The problem with self-studying

It’s not a problem per se.  More like a challenge, and one that can be frustrating and amusing in equal measures.

When you’ve moved past the beginner stuff and are now immersing yourself in the books, TV shows, music, etc. of a certain language, you’re probably going to develop a very specific – and sometimes irrelevant – vocabulary.  Unless you’re super diligent and make an effort to diversify what you’re reading and watching, you’re going to find yourself learning words like autopsy and murderer and suspect instead of normal words like… uh…  mailman.

Maybe that’s just me.  (I like watching crime shows.)

Case in point:  I can’t believe I went six years not knowing the word for mailman in Korean.

That’s like one of those words I roll my eyes at when I find them in textbook vocabulary lists (e.g. “Chapter 3: Your Neighborhood”) because do I really need to know how to say words like bank and grocery store when I’m probably never going to live in the country where the native language is spoken?  Just teach me the good stuff!

I’m not even kidding when I say that I learned my numbers in Korean and Japanese only when I was physically in said countries.

The simple, basic vocab lists found in textbooks are just so difficult for me to learn because I don’t have any context for them; make me memorize them and I will forget immediately.  The words that I learn through immersion are the ones that stick around – but if the only context I’m getting is crime thrillers, I end up with a very skewed vocabulary.

So that’s why, twenty-something pages into 엄마를 부탁해, I had to look up 우편집배원 in the dictionary and then facepalm myself.  In my defense, I totally know what the word for post office is in Korean (우체국).  In my long and undisciplined pursuit of Korean vocabulary, I must’ve found appropriate context for that one to stick.

Okay, but this is getting to be a serious problem.  At SOME point I want to be able to take TOPIK and not miss questions because I don’t know ridiculously common words.  It’s also kind of embarrassing when you’re talking/writing to a Korean friend using moderately complex sentence structure, but suddenly realize you don’t know how to say chopsticks.

Instead of picking genre fiction (I think it’s pretty well known that I have a weakness for Korean historical fantasy novels), I think I need to read more contemporary- and/or non-fiction.  엄마를 부탁해 is great pick for that, I think.  More on the actual book in a later post but suffice it to say that I’ve come across a ton of words that “I should” be knowing.  And I’m gratified that there are a ton more that I do know well!


  1. I feel you on this. I know how to say “international relations” in Japanese, but not “to borrow.” It’s kinda frustrating but also hilariously amusimg when you know all these different fancy-ish words, but miss a good portion of regular, every day words.


    1. YEAH. I think I might start looking around me as I commute to work and ask myself if I know x or y in Korean. I was brushing my teeth this morning and asked myself if I know the word for sink in Korean. And… no, no I don’t. OTL.


    1. Haha, I was trying to go for something more modern and mobile-friendly! I do miss my banner with the old ladies though. I’ve stuck with that theme for so many years.


  2. ahhhh I feel this! I was reading complete novels in French but then I went to a restaurant in France and didn’t even know all the cooking methods and cuts of meat / seafood described on the menu!


    1. Foods are some of the hardest words for me, because of the context thing again. There was an entire page about food and cooking in 엄마를 부탁해 and I was highlighting like every other word. o__o


  3. I think we all have some categories that for some reason stick better than others. Ask me how to say “bell pepper” in Korean, and I have no clue, but “exile”, “treason” and “witness statement” have somehow made it into my vocabulary…


          1. Hmm… a legal one that I liked (and thus also related to crime) is 너의 목소리가 들려 which is quite different from TEN in terms of genre, but you still get your quota of psycho killer and legal words. I think I made the mistake of starting TEN while cooking… those cases were not directly correlated with improved appetite…


  4. I understand this too! TT I mean, I lived in Korea for almost a year… But then I had to live in an Korean hospital for 3 weeks and I didn’t know stuff like “to brush your hair” etc but I knew stuff that was more complicated that we used at Uni. Anyways, I’m self studying now… well, I haven’t actually studied much (I should have bought some 고급 교과서/토픽 books ㅜㅜ) … I can’t really find anything on the internet to learn higher-intermediate/advanced stuff. I have several novels in Korean but they’re all historical haha. I started 보보경심 (중국 소설) over almost a year a go… I should start reading that again ^^’… I’ve just been watching 비정상회담 + 내친구의 집은 어딘가 these past 8 months… so alot of my vocab is from there ㅋㅋㅋㅋ


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