Why is it so difficult to learn Korean? (11 reasons why) (2023)

There is perhaps no better way to gain a deep understanding of a culture than by learning its language. But learning a language can be challenging, and some are more difficult to learn than others.

One of those languages ​​is Korean, especially for native English speakers. Learning Korean is difficult for even the most experienced people, and here are 11 reasons why.

Why is it so difficult to learn Korean?

1. Pronunciations are difficult

One of the hardest parts of learning Korean is getting the pronunciation right. This can be particularly difficult for English speakers who have not previously explored other Asian languages ​​such as Chinese.

Although Korean is not a tonal language (ie, the meaning of words does not change with different pitches or inflections), correct pronunciation of words is essential for understanding.

Certain Korean letter groupings and syllable combinations can be particularly problematic for people who are naturally slow learners of new languages.

2. Korean builds sentences differently

In English and many other languages, the basic sentence structure is subject-verb-object. For example, the sentence "John drives the car" follows this format.

However, Korean changes things up a bit and uses a subject-object-verb sentence structure. This can be a very difficult convention for new students to accept and get used to.

Therefore, the same sentence used in the first example would say "John driving the car" in Korean, which would seem backwards and illogical to non-Korean speakers.

3. Verb endings are tricky

Using the verbs correctly can be a tricky aspect of learning any language, but in the case of Korean, the level of difficulty increases due to the different endings that can be added to the verbs depending on their usage.

Complicating matters further is the fact that specific verb endings must be used depending on the level of formality of the speech in question (more on this later).

That is, whether they are communicating an action, a state, or an event, the verbs in the Korean language are a big part of why the language is so difficult to learn.

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4. Different levels of formality

One of the most difficult things that beginners have to deal with when learning Korean is dealing with the many formalities that this language requires.

Korean is an honor society, which means cultural respect and honor are given to people in certain positions or circumstances.

For example, people older than the speaker, people in positions of authority, or supervisors at work are addressed in a way that shows respect and deference.

It is said that there are no less than seven degrees of formality in the Korean language. From smallest to largest they are:

  • friendly-casual
  • casual
  • medium informal
  • Familiar-formal
  • Semi-formal
  • formal-cortés
  • respectful-polite

As such, Korean is not only a difficult language to learn, but it is also imperative that those wishing to become proficient in Korean also understand the culture that greatly influences the way it is spoken.

5. Discovering conjunctions

For native English speakers, using conjunctions to link sentences, phrases, or ideas comes naturally and can be done without much thought.

However, learning to use connectors in a new language can be a difficult process, and in the case of Korean, figuring out how to use the multitude of conjunctions requires a lot of patience and dedication.

Although there aren't many conjunctions to learn in Korean, each can be used in different ways, and some of the variations are subtle and nuanced.

6. Learning vocabulary is a challenge

Why is it so difficult to learn Korean? (11 reasons why) (1)

Building enough vocabulary to carry on meaningful (and understandable) conversations is one of the hardest parts of learning Korean.

While there are some commonly used English loanwords that are fairly easy to learn, they make up only a small percentage of a proficient speaker's vocabulary.

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There are no shortcuts to building a Korean vocabulary knowledge base. Diligent study and practice are the keys to successfully mastering this difficult language.

7. Korean is a category IV language

According to the US Department of State's Foreign Service Institute (FSI), Korean is one of the most difficult languages ​​for native English speakers to learn, along with Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic.

In fact, Korean was referred to as aCategory IV language, which means that the FSI finds it extremely difficult to learn.

Because it is a Category IV language, the FSI estimates that it would take the average student 88 weeks, or the equivalent of 2,200 hours of study, to master Korean.

This means that a person would need to spend more than 3 hours a day for more than a year and a half to achieve professional job proficiency (both in reading and speaking) in Korean.

8. Adjectives are similar to verbs

As if the language's different levels of formality and whimsical sentence structures weren't enough, Korean is hard for most people to learn because adjectives are used in a similar way to verbs.

Instead of using adjectives to simply describe something and convey its attributes or qualities, the Korean language gives adjectives an active attitude and uses them to create a state of being.

So “the car is red” would become “the car will be red” and “she is smart” would become “she is smart”. Conceptually, these are linguistic conventions that are difficult for non-Korean speakers to understand.

9. Words can be too long

For Korean learners, developing enough vocabulary to be able to communicate can be a long and tedious process.

To make matters worse, Korean words can be quite long, spanning five or six syllables, and in some cases even longer.

Keep in mind different language levels for different levels of formality, and things can get pretty complicated quickly for people trying to learn this difficult language.

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10. Korean nouns and pronouns

A common practice among native Korean speakers is to omit pronouns and nouns when talking about someone.

Often the only clue as to what a comment or remark is about is a nod or glance in someone's direction to see who the speaker is referring to or talking about.

This idiosyncrasy can be very confusing for new students and is a difficult nuance to understand, and this is another factor that makes learning Korean so difficult.

11. Learn the Korean slang

To make it even more challenging for non-native speakers, the Korean taught in most language courses falls in the semi-formal to formal honorific range.

But the Korean spoken in most everyday situations is not only less polite and formal, but also involves the use of many colloquialisms that are simply not often taught in class materials.

As a result, beginners can have a hard time understanding native Korean speakers and vice versa, which not only makes conversations awkward, but can also be downright overwhelming for a new learner.

You can also read our posts for more information.Why is Chinese so difficult to learn?,because japanese is very difficult to learn, zwhy studying is so boring.


In recent years, Korean culture has been in the spotlight with the rise in popularity of K-pop and Korean dramas. As a result, many fans are wondering how difficult it can be to learn Korean.

Korean is a difficult language to learn and there is no way around it. However, by learning certain rules about sentence structure and different levels of formality, this can be achieved; it just won't be easy.

  • Why is it so difficult to learn Korean? (11 reasons why) (2)

    Juan Richardson

    Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge in all its forms. She spent more than 15 years as a high school teacher, teaching students history, geography, math, and more.

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