Teaching Myself Korean

Last year I took a beginner’s Japanese class offered at my high school, and luckily I did because it gave me the opportunity to travel to Japan and South Korea. Currently, I am not taking another Japanese class–or any language class matter of fact–because of scheduling difficulties, and because of this, I decided to teach myself Korean.

In my opinion, Korean is harder to learn than Japanese as a native-English speaker. While in Japanese, there are three different alphabets–Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji–it may seem like a harder language to learn, but that isn’t the case. The Korean language only has one–Hangul. Though Korean only has one alphabet, it is more difficult to learn because Japanese characters are easy to romanize while Korean characters are not. There is no universal romanization of Hangul characters, so depending on what source you use you’ll get mixed results for the romanization. For me, it is hard to learn Hangul without the ease of romanization because a lot of the Hangul characters are extremely similar sounding and it is hard to find an English equivalent. The differences are easy for native-speakers, but as someone learning them, it can be extremely frustrating and confusing.

I don’t regret trying to teach myself Korean, but I do need to get better tools to learn Hangul and the rest of the Korean language. As I try to search for good tools to learn Korean without a teacher, I am becoming fairly knowledgeable about the programs offered on the internet.

Here are is what I think of different programs and how well they can teach a language. I talk broadly about the abilities of these programs, but my reviews are based on how well they can teach a language that doesn’t use Latin-based characters.

  • Duolingo: I like how the apps looks and all the different languages they offer. It does teach you Hangul, but not in a good way for someone just starting out. I like how many free lessons there are with very little advertisements you have to look at, and I like that you can earn achievements and join clubs to talk to people in your target language. I also like that it focuses on the idea of repetition for memorizing words and concepts of a language, but the constant notifications are kind of annoying. I think it is a very good app if you’ve already begun learning a language and want to build upon your knowledge. (Rating: 4 stars)
  • Memrise: I like the interface and how you are traveling through space. They do teach you the alphabet, but it’s similar to Duolingo for me. It isn’t good for someone just starting out, but it’s good for review. A lot of features are free, but the videos of real people speaking the language are not free so I don’t like that. You do have to pay for a good part of the app and they ask you a lot about upgrading, so that is annoying. They do offer a lot of languages, so there is a lot you can learn besides Korean. (Rating: 3 stars)
  • Mango Languages: I don’t like that it doesn’t teach you Hangul, and it doesn’t have a great organization of the vocab words. I do like that when learning the vocab words you learn the meaning, the literal meaning, and then the pronunciation. It also tells you when or how you use those words and the cultural meaning of different words. Not great for learning a language, but good for learning the culture behind the words. (Rating: 2 stars)
  • Lingo Deer: One of my favorites. I like that they give you an introduction to Hangul in note form with audio on pronunciation and shows how you position each character. Then it goes into lessons teaching you the vowels and consonants with flashcards that tell you the pronunciation and how to write them. It also has a lot of good lessons such as determiners, possession, greeting, negation, questions, etc. This app is fun, free, and easy to use, especially when trying to learn Korean from scratch. Besides Korean, they also offer Japanese, French, Spanish, Chinese, German, Portuguese, and Vietnamese. (Rating: 4 Stars)
  • Eggbun: Things I like about this app is that you learn while chatting with a bot, so it is a different way of learning a new language. It is also cute and easy to use, and the infographics on their blog are fun and teach you a lot of vocabulary and cultural facts. Things I don’t like about this app are that it is only for Japanese, Korean, and Chinese, and there aren’t a lot of courses on the app. I would recommend as a secondary app for learning Korean to review vocabulary and such, not as an app to teach you Korean alone.  (Rating: 3 Stars)
  • Babbel: Not good for learning Korean because they don’t offer it, but they do offer Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Norwegian, and Polish. I did test it out with Russian and it is okay, but only as a learning app for traveling. It does teach you the alphabet, but the way they do so is not great. (Rating: 2 stars)
  • Rosetta Stone: I like how the app looks and they offer a lot of different languages. For learning Korean, or any other non-latin based languages, it’s not great. It automatically starts with teaching you vocabulary words and never really teaches you the alphabet. I also don’t like how you only get a few lessons for free before you have to start paying. It is great to learn a couple vocab words before traveling to Korea, but as an app to actually learn the language it’s not great. It could actually be a good app, but I don’t want to pay to find out if it’s good or not. (Rating: 1 Star)
  • Mondly: Wouldn’t recommend this app for learning a language. You only get a few lessons for free, and even if you’re willing to pay the monthly fees, it’s only good for learning a language for a vacation. They do offer a lot of languages which is nice and the interface isn’t bad. (Rating: 1 Star)

(this list will update as I use more programs)

Don’t Be Afraid

People are afraid of traveling. It originates from the behavior of being afraid to try new things, and people need to stop being afraid.

Each society makes up stereotypes of other cultures to prevent people from traveling more and experiencing the world. This doesn’t protect us. It just makes us ignorant, racist, nationalistic, and it halts progression. Though nationalism isn’t inherently bad, in the past, it has been the cause for many atrocities, for example, World War 2.

The government warns the public about the “dangers” of a country to put fear into the general public, causing hatred and fear of that country and whoever comes from that country. This fear doesn’t apply just to traveling, it applies to immigration too.

A prime example is the group of people coming up from Central America. The president of the US uses certain negative words when talking about the group. Illegal; Crisis; Gang members; Invasion; Illegal aliens. These are some of the words and phrases that Trump uses to describe the people coming from Central America. People can be very impressionable, no matter what age they are. So when someone hears these negative words, especially from a person in power, they’ll believe them.

Before I went to Japan and South Korea, people in my life warned me about the dangers of the countries. The people who warned me of the dangers of Japan and South Korea have never been to Japan and South Korea. I didn’t listen to them because I already knew that fearing other countries is unwarranted. I felt safer in Japan and South Korea than I do in America; Everyone there is so kind. From my experiences, people are afraid to travel to Japan because of the stigma Americans still have from World War 2 and Pearl Harbor, and people are afraid to travel to South Korea because of the fear of nuclear war.

People are also afraid of traveling outside their comfort zone because supposed gang activity within a city. I’ve heard people tell me they are afraid to travel to New York City because they heard that a new gang is in the city and is making the city “dangerous”. I’ve heard this about every major city; Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow, Seoul, Los Angeles, etc.

People shouldn’t be afraid to travel outside of their comfort zone, both figuratively and literally. We as a collective need to stop isolating ourselves and fearing each other. We’re all the same, but we are also different. We need to connect with our similarities and accept that we are different to become a more global community.