Part of the reason I’ve never liked formal language classes (or even textbooks, for that matter) is because I like learning new grammar and vocabulary in the context of original (native) reading material. I can’t deal with “themed” chapters (e.g. “Chapter 2: Weather”) that force me to memorize relevant words from a word list.
But my problem with reading original stuff is that I jump around between several different novels, webtoons, and news articles at a time. A lot. On top of that, because I make it a habit of jotting down words I don’t know, one page of my notebook can be a jumbled mess of words and definitions from five different sources. This really really bothers me because I tend to learn words in clusters (e.g. learning the words ‘detective,’ ‘prosecutor,’ ‘murder’, ‘death penalty’ together because they’re often used in combination with each other). So it throws me off when I’m looking over a page that’s half-filled with detective vocabulary that then switches to words about painting and geometry. Then I don’t remember either sets of words effectively.
I puzzled over how to solve this problem of organizing my vocabulary for a long while. It didn’t seem cost- (or space-)effective to start a new notebook for every Korean novel I owned. I switched for some time to using a binder and writing on printer paper. Then I could organize the pages of vocabulary notes according to different novels, articles, etc. But the paper buildup started getting annoying and I didn’t want to fill up my shelves with binders upon binders of Korean vocabulary. So then, I came up with this solution. For online articles, I simply copy and paste the text into a Word document and voila.
I use the “Comments” feature to highlight all the words I don’t know and type up the definitions. This is an article about 나인: 아홉번의 시간여행 which appeared in Ceci a few months ago (side note: some of these words I’ve already committed to my long-term memory!) This is really helpful when I’m practicing translation too; I can just type up the English portion below the Korean text and use the comments as a reference. Also, it’s great for visualizing how much my vocabulary has improved over the past several years/months. Provided that I read the same genre over time, the number of words I highlight in every article will be bound to decrease as my vocabulary builds up. (Again, this depends on the type of thing I read. If I suddenly started reading economic news instead of celebrity interviews, without a doubt I would have crazy highlights all over the article.)
Okay but what about hard copy stuff? For now, this is what works for me.
This is a page from 바람의 화원 and, as you can see, I’ve used Post-It notes. Personally, I hate marking up my books (unless it’s for an English Lit class) so this is a good alternative. Plus the notes are stuck roughly in the same area as where the unfamiliar words are located in the text. The only issue this poses is that it makes going back and reading kind of inconvenient because you have to move the notes aside – and then they lose their stickiness and falling out. Urgh. But thus far it’s working for me!
So much of how well you learn or retain something depends on knowing how you yourself learn best, which is why I decided to write this post. I still suck at retaining new vocabulary but I’m definitely getting better now that I have these note-taking strategies in place. There’s really no right or wrong way to learn or study. Trying different things and figuring out what works for you is the hard part!