Best books for learning Korean

In the software development industry, we have the habit of creating a particular type of list to collect the most important resources related to a specific language, framework or tool. This list is called “awesome-something” and is usually hosted by GitHub (the main code hosting service of the web). See these “awesome lists” related to the programming language “Ruby”, for example:

This last one has its own website, as well:

This is a good habit (a “good practice”, actually) and makes much easier to manage the first contact with a new language, platform or tool.  Unfortunately, there is not anything like this in the language teaching/learning area.

When I first tried to study the Korean language, I had to spend a few day just to find, evaluate, organize and memorize the most interesting resources of the web. Of course, my first concern was for “books”. Where could I find good introductory books for learning this language alone? And which book was the best fit for my needs?

Now, after around six months of solo study, a lot of investigation, a lot of experiments and a few contact with native speakers, I think I can give you some good suggestion.


Korean from Zero 1
Korean from Zero 1 – George Trombley

The first book you should use is “Korean from Zero” volume 1 by George Trombley et al.

This book is the first in a series of three and has been written by a professional, seasoned Japanese and Korean interpreter (George Trombley) with the support of a small group of native speakers. It is a well-engineered, well-designed and tidy book that explains all the confusing details of the Korean language and of Hangul.

This first book is devoted to absolute beginners and is particularly clear. Should you go beyond this first “survival” level, you will still be able to find all of the guidance you need in the next two books in the same series.

Please note that this book can be download and used for free. It can even be used in a regular classroom for free. The screenshot here above is my “copy” of this book as seen through the default PDF viewer on Linux Mint 17 on my laptop. I normally use my tablet (a cheap 12” Mediacom) to read this book and to study Korean while laying on the sofa.

So, do not wait longer! Download you copy from here and start studying:

Do not forget to download the MP3 audio files with the pronunciation examples from the same page. They cover each and every Korean phrase of the book.

Should you prefer a paper copy, you can buy it here:

George Trombley and his team have also made available (for free) a lot of very useful, very interesting video lessons on YouTube. You can find them here:


“Korean made simple” by Billy Go is the book I appreciated more. I just loved it. Billy Go is an American professional Korean teacher. He learned Korean both studying it alone and in a classroom. He lived in South Korea for a few years and kept studying the language while traveling all over Korea. From any point of view, he is a very good “connoisseur” of the Korean language and an expert in the process of learning it. His personal learning story is clearly visible in the pages of his book and is the main reason I loved it. The “learning style” of Billy Go is very similar to mine: a quest for simplicity, a quest for “patterns” and an intense use of all available media tools (video, audio, software, etc.).

You can learn more about him and about his books (there are already three of them) at his website:

Billy Go is also running a very interesting “channel” on YouTube that contains hundreds of very useful video lessons. You can find it here:


Last, let me suggest you a “wrong” book. “Essential Korean Grammar” by Laura Kingdon is the kind of book you should never use to learn a language. This is a “reference grammar” and as such it should never be used to study a language. It is intended as a reference book: something you can rely on when you try to organize your knowledge of the language (a knowledge you should have got from an another source).

This book is usually criticized because it tries to give you a one-to-one correspondence between typically English language patterns and the most similar Korean language ones. Western and Asian languages are so different that this way to compare them is totally misleading and cannot produce anything useful for communication.

Despite this, I bought it and I tried to use it. It is not easy to find what you need, but from time to time this book really helps you to organize your knowledge of the language in your mind.

That’s all for today, folks. Stay tuned…

Alessandro Bottoni

Best books for learning Korean

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