Output learning and why it is critical

When it comes to language learning input is king. That’s obvious. But having looked around on various study routines and guide online, it seemed to me that the importance of output is underappreciated.

Roughly estimating you would only spend about 10% of your time output learning. If you’re learning Korean in some sort of institution that would be different. I’m mainly generalising for people who learn by themselves. Output learning may only take up 10% of your total learning time, but that 10% is crucial. It doesn’t need to be a high proportion, but having that 10% and utilising that 10% properly is really important. If you don’t do the 10%, or you’re not doing it properly, it will be very difficult to advance your level.

I noticed for myself during various times over the years I would unconsciously shy away from output practice, especially writing. It was difficult and painful in a number of ways. The obvious first. You realise how much you actually suck. You may feel disappointed, annoyed, frustrated, humbled, by what you can come up with.

Whistler's mother
Actual Korean
mr bean whistler
When you write in Korean


Secondly, the process itself is quite painful. You have to reach deep into your memory bank and drag out fragments of knowledge, words, phrases, grammar and figure out how to combine them into what you’re trying to say. Then, not even two words into your sentence and you realise something like this ‘shit, what is the word for elbow’, or ‘shit, am I suppose to use 아/어서 or (으)니까 here?’. It’s much easier to listen to 현우 and 경운 from TTMIK talk to each other, take down some notes of words and grammar, colour code it if youre into that, and call it a day. The very process of forcing yourself to come up with the words and sentences is how output learning helps you learn!

How output learning helps you learn

By trying to create your own sentences and stumbling for words you’re much more likely to create a memorable experience for yourself. Hearing someone else say the word ‘elbow’ is not going to implant the word very deeply in your memory. When you learn a word by creating the circumstances around the word, and putting context around the word you will much more likely remember the word. Don’t forget you still need to record the word into some sort of spaced repetition system like Anki or Memrise, but I won’t cover that here.

The same thing applies for grammar. If you hear someone else say 아/어서 or 니까 you’ll roughly translate it to ‘because’ and then move on. But when you’re writing it down yourself you will be forced to scrutinise the different much more. You may not be able to figure it out on the spot, with the help or a textbook or even online resources, but when you note down the circumstance of the example and then seek help later, you will learn it in a context that you created yourself.

Finally, you’ll pick yourself up on sentence structure. You don’t know what you don’t know. A simple sentence like ‘dad made Steven make Sarah angry’ you may roughly understand when someone else says it. But I can guarantee a lot of learners are going to struggle formulating this kind of sentence structure on their own in Korean.

How to incorporate output learning into your study routine

  1. Make notes of words and phrases that pop into your mind throughout the day. Be curious about how to translate things you say in English into Korean. Review your notes daily if possible. If it is a word, try to find the appropriate word yourself first. If it is a phrase or sentence, try to translate it yourself first. You only have to do this to the extent you have time. If you don’t have a lot of time you can directly ask for help from your language exchange partner, or ask on Hellotalk.
  2. Write about something. It can be anything. I’ll give you some examples
    • Cooking instructions for something you know how to make. (You’ll learn a lot of cooking verbs this way)
    • Directions from some place to another. Pick different locations each time
    • Something interesting you did. I don’t like doing regularly diary entries in Korean because it got quite boring the way I approached it.
    • Describe something, or a series of physical actions. It may be harder than you think to describe something. You’ll learn a lot of adjectives and nouns this way.
    • Watch a short clip of an English TV show you like and try translate it into Korean
    • If you follow a sport, watch a player interview and try to translate that into Korean
  3. Use Hellotalk. Ask and answer questions in as much Korean as possible. Get good at using Korean vocabulary and phrases that are frequently used in asking and answering questions. The better you are this the better you will be at soliciting the type of response you’re looking for, and you’ll be able to give better responses to other people.
  4. Find and meet a language exchange friend once a week. On top of talking, use this opportunity to ask all the questions you couldn’t figure out on your own.


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