Shifting gears a bit after the last heavy post, I wanted to revisit an old subject. About six months ago, I wrote about my new hobby at the time, which was studying Korean alongside studying Japanese. It started out as an experiment to see if Korean was really as similar to Japanese as people said it was, and also for other personal reasons. I’m surprising to realize how much time has passed since then.
For the record, on a typical day I’ll spend about the same amount of time for studying both Japanese and Korean. However, I started Japanese 3-4 years ago for both the JLPT exams, and to communicate with my wife and her family better. At first, I struggled to get started, find good resources online, and get into a routine. In 3 years, the tools and skills have sharpened a lot. Now, I have access to 4 different dictionaries for both vocabulary and kanji, have a polished flashcard deck using Anki and have plenty on interesting manga reading material. Although I’m not fluent in the language, I learn the material efficiently because I’ve had 3-4 years of experience doing it.
However, Korean is much newer to me, so I’ve had to start the process over, and I have had to struggle to find good resources, study methods, etc.
For Korean, I have used Anki for Korean, just as I did for Japanese. Each day I work through flash cards using timeboxing. However, I made my Korean deck a little differently. I’m creating basic cards (front/back) with Hangeul on the front, and Japanese on the back. Why Japanese? Because I am trying to use my L2 language (Japanese) to learn my L3 language (Korean) in keeping with AJATT’s advice.1 Speaking of which, the photo above is a Japanese-language introduction to Korean which I bought early this year in Tokyo. I’ve found it pretty useful for solving pronunciation issues, and understanding sound-shifts in Korean. If you’re in Japan, I highly recommend the book.
Based on my experience, some things are much easier to translate into Japanese than English anyway because the languages are more similar. For example when you first eat a meal, the Korean phrase 잘 먹겠슴니다 has no real parallel in English, but is quite similar to the Japanese phrase いただきます in terms of usage, though the literal translations would be different.
Japanese decks in Anki have built-in pronunciation help, but as Hangeul is a lot easier to read and the Chinese characters (Hanja, 한자) are minimally used, it’s not really necessary to have pronunciation aids, especially if you’re populating your cards with words you learn from online podcast lessons (see below). Investing the time to learn Hangeul right away, and to learn it well, pays off big. No need for complicated flashcards with built-in pronunciation aids.
For dictionaries, on my iPhone I bookmarked Naver first, as they have good English and Japanese dictionaries for Korean, but lately I like Daum as well, as the interface is just a big nicer. It also has English and Japanese dictionaries.
But what about Korean podcast lessons? That has been tough one. Originally I used KoreanClass101.com, because I liked the beginner lessons with Keith (Hi Keith!) and Seol and it was in a format familiar to me from the days I used to use JapanesePod101.com. I managed to get through a large number of beginner lessons and started looking forward to intermediate lessons and such when I noticed that they had surprisingly few, and that newer lessons just seemed to lack some of fun or chemistry of the basic lessons. It appears that KClass has had some turnover in the last couple of years and lost some it’s original momentum.
Also lately KClass, like JPod101, more and more feels like a slick business that really wants your subscription, and offers a lot of gimmicks in return. Both KClass and JPod have/had awesome people and instructors working for them, but it still feels like a business. So finally, after much consideration I decided to cancel my subscription last week, though I’ve kept a lot of the beginner podcasts as I do enjoy them and hope to finish the series.
Meanwhile, recently I heard about another site called Talk To Me In Korean (TTMIK for short) and I liked it from the start. I found the lessons a little more natural in format, less textbook-like, and I enjoyed the passion and pride the cast takes in their lessons and their culture. But one big reason I like the site is their business-model is quite different. The main course for Korean is entirely free, PDFs and all, and they derive their support through purchases made in their Korean Store. You can buy Korean candy, ramyeon (ramen), and other accessories. I’m planning on getting one of their ramyeon packs, and keyboard stickers for my computer (still struggling to type Korean a bit) in the near future. Plus they often post updates on Twitter about new Kpop songs or other cultural trends. They’re not just selling language proficiency, they’re selling Korea.
Anyhow, one challenge I haven’t solved for Korean though is listening practice. For real language proficiency, exposure is the most critical element. For Japanese, I have the benefit of a Japanese wife and daughter, plus lots of movies and such. However at the moment, I really have no opportunity to listening to Korean outside of listening to KPop.2 Speaking of which, I highly recommend Big Bang’s latest album “Alive”. “Blue” and “Bad Boy” are great songs. I’m also listening to another YG Entertainment group, 2NE1 as I write this. ;p
Both the podcasts and KPop help though because words and such I learned from KClass appear all the time in KPop songs. And, thanks to KClass/TTMIK, I’ve gotten comfortable enough to strike up conversations with the waitresses at the local Korean restaurant. Still, I am hesitant to really delve further until I at least get to know the basic verb forms of Korean plus more vocab.
As for reading, that too is very limited. I mostly read stuff at the local H-Mart grocery store where my wife and I shop, or the food labels when I am at home. Also, I follow a few KPop stars on Twitter (e.g. Taeyang from BigBang, Shindong from Super Junior), and I like to read their posts because they’re short and usually more casual. As with Japanese though, I hope to graduate to proper reading resources once I get the basics down. I don’t know if Korean has their own equivalent to Japanese manga or not though.
So, to summarize, my resources for learning Korean currently are as follows:
- Lessons – TTMIK (still plodding through series 1, but making swift progress as I learned some of it already via KClass)
- Dictionary – Daum
- Flashcards – Anki of course
- Listening – KPop plus podcasts
- Reading – the food labels at Korean grocery store. :p
- Conversation – my favorite Korean restaurant, plus patient friends.
I will say though that despite the challenges, I’m very happy I’ve stuck with it as long as I have. I have a recurring problem with starting projects and not finishing them, but because I have a genuine interest in Korean culture, it’s kept me motivated and helped me get over the initial fear of learning a new, unfamiliar language (again, thanks Keith!). Once I got into a sustainable routine, I could forge ahead and learn it bit by bit. Ultimately, I think AJATT is right, in that exposure is the key but I also think a certain amount of “basic training” is in order too. For now I haven’t “graduated from boot-camp” yet.
So that’s a look at my efforts to continue learning Korean language. I’d love to hear from people who are in the same situation and how they work through it.
1 I somewhat contradict this rule though, since the Korean podcasts are all in English, not Japanese, but I do lookup Korean words in Japanese as often as possible. It does help. Also, I don’t follow AJATT’s advice too literally, but rather follow his other advice to just use whatever the hell works.
2 I have this theory that KPop is to Korea what Manga/Anime is to Japan: it’s the gateway that most foreigners learn to appreciate the culture. I’ve seen Korean editorials complain about KPop being vapid and a poor way to represent Korean culture, but speaking as a foreigner, it’s highly accessible, entertaining, and really does help bridge the gap between cultures. It’s not perfect, but it works, and really helps people appreciate a country that is otherwise often overshadowed by its bigger neighbors.