The Life Experimenter : Change Your Life, One Month at a Time

Conclusion #47 – How To Learn To Read Korean Menus In A Month

By Allen Rinehart

Korean Bibimbap

It’s been a month since I set out to learn Korean and I have to say that it really wasn’t that hard.  Most people look at language learning as this complex process that so out of reach that they won’t make any effort to try and learn anything.  I noticed the same reaction from people when talking about running a marathon.  But after putting in a little effort over the last couple of weeks, I was able to teach myself to read and speak Korean.  Not only that, I can now read and order from most Korean menus…a thought that would have scared me a couple of months ago.  Here’s how I did it.

Your Learning Toolbox

Everyone learns in different ways, but here’s what I used to learn…

  1. – I really cool flashcard website that allows you to search for existing cards related to whatever you’re interested in learning (for me it was Korean foods) and study those vocabulary cards.  You can also copy someone else’s cards and modify them yourself.  I searched out someone else’s stack of cards and just added new words to them as I built my vocabulary.  You can also export the flashcards into excel or import them into an app on your phone.  I didn’t stick with learning 10 words/days, but ended up learning only about 30 words in total.  Enough to read and order from most Korean menus.
  2. Menus – My goal was to read, understand and pronounce Korean foods, so the best material to study was menus in all Korean.  I would either take them home with me or find them online.  My mistake in the beginning was studying the vocabulary of ingredients like words for celery, apple, mushroom rather than the actual names of dishes like pajeon or bulgogi.  It’s good to know what is in the dish, but it was more important to understand what a dish was to understand it’s ingredients and order.  For example, I know jeon  is a type of Korean pancake made with rice flour and egg and pa is Korean for green onion, so a pajeon is a green onion Korean pancake with green onions, rice flour and eggs.  Don’t waste your time trying to remember words that you’ll never use.
  3. – Youtube has a nice selection of Korean lessons specific to ordering food and learning to read.  These two videos (1,2) helped me learn how to pronounce the various characters in Korean.  There’s also various videos showing you how to order food and drinks at a restaurant as well as various phrases you might use there.

Overall, ordering food in Korean is not that difficult.  If you understand basic Korean dishes and learn the vocabulary, then reading and ordering is easy.  You don’t even need to understand complete sentences.  Simply repeating the item you want off the menu is usually the minimum you need to know to order. You don’t even need to say anything if you know what it is you’re looking at and simply point to it.  It’s pretty amazing what you can do from there.  Now I feel comfortable walking into a Korean restaurant where no one may speak English and ordering from an all Korean menu.  As a foreigner, this opens doors for you to eat at almost any restaurant you want in Korea without any help.

The process of learning to read has motivated me to want to learn more.  I’m thinking about learning words and phrases associated with shopping such as “How much?”, asking where things are located or understanding the number system when told the cost of items.  I’m also interested in learning basic conversation starters such as telling people where I am from, how old I am or what I do for a living.  Learning another language all comes down to finding out what interests you and learning about that in your target language.

The above photo is Korean Bibimbap (Credits: Wikipedia)

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