How to Memorize New Korean Words


I ruin my Korean magazine with a highlighter pen.

What I do to memorize new Korean words and increase my vocabulary:

1. Just memorize it.
There are words that somehow I just remember.

2. Say it 5 times, and memorize it.
I always “read aloud” when learning. It helps my brain to understand Korean. Read aloud, but not too loud, whispering is OK.

3. Write it 5 times on paper, and memorize it.
Because sometimes saying it just doesn’t work.

4. Tweet it on Twitter.
Because I will read my own status again later.

5. Make mnemonics.
I learned it from the Japanese. In Japanese, they call it “goro-awase”. So you think of another word that resembles it, or make an exaggerated story about the word.

For example, I had a hard time remembering this word: 억울하다(=to feel something is unfair, to feel like a victim) . It sounds like 小倉だ [ogura da] (=It’s Ogura). I imagine Ogura-san is someone who makes me feel awful because he’s unfair. That’s how I memorize 억울하다.

6. Use knowledge about kanji (Chinese characters).
Read my blog post: About 한자 [Hanjja] (Chinese Characters) in Korean

7. Use memorization tools.
Anki and Quizlet.

8. Repetition.
By making sure I read the word 4-5 times a day. For example by sticking post-its on my mirror.

Do you have other techniques? Do share. 궁금해요. (=I’m curious.) ###

18 thoughts on “How to Memorize New Korean Words

  1. Choco Pie says:

    I don’t know Chinese or Japanese, so learning Korean vocab has been difficult for me. However, I noticed that as I learned more, it got easier. Even though I don’t know hanja, I started to notice the similar roots and the relationships between words, making them easier to learn.

    I’m not good at memorizing and don’t enjoy memorization. Of course, when I first started learning Korean, I was forced to memorize. The first 1000-2000 words, I memorized. 어쩔 수 없었어요.

    Now that I have a basic vocabulary, I can learn new words by reading a lot or by reviewing word lists related to my reading. I don’t try to memorize, but I just try to expose myself to the words repeatedly. Eventually it gets through my thick skull, somehow.


  2. meloncreme says:

    I don’t memorize. I tried though but I forgot after just a few days. There are times when you’re forcing your brain to remember something, it’s doing the exact opposite. What I do is I read articles or any reading materials, look up words that are new to me then write it down on my vocab notebook with some sample sentences. If I forget the word or the meaning then so be it. Then I finish the article that I’m reading and move on to the next one. When I encounter the words again on a different article, my brain will start to recognize them little by little until it’s finally etched on my brain. A tip that I learned from my friend is that when you learn a new word, use it as soon as you learn it, use it frequently, use it as often as possible.


  3. caniche says:

    I don’t remember how I learned English vocabulary during the less advanced phases, so when I study Japanese vocabulary I am at loss for a method. (Advanced English vocabulary wasn’t too hard for my mother tongue is a Romance Language and words coming from Latin are pretty easy to guess.)
    With Japanese I make an active effort to memorize Kanji, as I figure there is no other way around it, and some vocabulary using the characters I am learning. However, I find it hard to retain words whose Kanji I have yet to learn. I will remember their meaning and pronunciation, but cannot read or write them. The opposite also happens; I can recognize the written word and it’s meaning but I cannot pronounce it. Since your mother tongue doesn’t use Kanji, I was curious about your method of memorizing them and Japanese vocabulary. Were there any differences from the method you use for Korean?
    Either way, I also read the post in “Ask a Korean” about language acquisition and I’ll implement the rote memorization method. I think I’ll enjoy reading and watching dramas a lot more when I can start understanding more and more words in a flash.
    Anyway, reading about your process of self-studying Korean is a motivation to my studies too. I really enjoy it!


    • Thank you for reading my blog, Caniche 님. I didn’t use any methods back then when I was learning Japanese. But I was living in Japan, I had formal classes, and I had to use Japanese every day to survive. I just made sure I brought my electronic dictionary everywhere I went so I could look up kanji and words quickly. (That’s also how I memorized kanji. I looked them up in my electronic dictionary for a couple of times until finally they stick. So I remembered kanji by reading them in context and repetition. And there were kanji tests from my classes.). Now, the situation is different, so I look for other ways that work for me in my situation. And now I find that I can’t remember Korean words if I don’t make conscious effort to remember. I can’t just absorb words easily like when I was learning Japanese. It could be the age factor thing, but it’s OK. It turned out, I like doing rote memorization, too.


  4. I started learning Korean in March and we made it till chapter 5 of Active Korean so I know about 190 words now. We’ve been having summer holidays for a few weeks now and I just started to do some’s terrifying to realise how much I forgot!
    To be honest, i think it would really help me if we would have some more additional reading material since then the words would have context instead of me just rote memorising and writing them down… only to forget them after not using them for a bit..

    I think you also used active Korean right? Do you perhaps know of some additional resources i could use without them being to difficult for my skill level? I tried finding them myself but haven’t had much luck so far..


    • Hmmm… I think for basic words, you can give the words context by yourself because they’re usually very concrete and related to our everyday life. For example, when you’re eating, you can think to yourself ‘I know how to say ‘eat’ in Korean, and it is… 먹어요!’ I used Anki and Quizlet and did 5 years worth of TOPIK Basic when I was learning basic level to make sure I remember. I never used Active Korean. Maybe just re-read the book until you’re sure you remember everything?


  5. Well, there’s not much to re-read since it doesn’t have a lot of text, which is my problem. When I think back to language learning in high school our textbooks always had lot of little stories to practice reading and writing with. Even at the beginner level. And I think this really caused us students to retain vocabulary and grammar quite well.


    • I’m learning Chinese now. I know about only 100 words. The only reading material I can find using those 100 words is my textbook.🙂

      Input (reading and listening) is one way to retain vocabulary. Another way is output (by speaking and writing). Output is a lot better way than input.

      How about making your own sentences or your own story with 190 words you already know? You can ask native on Lang-8 to check your sentences.


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