So this post is a sort of addendum to the post I made a while back about my experiences reading 해를 품은 달. Unfortunately, for the time being, my Korean “studying” has dwindled down to reading a page or two every night out of the couple Korean books I own. I haven’t touched a grammar book in six months or so (this I do not advise) and, yet, I still feel myself improving. Slowly, yes, but there’s improvement nonetheless and that’s much better than stagnation.
I think once in a while, it’s probably a good idea to take a break from grammar books and their “artificial” passages/dialogues and switch to primary reading material. News articles, short stories, novels, nonfiction books, magazine articles etc. can really broaden your knowledge in general, not to mention your knowledge of the language you are learning. There are a couple things worth keeping in mind if you want to maximize your learning through reading primary material (novels, in particular) without getting bogged down and discouraged.
- Choose something above your reading level. I know it’s tempting to go for the easy stuff. I’m guilty of that. But you won’t be doing yourself any favors if you choose to read something you can fully understand! I like reading manhwa just for fun but I barely learn anything except for a few words here and there. 해품달, on the other hand, is clearly above my reading level but I understand enough to keep me motivated to continue reading; and at the same time, I’m learning a lot! I would not, however, suggest reading Charles Dickens or something equally “heavy” in Korean because it could get really discouraging. There’s a lot of trial and error involved in choosing the right book.
- Choose something that you are familiar with. For example, a book that you’ve read in English that has been translated into your language of study. I, personally, prefer to read material that was originally written in Korean as opposed to translated into Korean, so I tend to go for novels that have been made into dramas (e.g. Coffee Prince). I find that having at least a vague idea of the plot prevents me from feeling completely lost in the middle of the book.
- Don’t wait until you’re “ready.” By this, I mean don’t put off trying to read primary material until you feel like you’ve reached a certain degree of fluency in your language of study. In Korean, I would say maybe six months to a year’s worth of study gives you sufficient familiarity with the language to allow you to start venturing into the world of manhwa and short articles. Of course this depends on the foreign language, but I think you need to be comfortable with at least basic grammar before jumping into reading books and such.
- Read and re-read. You’ll probably misunderstand a lot of things in your first round of reading. Take notes and look them over. Then put them away and come back after two weeks, re-read the same passage/article, and see if you have processed the new vocabulary and grammar. I often find that what I read the first time around is not exactly what I read the second time around. I usually have a better grasp of the content after re-reading.
- Take copious notes. Just in case this was not obvious, it is important that you do not read passively. Since I usually don’t read my grammar book when I’m reading novels and vice versa, I have to make up for that lack of “instruction” on my own by looking up words and grammar points online. I usually only read a page or two out of 해품달 everyday but that amounts to about 40-60 minutes of study. My reading “cycle” usually goes something like this:
(a) Read the passage. First, I simply read straight through and try to grasp as much as I can without looking up anything.
(b) Re-read and look up all unfamiliar words and grammar. I jot down every single one of these in my notebook and look them up online. Blue ink for new words, red ink for new grammar. I separate my notes by paragraph and add the page number of the original source next to it too.
(c) Re-read again. This time, I read for overall comprehension.
(d) Repeat. And finally, I move onto the next couple pages.
It may seem like brute force but it definitely works for me and it’s a welcome change from those grammar books. (Though I really should get back to my Integrated Korean; it’s been far too long.)