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Korean Language Learning: 4 Lessons

Korean is a language I know little (or rather nothing) about. However, I know that it is completely different from English and even such languages as Chinese, Japanese. Therefore, I am a bit anxious about my future lessons in Korean. I am aware of the fact that the communicative approach will be used as it is seen as the primary method in contemporary teaching. Hence, I suppose we will learn how to greet each other and introduce ourselves. I also expect to learn some numbers to be able to say my telephone number (or ask about the price) which is quite common information given and requested. I think I am quite experienced in studying languages as I have studied numerous resources on the matter. I think I will not have difficulties with memorizing new vocabulary or grammar rules.

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However, I am quite afraid of pronouncing words and sounds as they are very different and I am always feel ashamed when I make mistakes. Hopefully, the teacher will be supportive and will find means to explain everything. I understand that this will be a monolingual lesson though I hope there will be visual aids and the teacher will use non-verbal means. I also have a hope that we’ll always have transcriptions to assist us.

Lesson 1

The first lesson objectives were as follows: learners should learn simple vocabulary (hello, good-bye, thank you, yes, no, what), get an overview of the alphabet; learners should also learn letters (a, b/p, n, m, r/l and the silent letter) and numbers (1-5).

The teacher used several teaching methods. Demonstration was the most used method during this language as the teacher pronounced words and taught us how to write letters. The teacher also used visual aids (a cartoon where the vocabulary taught was demonstrated, pictures with letters and transcriptions). Another method used was collaboration as learners practiced the new vocabulary. Each learner was also given papers with written words and transcriptions but without translation. We wrote translation ourselves after the teacher made sure that each group understands the meaning of the word.

Clearly, there were drills as the language is very different from the learner’s first language. Learners also worked in groups. There was an interesting activity: the teacher gave written words and students had to read them, which was quite difficult as the letters were new and rather confusing but there were hints. For instance, there were words pronounced like (Habana, Iran, mile, Lima, Abba) and there were pictures which assisted in decoding the words. I found these activities enjoyable and effective as we practiced reading and had some fun. It was a necessary activity as we could be overwhelmed by information provided without such activities. The major aspect of teaching I focused on during this lesson was risk-taking. The teacher encouraged students to answer her questions and forget about the fear of mistakes. I believe this aspect of teaching is very effective and I will use it in my future teaching. However, I think this aspect should not be used during initial lessons.

It is necessary to note that the languages are very different and there are numerous contrastive features. I understood that phonology is different and I will have to learn to pronounce new sounds /b-p/ or /l-r/ which are not found in the English alphabet. It is also necessary to note that Korean words often end in vowels while English words tend to end in consonants.

Notably, the way of writing of some letters may be different depending on the letter’s position in Korean. In English, each letter is written in the same way irrespective of its position. At that, there are uppercase and lowercase letters in English and there is not such a concept in the Korean language. It is possible to write horizontally and vertically in Korean and Latin script implies horizontal writing only.

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The number of letters is also different as in Korean there are 20 letters (including 6 vowels) while the English alphabet has 26 letters (including 6 vowels: a, e, i, o, u and y (in the frontal position)). Furthermore, stress in the sentence is also very different as in English main parts of speech are stressed and in Korean there is no such practice. More so, word stress also differs in the two languages. In the Korean language, all syllables are equally stressed and, in English, the first syllable is usually stressed. It is also possible to state that both languages have words with multiple meanings, but they are very different.

Thus, in English there are two words (what and no). In Korean, there is only one word for these two words which have no connection for an English speaker. I believe the same is common for Korean students of English who cannot understand why one word has such different meanings.

Lesson 2

The objectives of this lesson were as follows: learners should continue learning the alphabet, learn new vocabulary (See you! Excuse me! I’m sorry! What is it? book, bag, pen, school, me), grammar (i-e-yo / ye-yo (equivalent of the verb to be) and its position), letters (o, d/t, s, eu, ng, n, eo, e, ae, ʥ), and practice greeting each other, writing new words.

Again, the teacher employed demonstration and used visual aids (pictures, cartoons, and flashcards with words, their visual representation and transcription). Learners were given certain glossary with written words, their transcriptions and an empty place for translation. The same groups were formed and students were working in these groups when decoding words and reading different lexical units. We were also greeting each other in Korean.

Individually, students were trying to write some words (using flashcards, their cards and the board) including their names. This task (along with the task on decoding) was exciting and students had an opportunity to relax. We all liked these activities. We also appreciated the way the teacher used body language as it was sometimes quite difficult to pronounce and read words but the teacher’s hints assisted learners immensely.

The teacher also gave students shuffled letters and gave time to decode the words given. This was done in groups and competitive element also helped students to focus. During this lesson, I focused on such aspect of teaching as the use of real tasks. Learners practices simple conversations which they will definitely have in future. This was very helpful as we understood practical value of the lesson.

As for the contrasting features in the two languages, it is possible to note that some English sounds do not exist in Korean. For examples, /ð/ and /θ/ are not used in Korean.

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Apart from phonology, the difference between the two languages was also apparent when we got acquainted with some grammar rules. For instance, there is the equivalent of the verb to be in Korean, but it does not have as many forms as it has in English (there are only two i-e-yo / ye-yo).

Hence, there is no subject-verb agreement when the equivalent of the verb to be is used in Korean. Notably, the two verbs are pronounced almost in the same way and for a speaker of English the difference is really subtle. It is also noteworthy that the teacher did not pay specific attention to the difference and, hence, it is clear that the two verbs may be used interchangeably and interlocutors will understand each other even if the verb will be pronounced incorrectly. More so, unlike the English language, this verb is always put at the end of the sentence.

Furthermore, the sentence structure is also different. For instance, in English questions, word order changes and predicate is put before the subject. The intonation is rising with stressed main parts of speech. At this point it is necessary to add that sentences with the verb to be are taken into account here. At the same time, in the Korean language, the structure of affirmative and interrogative sentences is identical (there is only a difference in the intonation). Subject is followed by predicate in Korean questions. Notably, there is a rising intonation at the end of the sentence though main parts of speech are not stressed as all words are stressed equally in Korean sentences.

Lesson 3

The objectives of the lesson were: learners should learn new vocabulary (this, that, student, work, flower), grammar rules (personal pronoun), practice simple conversations, practice reading and writing.

The teacher utilized demonstration and collaboration as major teaching methods during the third lesson. There was also some drilling as new words needed extra attention. Learners also worked in groups and pairs. The teacher also used flashcards and cartoons as well as audio files. Learners were given cards with words, transcriptions. This time, students from different groups also practiced certain simple dialogues.

During one of the reading tasks, some students were put in pairs and one learner was given transcriptions and the partner was given the text and vice versa. There was a game which helped students relax. A student had a scarf on his eyes and he was to guess objects other learners put. This was the practice of pronouns this/that/it. It is noteworthy that learners were more confident during the third lesson and the atmosphere was more favorable. Learners were not afraid of making mistakes and the teacher’s support helped us very much. Clearly, there were still errors and pronunciation was the most difficult aspect for the learners (including me).

Writing tasks were quite time-consuming and I could not complete the task. Notably, writing was always included in the assignment and I could practice at home, though the tasks were not enough for me and I searched for some more on the Internet. Collaboration was the prevailing aspect during this lesson. Learners worked in groups and pairs and assisted each other. I enjoyed the atmosphere and I believe this was the most fruitful lesson of the first three lessons. Of course, the fact that I have certain skills and knowledge contributed to development of my confidence. However, I believe the aspect of teaching that prevailed should be used during the vast majority of lessons. I will use it in my teaching.

During this lesson another difference between English and Korean was identified. In Korean, one pronoun stands for he/she. This is a bit confusing and I understand confusion of Koreans who study English as they will inevitably make mistakes. At the same time, personal pronouns are differentiated in accordance with the degree of familiarity. In English there is only one pronoun for both close people and complete strangers. However, in Korean, there are different ways to show respect to the interlocutor.

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An interesting fact is related to vocabulary. Korean has quite a lot of borrowings from English and many of them are used in everyday life. However, the words are pronounced quite differently from what English speaking people are accustomed to. Consonant clusters are not common for Korean and Koreans add vowel sounds at the end of the words ending in a consonant or when there is a consonant cluster. This is a bit confusing as I understand that I will have to learn the words as they are pronounced in Korean.

Lesson 4

The objectives of this lesson were: learners should learn new vocabulary (tomorrow, today, I like it), grammar rules (present and future tense, word order), practice simple conversations, practice reading and writing.

Two teaching methods used were demonstration, explanation and collaboration. At that, collaboration was prevailing and learners worked in groups and pairs. The teacher used demonstration when presenting new vocabulary and grammar rules. The teacher also explained the use of present and future tenses. Notably, the teacher stressed that there is no need in auxiliaries and the word order is also quite specific. As far as visual aids are concerned, the teacher used a short video from a Korean film. She also put a short episode from an American film translated into English. This was an interesting experience and learners (including me) liked it very much.

Learners were also reading texts in groups (the activity is mentioned above). There was only one drill exercise during this lesson. Learners were making sentences using cards with separate words. There was an interesting exercise when leaners were in a line and each of them had one word on a card and they had to pronounce the word. Each group presented several sentences changing their positions. The reading activity described above was also used.

The teacher made use of body language when explaining tenses and assisting leaners to make sentences and read texts. This was appreciated by students who understood the hints given. This lesson is characterized by the mix of aspects as I was unable to identify the prevailing one. The mix of following aspects was utilized: risk-taking, collaboration and real tasks.

The major difference between the two languages which became clear during the fourth lesson was the use of tenses as there are no specific suffixes in Korean to reveal the time reference. In English, time reference is revealed with the help of suffixes –s, -es, -ed or an auxiliary which is put before the verb in future tense. In Korean, words (for example, yesterday, tomorrow, today, now and so on) are used to express time reference in the sentence. It is noteworthy that, in the English language, words expressing time reference can be put at the beginning or at the end of the sentence. Whereas, in Korean, such words have a position at the end of the sentence only.

There are no auxiliaries to make questions or negations in the Korean language. Again, the word order does not change in negative sentences in Korean. In English, the use of auxiliaries and the change of word order are compulsory. The teacher paid special attention to this fact as she knew that learners were speakers of English. Apart from this, we have learnt that the word order in Korean is as follows: subject-object-verb. However, the English structure is subject-verb-object. This is quite difficult for an English speaking person as we tend to use the structure we are accustomed to. It is possible to state that Korean grammar rules are a bit simpler than rules in English but pronunciation and writing can be quite difficult for a speaker of English.

The Overall Experience

I would like to note that the learning was valuable experience for me as a student and (to a greater extent) as a teacher. I had certain issues as any other learner but I had quite significant progress as a learner. However, I suppose I had more progress as a teacher since I could observe the use of effective strategies as well as weaknesses of the methods used. As for useful tools to use, I would definitely use the reading exercise which can help develop reading skills as well as phonological awareness in learners. I will also use the exercise with decoding but I will modify it. I also think the use of body language is totally justified as it helps learners.

I think appealing to different learning styles is very effective and classes are constituted by people having visual, auditory or kinesthetic styles. Class management was very effective. Work in groups or pairs was very efficient and students helped each other. The teacher managed to keep students engaged and she found the right time to start a game as she saw that learners were losing concentration. Collaboration is most effective for practicing skills acquired during the lesson. I will definitely rely on this teaching method. I would also like to note that it is impossible to overestimate the use of visual aids. Only a few words in English were used but everything was quite clear for the learners.

At the same time, I detected certain weaknesses in the approach used by the teacher. As far as I am concerned, it is better to use more varied tasks. Of course, the teacher can give a task which is effective, though it should be given occasionally. Now, I understand that even though a task is really efficient and enjoyable for learners it may soon be boring and too easy for learners. I will add more types of exercises or will modify them in a number of ways instead of simply changing vocabulary units. I also think there was not enough drilling as many students had difficulties with pronouncing words. Clearly, when teaching a language that is very different from the learners’ first language, it is crucial to have a lot of drilling, especially at the initial stage.

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