The five words I knew, going into Korea, in terms of familiarity. I only knew them orally – had no idea how to read or write Korean.

Typical stuff that you, too, might know:

  • 안녕하세요 – Hello.
  • 김치 – Kimchi… duh.
  • 불고기 – Bulgogi. I always forgot this word.

And the other two, from my university days in SoCal:

  • 야해 – Erotic/racy/vulgar.
  • 기린 – Giraffe. A tall friend’s nickname.

 

First step was to actually learn how to read Hangul. On the plane to Korea, I referred to the famous “learn to read Korean in 15 minutes” comic.

The first in-the-wild thing I read on my own was a sign I kept seeing on lots of windows in town: 임대  (for rent). In retrospect, it’s kind of funny.

On my phone, this is the only app that ever really helped me with Hangul, and I tried loads of them:

  • PopPopping Korean (Android only. There used to be an iPhone version, but it’s nowhere to be seen now)

When I had my computer all set up, this pronunciation chart helped me actually pronounce instead of just think out the sounds:

  • Learnhangul.com’s Korean alphabet app (dead link)

Edit: That website seems to be dead now. It was an interactive chart where you could click on things like 아 or 어 or 오 or 우 and hear an audio recording of it.

 

As for books, I went to Kyobo Bookstore and spent about an hour or so browsing through their learn-Korean-through-English books, trying to find the best match for my self-studying style. I thought I’d start with Sogang University and Ewha University’s books, because their Korean classes are so well-known. I quickly came to the conclusion that their books were a supplement to the teacher – you NEEDED a teacher, and self-studying would be tricky. I also looked at Hello Korean (with an idol narrating!), and passed over it – it was written in a good way for self-studying, but only went up to Book 2. I would need to find something after that.

The only university textbook series that suited my ‘style’ (if you can call it that) was Seoul National University’s books. Each level has a textbook and also a student workbook, and the workbook is totally worth it for the practice. I used to be the student that would zone out in class and then learn everything from the book (probably still am), and this one was the series for me.