Korean Adoptee … Learns Korean! Part 3

As you know, I’m the world’s laziest blogger (can’t be bothered to put up pictures), but here are some links to the four books I use all the time.

Book recommendations

Seoul National University Textbooks – Easy to learn by yourself, well-organized and laid-out. CDs and workbooks avail. Of the books that I’ve tried, I rank them like this:

1. Seoul National – They are known for being a good program for writing.

2. Sogang – Good, but as a book person, their font kind of bugs me. I know that is a weird hang-up. Sogang is known for being a good program for speaking. I heard it said that they are the first program to drop 느  from 느냐고 when asking a quoted question using a verb, since people don’t say 느 anyway! At Seoul National, we diligently write 느 and get all tongue-tied when trying to say it (which is why people drop it in the first place.)

3. Yonsei – Their new books are nicer than their old ones. Their old ones were just blocks of texts, whereas their new ones visually have too much going on on the page for me.

4. Ewha – dead last. Wow, I really disliked those books. If you missed something once, it was just gone forever. I frankly have not met anyone who likes the Ewha books. I know they are trying to rewrite them.

Korean Grammar for International Learners – This is a Yonsei reference book. Most of your elementary to intermediate grammar questions can be answered in a flash thanks to a good index in Korean and English explanations.

A Guide to Korean Characters – It has a great index for looking up hanja by the Korean syllable. I use this one to complete my homework.

Handbook of Korean Vocabulary – A nice book for perusing hanja words, but the “index” (which consists of the letters of the alphabet, each with a page number)  is totally useless. I use this one as bedtime reading and have many “A-ha!” moments.

And of course, the Naver dictionary is great! You can look up anything on this but use with caution. Sometimes you can tell when some smart-ass foreigner convinced a Korean to write a strange translation because the foreigner thought it was funny.


I’ve heard that Daum is better, but now that I know how to get around Naver, I also can’t be bothered to learn a different website.

What Koreans think about the Korean language that I disagree with as an adult language learner

1. Hanja (Chinese) is hard.

In my opinion, hanja is the only thing that makes sense. Hanja is systematic and you can safely stick “하다” to just about anything and make a verb out of it. What is hard to me is pure Korean verbs. Why do they all seem the SAME and so hard to pronounce!?

2. Ethnic Koreans can learn Korean faster than other people.

If they were raised by Korean people who speak Korean and heard it growing up as the language at home, that seems to be the case.  In the case of adoptees, not so much.

3. You can learn hangeul (the Korean writing system) in a day.

Yeah, but can you remember it the next day? I had a lot of trouble with compound vowels for a really long time. BTW hangeul = the writing system. 한국말 is the Korean spoken language. 한국어 is the Korean language language.

4. Hangeul can make any sound

It can make any sound in Korean, but don’t let them tell you that its sounds exactly as it is written. At Seoul National we get pronunciation worksheets in which the correct pronunciation is written below the actual writing. And there is no such thing as “f” or “th” in hanguel, so there.

5. Get a Korean boy/girlfriend and you’ll learn Korean fast!

I suppose, but do you really want to pimp yourself out like that?

6. Go and drink with Koreans and you’ll learn Korean fast!

To a point. After that, you’re just drunk and stupider than before. However, I gotta say, drinking with Koreans can be very fun whether you are practicing your perfect grammar or not.  Then again I am kind of past the age where my liver can take it anymore.

7. You should learn Korean from a Korean.

Just as English speakers can’t necessarily explain their grammar, neither can Koreans. Also, I think in the beginning it was nice for me to learn Korean from people who could speak English well, usually meaning other adoptees or Korean Americans. That’s because if they were English speakers, they could understand how I was thinking and explain in a way that I could understand. Sometimes Koreans who only speak Korean have absolutely no idea why something might be confusing to a non-native Korean speaker. Like coming and going, for instance. I still make a lot of mistakes with this very simple concept. I want to say, “Can I come over to your house?” whereas I guess in Korean I would “go,” not “come,” to my brother’s house.  There is a real reason for this confusion and it is apparently something about the “speaker” and if you are speaking from your current  position in Korean or where you imagine yourself to be in the future in English, but anyway, now my head is turning inside out … and my brother totally doesn’t get it because he only speaks Korean and he does get a little irritated with me about this point.

8. Some grammar or words are hard

I think they’re all equally hard because they are all equally new. A word that is “hard” to a Korean because it is seldom used is, to me, just another word that I’ve NEVER used.  Like people’s names, for instance. Every one is a new vocabulary word, and every one is hard to remember (unless I already know someone with the same name).  Some grammar has multiple parts that have to be used together, so that can be a brain buster, but it turns out that 이/가 은/는, the first grammar that you learn and that you cannot live without, might be the hardest one of all the more complex the language gets. It’s so hard that although they explain the first eight rules, they say that the other 50 are too hard to remember and that we should just guess.

Tool Kit

An electronic dictionary is worth it.

Because my electronic dictionary broke, I tried using the paper dictionary for about a week. It was very, very bad. There were lots of words that weren’t in the dictionary, never mind hanja or particles. Luckily, I got my dictionary fixed for 60,000 won at the Casio A/S center instead of having to put in 300,000+ for a new won.  Mine is a 6-year-old model with neither bells nor whistles.


A lot of people have been telling me about flashcards that you can put on your computer. But I like my old-fashioned paper flashcards that I can just stick in my purse and use while I wait or ride the bus. Plus that, once I make my flashcards, they are already 50% learned. It is so satisfying to sort my flashcards into stacks of ones I know, ones I don’t know, and ones I need to review. Mmmm… project completion. Love that.

Korean stationery

Korean stationery and pens, mechanical pencils, etc. are dirt cheap and cuter than anything and they can bring you much happiness even if you are a boy. You should definitely splurge and tell all those old splurty Bics where to go.

BTW I thought that Japanese bear 리라쿠마 was really cute and I wanted him to be my new favorite character. So I found a comic book and started reading it … and it turns out he is just a lazy bear with a bad attitude who only does what he wants to. Not good for a study companion! Rilakkuma, I’m so disappointed in you! BAD LAZY STUDENT WORTH NO INSPIRATION! I BAN YOU Rilakkuma!!

MP3 Player

I transfer all my CDs to MP3 and do my listening on that and also record myself talking. My player also has a radio function so that I helpful to gauge how much I understand in real life, as opposed to just on my textbook CD or on TV where you have a lot of visuals to help.

Study Tips

There is no shortcut, at least not one that I’ve found. You have to put the time in, just as you would practicing the piano or memorizing your multiplication tables. I should put some time in now!  So I will continue this at a later time …


9 responses to “Korean Adoptee … Learns Korean! Part 3

  1. “I transfer all my CDs to MP3 and do my listening on that and also record myself talking”

    You can hear your own accent?

  2. Oh yes, and so can everybody else!

  3. Thanks for the recommendations! Perennially on my to-do list…uh…learn korean…

  4. I read in the los angeles time today that sally inman, steven inman’s lost sister was finally found after 37 years. she lives in north carolina.

  5. minneapoliseoul

    This is great, thank you!!!

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  7. Rilakkuma is king! He gives me all the energy I need to get the job done 🙂

  8. Yey. This would be the last. Congratulations. I know you enjoyed it while you learned it.

Thank you for visiting my blog. I no longer have time to update this blog regularly, but I appreciate your comments, even though I cannot respond to all of them. All comments (except spam) have been allowed to go through unmoderated since June 16, 2014. Any comments you see prior to that date have been read and approved by me. Thanks again, and wishing you peace and blessings.

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