After more than a year of attending advanced Korean classes and regularly writing and reviewing 500-800 character essays with my teacher, I’ve accumulated a few useful tips for improving long-form writing that I thought I’d share here.
I’ll preface this by saying few people write well in any language, even among native speakers. I’m a writer and storyteller in both my professional and personal life and I know just how hard it is to build compelling rhetoric using effective, engaging language on any topic. So, following these “quick tips” won’t make you a good writer in Korean — that will take years of practice reading and writing, just as it would in English. But it may help you get started on the road to sounding more natural.
Caveat: This is only one language learner’s experience (mine) and one language instructor (my teacher)’s advice, so take with a grain of salt.
It’s hard to believe that just a decade ago we were limited to learning languages from instructors, textbooks, and the occasional audio recording.
Social media and the Internet as a whole has been such a central part of my own self-studying process that I can’t imagine getting to the level that I’m at with just textbooks. It all started with Twitter and Me2day (remember Me2day?!) about 5 years ago and since then, I think I’ve found useful Korean resources on all types of social media.
Back in December, I added Instagram to that repertoire. I can’t remember how I found @hangulove, but it’s now by far one of my favorite Instagram accounts.
Hangulove is an account for native Korean speakers looking to correct some bad habits they might’ve picked up while growing up with their language. The account covers correct grammar, spelling, spacing of words (띄어쓰기), and examples of pure Korean words (순우리말, as opposed to Sino-Korean words).
The admin posts once a day, with a simple image (like below) and an extended explanation of the lesson in the comments. All the explanations are in Korean, so you have to be at least an intermediate/upper intermediate level to get the most value out of it.
It’s interesting to find out what constitutes “common mistakes” for native Korean speakers. I’m a stickler for spelling – both in English and Korean, so it always shocks me when I see misspelled words in webtoons or on Twitter. I used to think it was done on purpose, like some kind of text-speak (like writing ‘u’ instead of ‘you’ online), but now I have to wonder.
This account reminds me a lot of 국립국어원’s offical Twitter account (@urimal365) which I wrote about a long time ago here. I actually thought @urimal365 was dead because I never saw them on my Twitter feed… but they’re apparently still alive and posting frequently! (My feed has become overrun with non-Korean related Tweets over the years).
It’s a lot less overwhelming though. The “lessons” are simple enough to digest, but still provide the detail you’d want to learn something. Plus it’s just one post a day, stuck in the middle of all the #catsofinstagram posts running down your feed. I do wish they would post more vocabulary in the future – 순우리말 has always fascinated me. And I could always do with a vocabulary boost.
Does anyone else use specific social media accounts to learn/study Korean (or any other language?). Share your thoughts below!
Ishani asked: Hi Archana! I am dying to learn Korean! I know a bunch of random Korean words but cant frame them in sentences…I want to start from ABC of Korean..but how and from where do I start? Please show me a way…kamsahamnida!
Hi Ishani! Thanks for the question. There are lots of different ways to start learning a language. I can share with you how I got started and point you in the direction of some resources, but if this doesn’t work for you, don’t get discouraged! There are tons of blogs out there about language learning and there many different approaches. This was my approach.
Listen to a lot of Korean. I am a very auditory learner and I’m guessing you are too! I started learning Korean the same way as you – by picking up random words from songs and TV dramas. I kept a word document with a list of words I “learned” through listening to dialogue. This was before I even learned Hangeul, so my list was just romanized approximations of the words. For example: sarang – love, chingu – friend, bap – food/rice, etc.
Learn Hangeul. Romanization can only get you so far. After you’ve familiarized yourself with the sounds of Korean, I would immediately move on to learning Hangeul. Hangeul is super easy to learn. Flashcards are probably the best way to go if you want to memorize them quickly, but I never bothered. Instead, I went to my romanized list of words and tried to spelling using a Hangeul chart and then using a dictionary to see if I spelled it correctly. Another thing I did was to look up romanized lyrics to Korean pop songs, put them side by side with the Hangeul lyrics, and basically memorize the way each syllable looked and sounded for each word. I wrote a more detailed post about how I learned Hangeul here.
Listen to TalkToMeInKorean. Hands down, this is my favorite resource for beginning to intermediate Korean. TTMIK is an education podcast founded by native Korean language teachers. ALL the podcasts and their accompanying notes are completely free. Again, I’m an extremely auditory learner, so listening to a couple episodes a day on my iPod worked beautifully for me. Since my days as a beginner, TTMIK has evolved from being solely a podcast to a multimedia Korean language learning experience. I highly, highly recommend them.
Invest in a good textbook. I’ll be honest – I don’t really like language textbooks. I buy too many of them thinking I’ll use them, but inevitably, I learn more from watching TV shows and listening to podcasts. There are a couple that I did use consistently while I was a beginner/intermediate learner.
Beginner’s Korean: This was my very first Korean textbook. Even though it’s supposed to be for beginners, I would highly recommend listening to TTMIK or using KLEAR before getting this textbook. I think the grammar explanations are quite good, but it’s poorly organized, in my opinion. Better used as as reference than a learning source.
Find a language partner. As you start learning new grammar patterns, you’ll want a place to practice your writing and speaking. I suggest finding a language partner – there are lots of different venues for this. Most of my Korean language partners are people I’ve met in person or through blogging. I connected with some on Shared Talk (which, sadly, was shut down on September 1, 2015! The cofounders are working on a new language exchange platform, so keep your eyes peeled.) I highly suggest writing posting regularly on lang-8 too! It’s also a great place to meet language partners and new friends.
Learn how to type in Korean. This is essential if you want to use online dictionaries, message/email/chat with your language partner. Get yourself a set of Hangeul keyboard stickers and practice, practice, practice. Luckily, there are lots of different typing games available online – like the one I talk about here. I can touchtype Korean without stickers now, nearly as fast as I can type in English!
Take notes. Carry a notebook around and jot down new words and grammar points as you encounter them in dramas, songs, and reading material.
Practice reading. Don’t be discouraged if material is too difficult for you. If you’ve done some beginner Korean, you will be able to recognize new words and sentence patterns and, if you can type in Korean, you can look them up online yourself and take notes! There are a lot of blogs and resources online that can help with learning new words and grammar, which will advance your reading fluency. Most Daum and Naver webcomics are free and a great place for beginners to start. More on reading in Korean here.
Do a little bit everyday. Don’t try to cram in hours and hours of study in one day – you won’t retain anything! Spend some time studying, but also spend time exploring what you love about the language (music, variety shows, idols, movies, etc.) That will motivate you to get better and better everyday! And when things get busy with school and/or work, make sure you to spend a little time immersing yourself in something Korean everyday, even if you can’t bring yourself to pick up a textbook.
For a couple years, I was a faithful user of Naver’s English Dictionary extension for Chrome, which works by bringing up a side panel window with the definition of any Korean word that you double-click on. It was nice, but I have a bad habit of highlighting and unnecessarily clicking on words while reading stuff online, so more often than not, I’d end up triggering the extension on an English word or a Korean word that I already knew. That meant many instances of loading multiple windows, having to exit out of those windows, using up memory, and slowing down my internet speed. Eventually I got to a point where I could understand 80% of the content I was reading on the internet (i.e. manhwa, celebrity interviews), so I deleted the extension and got by using context clues and the Daum dictionary webpage when needed.
The problem is, I’ve basically reached a vocabulary plateau with Korean because I keep reading the same type of thing time and again. So lately, I’ve been making an earnest effort to read more diverse content…. but that meant having to look up a lot of new words. Instead of going back to the Naver extension or choosing to laboriously look up each word I was unfamiliar with on the dictionary webpage, I’m utilizing a really awesome new Korean-English popup dictionary extension for Chrome.
This extension is super convenient. All you do is hover your mouse over a Korean word and the English definition pops up in a tiny blue box below it. No new browser opens, there’s no delay, and you can toggle the extension being on/off on a page quite easily. This lets me read more quickly and smoothly than I ever have before. Overall, there’s really not much to criticize. As of now, the definitions only appear in English and there’s no way you can toggle to Korean definitions (sometimes I find it easier to understand the nuance of a word when I read the definition in Korean), nor can you look up the Korean equivalent of an English word, but the extension is still rather new so I’m sure there’s room for improvement and refinement in the future. Now I really have no excuse to not read more Korean.
So much about language learning is about individual perspective. For example, my own mother tongue, culture, and the values I was brought up with influences how quickly I learn certain Korean phrases or bits of Korean culture. Needless to say, the things I can identify with, I learn more quickly.
That being said, although I use Marathi and my Indian background to connect to Korean, English is clearly my stronger language. And as my Korean inches beyond the intermediate stage, I find myself reading more and more about English in Korean and I’ve actually learned a lot. I began to pick up so-and-so Korean phrase is equivalent in meaning to blah-blah English and that’s really helping my writing and communication. A fair warning though: I’ve looked at a few “teach yourself English”-type books in Korean and am often baffled by the expressions and example sentences in the books. Most of them are justBAD.
Now, I’m a steadfast Daum user (pretty sure I’m in the minority, but I can’t stand Naver) and I love the Daum 어학사전. Recently(?), I found even greater reason to love it. Daum’s Easy English series (which you can find on the 어학사전 home page) features some of the best and simplest explanations of English phrases and idioms I’ve seen to date. The Korean explanations are easy to understand and the examples, for the most part, natural in both English and (I think) Korean. The best part is they provide a really great Korean counterpart to the English phrase being defined – that means I usually learn something too!
I recently learned a very relevant 사자성어 from one of the Easy English posts. I’ve been kind of… skirting around learning these four-character idioms but my language partner Kwang-im actually uses them a lot (she also insists that I should know them because I’m a graduate student and thus should use ‘high-level’ Korean heh).
Together, you get the Korean definition of the phrase: ‘비단 위에 꽃을 더한다는 뜻으로, 좋은 일 위에 더 좋은 일이 더하여짐을 비유적으로 이르는 말.’ (Adding flowers on top of silk – that is, having something good happen on top of something that’s already good in the first place.)
Flowers on silk, icing on cake. Same meaning, different metaphor!
I’ve always liked Daum but the fact that it has this really great series, 진짜 금상첨화이다!
If you’re at the advanced-intermediate-ish level in Korean have a Twitter account, make sure you’re following @urimal365, if you’re not already! This is the official twitter account of The National Institute of the Korean Language (국립국어원), where they answer several questions on a daily basis about everything and anything related to the language – grammar, usage, spacing, spelling, honorifics, meaning, shortened forms, expressions, etc.
Keep in mind, this is supposed to be for native speakers so all of the questions and explanations are in Korean. You may need to brush up on your Korean grammar terminology (check out my list – which I need to update) but if you’ve been using Korean websites to help with learning grammar, the explanations are pretty simple to follow. I noticed that a LOT of questions are about 띄어 쓰기 and spelling. Some of the questions surprise me because it’s stuff that I actually already know but then it made me realize – there are a lot of things about “proper” English grammar that I don’t know and have to look up too. Or things that I know but can’t explain very well. For example, a native English-speaking friend of mine just asked me the other day about the difference between ‘further’ and ‘farther.’ I think native speakers of any language don’t really think about why we say something a certain way and just say what sounds right. That’s why this Twitter is so great for native Korean speakers.
But, of course, it’s not just for native speakers. I tweeted them a grammar question today that I couldn’t find a great explanation for anywhere online and got a really clear, helpful answer in return.
I still feel the need to preface my questions with “I’m a foreigner learning Korean…” in case I make a mistake when I’m composing my question or when I’m about to ask something really simple (like this). I guess I’m still not too confident in myself. ><
Anyway, I’ll have to jot this down in my grammar notebook. I know it’s easy to go to your Korean friends or teachers or the TTMIK staff about grammar questions, but I’m a really big fan of making a sincere effort in trying to look it up yourself. I promise you will learn so much more effectively that way. Really. The more time you spend trying to look up something online or in a textbook, the better it’ll stick.
But this is still an awesome resource. I’ll be honest and say I don’t read ALL of their tweets, but when I do, I always learn something.
I know I’m not the first language blogger to stumble across these videos, but I thought I’d share them anyway. 니홍고 감바리마쇼! (만화로 배우는 일본어) is a YouTube web series that aired from 2010-2011 designed to (you guessed it) help you learn Japanese through Korean.
The videos basically run like a podcast, except with cute little comics depicting the scenario around which each lesson is built. It would have been cool if the story in each video built on the previous one like an ongoing drama, but it’s still cute that there’s a cast of recurring characters. There’s the bumbling protagonist Park-san, his girlfriend of sorts Sayaka-san, his younger brother in the army Hyunwoo, and their smart-aleck cat Gongnyangi. I love how the hosts actually spent time developing their characters. Speaking of whom, the hosts, Rin and Sho, have great chemistry with each other. I’m proud to say I can mostly understand both their banter and their explanations!
Each video is centered around one word or phrase but the full dialogue is pretty complicated stuff for a beginner. That being said, it’s not necessary to completely understand the grammar (nor is that the point) because the hosts do a good job of summarizing each line in Korean and only emphasizing the word or phrase that is the focus of the lesson. In the later videos, they annotate the key vocabulary words in the dialogue at the bottom of the video and provide a quiz later at the end. Again, the emphasis is more on learning vocabulary than grammar.
These videos are adorable but I’m not really sure how much Japanese I’m learning… I seem to be absorbing more Korean, haha. Be sure to check out these videos if you’re learning Japanese and Korean. Props to G9 Languages for creating another great service for language learners. If you make it to the credits, you may catch sight of some very familiar names right at the end!