Toktogi: A Korean-English pop-up dictionary

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.

EDIT:  Here’s a link to the extension in the Chrome Web Store.

Beware the dictionary

I’m having fun writing in Korean.  Whether it’s lang-8 entries, fan letters, random tweets, or me2day updates, I’m really enjoying the fact that I can construct a decent sentence without laboring over it for a long time.  In fact, I LOVE that Korean grammar allows me to write longer sentences that would sound like absolute nonsense if translated into English.  As it is, I tend to have long, adjective- and adverb-ridden, clause-filled sentences in English, but because of the glorious overuse of relative clauses in Korean, I can make my Korean sentences EVEN LONGER than my English sentences!  Haha.  I’m sure few native speakers actually write like that these days, but I like it.  In fact, I actually think that’s part of the reason some native speakers have told me that my writing sounds natural.  I might not have acquired a broad vocabulary yet but because I’ve somewhat figured out the cadence of Korean writing, I think I have a better “ear” for how a sentence “sounds” – and I think Korean sentences on average tend to be longer and use descriptive words more generally than English.

But aside from that, whenever  I write, I almost never look up words in the dictionary.

Don’t be misled by the title of the post – I love the dictionary.  And it’s pretty much impossible to learn a language without one.  When I’m reading, I’m always using my crappy Korean-English dictionary app on my iPod or the Daum 영어 or 국어 dictionaries.

But I avoid using the dictionary when I write.  I only want to use words that, I guess, come naturally to me as I write. Sometimes I do check the definition of a word to make sure I’m using it correctly but I never try to use a word that I’ve not learned.  I never “compose” a sentence in English in my head and then try to translate it into Korean; obviously, I did write like that at one point, but now I compose what I want to say in Korean itself and then write it down.  That means limiting myself to the vocabulary I truly know.  The only exception I sometimes make to this rule is looking up specific nouns (for example, I looked up the Korean word for resume, 이력서, when I was writing about graduate school interviews).

I keep harping on about nuances of words but honestly that’s what this comes down to as well.  I just don’t think it’s possible to accurately use a verb or adjective (especially adjectives), sometimes even nouns, that you’ve just looked up in a dictionary.  For example, if you look up the word “mistake” in an Eng-Kor dictionary, you’ll get words like 잘못, 틀림, 착각, 오해, 실수 – ALL of which have different connotations and are used in different scenarios.  If you tried to ask a Korean person to correct your “오해” or “착각” in something you’ve written… it’s just weird.

I know people are eager to spice up their writing using pretty new words (I’m guilty of that) but sometimes it’s painfully obvious people have looked up words in the dictionary without having any idea of whether native speakers use that word in that manner.  Just because some word “X” is used in some manner in English does NOT mean it’s used in the same way in another language.  And sometimes it’s just awkward… imagine writing a simple sentence with the grammatical complexity of an elementary school student, but throwing in a complicated, rarely-used word?  That’s why I think it’s important to limit the words you use in writing to words you feel you know really well – even if it means that you just use 좋다 or 대박 or something over and over again.  READING will help build a broader vocabulary better than writing and context will help with recognizing the nuances of certain words.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong in using wrong words and making mistakes.  I know I do.  Some people may even prefer to learn by making mistakes and being corrected.  Personally, I prefer to not make mistakes when I write – that way, I can confirm what I really know well, both in grammar and vocabulary, and I can move on from there.

Kotoba!

Learning Japanese?  Have an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad?  Then you have to check out this app!  Kotoba! is one of the best electronic dictionaries I’ve ever come across – scratch that, it’s possibly the best overall app that I’ve ever come across.  I use it almost every single day and it’s helped me tremendously with my Japanese.

Features:

  • Look up words in either Japanese or English
  • Look up a word using Kanji (make sure to install the Traditional Chinese keyboard on your device), kana, or Romaji (yes, even Romaji!)
  • In each entry, you get the reading, the part of speech, the major conjugations (if it’s a verb), the type of adjective (い- or な-), example sentences, and Kanji decomposition.
  • If it’s a verb you can view the following conjugations:  present/future tense, past tense, continuative/て-form, presumptive, past presumptive, provisional, conditional, and alternative forms.
  • If it’s a compound word, you can click on the individual Kanji and get 音読み (onyomi) and 訓読み (kunyomi) readings IN ADDITION to pinyin and Korean readings!
  • MY FAVORITE FEATURE:  Animations of Kanji stroke order!  I love using this to learn how to write new Kanji!
  • Search for Kanji based on reading, Korean, pinyin, meaning, or Chinese radical
  • View Kanji compounds, stroke count, JLPT level
  • Browse JLPT Kanji
  • Browse Japanese “school grade” Kanji (that is, the Kanji that Japanese students learn at each grade level)
  • Does not require internet

And the best thing about this app is that it is COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY FREE. Yes, you read that right.  It’s unbelievable.  I’ve seen super-expensive apps and electronic dictionaries that can’t do half of the things this app does.

For more information and screenshots, check out the official website.

Like what you see?  Download from iTunes.

Seriously people, this app is a dream come true.