Korean is spoken by around 75 million people, making it one of the most widely-spoken languages in Asia. Most native speakers live in North and South Korea, but there are also around 1 million Korean speakers in the U.S., many of them in Koreatown, Los Angeles, the largest Korean neighborhood outside of Asia.
Korean may look like a challenging language to learn, but it’s actually one of the easier Asian languages for English speakers to pick up. There are 24 symbols in the Korean alphabet (10 vowels and 14 consonants), far less than the number of characters you need to learn in order to become proficient in Japanese or Mandarin.
The reason Korean writing looks so complex is that consonants and vowels are layered on top of each other, instead of written in a row. Once you know the basics, the phonetics are pretty straightforward. There are no tones to worry about, and words are pronounced just how they are spelled. Cases and genders are pretty simple too.
To really get the most out of your studies, you’re going to want to be able to speak and understand Korean. For that, it’s a good idea to practice your listening comprehension with podcasts and other audio content. While there aren’t as many resources designed to teach Korean as there are for some other languages, we’ve found several great podcasts that are intended for beginners and intermediate students.
Fortunately, South Korea is a tech-savvy country, with young Internet users producing more content than ever before. Once you master the basics, you’ll have no shortage of vlogs and podcasts to choose from to keep improving your Korean fluency.
These podcasts are the place to start if you don’t speak a word of Korean. Many of them are structured as language lessons and include additional materials, such as transcripts and workbooks that will get you familiar with the Korean script. If you aren’t sure where to begin your studies, choose one of these podcasts and start learning the basics.
KoreanClass101 is a comprehensive resource by the same team that makes the very popular Pod101 courses for several other languages. This is a subscription-based site, but luckily the rates are rather affordable, starting at $8 per month.
There are over 1,500 audio and video lesson of around 15 minutes each, so they’re perfect for listening to on your lunch break or on your way to work. You can start with the “absolute beginner” lessons or skip ahead to the intermediate or advanced material if you already have some experience learning Korean.
There’s a mobile app that makes it easy to keep up with your lessons while you’re on the go. You can also download PDFs of the episodes so you can improve your reading along with listening comprehension. Additionally, there are lesson notes, flashcards, line-by-line audio recordings, and a whole lot more.
If you’re looking for an in-depth podcast with a lot of additional features, then KoreanClass101 is a great place to start! You can learn more from our in-depth review.
It seems like everyone who’s studying Korean has good things to say about Talk to Me in Korean. TTMIK has a variety of audio courses that you can buy individually or as a package. There are also plenty of free episodes you can listen to on popular podcast platforms, including Spotify, iTunes, and Soundcloud.
The team is based in Seoul and is constantly producing new content, so you can be sure that it’s timely and up-to-date. Since the team is so young, the episodes feel relevant to millennials and are less stiff and formal than other lessons.
Most of the content is accessible on your smartphone and other devices, but they have printed workbooks you can order too. The podcasts deal with topics such as the problem of “micro dust” in South Korea and how to speak to your boss in Korean. This is a great podcast for anyone who plans to be working or studying abroad in Korea!
This learning series is produced by KBS World, a South Korean broadcasting company, and is entirely free to listen to. The downside is that the website isn’t as modern as some of the premium courses, so it’s a little harder to navigate.
Still, if you’re looking for the basics, this is a good place to start. You can listen to short dialogues that you’d encounter at the airport, at the post office, and other locations you might visit as a tourist to Korea.
What’s great about this platform is that it’s not limited to learning Korean as an English speaker. If your native language is French, Spanish, German, or one of several other languages, you can access the lessons in your preferred language instead.
This playlist contains 9 complete lessons ranging from 10 to 90 minutes each. If you’re looking for something to listen to on a long car trip or bus ride, give this playlist a try. The only thing to keep in mind is that it uses the Roman alphabet to introduce you to the sounds of the language. While this can be a helpful shortcut in the beginning, at some point you’ll want to learn Korean Hangeul.
Korean Champ is a slightly dated podcast that seems to have ended after 11 episodes. Still, the host Michael addresses some interesting topics in this series, such as how to describe yourself as an introvert or an extrovert in Korean.
This is a good podcast if you want to train your ear to understand Korean phrases, while still having an English-speaking host to guide you. You can find the episodes directly on the website, or look them up on iTunes.
Survival Phrases is another discontinued podcast that nevertheless has some useful material in the archives. This series is all about simple phrases that might come in handy on a trip to Korea, such as “I’m sorry” and “Where is the bathroom?” You won’t find any more advanced content on this podcast, but it’s a good place to learn some basic greetings and prepare yourself for more advanced lessons.
Once you’re familiar with the basics, the next step is to improve your listening skills. One way is to find podcasts by Korean speakers that are intended for intermediate language learners. These may include grammatical lessons or simply be realistic dialogues that are slightly more complex than beginner lessons. These podcasts will help you practice your comprehension skills, at a pace that is slow and simple enough for intermediate listeners. Check out a few of our intermediate podcast recommendations here.
This podcast is produced by the team behind Talk to Me In Korean but is a slightly more advanced podcast than their beginner audio lessons. The idea is to improve your skills by following along with natural conversations by native Korean speakers. Topics include work, travel, school, and holidays. You’ll also learn about Korean TV and the martial art taekwondo. Members of the TTMIK website can download transcripts so you can follow along more easily.
The Twinkling Korean podcast has around 100 episodes available on iTunes and other podcast apps. The episodes typically feature a Korean speaker and an English speaker having a conversation that alternates between both languages. This way, intermediate learners can follow along with the dialogue even if they don’t understand every word.
Since these conversations are scripted, they don’t feel as natural as some of the other podcasts on this list. But they deal with topics that are relevant to an English speaker visiting Korea for the first time, so should be useful to intermediate learners.
Sponge Mind is one of the most popular podcasts for Korean learners out there. Each episode is recorded in both English and Korean, so you can listen to it first in English to get familiar with the context and subject matter, and then listen to it again in Korean to see how much of the episode you comprehend.
Since the podcast doesn’t use traditional language-learning techniques, you may find that it takes some getting used to. Still, the subject matter is interesting and the hosts do their best to keep you motivated.
Korean Listening Practice is an app you can download with audio content suitable for listeners of all skill levels. You’ll hear native speakers demonstrating common phrases and correct pronunciation, and you can easily choose between beginner, intermediate, and advanced difficulty levels.
Sparkling Korean is an intermediate podcast with around 50 or so episodes that cover a variety of topics, such as how to talk about the weather, date, and time. It may be too advanced for beginners, but the host talks slowly and carefully enough that intermediate learners should be able to follow along pretty well.
Although it’s called Korean Podcast for Beginners, this podcast is actually more suitable for intermediate learners. The episodes are mostly in Korean and deal with a variety of topics, such as a trip to visit Ayers Rock in Australia. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of episodes available.
These podcasts are intended for native Korean speakers, so don’t attempt them until you’re feeling confident in your listening comprehension skills. Most of them are hosted on Podbbang, which is the Korean equivalent of the Apple podcast store.
This book podcast is one of the most popular podcasts in South Korea. Recorded live at a bookstore in Seoul, each two-hour episode includes interviews, commentary, and book excerpts from a variety of writers. You’ll be introduced to a mix of voices discussing the literary world from a South Korean perspective. Find this podcast on Podbbang.
Kim Young-ha is a popular South Korean novelist, and his podcast is an opportunity for him to share some of his favorite works of fiction. These lengthy episodes usually feature a short story or book excerpt read aloud, followed by Kim Young-ha’s reflections on the piece. This is a great way to practice understanding Korean, especially if you can find a copy of the book in question and follow along with Kim Young-ha’s narration.
Annals of the Joseon Kingdom is a comic book series by cartoonist Park Si-Baek that explores the history of the Korean peninsula from 1392-1910. A podcast version of the series has become very popular among history and culture enthusiasts. Hosted by history professor Shin Byung-ju and Kim Hak-won, the episodes tell the story of the dynasty in chronological order, following along with the 20-volume comic series.
If you’re interested in learning more about Korean history and feel comfortable following along in Korean, then this is the perfect podcast for advanced language learners. You can buy a copy of the comic books to follow along with the story.
Leaning a new language is a long process so don’t be discouraged if it takes you a while to follow along with these podcasts. I’d recommend trying a few out that look interesting to you and then getting in the habit of listening regularly.
We hope these podcasts give you plenty of options to improve your Korean, no matter which level of comprehension you’re at now.
If you’re looking for more resources to study Korean, check out our massive list of resources here.