Category Archives: korean

Book review: 500 Basic Korean Verbs

In any language, verbs form the vital medium for effective communication. Korean is no exception. Its tricky verb conjugations and challenging grammar present tough obstacles for learners. 500 Basic Korean Verbs is an invaluable reference that breaks down 500 of the most common Korean verbs. I recommend that all serious students of Korean pick this one up.

Continue reading Book review: 500 Basic Korean Verbs

The 10 Best Korean Textbooks for Self Study

(Updated April, 2019)

Until recently, Korean was a rare language for Westerners to learn. But thanks to the rapid economic development of South Korea, and increasing interest in Korean culture in recent years seems to have led to more Korean learning materials being made available (I’m lookin’ at you, Korean Dramas and K-Pop).

Unfortunately, there are still less high-quality learning resources than you can find for learning Japanese or Chinese. That said, we did find some super useful books that helped us to get started with this challenging but beautiful language.

It’s true that textbooks are no substitute for immersion into the language via culture (movies, dramas, podcasts, music), not to mention practice speaking with native speakers. However, a good textbook gives you the foundations to work with, by teaching you grammar, how to construct sentences, pronunciation rules, and how to read.

Here are 10 of the best textbooks that we’ve come across for learning Korean.

 

The 10 Best Textbooks for Learning Korean

1. Elementary Korean (Second Edition)

Elementary Korean is the gold standard for learning Korean by self study. It is the most thorough and all-round introduction to Korean that I know of, and the logical structure makes it easy to follow.

One thing that might turn you off is that it ‘feels’ a bit like a university textbook, in terms of the writing tone and level.  All that said: this book will give you a comprehensive base in Korean. If you only buy one textbook for Korean, get this one. You get 384 pages of material and tons of practice exercises to boot.

As a companion exercise book, there’s the Elementary Korean Workbook, which is really good for putting things into practice. (Note: The reviews on Amazon for this one are a little skewed because of some people complaining that their audio doesn’t work on their device, but I never had any problems.)

The higher levels in the series, Continuing Korean and Advanced Korean are also highly recommended.

Pros:

  • Lessons and grammar notes are clearly presented and in a logical structure
  • You’re essentially forced to learn to read Hangul (it’s not that hard!), as the roman readings aren’t given from the fifth lesson onwards
  • The pronunciation guide is better and easier to understand than other textbooks

Cons: 

  • There aren’t a lot of pictures to break up the content so it can be a bit heavy reading
  • Some people have trouble getting the CD or Audio to work

 

2. Korean for Beginners: Mastering Conversational Korean

With its tricky pronunciation, complex grammar and elaborate honorific forms, the Korean language can present a daunting prospect. This was the first book I used when I started. It’s a nice option if you prefer a gentle introduction to Korean. It’s also entertaining with plenty of cultural information packed in. The $11 price (on Kindle) is quite reasonable when you consider that audio downloads are provided too.

Side note: this must be the first textbook I have seen that makes use of emoticons. The times they are a-changin’!  ^_^

Pros:

  • Slower pace than Elementary Korean; good for learners that need more time to
  • Lots of cultural information within the text
  • The Authors focus on making the learning fun and interesting

Cons:

  • The slower pace might be frustrating to quicker learners
  • Despite the title, the focus is more on learning grammar/structure than on speaking
  • Not enough practice dialogues

 

3. Integrated Korean Series

This is another university-style textbook, developed by the University of Hawaii for its students studying Korean. It’s a very good textbook for a university classroom, which doesn’t always translate 100% to self-study, but this one does a pretty good job.  It’s more of an academic approach, which might appeal to some people over the more ‘conversational’ textbooks above.

Pros:

  • Lots of examples of grammar points
  • Some good cultural context and authentic materials within lessons
  • Has 10 volumes, so if you like this style, you can follow it all the way to advanced.

Cons:

  • Can feel a bit too ‘academic’ or stuffy
  • Outdated in places (older expressions)

Notes:

  • Avoid the Kindle edition! (missing pages and complaints)
  • Some copies being sold don’t come with the audio

 

4. Talk to Me in Korean Series

If you started studying Korean using online resources, you’ve probably come across the website Talk to Me in Korean — a site that’s been around since 2009.  The team that run this website created this series of textbooks, and they’ve used their years of student feedback to get it right in textbook form.

As the title suggests, the focus is on speaking right away, with minimal focus on grammar or learning to read.  There’s tons of accompanying audio for you to speak along with.

In this same series, there are also additional levels and a workbook with more exercises for each level.

Pros:

  • Made for absolute beginners
  • Designed to get you speaking Korean fast
  • Lots of audio you can use for shadowing and quizzing yourself

Cons:

  • Possibly too basic if you already know some Korean (it starts with greetings like ‘hello’ and goodbye’)
  • Focuses on speaking, not so much on reading or grammar

Notes:

  • If you prefer learning online, you can access the same material without buying the book on their website

5. Korean Grammar in Use

This book is the next logical step after Korean for Beginners. It goes into the grammar in more depth but still in a digestible form.

I picked this book up in Seoul so I thought it might be tricky to buy online (update: I found it for sale on Amazon).

Pros:

  • Probably the best Korean grammar textbook out there
  • Focuses on understanding the structures and constructing your own
  • Most people like the structure of the book (look up things on a need-to-know basis)

Cons:

  • Not for beginners — you’ll need a decent foundation of Korean before this will be useful
  • You should know how to read Hangul before using this book

 

6. Korean Grammar for International Learners

This is the most comprehensive Korean grammar book we could find. It includes all the grammatical forms in plenty of detail. The book is also based on the official grammar textbook that is used in schools to teach grammar in South Korea, so you can rest easy knowing that you’re getting the correct answer when you’re looking up a point.

One of the best points of this book is that each grammar point is packed with example sentences. Reading the examples really helps the reader to understand the point and see how it’s used.

Pros

  • Comprehensive, and covers most grammar points you’ll need
  • Not bogged down with too much technical language; instead uses multiple examples to demonstrate

Cons

  • No romanized writing (you’ll need to learn Hangul first)
  • Not for beginners of Korean
  • If you don’t know English grammar to start, this might be difficult

 

7. 500 Basic Korean Verbs

If you studied French or Spanish in High School, you probably have experience with this style of verb conjugation book (and maybe not a pleasant experience…).   500 Basic Korean Verbs is an incredibly useful book for students of the Korean language.

You can check out our full review of the book here but here are the bullet points…

Pros:

  • Romanization is provided
  • Example sentences to demonstrate verbs
  • Smart layout and organization

Cons:

  • You probably won’t find the high-level verbs used in your favorite Korean Drama
  • Unnecessary romanization  (if you already know Hangul, it can be distracting)
  • Example sentences difficult for true beginners

 

8. Klear: Korean Reader for Chinese Characters

While it’s not for the beginning student (you don’t really need Chinese Characters until later), this book is a solid introduction to the Chinese characters (hanja) used in Korean.

This book teaches you the most common 500 hanja by frequency of usage in modern Korean. It’s a good choice if you want to learn to read Korean literature or you’re simply curious about the Korean hanja like I was.

Notes:

  • Not for the average beginner
  • Stroke orders included in the appendix
  • Reading selections to demonstrate the hanja
  • Covers mnemonics to learn the different characters

 

9. Spoken World: Korean

Living Language have always made top notch course materials, and Spoken World — their latest offering for Korean — is no exception. The focus in on learning conversational Korean in a comprehensive way, via listening and repeating, as well as the text.

There are six CDs included with a separate course book. The dialogues are easy to understand and introduced in a logical order. You won’t get much grammar from this one but it’s a nice little audio course. Highly recommended.

Notes: 

  • Made for absolute beginners
  • Good for listening while in transit
  • Conversations feel natural and useful

 

10. Pimsleur Korean

This one might be a bit controversial (why so much hate on Pimsleur??), but here goes…

A lot of people find Korean a difficult language to pronounce correctly. The sounds are “different”, which can make listening quite challenging. In this respect, it was certainly much harder for me to get started than Japanese or even Chinese.

In this Pimsleur audio course, the Korean speakers break down every syllable of each word which helps train your ear. Keep with this course and you will be speaking and understanding whole Korean sentences within a few days.

You can try out Pimsleur Korean for free with an Audible 30 day trial. Download a taster course here.

Side note:  Audible is AMAZING for learning anything, not just languages. I listen to audiobooks probably 30% of my day, when I don’t need to be 100% focused:  when I’m on the train, doing the dishes, etc.

 


So there you have it. Those are the 10 best books we have found so far for learning Korean. Do you know of any other quality resources? Leave a comment below!

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Perapera-kun 2.0 Live

Well its finally released. Here is the new version of Perapera-kun for Firefox. Took a bit longer than I was hoping but I am now happy with what is released. I submitted it to Firefox but they always take forever to actually update it on their site so it is available here first for anyone who wants to try it out. You can find it in the download box in the left or find the direct links to the file at the end of this post. Here are the new features:

  • Wordlist Sidebar: Press ‘S’ while displaying an entry to save it to the wordlist. (Also is a “Grab Entries!” button, but more about that in a later post. Stay tuned.) You can add, delete, and export these entries to a file whenever you want.
  • Japanese and Chinese united: Now both Japanese and Chinese are handled in 1 plug-in by adding the dictionaries you want.
  • Korean support coming very soon! Currenty it will display the romanized pronunciation but I dont have a dictionary to use yet. Can anyone help?
  • StatusBar Icon: Now everything is easily controlled via the Perapera-kun status bar icon. Enable multiple languages with one click, options dialog, and more.
  • New Chinese-English Dictionary: I now use the open public CCEDICT to feed the entries for Chinese-English. This should fix alot of the inconsistencies the previous dictionary had.
  • Chinese-German Dictionary: Uses the HanDeDict open public dictionary for Chinese-German. Please only install 1 Chinese dictionary at a time.
  • Supports Japanese to English, French, German, and Russian dictionaries along with the Japanese Names dictionary compiled by polarcloud.com
  • Redeigned options dialog that is cleaner and easier to use.
  • New icon for the add-on

After you download the add-on you will need to install the dictionary add-on for the language you want to use.  For Japanese, visit polarcloud.com to install one of those dictionaries and for Chinese, download the English or German dictionary in my download box or in the links below. Thanks for using and I look forward to your feedback.

**LINKS UPDATED: The following links will now download from Mozilla.

Perapera-kun 2.0
Chinese-English Dictionary
Chinese-German Dictionary
Japanese Dictionaries at Polarcloud.com