The 9 Best Books to Learn Korean Quickly

Kelsey Wetherbee Published on December 12, 2022
Best books to learn Korean

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Korean is a fascinating language, but finding the right tool to learn it can be overwhelming. Books are always a good choice for learning a language if you want access to detailed explanations and clear examples. This article compiles some of the best books to learn Korean for all levels of learners. Whatever your reason for learning Korean, you’re sure to find a book on this list that can help you learn quickly and effectively.

Korean is one of the most spoken languages in the world, with over 81 million people who speak it. It’s the official language of North and South Korea, but there are large communities of Korean speakers in other countries like China, the United States, and Japan. There are many reasons to learn Korean, especially if you are interested in technology or want to and a job at a number of large international companies. A Bloomberg Report named South Korea the most innovative country in the world, and some of the biggest technology brands, such as Samsung, Hyundai, and LG come from this country. In this article, you’ll find some of the best Korean books that will help you learn the language no matter what level you have.

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How We Picked the Best Books to Learn Korean

For any language learning products we’ve tested or researched, we follow a strict testing methodology to make sure the products we recommend are top-notch. Here are the specific factors we looked at when testing Korean textbooks:

  • Structure and Topics: We looked for textbooks with content organized in a way that made it easy to navigate. Additional features like glossaries, vocabulary lists, answer keys, English-Korean translations, phonetic guides, and related language tools were also taken into consideration.
  • Quality of Content: To pick the best high-quality books, we checked each to ensure they had content that was accurate and helpful for all levels of Korean learners. We looked for books with clear explanations, an engaging approach, and realistic goals. 
  • Features Available: We looked for books with additional materials, such as audio tracks, mobile apps, flashcards, and other helpful tools that made studying Korean a more comprehensive experience.
  • Value for Money: We took the three previous factors and compared them to the price of each book to determine if they offered good value and convenience to Korean language students.

Our Top Picks for the Best Korean Books

Below is a table with the best books to learn the Korean language. Scroll down to learn more about each one.

Best Overall Korean BookKorean Made Simple
Best for BeginnersRead and Speak Korean for Beginners
Best for Self-StudyTalk to Me in Korean Level 1
Best for TravelLet's Speak Korean
Best for Learning HangulKorean Alphabet with Writing Workbook
Best for Learning About CultureKorean Stories for Language Learners
Best for Korean SlangHow to Speak KPOP
Best for Korean Vocabulary2000 Most Common Korean Words in Context
Best for Reading PracticeTigers, Fairies, and Gods: Enchanting Folktales from Korea

Korean Made Simple

Best Overall Korean Book

Korean Made Simple is the best overall book because it breaks down the basics of the language into understandable chunks to teach you vocabulary, grammar, and the Korean writing system. There are 20 chapters with detailed explanations that you can complete in a logical order. The book starts by showing you how to draw different Hangul characters and quickly explains how to form syllables, words, and sentences. There are also notes that teach you about Korean history and culture to help you understand their influence on the language. Each chapter includes practice exercises, and you can also find audio files available on their website to develop your listening comprehension skills.

I think this book is a perfect option for complete beginners who want to follow a step-by-step guide that allows you to constantly build upon what they previously learned. The lessons begin with the most basic aspects of Korean, and teach you what you need to know to understand the following chapters effectively. The book ensures there are no gaps in your study that could cause confusion or frustration as you advance. The lessons provide detailed explanations that teach Korean learners the basics, but you can also find notes for advanced students that explain the nuances and exceptions that you may come across. Find out if this is the right book for you here.

Key Benefits

  • The book guides you through Korean step-by-step to teach you all you need to know before moving to the next level
  • It teaches you how to write Hangul characters, as well as how to form syllables and words to ensure you can read and communicate in Korean from the start
  • Gives you access to audio files so you can practice listening to native speakers and develop your conversational skills at the same time

Read and Speak Korean for Beginners is the best book for beginners because it teaches you the words and phrases you need to navigate daily scenarios like introductions, talking about your family, and asking for directions. This book is part of McGraw Hill’s Read & Speak series, so you know you can expect high-quality content and accurate language. The book is divided into eight units with clear explanations for important grammar and vocabulary topics, such as expressing negatives, using adjectives, or describing characteristics. There’s a practice section in the last chapters of the book, and an answer key to measure your progress. The book also gives you access to additional audio tracks available through the McGraw-Hill Language App to help you practice listening and pronunciation while you study.

In my opinion, this is a perfect book for complete beginners who want to begin learning Korean in an uncomplicated way. Each lesson has a set of keywords you’ll use and clear explanations and examples that show you how to apply them in sentences. The book follows a set lesson plan, so it’s constantly expanding and using the vocabulary you used before. The audio tracks are included in every chapter, and you’re encouraged to listen to them to complete the exercises and hear the pronunciation of the different Korean vocabulary words. To me, this book can be a great way to explore the language and learn some essential phrases to converse with other Korean speakers. You can read more about the book here.

Key Benefits

  • Teaches you common words and phrases to help you interact with Korean speakers and navigate daily scenarios with ease
  • Each chapter has clear explanations and examples that expand on what you previously learned to ensure you make constant progress
  • The book comes with an app with audio tracks that help you listen to the correct pronunciation of Korean and complete speaking exercises

Talk To Me In Korean Level 1

Best for Self-Study

Talk To Me In Korean Level 1 is the best book for self-study because it focuses on teaching you the vocabulary and grammar you need for conversation, and not the written or formal style of Korean. The book is based on the Talk To Me podcast, so you can use it as an additional resource to tackle the basics of Korean conversation. Its lessons include the romanization spelling of the Hangul characters and the explanations show you how to structure sentences to communicate with ease. Keep in mind that this book doesn’t teach how to read Hangul, and it’s recommended you learn the Korean writing system beforehand. There are practice activities included throughout the book, but you can also purchase an additional workbook to practice the most important topics. Plus, there are MP3 audio tracks available on the Talk To Me in Korean website to accompany your lessons and allow you to hear how Korean is spoken by native speakers.

Korean is a language where formality plays an important role, so you must be careful about the way you address others. With this book, you can learn the basics of Korean communication through its dialogues and exercises. Each chapter introduces you to dialogues that helps you understand the role that language plays in communication and the audio component makes it a comprehensive tool to develop your language skills. All the lessons have brief explanations that teach you how to interact with Koreans in formal and informal scenarios, which I found very helpful. If you want to study how to use Korean to communicate effectively, this book can be a valuable addition to your study routine. You can see if this is the right book for you here.

Key Benefits

  • Learn the basic vocabulary and grammar you need for conversation and focus on developing your conversational skills to sound like a native Korean speaker
  • Includes dialogues that show you how to use the language to express your ideas and build bonds with other Korean speakers
  • There are audio tracks available on the website to help you work on your listening comprehension and ensure you understand all sorts of Korean conversations

Let’s Speak Korean

Best for Travel

Let’s Speak Korean is the best book for travelers because it has everything you need to prepare for speaking with people around Korea. Because it focuses on the 1,400 most common expressions in Korean, it doesn’t get bogged down in the nitty-gritty of grammar. This book includes English translations, romanized pronunciation, and online audio so you can listen and practice the pronunciation of each word presented in the text and familiarize yourself with the sounds of the language. It has a Traveling to Korea section that teaches you different facts about the country, its etiquette, cultural norms, and tourist sites, as well as a basic guide for understanding Hangul.

Whether you’re planning a trip to Korea or just learning the language for fun, I think this book can teach you all you need to know to communicate on a basic level in a short period of time. Keep in mind that the goal of this book is to get you to speak Korean quickly, so its explanations are very concise and simple. While this book won’t help you gain a deep understanding of the language, it could be perfect if you need to learn essential Korean words and phrases for travel. You can find out if Let’s Speak Korean is right for you here.

Key Benefits

  • Learn more than 1,400 common expressions and communicate on a basic level quickly
  • Includes a guide for Hangul so you can understand essential written texts
  • Additional online audio helps you practice your pronunciation and become familiar with spoken Korean

Korean Alphabet with Writing Workbook

Best for Learning Hangul

Korean Alphabet with Writing Workbook is the best book for learning Hangul because it shows you how to write each character with the correct stroke order. The book contains detailed examples of how to write the 10 vowels and 14 consonants of the Hangul writing system, and has explanations that show you how to form words and sentences. The book includes practice pages for each individual character, and the examples are clear so it’s easy to see the details. There are also vocabulary activities to help you learn new words and practice using Hangul one step at a time.

I think this book can be ideal for beginners who want to learn how to write in the Korean writing system. Getting the right stroke order is important when you’re writing in Korean because adding or changing one little detail can alter the meaning of your word and cause embarrassment or funny situations. With this book, you can start developing your muscle memory and become familiar with the Korean alphabet. Knowing Hangul is also a vital skill that can save you a lot of time in your Korean studies, so I highly recommend you pick up this book. You can get your own copy here.

Key Benefits

  • Learn the correct Hangul stroke order to ensure you can write clear messages that truly express your ideas
  • There are clear examples for each character and many pages to allow you to practice writing
  • It includes a guide that shows you how to form syllables, words, and sentences to begin using essential Korean vocabulary

Korean Stories for Language Learners

Best for Learning about Culture

Korean Stories for Language Learners is the best book for learning about Korean culture because it allows you to explore the traditions and beliefs through engaging, short stories. This book has 42 folktales written in Korean with English translations so you can review the content even if you don’t understand all the words. It’s meant for beginner to low-intermediate learners, but since it has English translations, it can be used by anyone interested in learning about Korean culture. The stories become more complex as you progress through the book to help you gradually develop your reading skills and expand your vocabulary. There are also practice exercises, cultural notes, and discussion questions to further your understanding of the stories.

The author of this book, Julie Damron, is an experienced college professor with a Ph.D. in Linguistics who believes that the best way to practice a language while you learn about its culture is through short passages. The tales in this book explain where many Korean traditions and beliefs originated, like praying for 100 days in a row or where rain comes from. The pre and post-reading discussion questions in this book engage you with the stories and open up your mind to ensure you understand their context and purpose. The cultural notes tell you more about how these beliefs affect life in present-day Korea, which, in my opinion, is one of the most useful aspects of this book. Find out more about the book here.

Key Benefits

  • Includes 42 stories written in Korean with English translations that teach you about Korean culture so you can understand where and how many beliefs, traditions, and values originated
  • The stories gradually become more complex to ensure you continue to improve your reading skills and expand your vocabulary
  • There are pre and post-reading questions that help you test your reading comprehension and develop your understanding of the Korean folktale structure

How to Speak KPOP

Best for Korean Slang

How to Speak KPOP is your best option if you want to learn Korean slang. This is a straightforward guide that uses real-life examples to teach you how slang words are used in popular Korean culture. It includes detailed explanations that break down grammar, current language trends, acronyms, and pronunciation to help you communicate like people do in Korea. The book is aimed at Korean media fans, and the vocabulary and phrases you can learn in this book have been chosen to allow you to communicate with Korean native speakers with similar interests. 

With the rise in popularity of K-pop, Korean series, and movies there has been an ever-growing interest in learning the language to bring fan communities together. If you want to be able to understand your favorite idol in his or her native language, or just interact with other fellow fans, I think this book is just what you’re looking for. There aren’t many books dedicated specifically to slang words and How To Speak KPOP does a great job of balancing context, culture, and language aspects like sentence structure and conjugation. Overall, I think this book is totally worth it if your goal is to understand your favorite dramas or Korean media with ease. Find out more about the book here.

Key Benefits

  • Learn popular Korean slang words to understand popular Korean media or communicate with fan communities
  • Real-life examples show you how to apply slang words in context so you can sound like a native speaker
  • Includes a pronunciation guide to help you use the slang words in your conversations

2000 Most Common Korean Words in Context

Best for Korean Vocabulary

The 2000 Most Common Korean Words in Context book is the best for Korean vocabulary because it teaches you the vocabulary you need to start communicating. With this book, you learn the 2000 most frequently used Korean words in speech and writing instead of random vocabulary. Each word comes with a romanization of its pronunciation, an English translation, and an example sentence to help you understand how to apply it in the right context. At the beginning of the book, you can find a detailed introduction that explains how to build sentences, use honorifics, and some of the differences you might notice between English and Korean grammar. 

This book is part of the Lingo Mastery series that has published similar books in other languages and can be a great tool if your goal is to increase your Korean vocabulary quickly. All the words and phrases used in this book are natural-sounding and have been compiled from different sources like books, movies, news articles, and more. Unlike books that group words and phrases by topic, here you can study the Korean vocabulary you’re most likely to hear and need regardless of the scenario or form. To me, this makes 2000 Most Common Korean Words in Context a powerful addition to your study routine. However, because this book doesn’t have extensive grammatical explanations, it might work better as a part of a study routine than as a stand-alone resource. Find out if you like the book here.

Key Benefits

  • Learn the most frequently used Korean words in media so you can understand the language quickly, even if you’re at the beginner level
  • Each word includes example sentences, pronunciation, Hangul spelling, and an English translation to make sure you understand its meaning and how to apply it in context
  • The book includes tips that explain how to use basic Korean grammar to ensure you can use the words you learn to form correct sentences

Tigers, Fairies, and Gods: Enchanting Folktales from Korea is the best book for reading practice because it has 21 traditional stories from Korea for all levels of language learners. The book is divided into 3 proficiency levels so you can easily find content that fits your level or challenge your skills. Each story is written entirely in Hangul, which means that you need to have previous knowledge of the language and the Korean writing system to get the most out of this book. However, this edition contains English translations of the stories, so you’ll be able to understand no matter what level you have. There are interactive activities, vocabulary lists, and online audio and visual elements to aid you in your studies.

Finding engaging texts to practice reading can be hard when you’re at the beginner level of Korean, but this book is written in a simple style that’s easy to follow. All the stories teach you about Korean beliefs and traditions and can be a valuable tool if you want to immerse yourself in Korean culture. Many of these tales have been passed through generations and showcase popular characters from mythology, like the sun, the moon, and the river. If you’re a fan of Korean folktales and want to learn more about the culture while you develop your reading skills, this book might be just what you’re looking for. Learn more about the book here.

Key Benefits

  • There are 21 engaging stories written in Korean with English translations to make sure you understand what you read
  • The book is divided into 3 proficiency levels so you can find something for your level or challenge your reading skills
  • Read Korean folktales to learn more about the Korean culture, beliefs, and traditions to immerse yourself in the language while you develop your language abilities

Other Korean Books We Researched

To make this list of the best books to learn Korean, we reviewed many books that weren’t included in this guide. These are some books that didn’t quite make the cut:

  • Learn Korean: With this book, you can begin studying Korean from the basics including the alphabet, pronunciation, and essential vocabulary words. While this book might be a good resource for a more extensive study routine, its explanations are too simple to help Korean beginner learners develop an in-depth understanding of the language. 
  • Learn Korean for Adult Beginners: This book promises that you’ll be able to speak in Korean in 30 days if you complete its lessons and exercises. Even when the book focuses on pronunciation and has additional materials to improve your speaking skills, I think that 30 days might not be a realistic goal for complete beginners looking to communicate in an accurate way. 
  • Korean for Beginners: Mastering Conversational Korean: This book has 27 chapters that cover basic formal and informal Korean to help you communicate with native speakers in the real world. Its fundamental lessons and cultural insights can be valuable for intermediate Korean learners, but some of the content is too complex for beginners to understand.

Why You Should Use Books To Learn Korean

Books can be an excellent way to learn Korean. They are detailed and provide in-depth explanations and examples. Since Korean uses a writing system that’s different than English, a book is useful to see how Korean is written and familiarize yourself with hangul. Books are also a great option because they are inexpensive when compared to other learning methods and are portable so you can learn almost anywhere.

How To Use Books To Learn Korean

The best way to use books to learn Korean is to create and stick to, a language learning routine. This will help you see continuous improvement. It’s best to study every day or dedicate time a few days a week if you want to learn and retain information.

Books are used most effectively in combination with another language learning resource, such as a Korean language app or a Korean online course. Books are useful for learning vocabulary and grammar, but an app or course can be better for improving speaking and listening.

Best Books To Learn Korean: Final Thoughts

I hope this article has helped you find a book that can help you on your Korean language learning journey. Learning any language is a rewarding and fun experience. Finding a book, or other resource, that fits your learning style and budget can make studying a breeze. Before buying a book, be sure to read user reviews to see if it’s a good fit for you. Whichever book you choose from this list, you’re sure to start understanding Korean quickly!

Best Books To Learn Korean: FAQ

Which book is best for learning Korean?

Korean Made Simple is the best overall book for learning Korean. It has 20 chapters that break down the basics of the Korean language into understandable chunks. In addition to learning grammar, vocabulary, and the Korean writing system, there are also notes to learn about Korean history and culture. There are also practice exercises to check your understanding.

Can you learn Korean from a book?

Yes, you can learn Korean from a book. Books are useful because they have in-depth explanations and examples that many language apps and other resources don’t have. Most books include practice exercises so you can test yourself to make sure you understand what you learn.

Can I study Korean by myself?

Yes, with dedication you can study Korean by yourself. There are many language learning resources designed for self-study, such as books and language apps. It’s possible to reach an intermediate level of Korean by learning on your own.

Is learning Korean hard?

According to the US Department of State, Korean is considered an exceptionally difficult language for English speakers to learn because of the differences between the two languages. The average learning time is 2200 class hours (or 88 weeks) to reach a proficient level of Korean.

To see how long it will take you to learn Korean, check out this fluency calculator.

Kelsey Wetherbee

Kelsey is the Content Manager and Editor of Langoly. She is a TEFL-certified English teacher with more than eight years of classroom experience in three different countries. She’s an avid language learner with an advanced level of Spanish and is currently studying French. Whenever possible, she loves to travel and enjoys meeting people from all over the world. Connect with Kelsey on LinkedIn.

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