful for your conversation practice later! Fill in with English words where you have to, and get the translations into your vocab for next time. Get someone to read through the entries you are comfortable with to check the basics; sentence structure, grammar, contextual vocabulary etc. I send one page every few days to different friends over Kakao talk, or to some of my Korean tutors. Great to check your progress too!

2) Make Korean friends

Spread the word you’re looking to reach out to Koreans in your town and you will be surprised how many new friends you can have! When moving back to Australia, I took a part-time job in a Korean café where they needed native English speakers to assist the customers, but still use Korean in the kitchen and with other staff. If you are a student, get in touch with the international student associations and offer to support incoming international and exchange students from Korea. It was so great to welcome these students to Australia by taking them out for local fun and at the same time practicing my Korean conversation.


3) Download podcasts

After starting full-time work, I didn’t have the time or the energy to tackle Korean textbooks, attend classes or even stick to writing my Korean journal. So I use my daily commute for a regular dose of listening comprehension. Talk to Me in Korean (TTMIK) has a free podcasts with Korean lessons you can follow with the books (I just stick to the podcasts). My favourite TTMIK podcast is their ‘iyagi’, natural talk series which is completely in Korean. It’s amazing how much you can understand of the simple conversations, and pick up some really useful phrases! 1 Minute Korean on their YouTube channel is also your best value for time! Which brings me to…


4) Watch YouTube

Videos are a great way to keep engaged in learning a language. From beginners learning Hangul pronunciation to advanced learners wanting to practice listening comprehension without subtitles, those wanting to learn about the culture, or see some hilarious country comparisons. I started off with the Arirang Radio series ‘Catch the Wave’, where I learned some really useful everyday phrases like “Hey, you dropped this” and “Can you take a photo of us”. These days there are plenty of inspiring Korean learners that I watch for motivation, namely Hoju Sara (호주 사라) and Englishman (영국 남자), World of DaveChoNunMigookSaram, and Margarita (엠쌤) who show you how good your Korean can be when you stick to it!

5) Sing at Karaoke

Arguably, the most common motivation for studying Korean is K-PoP. Embrace it. Practice reading lyrics and your pronunciation will become flawless. Forget comprehension here (The lyrics make more melodic than grammatical sense), just focus on wrapping the words around your tongue and recognising the characters and sounds. You’ll find smashing it in the noraebang (karaoke room) will give you way more motivation to study than memorising a textbook! Start by saving the lyrics to your favourite song in hangul (Korean characters), and reading it through a few times without the music. When you’re comfortable, set the song in the background to 0.5x speed, and work your way up from there with a read along. I am not a huge K-PoP fan myself, but HipHop and RnB proved a challenging and rewarding alternative nonetheless.


6) Find a Korean church

Most cities will have a Korean community, who offer services in Korean and weekend classes for Australian-born Koreans or those marrying into a Korean family. I went to Saturday school at a church where I could bring my own homework, practice Korean conversation or just take the prepared class! I found this school by asking around my local Korean shopkeepers and professors.


7) Attend Australia-Korea events

Stay connected with the many groups that support Australia and Korea business, youth, language and culture. I make an effort to help at the King Sejong Institute at my university, and subscribe to every twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook account that has anything to do with Korea in Australia. You never know when a scholarship or event will come your way through those channels! It is important to seek out the Korean delegates at these events and practice your formal introductions. Your confidence and network will grow exponentially!


8) Set your own homework

Write a blog, read the Korean news every morning, read a book in Korean, write an email to a friend or fan-mail. Set yourself a task, a large meaningful chunk of Korean writing or comprehension and you will work through it with purpose. I usually send the finished product to one of my many unofficial Korean tutors and helpful friends to point me in the right direction.


9) Use language exchange and meet-up apps

If casting your social net failed to bring you and Korean friends, go online. Study abroad and working holiday Koreans are constantly in and out of Australia looking to improve their Aussie slang and more than happy to help you on your Korean journey! HelloTalk, Tandem, and iTalki (this is more for structured online lessons) are two Korean supported apps that I have heard used in Australia.

10) Set your phone Language to Korean

Get used to seeing Korean constantly, every day. Trust me, it won’t be too much of a disaster! Most words are just Konglish; Bluetooth, Mobile Data, Download and many more don’t have any translation, they are just written in Hangul. Your frequently used apps will not need much adjusting, and everything is in the same place. Just make sure you know the basics of save, copy, paste delete and edit!


11) Ditch the English translations

I found Korean verbs and grammar to get increasingly more complex and didn’t make any sense. When I compared it to English that is! Get into a Korean mindset! Don’t learn new words and phrases as direct translations to English, there is often no logical equivalent. My a good example is;

A: Fried Chicken how?

B: Hate!

Which is the confusing direct translation of;

A: 치킨 어때? (How about chicken?)

B: 싫어! (No thanks!)


And finally…


Use it or lose it!

Speak Korean to yourself, your family, and your friends. They’ll get used to it (Or you can find new friends!) Putting everyday words into Korean is a way I keep familiar and comfortable with the language.

I hope these simple tips can help you improve your Korean while you are living in Australia. It will help you and the Koreans you get in contact with. Check out Asia Options’ Korean section for more tips on language and look forward to more study and work hacks from me!

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Michelle is an engineering student in Adelaide. She was the first Korean Fellow of the New Colombo Plan, studying for 1 year in Daejeon and Seoul. Since returning to Aus she continues her love of Kareoke, Kimchi and Korean!

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