4 min read

how to learn korean, again

how to learn korean, again
fitting photo by insung yoon / Unsplash

I'm learning Korean again!

I studied for a year, dropped it for a year, and now I'm back.

In this article, I'll share how I'm planning to approach it.

first, I have to enjoy the process

learning Korean will take years, maybe 6-10 years.

the end goal is so far off, so it's not about the end goal. realistically i will quit before i get there.

so it's about having fun along the way.

and ironically, having fun is what will help me be consistent with my learning.

other skill building is the same TBH.

also, I need to celebrate my small daily wins, and establish each language learning habit one at a time.

3 ways to learn a language

there are a few competing schools of thought for language learning:

  • traditionalist methods - how languages are taught in school, with an emphasis on explicit grammar and vocab instruction
  • output-oriented methods - focus on lots of output, especially speaking
  • input-oriented methods - focus on lots of input, listening and/or reading

there's a lot of debate on the internet on the subject.

I favor input-oriented methods, since it's the most fun to me, and it fits my goals (to understand kdramas). Also some research to back this approach.

One study even found that after two years in an input-based class, students performed as well (or better) than those in a more traditional class, including on measures of speaking—even though they never practiced it.

- Scott Young

But I see the point of grammar and vocab study when you're starting out, to make your input comprehensible. Very important.

I do want to do a lot of output, but later in my language learning journey. For now, i'll just do a bit. Maybe more closer to when I actually visit Korea!

What Does Research Say is the Best Way to Learn a Language? - Scott H Young
A review of How Languages are Learned, covering the evidence behind six popular language-learning approaches.


in this first phase of language learning, I want to focus on the following activities:

  • active immersion via reading
  • active immersion via watching
  • passive immersion via listening
  • anki (vocab)
  • grammar study
  • italki (tutoring)

Active immersion is the most important, whether it be watching or reading. It's helpful to bias towards watching first (visual context helps), but eventually reading will help you pick up new vocabulary the fastest (word density). Passive listening can help a lot as well, and help you get the hours you need in the target language. Grammar is important to speed-run at the early stages so you can start recognizing it in your immersion, but don't bother with the nuances - you'll pick that up as you immerse. Vocab is really important - if you memorize the top 1500 words that'll take you really far. Try very very hard to make SRS/Anki work for you. And the right tutor on Italki can be a ton of fun.

tracking / establishing the habits

every day, i will do at least 1 activity related to Korean, hopefully more activities most days. then I will update this spreadsheet and text my friend Ray that i did my Korean for the day. I've already updated it since sunday!

yay accountability! if I don't update the sheet/text, he must call me out.

full plan

here's how i want to approach each activity:

  • active immersion - watching. I want to watch a mix of native content and comprehensible input. native content is more enjoyable, but CI is more efficient for learning. native content, you basically play "vocab bingo' trying to pick out the words you know. which is still helpful, but not as efficient. CI I generally want to watch raw (no subs). native content, I will do dual subs with...
    • TOOL HIGHLIGHT - LANGUAGE REACTOR CHROME EXTENSION. Basically, it lets you get dual subs on Netflix and Youtube. AND it has a popup dictionary, auto pause, and native language blur, all which make native content a bit more comprehensible and useful in learning.
      • I'm so happy, this makes watching kdramas more educational :)
    • for now, i'm just going to listen very intently, but perhaps in the future i will move to saving sentences to Anki and doing more active study that way.
  • active immersion - reading. again, reading is great because the word density is high compared to watching. eventually, i might make this my primary activity, if i enjoy it as much as i did reading English as a kid. one day i'll read Harry Potter in Korean. for now, I'll use graded reader books to start. I'm also considering using graded reader apps if they help me stick to reading more, like TTMIK Stories or LingQ.
  • passive listening - I will repetitively listen to content i've actively consumed. this is some people's main strategy so i will not underestimate the importance of this!
  • anki - necessary evil IMO, spaced repetition software really helps you retain vocab. I hope to do top 1000 words (already done 500) and then eventually move onto ~sentence mining~ from content i consume. i want to keep the volume of cards i review every day low so i can keep up the habit.
  • grammar. I'll just read grammar resources online, plan is to not do exercises or focus on nuances, i'll pick that up as i immerse. i could use language learning apps here like Lingodeer (better Duolingo for Korean) but apps have lots of issues and can be tough to speed run. but ultimately whatever i stick to.
  • italki. I have a tutor I like on italki so I'll do a session a week. I'd do more but it costs money so idk. might do more sessions once i get more into output for the speaking practice.


I'm basically just pursuing the Refold approach - they provide a curriculum and guide to learning languages here.

they provide a really great on-ramp to input-based language learning for self-learners. highly recommend. free too.

the Discord is great + they collect all the resources you need there (they have a folder of PDFs of all the popular Korean learning books). this is huge, half the effort as a self learner is finding the resources you need.

Retro has a similar approach here I'm also inspired by.

I'm so hype :)