Most expats in Korea have had the grand idea of learning the local language when they arrive, or at least picking up enough phrases to get by.
But at some point, we may come to feel something along the lines of what John Huer wrote in a recent editorial in the Korea Times (“Why Is Korea So Strange?” Jan 30th):
“Linguists and anthropologists the world over routinely list the Korean Language as one of the most difficult languages, if not the most difficult, to learn. . . as a blessing, the language has protected Korea’s identity like a secret code.”
Koreans themselves are openly shocked to see foreigners who can stumble through a basic greeting. It is tempting to think of it as impenetrable, perversely complicated, and perhaps impossible.
The truth, however, is that Korean may not be as difficult as you’ve been thinking. First of all, the writing system, although completely new to you, is surprisingly easy to learn. It is phonetic and has only 24 basic characters. And Koreans themselves are possibly some of the most gracious listeners on the planet.
Even the slightest effort at using their language will result in either profuse compliments at your superb Korean, or guttural laughter at how you used that expression so well and so unexpectedly. (Granted, there may be occasional laughter if you use it wrong, too.) Koreans are also enthusiastic about teaching their language, which is why there are so many wonderful places to get Korean lessons for free all over this country.
Presuming that you don’t live in the middle of nowhere, you ought to be able to find something appropriate from the massive list of Korean language exchange clubs, free classes, cheap classes, not-so-cheap classes, and immersion programs you’ll find below.
And even if you can’t find anything nearby, get creative. Call or visit the nearest university, local churches, the YMCA, the city office, and community centers and ask about Korean classes. Often they will simply arrange volunteers to teach you regardless of whether there are already organized classes going on.
Finally, check out the list of Korean language resources at the end of the article to find ways to carry on your studies by yourself. Whether through a class, a book, or a website, you can take the first step on your Korean journey today.