Published: Dec, 26, 2022 | By: Lucas Weaver
So you've just finished watching It's Okay Not to be Okay or The Extraordinary Attorney Woo Young Woo on Netflix, and now you're checking flights to Seoul… right?
Or maybe you've just listened to BlackPink's Pink Venom for the 1,000th time on repeat, and you're just dying to know what Jisoo is singing.
I can tell you from my current personal experience that learning Korean is a lot of fun, and each step of the language learning journey can be very rewarding.
But time is money, and even though we'd all love to have endless time for language learning, the truth is that our personal and professional lives usually leave us little time to learn a new language.
So once you've caught the K-bug, it's only a matter of time before you find yourself asking: "How long does it take to learn Korean?"
This is one of the first questions people who want to learn a language ask, but unfortunately, there's no easy way to answer it.
However, I'm going to try. Below I've detailed how long it takes to learn Korean broken down by each level.
(To jump quickly to the level you're most interested in, click one of the links below.)
Learning a language is a complicated process that varies for everyone and depends on many factors. So, is it worth spending time on? Can you get anywhere with Korean in a reasonable amount of time?
The short answer is yes. And as you'll read below, even factoring in the significant amount of time it will take you, learning Korean is definitely worth it.
There is no such thing as an "easy Asian language" to learn. Still, some things about the Korean language make it easier to understand than others.
The good news is that one thing that makes it easier to learn Korean is that its writing system, Hangul, is straightforward. Unlike many Latin-based languages, everything is spelled as it sounds.
(Read this post if you're interested in knowing how hard Korean is to learn.)
However, I'll be transparent and tell you there are quite some difficulties.
But don't get discouraged. It's so fun to speak that you'll never look back once you start speaking it a little!
Hangul is one of the few alphabets worldwide with a clear link between the symbol and the sound.
It's not a pieced-together version of an older writing system like most other modern writing systems. It was specially designed by King Sejong the Great of the Joseon Dynasty, in the 15th century.
Some people don't agree with this "single origin" theory of the creation of Hangul. Still, Sejong had a vast influence on Hangul and its simplicity, whether or not he was the sole creator.
His goal in creating it was to empower all of his subjects to be able to read written historical and government documents, taking away the power that at the time was exclusively held by the government elite.
In general, Hangul is well-thought-out and easy to learn. Since King Sejong's primary goal in making this script was to get people to read and write, he made it easy to understand in just a few minutes.
The saying goes: "A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a fool can learn them in the space of ten days."
I have to say that I fit into the "fool" category. Hangul is certainly simple to learn and understand. However, the main problem I had was that many lessons directed toward English speakers can be misleading.
I found their comparisons with English letters and sounds often could have been better chosen and often caused me more difficulty later. Also, the special consonants can throw many for a bit of a loop.
So how long will it take you to learn Hangul?
On average, you can learn Hangul in 3 days if you study intensively (4 hours a day) or seven days if you study for about 2 hours a day.
For me, this involved writing the letters repeatedly until I memorized each letter and their sound and then quizzing myself over and over. Then I practiced making words and sounds using multiple letters.
Once you've conquered Hangul, it's time to move on to learning Basic Korean.
Q: How long does it take to learn the Korean alphabet? A: 3 days of intensive study or seven days of regular study
Like all languages, there are levels when it comes to learning Korean. At the basic level, you'll need to start learning beginner vocabulary words and the basic functionality of Korean grammar.
There are some complex rules for Korean grammar. When you first start to learn Korean, the way sentences are put together and how verbs are changed are very different and potentially problematic for native English or European language speakers to understand.
The bright side is that the basics of Korean can be learned in about a week or, at most, a month once you've made the mental switch to how it works.
It has simple spelling, which makes it easy to learn and write (unlike English or French). Often in Korean, you don't use the subject, so the sentences you have to speak are usually shorter.
When language learners want to know how long it will take to learn a second language, they often look to the United States Foreign Service Institute (FSI) estimates.
The FSI concludes that you must study Korean for about 2200 hours to get from a complete beginner to the advanced level, or 88 weeks of intensive studying.
Below we'll take a look at each level and determine how much you'll need to study to get there, as well as what you'll be able to do with Korean at each level.
Once you've learned the alphabet and the basic grammar, you'll be able to understand essential Korean words and common phrases, making it much easier to start using the language.
From my experience, you can learn a few helpful basic phrases that will help you travel in Korea in just about two to three weeks of daily study.
Hello and goodbye
Please and thank you
Where is the bathroom?
Ordering food and drinks
Numbers 1-5 for ordering food
Q: How long will it take me to learn Korean at a "survival" level? A: Two to three weeks of daily study
As with any time you want to learn a language, if you want to learn Korean beyond just those basics I mentioned above, you'll need about a month of serious study, at least an hour a day.
This will enable you to do things like:
These skills will allow you to go beyond the basic survival skills and greatly benefit any travel you do in Korea. It takes you to a new level of appreciating the warmth and helpfulness of Korean people. And as a bonus, they'll treat you even better.
Q: How long does it take to learn Korean for travel purposes? A: 30 days of daily 1-hour study.
If you studied Korean for 2 hours every day for 90 days, you could hold a 3-minute conversation in Korean.
Don't let this fool you, though. Three minutes is a long time!
I used to make my English course students do a 3-minute speech about a random topic during their last lesson to certify their conversational fluency, and man, did they struggle more than they thought they would. (Sometimes even native English speakers struggle to talk for 3 minutes straight!)
At this level, you will have a small vocabulary. Still, you'll be able to have short conversations about things you already know. You can also learn how to differentiate between formal and informal settings.
This will also be the point where you can start practicing your skills with native Korean speakers, getting them to correct you, and help teach you better vocabulary.
It will take three to six months to learn Korean enough to reach this level with some conversational fluency, depending on how often you study. Your Korean vocabulary word list would be between 1500 and 2000 words.
Knowing how to spell Korean and having a solid foundation in basic grammar is essential. If you have this foundation, it will be easy to move forward.
By the middle of the intermediate level, it's usually easier to understand the grammar rules, and you should now have the required skills to take the TOPIK test - The test of Proficiency in Korean.
Now, you can follow news stories and social issues and understand abstract ideas in Korean. Not only will you have a good grasp of Korean society and culture, but you can also understand essential idioms and other aspects of Korean culture.
If you want to learn Korean to the intermediate level, it will take you anywhere from one to two years of consistent study, which totals about 600 hours of studying.
The good news is that once you get to this level, you can start learning more advanced grammar rules and a more comprehensive range of verb conjugations, which will put you closer to Korean fluency.
Keep in mind that any time you are learning a new language, don't let yourself get intimidated by the advanced content in the beginning. Once you've mastered the lower level building blocks and made your way through the intermediate levels, the advanced new language content won't seem nearly as daunting.
Q: How long does it take to reach the intermediate level of Korean? A: 600 hours of study
Still, you can expect to spend at least 1,500 hours to reach fluency in Korean as a complete beginner.
Once you're fluent in Korean, you can use Korean professionally for research or work. You will also be able to speak, read, and write Korean fluently and correctly in a professional or academic setting.
Now you should be able to watch Korean movies without subtitles, read Korean books, and listen to Korean music (Yes, now you can finally sing along to Jisoon from BlackPink!).
The best thing to do is move to South Korea to get to this level. Once here, you'll be fully immersed in authentic Korean every day. You'll hear new accents, slang words, and idiomatic phrases that you most likely won't find in a grammar book.
And more importantly than that, you can use and enjoy your Korean fluency!
Q: How long does it take to become fluent in Korean? A: At least 1,500 hours
Now that I've hopefully answered your original question of how long does it take to learn Korean, let me dive into why it takes so long to learn and master, as well as how hard to learn the Korean language is.
About 77 million people speak Korean as their first language. It is the national & official language of both South and North Korea. People with Korean roots also speak it in many countries worldwide, including the U.S., China, Japan, Russia, and Ukraine.
Linguists are especially interested in the Korean language because it's a "language isolate" – meaning it's the only language in its own family.
While, like Japanese, it was influenced by Chinese, the language known today was formed in its bubble with its own words, patterns, and history. Korean is also different from Japanese in how it sounds; there are more consonants and vowel sounds in Korean than in Japanese.
When it comes to ease of learning a foreign language, Asian languages don't exactly have the reputation of being "easy".
Some assume Korean is hard to learn because it is an East Asian language, like Chinese or Japanese. But it's easier to learn Korean as a second language than other East Asian languages for various reasons.
Korean and Japanese take many words from the language of China. Like English borrowed from Latin and Greek, Korean and Japanese borrowed Chinese words and roots.
Also, unlike Chinese, Korean is not a tonal language, meaning that a word means the same thing no matter how you say it or what accent you might accidentally have.
The Korean alphabet, called Hangul, is another thing that makes it stand out. It is one of the few languages with a unique alphabet.
There are so many great reasons why you want to learn Korean. For one thing, it will give you a chance to learn firsthand about Korean culture. And after all, the point of all language learning is the experiences you can gain from it.
Korea's rich cultural heritage, which includes music, art, literature, dance, architecture, clothing, and food, is a beautiful mix of old and new.
The neon-lit streets of Seoul are full of energy and life that few cities can match. Learning Korean allows you to tap into that lively atmosphere and enjoy all the city and its people have to offer.
On top of that, the food in South Korea is incredible, and speaking with people at restaurants and getting precisely what you want can take your experience to a whole new level.
South Korea is one of the world's economic powerhouses; every year, it draws many tourists and international businesses. It is the USA's seventh-largest trading partner and sixth-largest exporter.
If you're looking to take advantage of some of the lucrative professional opportunities enabled by Speaking Korean, you can work as a Korean translator, a teacher in colleges and private schools, a logistics businessperson, tourism or the hotel and travel business.
The country has slowly let more and more people in. At the same time, Korean companies are spreading out all over the world.
Even if you only know a little Korean, it can help you break the ice with business contacts or coworkers.
The learning process always requires you to dig deeper than just the surface to know enough about a subject to experience real value. The further you dig, the more you'll learn—the same goes when learning Korean. To be good at it, you need to know more than just the essential words and rules of grammar.
In all of the timelines I provided earlier for how long it will take to learn Korean, I gave a range of time. How fast you learn the language will depend on several factors.
Only you know why you're learning and what you want to achieve. As with most things, though, the more you focus, the faster you'll learn Korean.
The way to stay focused during your language learning is to keep your motivation high.
It's not a secret that these two things are among the most important keys to a successful language learning journey. Make sure to define your motivation at the outset of your course and revisit it when you're feeling low.
Your drive keeps you studying day after day, even when you're frustrated because you're learning something difficult to understand.
The faster you can learn to speak Korean, the more hours a day you spend studying it. Your time commitment is also related to how effectively and efficiently you learn languages.
For example, you might learn new Korean words every day, but it might take you more or less time than average to memorize them.
If you know how fast you study and how easily you typically learn new information, you can figure out how much you'll improve if you change how long you study.
Total immersion is one of the most effective ways to pick up a new tongue. Don't freak out, though, if you can't take a gap year to study Korean in Seoul because of financial constraints.
You can immerse yourself in Korean culture without leaving your home. Try actively watching Korean dramas (K-dramas) and Korean movies or listening to K-pop songs to improve your Korean vocabulary.
(Keep in mind that my answer to "how long does it take to learn Korean?" is not factoring in you actually moving to South Korea, but that would be a huge bonus!)
Before moving to Korea, I was almost exclusively listening to K-rap and watching K-dramas for nearly the previous two months. It helped me when I started seriously trying to learn the language.
Already having a feel for the language and knowing how Korean words should sound will help you a ton when you first start and save you time.
Hopefully we've demonstrated that there are many different answers to the question "how long does it take to learn Korean?"
But more than that, hopefully now you can determine what your Korean language learning goals are and can identify how long it will take to become fluent or learn Korean to the specific level you need.
As I've explained above, language learning is no easy task, but it's a noble one. You'll always have your native language to fall back on. But becoming fluent in Korean is something you could put on your gravestone.
You're probably at least halfway serious about studying Korean if you've come this far reading this blog post. Well, if you want to learn Korean and you want some help along the way during your language learning journey, let us help you.
We've got access to several great Korean teachers who can teach you what you need to know to reach fluency, and are genuinely excited to help their students learn Korean. Our teachers know that learning a language comes with challenges, and no matter how long it takes to learn Korean, they're prepared to support you to reach your goals.
So stop asking how long does it take to learn Korean, and start asking "When can I start my first lesson?"
Lucas Weaver founded The Weaver School in 2016. He's passionate about using the latest learnings in neuroscience and education to create the best language learning experience possible for our students, so they can quickly build effective language learning habits that will last for years. Lucas is a graduate of Texas A&M University and after 7 years of living in the Netherlands, he is currently traveling through Southeast Asia while learning their languages along the way.
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