While self study means a certain level of flexibility, I would suggest you to at this stage stick with one set of structured teaching material.
While reading language learning blogs or watching YouTube videos here and there to learn Korean are fine, I am not sure they are structured enough or comprehensive enough to cover all the grammar concepts. It is very important to build a solid foundation of beginners grammar on which your language learning will base on. Also while going through the course materials, it is critical that you listen to the recorded lessons that usually accompany the materials to start training your ears to spoken Korean.
Below are some of the online materials that you may consider:
Talk to me in Korean (TTMIK)
This is what I have used myself as a beginner and I happily recommend it.
They have both an app and a comprehensive website. I used their free grammar courses which is either available from the app or by creating an account on the website. These grammar courses are in both PDFs and recordings. I printed out the PDFs, went through them while listening to the recorded courses at the same time. It took me a relatively short period of time to master all the basic grammar concepts. And the good news is that the basic grammar courses are free!
When you have completed up to their Level 3 or 4, we can say that you have more or less graduated from beginner level.
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Do I need to buy the hardcopy textbooks and workbooks from TTMIK if I use them?
Despite how I love TTMIK, I do not really recommend the printed course books and workbooks which you have to pay for. I do not feel they add a lot of value on top of the free courses.
Do I need to pay for their premium membership?
As compared with their printed textbooks and workbooks, their premium content is quite comprehensive and useful. I did not pay for their premium membership myself but if there are any premium course you want to take in particular, you can try it out for one month to see if it is useful for you.
How to study Korean
Free, comprehensive website with abundant examples and very detailed explanations
Because it is extremely detailed, I use it mainly when I need to clarify on or need further examples on certain concepts. I personally feel that if used as a basic curriculum it is somewhat too detailed that it may be overwhelming at the start. Also don’t forget to click on the audio buttons to train your listening at the same time!
Similar to TTMIK, the beginner stage consists of Unit 0 – 3 or 4.
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This is a more established Korean learning site and was the Go-To site before TTMIK came into existence. This is a paid service with a free trial. I have read mixed reviews on this site but the common consensus seems to be that TTMIK is better.
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Billy Go’s Beginner Korean Course
Another alternative if you like to learn by youtube videos
Billy Go has recently become fairly popular among Korean learners because the instructor is very energetic and funny and his explanations are thorough and clear. This is nice for people who prefer videos over written / audio lessons. What is best is that the complete set of youtube beginner course is free! However there are a couple of caveats so I personally won’t recommend it:
– There are no free intermediate or advanced video courses so continuity is a problem.
– The sequencing of the lessons seems weird e.g. you only learn numbers and how to count in lesson 61(?!)
– He has an accent in Korean that me as a non-native can also detect.
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What if I want to study with a set of hardcopy course materials?
Yes of course!
Just that the key issue is that they are usually written to support in-person classroom courses and lack detailed explanations. In addition the traditional method usually bases on situational dialogues (self introduction, ordering in a restaurant etc) and try to build up grammar and vocabulary at the same time. This is different from the more novel approaches used by the above providers. I personally feel that the lack of laser focus on grammar concepts delays the time when I get the freedom to browse, read and listen to materials outside of the textbook.
Having said that, because of good online reviews, I have recently got my hands on a copy of Korean Grammar in Use and fall in love with it immediately. As its name suggests, it puts laser focus on grammar, similar to the online materials suggested above. With the benefit of hindsight I can say that its explanations are not only short and sweet, but also addresses confusing concepts and common mistakes made by beginners quite elegantly. Looking back I kind of wish I had used this book because I would actually rate this above any of the above free resources.
Another set of textbooks Vitamin Korean 비타민 한국어 is also gaining popularity recently for which I have written a review here.
One type of book you must avoid is phrase books of the likes of ‘101 common Korean phrases in daily conversations’. It is meaningless to just learn the pronunciation of words and phrases without a strong grammar foundation. Except for 안녕하세요 and 감사합니다, chances are that Koreans will not understand what you are saying if you only imitate the sound of the phrases.
Don’t even bother with learning the romanisation of the Korean alphabet, ie 한글 is just 한글, don’t bother with ‘hangeul’. It is like learning English by converting all its words and letters into your own language.
Note of caution on online materials especially blogs and IG accounts
I have seen on a fair number of occasions that information on basic Korean grammar concepts are wrong in smaller blogs and IG accounts dedicated to Korean learning. Some of them are even providing tutoring at a fee and selling Korean learning materials. I would suggest to:
🚩Use reputable course material such as those above as the backbone of your studies
🚩Check the qualification of blog writers / IG account owners (e.g. Native Korean, TOPIK level, Korean teaching diploma / degree). If there aren’t any mentioned, take what they say with a pinch of salt and I won’t suggest paying for anything they sell.
🚩Cross-check information from multiple sources
🚩Use a textbook as supplemental reference material. Although I don’t think the textbook approach is the most effective, I have never in any instance find glaring errors in published textbooks. Afterall the publisher would have vetted the qualification of the writer and any book would go through editorial review for accuracy. It is much harder to publish a book than setting up an IG account.