So you wanna learn Korean?

Integrated Korean by Young-Mee Cho et al

Integrated Korean by Young-Mee Cho et al

A few people have asked about Korean language resources. It always delights me to hear from non-Koreans interested in learning the language. I’m surprised at how popular Korean food has become and where I live – northern Toronto – there’s lots of Korean restaurants, including Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu, Joons, and The Owl of Minerva. K-pop and K-dramas have also become very popular. Several people in my Korean class wanted to learn the language so they could read song lyrics and watch TV shows and movies without relying on subtitles.

The textbook my Korean teacher recommended for our beginner-level class was Integrated Korean: Second Edition by Young-Mee Cho, Hyo Sang Lee, Carol Schulz, Ho-min Sohn, and Sung-Ock Sohn (University of Hawaii Press, 2010).

There are also many wonderful online resources. Youtube videos are especially helpful because you can hear how words and phrases should be pronounced.

Top 25 Must-Know Korean Phrases

Learn the Korean Alphabet Fast

Introduction to Perfect Korean Pronunciation

Korean Polly Lingual (excellent place to start!)

9 Tips for Learning Korean



Language and Identity

librarybooksIt’s only after I had my daughter, who is half-Irish and half-Korean, that I came to understand how our cultural heritage informs our personal identity. In my attempt to help my daughter understand her Korean background, I developed a stronger pride in my Korean heritage. Despite enjoying Korean food and many aspects of the culture, I have always felt excluded because of my weak communications skills in Korean. I also came to realize that until I could read and write in Korean, I would be missing out on Korean literature, which may never be translated into English.

I signed up for a beginner-level Korean language course offered through the Korean Education Centre here in Toronto. To my surprise, most of my classmates were not even Korean! When asked why they had signed up for the class, several shared that they had a deep love for Korean food, K-pop, and K-dramas. Some lived in North York, which has become another Koreatown, and wanted to be able to read store signs and restaurant menus in Korean and in English. My heart skipped to learn that one young lady had a two-hour commute in order to attend! Her commitment inspired me to study hard. We were also lucky to have a passionate teacher who engaged us with her enthusiasm.

Despite being Korean and having spent my first seven years in Korea, I find learning the language quite challenging. Korean is complicated by the use of honorifics that requires one to speak “up” or “down” to a person depending on that individual’s age and/or status. As well, sentences are constructed differently. In English, we use the “subject + verb + object” order, but in Korean it is “subject + object + verb”, so the sentence “I ate an orange” would be “I an orange ate.” Then there’s the complex use of particles that we don’t have in English.

And all this is in a beginner’s class!

My long term goal is one day to be able to write an essay or even a story in Korean.  I’ve avoided learning Korean for over four decades, believing that I’d never need it. Now, I understand just how vital the language is for me to feel connected to my heritage.




“Cool to be Korean”

There are 14 consonants and 10 vowels in thje Korean language.

There are 14 consonants and 10 vowels in the Korean language.

My 13-year-old daughter had never expressed an interest in learning the Korean language until “Gangnam Style” by Psy, the Korean rapper, gained worldwide popularity. In her eyes, it was suddenly “cool to be Korean”.

Her question to me: how come you never learned Korean?

When we first came to Canada, my parents’ biggest obsession was for their children to learn English. We were even encouraged to speak it at home. I never stopped to think that we were sacrificing the Korean language in the process, especially because back then, all I wanted was to lose whatever was Korean about me.  I was in grade three when it hit me that I could lose my Asian last name by marrying someone white one day.

I keep thinking that it’s too late for me to learn to become completely fluent in Korean. Maybe. Maybe not. It would be wonderful to have access to Korean literature as it was written instead of in translation. The Korean language is beautiful and there are some phrases and expressions that don’t exist in English.

Worth checking out: