Trouble memorizing korean

is it just me… or is it hard to memorize korean vocab? i have grammar structure down already, and i know basic phrases, but i just can’t make vocab words stick. maybe it’s just my ADHD…?

I don’t know what other languages you have studied but korean is hard because the words don’t resemble anything close to their english equivalents and since korean doesn’t have hanja anymore it makes it hard to memorize vocab especially since korean has so many words that are so close/similiar. It will stick eventually but if you are interested I would look into hanja roots or 한자어 either memorizing the characters or not it’s up to you. this application is cool for this purpose 公 - Hanja Dictionary

員 pronounced 원 and means employee/staff member
公務員 공무원 public servant
構成員 구성원 member
國會議員 국회의원 a member of the national assembly
動員동원 mobilization
部員부원 staff
非戰鬪員비전투원 civilian
社員사원 company employee
船員선원 sailor
女店員여점원 saleswoman
女職員여직원female employee
委員위원committee member
委員長위원장a chairman of a committee
議員의원a member
店員점원shop assistant
會員회원a member of a society

All these words can be learned faster knowing 원 means employee and there are a good 500 한자 like this that i think every korean learner should know whether you that 원 looks like this 員 or not. But there are alot of 원’s in korean so eventually learning what they look like can be helpful like 原 元 員 院 源 are all 원’s but mean different things.


No it’s just that it’s very distant from English. You need to give your brain time to acclimate to the components of the words and different sounds.

I had the same problem with Russian initially. Compared to French and Spanish the Russian words didn’t stick at all. At all. Like it took 5-6 tries to memorize French/Spanish and sometimes 30 or 40 tries for Russian words.

But after some months something clicked in my brain and now I am able to memorize Russian words much better than before. It’s not 5-6 tries but it probably is 9-10 tries now.

What I think happened is my brain was getting messed up because I didn’t know what I was hearing because the consonant clusters are different than what is found in English/French/Spanish and some of the vowel sounds are wierd.

When I ran a memorization experiment a couple weeks ago I found Mandarin Chinese was worse than Russian because every part of the word, the sounds, the combinations, the consonants, the vowels, the tones. All of it was different. Over the two week trial period I was running at maybe 100 tries to memorize a word.

Anyhow, long story short, it can be done, but it will take time to get used to it.


First of all, don’t panic. If your mother tongue is not Chinese or Japanese, Korean will be a very difficult language to acquire. This is perfectly normal.

I have been learning seriously for nearly 4 years (mother tongue = French) and the language is just starting to make a lot more sense to me now.

As someone suggested, try learning Hanja if you can. You’ll have people telling you it’s not necessary because it’s not really used in Korea these days and what’s not, but trust me on this: it will greatly help you acquire vocabulary and infer the meanings of words you don’t know.

I have a list of Hanja resources I can list if you are interested.

Finally, try to read and listen as much as you can: podcasts, TV shows, YT videos, audiobooks, books, articles.

Try to mine phrases or sentences as opposed to isolated words. Teenage literature is great if you want to acquire “up to date” vocab in Korean.

You need to immerse yourself in the language as much as you can and it will come to you, I promise. However, be realistic in your expectations: it will take time, but you’ll get there.


Sorry if I sidetrack this thread at all but how did you learn english? I’ve seen alot of your posts as a fellow korean learner and always thought you were a native english speaker. How did you obtain the level that you have?

I majored in English at university when I was still living in France.

I moved to England 16 years ago and use the language on a daily basis both for work and at home.

Also I work as a literary translator and one of my source languages is English, so I read on a daily basis as part of my job.

I believe I owe my proficiency in English to all of the above. Although it is not my native language, I can read, write, and understand it effortlessly. I wish I could say the same thing about Korean LOL.


Can you share the Hanja resources?

I sure can!

If you have never learned any Hanja before, you might want to try “My first Hanja Guide” by TTMIK. It’s a good introduction, but it will be quite limited as it only introduces 80 or so hanjas.

If you need English explanations, I recommend “Learn Hanja the Fun Way”. Although published in 2004, this book is divided by themes and introduces the 500 most common hanjas you are likely to encounter in Korean.

The best resources, though, are the ones made for natives and will have no English explanations. If you prefer to study using books, please check out the series 날로먹는 한자. It is a series of 8 books introducing the 1500 hanjas Korean students need to know when they graduate high school. It comes with lots of colourful pictures and can be purchased on Ridi or 알라딘.

My favourite though is probably an app called 한자공부Q 2.0 by Aribada Inc. It has every hanja divided by level with an English translation. You can also get to practice drawing the characters if it’s something you are interested in. The first 3 or 4 levels are free, and then there’s a yearly subscription, but at $7 or so, it’s a bargain. Navigation on the app is entirely in Korean though. For those studying Japanese and Chinese, translations are also provided in these languages too. I think it is only available on Android.

Hope this helps!


Thanks for pointing us to 날로먹는 한자!
I also found it on Google Play.

I’m a big fan of SRS flashcard apps like Anki or Flashcards Deluxe. Rote memorization gets a bad rap but if you experiment with it I think you can find a way to make it enjoyable too. It’s a good compliment to LingQ or other immersion. And you need to be patient with languages that are really different than your own. I studied Japanese for many years and I don’t know how I stayed motivated but I’m glad I did because I couldn’t see it but I was slowly progressing. I mean several years. I studied Japanese as my main hobby for about 7 years.

Actually speaking the language can also be very helpful. You’ll find many people who say it’s not worth speaking if you don’t have a base vocabulary and they definitely have a point but if you can get some speaking practice in it might go a long way in getting your brain to agree with you that this language is part of who you are and needs to be remembered - not forgotten when you’re studying/immersing.

Mindblown!! I’m mind blown! I’ve studied mandarin for three years, I’m very poor at it, and want to pick it up again. But started this year with Korean. And level 1 and 2 of TTMIK was relatively easy for me to pick up. And I noticed so many resemblances, which made sense to me because Goryeo used to be part of the Chinese Dynasty. But stupidly I didn’t put 1+1 together. I though hangeul just created a written word of their language. But off course they’re still connected to the caracthers they used to use in their speech, aka Hanja. My question to you, is Hanja the same as the caracthers used in Chinese today? Because that would mean I could focus on Hanja, and also work on my caracthers memory again.

I’m now starting to struggle with my Korean journey and want to continue and not quit like I did with Chinese. Just don’t know how to continue atm.

Wikipedia’s article, as retrieved just now, in its article on traditional Chinese characters, says: “Korean hanja, still used to a certain extent in South Korea, remain virtually identical to traditional characters, with variations between the two forms largely stylistic.”

Traditional Chinese characters are the ones used in many Chinese-speaking places outside of mainland China, including Taiwan. China itself uses simplified characters.

Learning the traditional Chinese characters is a huge help, just like learning Latin and Greek (and other) roots helps with English vocabulary.

edited to correct a spelling error

How are you studying?

I found German words wouldn’t stick, unlike French, because they were so alien. Then I stopped doing the LingQ lessons, and just read and listened to stories, and it started to sink in, slowly for sure. I think it’s because I hugely increased the amount of input, and input beats lessons hands down.

Hanja nowadays are rarely used outside of 50-100 characters for shorthand, but some examples. All of the top 1000 hanja in Korean have immense value as root words. I studied about this amount (1400ish) and it is paying off immensely, although in hindsight i would stop at maybe 1000 until a more advanced level than probably learn around 2200ish. anyways, For example, to throw 투 投 (one of many useful hanja) and some words)
[투표][投票] vote (throw, representation)
[투자][投資] investment (throw, asset)
[투약][投藥] medication (throw, joy)
[투옥][投獄] imprisonment (throw, jail)
[투신][投身] throwing oneself (throw, body)
[투매][投賣] clearance sale (throw, sale)
[투기][投棄] abandonment (throw, abandonment)
[호투][好投] good pitching (good, throw)
[폭투][暴投] wild throwing/pitching (violence, throw)
the words () between parenthesis are the meaning of the Chinese characters.
There are way more words than this for this character and according to daum dictionary there are at least 65 words. Korean has many more words than romance languages because they have the characters to draw upon so vocab is even more important so characters although feel like more work it is actually faster, and just puts into perspective how hard Korean is hehe. Good luck out there.

According to daum there are 5 different 투 hanja. 3 of them are immediately useful while the other 2 probably archaic. [投] to throw, [透] to pass through/to penetrate, [鬪] fight/dispute. This syllable only has a few so technically you do not need the characters but can just memorize the roots, but for syllables like 수 고 방 장 there will 30+ with 20+ being useful. Also, pronunciation is insanely regular when used in words unlike

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Korean hanja will 98% of the time look like traditional characters and if there are any differences it is minor stroke differences, but nothing like simplified vs traditional. As far as resources, I just would the hanja levels and look up on daum dictionary how many words it has and how useful the words are and then look up on and give it keywords based on that. Then I would just anki them and put them on a very short max interval like 30 days. After about a year and a half without flash carding any hanja the character details are a bit blurry for some, but I remember the keywords and the pronunciation (for Korean the most important part).

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