If you want to learn Korean, your options are unfortunately very few. Compared to other Asian languages such as Mandarin Chinese and Japanese, there doesn’t seem to be much demand for Korean. This doesn’t mean you can’t get any degree of proficiency at it – it just means you’re in for a relatively uphill battle. As someone who’s struggled to find good self-study resources on the market, I’ve decided to write an article that outlines the few options that are available for those interested in learning Korean.
In terms of self-study books, your options are very limited but there are some materials out there that can help you to a degree. The very first book I used was “Teach Yourself Korean”, and while it has its merits, on the whole it’s not that great. The main problem here being the use of roman characters for much of the text. While there are some languages where this may be acceptable (take Japanese, for example, where the pronunciation is rather simple), Korean pronunciation is quite difficult to romanize, and you’re much better off learning the Korean alphabet (Hangeul) as soon as possible. The lesson structure of the book also isn’t very well organized, and the included CDs leave something to be desired. But on the plus side, there’s a decent amount of grammar information considering the price, the explanations are easy to understand, and there are several culture notes throughout the book.
Another option would be the book “Elementary Korean”. The good points of this book include – all text being in hangeul, a wealth of grammar and vocabulary (far more vocab than “Teach Yourself Korean”, and a TON of great exercises. On the downside, it feels very dry and doesn’t include much information on the culture. When you’re learning a language that’s really only spoken in one part of the world, an understanding of the culture is vital to understanding the language itself. This can be easily remedied by using outside sources to learn about the culture, but it’s still something the book could’ve used. I’ve not tried the follow-up, “Continuing Korean”, but I suspect it’s much in the same vein.
Finally, we have Ganada’s “Korean for Foreigners” series. I picked these up in Korea and I suspect that they’re only available there, so if you happen to be in the country (or can find somewhere to order them online) you might want to give this series a shot. The great thing about this series is the amount of information in them, and they also contain a number of grammar points not covered in the previously mentioned books. They also have several CDs per volume, as well as a lot of good dialogues. On the downside, the English in them is quite bad – you can get the gist of what the explanations are, but the book certainly could’ve used a more proficient English speaker at the helm and I feel as if certain nuances are lost because of it.
One other resource (that I’ll only mention briefly because I haven’t used it myself), is the Integrated Korean series. I’ve heard nothing but praise for it, and supposedly they do a really good job explaining the language over its run. The downside here is probably the cost – they’re around 30 dollars or so each, and I think the entire series is about 5 or 6 books. Still, it’s something to look into, especially since I’ve heard it does a great job integrating the language and relevant cultural aspects.