People often ask me how much Korean I can speak because I live in here and have Korean family, so I decided to write about my language learning experience. First of all I want to say that I'm not one of those lucky ones who learn languages easily just by hearing them. I studied English at school for years and years and even after that I have needed a lot of practice to get my English in the level it is now. Few years ago I couldn't write even a sentence without googling something about the grammar. My English is not perfect yet, but I've got much better with it. I'm pretty sure that my journey with learning Korean language will be similar and extremely long too.
I studied Korean alphabet, hangeul, in 2012 (gosh that's ages ago!) by myself. Korean alphabet is very easy to learn and there's even videos in youtube that promise to make you learn it in 5 minutes. Korean is usually pronounced the way it's written, but there's also consonants that are sometimes silent, cases where the previous consonant changes how the next consonant is pronounced and other exceptions, so unfortunately speaking Korean correctly is not as simple as it might seem. I studied Korean grammar a bit by myself using the first book of Integrated Korean series. It's made especially considering English speaking learners and it explains new grammar in great detail. Only thing I didn't like about this book at first was that it's clearly targeted for university students and back when I begun my Korean studies I didn't have use for that kind of vocabulary. Anyways, I think it's great series for self-studying! Other source I highly recommend is Talk To Me In Korean. They offer lots of free material meant especially for self-studies in a really easy-to-understand form and because the lessons are short you can feel that you are making progress fast and easy way. I also bought their second and third level books and my husband got me their vocabulary books (but those vocabulary books haven't been the best for me). Those books are really affordable and teach you one thing about grammar in each chapter. These short chapters kept me easily motivated and studying with them is fun. I've tried some other books too, but these two series are so far the best and most informative I've found for self-studying purpose.
So when I moved to Korea in 2015 I already new some basic grammar and greetings and was able since the beginning to communicate with my parents-in-law at least a bit. Even though I'm surrounded with Korean language everyday I haven't been able to learn it much without really studying it, but of course I've learned many useful daily expressions I didn't had read from books just by hearing them so often. My listening skills have got a lot better too. Unfortunately I've also managed to become a master of just blocking everything what others are speaking because I've got so used to it that I can't understand and aren't able to participate in the conversation. When I started my university I also started my first Korean classes. I spend two hours two times a week studying things I had already studied by myself. This course didn't make me to expand my knowledge, but helped me to correct some errors and gave me some practice of right pronunciation. Our teacher didn't speak any English and even though that wasn't a problem for me some students who weren't familiar with Korean already had difficulties to understand the class. Next semester I tried to take the next level, but my new teacher didn't seem to be very interested of teaching and I was so busy with my other studies I thought that those classes were kind of waste of time and didn't finish it.
I need to take Korean language examination and pass TOPIK level 4 (out of 6) to be able to graduate. Because my Korean hasn't magically got much better by itself I decided it's time to do something about it, joined intensive language course in Korea University and studied the first level while having winter vacation from my own university. Almost all Korean universities offer these kind of courses, so if you are interested of studying in one I would recommend you to consider in what area of Seoul you want to study because Seoul is a big city and there's so many schools to choose from. I couldn't find much experiences about different universities online, but I considered between three universities - Korea University, Sungkyunkwan University, and my own university Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. HUFS because it's already familiar university for me and close where I live, Sungkyunkwan because I really like the area where the Seoul campus is located and because their course would have had the best schedule considering my major studies. Sungkyunkwan has longer days than other universities have, so they can teach one usually 10 week long level in 8 weeks. In the end I chose Korea University because it's one of the top 3 universities in Seoul and because they offer afternoon class 1:30-17:30. I'm not really a morning person and wanted to sleep my vacation mornings. One level, 10 weeks 4 hours in a day, costs depending of a university a bit less or a bit over 1,500,000 KRW (around 1230 euros). In Korea University afternoon class is a bit cheaper than more popular morning class.
Now I'm succesfully finished with my first level in Korea University's Korean Language Center (KLC) and I must say that I loved my time there! Korea University is a big university so they are well adapted to have foreign students. Our orientation was held in four different languages including English and their office has at least English, Chinese and Japanese speaking workers to whom you can go to ask help when facing any problems. My teachers were also extremely kind and willing to help us in our daily difficulties. Only a bit chaotic thing was the language level test in the orientation day because there's hundreds and hundreds of students taking it, but gladly there was at least English and Chinese speaking staff to help confused newbies like me. Most of the students are Chinese, but I saw lots of Viatnemese students too. People from Western countries are really a minority there. I was first very dissappointed to be placed to level 1 even though I knew the basics of the language already, but now after taking it I must say that it was the right level for me and my Korean has got a lot better! I was in a bit more advanced class where all of the students had already some knowledge of the language and some students were way better than me already. I don't know how it is for first level if you know 0% Korean, but our classes were held 100% in Korean. Every class has two teachers, each teaching two hours of a day. I loved my teachers! They were kind, fun and not afraid to correct students mistakes. We laughed a lot in almost every class and sometimes when I went to university early to study and wait my class to start I could hear morning classes laughing in their classrooms. I couldn't ask any better teachers than I got. My biggest problem with Korean has been speaking, and these classes really force you to talk and teachers try their best to correct everyones pronunciation. My classes were really conversational instead of lecturing so we really needed to try to use the things we had learned. And because the classes are multicultural and most of your classmates might not know much English chatting between students happens in Korean too (when/if the people from same country won't just chat with each other). We had four weekly tests, two reading out loud tests, one speech, and midterm and final exams icluding reading, listening, writing and speaking. My husband has been huge help for me practicing correct pronunciation, reading and correcting my mistakes in my Korean diary, and testing new vocabulary with me. I would say that Korea University is pretty strict university so if you don't study enough or your skills aren't good enough for the next level their teachers won't let you to go to next level just out of pity.
There was one negative thing about these classes though that isn't, unfortunately, anything that KLC could fix - lazy or un-motivated students. Every class has 10-15 students and because most of the practices are done as pairs it's extremely important that everyone participates. Unfortunately in my class there were some students who skipped very many classes (if you skip too many you can't go to next level), came late most of the days, tried to sleep on the class and used their handphones even though it's not allowed in class time. Some days teachers even needed to take phones away from some students! It takes so much time from studying when teachers need to fight these same stupid things every single day. Thankfully there were also students who took their studies seriously, but it's really difficult for me to understand how +20 years old people don't have any clue how to behave on (very expensive) class... Anyways, I'll surely go back to Korea University my next vacation and will take the next level. These classes can be very demanding, but if you do your studies well you can learn so much in 10 weeks! I think that Korea University is really good choice if you need practice in your conversation skills and want to get better at speaking, but you will also learn a lot of grammar and to write correctly, too. Next I plan to study for TOPIK I examination and want to try to take it this year, continue writing diary in Korean to help me not to forget what I learned, and will take beginner level (again...) course this semester at my own university because I can get some credits from it. This will be long but rewarding journey for me!