I think this is a question that comes up a lot when people talk about learning a foreign language and I’ve talked about it here before too. But I was recently asked this question and it was a two-part. The first part of the question, “Do you need to know grammar to understand Korean?” and the second part, “Have you studied grammar while you’ve been learning?” So I’ll answer that in two ways.
“Do you need to know grammar to understand Korean?”
It depends. It depends your answer to two questions:
- What are you learning Korean for?
- How do you plan on using what you learn?
So if you answered the questions like, “I’m learning so I can talk to relatives/friends” or “I’m learning because I’m about to travel to Korea” or “I’m learning because of kpop/kdramas”… anything along those lines, the answer is, not really. You actually really don’t need to learn anything too in depth as far as grammar goes. You only really need to learn the basics because you’re learning Korean for conversational and entertainment purposes. There’s no real reason to understand the “why” behind what you’re saying. You just need to understand what you’re saying and be able to understand contextual clues in speech and when you speech. That doesn’t require a whole lot of grammar. It’s also the reason why I stopped doing so many grammar posts because it’s not really necessary. I’ve honestly found it’s easier to pick up Korean when you focus more on what you’re saying, context, and what it means then to learn ALL of that with grammar. It just makes it so much harder.
If you answered the questions, “I’m learning Korean so I can teach/I’m a teacher in Korea now” or “I’m learning because I read a lot of books in Korean” or “I plan on writing more in Korean” then the answer is, yes, you do need to learn grammar. If you’re doing anything with writing, reading (newspaper/textbooks/etc.), teaching, then you do need to have good grasp of grammar because you’re going beyond conversational Korean. You’re going more towards the written style and a lot of what is written in Korean isn’t actually said the same way in speech. So you’re basically learning a more in depth way to say the same things only you won’t be verbally saying or reading them. This is when it’s more important to understand why you have to use specific endings or why you have add on or conjugate differently because you have to read and understand what you’re reading or you’ll have to write and your readers need to understand what you’re saying.
The reality is… and I’ve said this before but, most English speakers only know the basics of English. They don’t know in depth grammatically correct English because they don’t speak it. And it’s the same way with other languages too.
The best advice I can give to you is the same advice that was given to me… “Learn Korean the way you speak in your native language.”
Meaning, if you don’t use a PhD level vocabulary/grammar in your everyday speech in your native language, don’t try to learn it in Korean. Learn to speak conversationally and learn to speak it comfortably. Remember to “mind your manners” as well. Meaning, make sure you’re always aware of when to speak formally and informally.
And always always always… be confident! Practice! Don’t be afraid to try and make mistakes. If you put forth the effort, eventually it’ll click and you’ll be fluent before you know it!
That’s all for now!