Destinations

Read and Speak Korean: One Road Sign at a Time

I am teaching myself Korean. I’ve lived in Korea for six years, and now I’m committed to learning the Korean language. I have no excuses to hide behind. I coulda, shoulda, woulda learned the language by now. But I didn’t learn Korean because it wasn’t a prerequisite for me to be living my best life here. That is until I jumped into the taxi that changed my entire perspective on the subject. It hit me – an idea, not the cab. Korea wants to teach me the language. So here are 6 Practical ways I employ to read and speak Korean.

So Why Read and Speak Korean now?

One day I hailed a taxi. It was late in the afternoon, and I was tired of walking. I told him where to go, but he didn’t understand. I showed him the map, but he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, really look at it. After 10 minutes of back and forth, I finally resorted to… you guessed, pointing. And on the way, I realized most of the signs were in English and Korean. Why didn’t I know more than I did?

Konglish, Pointing & Papago

I was never motivated to read or speak Korean. I learned, almost immediately, that I can get away with Konglish, Papago, and pointing at things. And truth be told, most of my Korean friends preferred to speak English anyway.

However, now that I can read a lot of Korean, they expect me to speak more too. Not being a hypocrite, I’m okay with that. It’s bringing us closer together.

7 Practical Tools to Read and Speak Korean

Because I’m being bombarded with opportunities, I’ve decided to learn the language independently. But simply reading from a book on my own won’t work.

I get bored too quickly. Conversely, I need to be able to correct and measure my progress. As a result, I’ve incorporated seven practical ways to encourage me to read and speak Korean without formal instruction or do anything more than I already do.

1. Youtube

Frankly, I watched a couple of Youtube videos and discovered hangeul is a pretty easy alphabet. Many words in Korean do not use phonetics. So you can’t speak the language without learning vocabulary, though.

The videos are helpful for vocabulary, pronunciation, and enunciation– something vital when speaking Korean. The emphasis can be everything, lol. You can stop and start them to practice. And they are a great way to verify your progress.

Here are four Youtube videos (and channels) I highly recommend:

2. Road Signs

This is a genius way to learn to read and speak Korean. While you stare out the window, look at the street signs. I’ve even taken pictures of them to study later. After a while, you’ll notice a pattern that will help you read the language better.

I live in Suseong. My husband works in Namgu, and I have friends in Apsan, Dalseong & Bukgu. All the syllables in these words (and sounds) are familiar to me now, and I recognize them wherever I go.

If you use public transportation, opt for the bus rather than the subway. On the subway, there are fewer signs to read. However, on the bus, there are lots of opportunities for you to practice reading Korean during your commute.

3. Grocery Store & Food Packaging

I live by a great local market. I hate to admit that I didn’t shop there much until last year. It’s very intimidating to walk around scanning everything with my phone. However, the grocery store is a fantastic way to learn vocabulary. And the back of the package and ingredient list is easy to reconcile.

There is also a gained level of familiarity (and confidence) with going to the same store and getting to know the people there.

4. Menus & Receipts

I go to a lot of cafes. Again, I’ll snap a picture of the menu. I enjoy translating it while I sip on my 아메리카노. Learning to recognize a few basic terms like cafe, coffee, latte, americano (see above), milk, vanilla, receipt, etc., gives me the confidence to try new things. And not hold up the line.

5. Children’s Books

I discovered a lending library full of children’s books one day, and it piqued my curiosity. It’s a brilliant way to learn Korean because children’s books don’t have complex words or themes.

Daiso has an entire section of western Fairytales in Korean. Knowing the story helps me relate what I know to the Korean words I read and speak.

6. Closed Captions & Program TV Guide

Many second language students credit their success in learning English to watching TV. I won’t go so far as to say I can follow an entire program, but I try.

Instead, I may flip through the channels, see a movie I know, and then follow the closed captions. I also love translating the title on the upper right-hand side of the screen. Nothing makes me happier to say, oh, that’s…..

7. Maps & Pamphlets

Very few maps and pamphlets are not written in English. Sometimes brochures have both English and Korean translations. This is even more apparent when researching online or navigating.

More times than not, I will have better luck if I can read or write in Korean. So learning Korean makes life easier because I travel a lot. Like most things, the more words and phrases you know, the more likely you are to learn new ones.

Conclusion

The most important thing to remember when learning to read and speak Korea, or any language for that matter, is to do it at your own pace. Use every resource you can find to immerse yourself on a daily basis, and don’t stress about it too much.

Once you are further along in your Korean learning journey and feel you’re ready to move on to adult Korean books, Click Here. In this article, you will find three book recommendations and genres that are easier for language learners.

🇺🇸 Stacey Peters

I started blogging, writing, and taking travel-related photos to stay in touch with my friends and family while I traveled around the world with my soldier. So far, we've lived on three continents and traveled to more than 70 countries. Every new country increases my desire to see more. I have a passion for history, wine, and new experiences. This is the third time we've been assigned to live in Korea. We had the chance to go anywhere, but we chose to return to Korea one last time before my husband retired from military service. We chose Korea over Germany because we have a lot of Korean National friends, we love the food, culture, and traditions. I have enjoyed living in Korea, but I realized I hadn't immersed myself in the community. I had a ton of "surface level" knowledge, and that's okay for some people. But not me. So we returned to Korea to take everything we had left on the table off. I have had many experiences understanding what to do but not why I should do it. So I intend to delve deeper, ask why instead of what, and find out what I don't know I didn't know. Lol.