Learning Korean isn’t easy, but a good textbook helps

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Learning Korean isn’t easy, but a good textbook helps

Learning Korean as a native English speaker can be a long and harrowing process, with many questions attached. Can you really learn from books on your own? Do you need to take classes? What about one-on-one tutoring?
Of course, the only universal rule of education is that everyone learns differently. Group settings, individual tutoring, visual aids, audio supplements, writing exercises, vocabulary lists ― everyone responds differently to these tools.
Fortunately, there are textbooks in Korean to meet any need. For traditional rote learners there is nothing better than “Elementary Korean.” Students who prefer more illustrations and a more visual layout should look to “Korean Made Easy.” If you’re interested in the cultural background of the language, follow the “Roadmap to Korean.”
Take a look at these five different popular courses, and find your individual route to understanding Korean.

Korean Made Easy for Beginners

This self-learning book, organized into 24 chapters, is by far the most visual of the group. Color pictures on every page illustrate dialogues, vocabulary and quiz questions. Each chapter teaches a different grammatical structure or concept, with simple cultural explanations attached.
An attached CD provides the chance to practice to the voices of native speakers, and many quiz questions also use the recording.
“Korean Made Easy” moves along quickly, placing verb forms and grammar structure above large vocabulary lists or long cultural notes.

The visual cues make this the best option for self-learning. A focus on grammar provides a foundation for further study.
The phrase book, which provides options for 38 different common sentence structures, is almost endlessly useful.

If you are not a visual or intuitive learner the self-learning approach may be difficult.
The book does not always explain words used in dialogues if they are not the focus of the lesson, and the CD is much too fast, particularly in the early chapters.

By Seung-Eun Oh
17,000 won (includes CD)

Survival Korean

Written by a teacher on Arirang TV, this course is specifically designed for expatriates. Taking a strictly practical, easygoing approach, the book uses typical expat situations as springboards for teaching grammar and vocabulary.
For a Korean language text, there is surprisingly little Korean ― most of the text is in English. Instead, the book relies on the included cassette tapes. Conversations and writing exercises are punctuated by occasional cultural notes and suggestions.

A wealth of illustrations and conversational explanations mean there’s no chance of being overwhelmed.
The best part of the course is the recordings, which offers easily understandable words and dialogues for repetition.

Too much English and a focus on conversation make this a poor Korean springboard. Use “Korean Made Easy” or “Elementary Korean” to learn more, faster.
The cassette tapes mean students can’t copy the audio to a computer or MP3 player.

By Stephen Revere
21,500 won (includes 2 cassettes)

Korean for Non-Native Speakers

Split into two books ― a textbook and a workbook ― the Sogang University non-native-speaker books can be used with a class or for self-study.
Starting with hangul, the book uses illustrations to introduce grammatical concepts and vocabulary, then a few text-heavy pages for further explanation, followed by an illustrated speaking section to be accompanied by the CD and exercises to be done with friends.
The workbook includes a variety of exercises of varying difficulty, providing a great deal of writing practice.

The extensive grammar explanations help students grasp subtle shades of meaning.
The well-paced CD exercises use several different voices.
Inside the workbook are the group’s most extensive writing exercises.

Illustrations are not as prominent as in some other books, and the text-heavy portions may discourage some readers.
Students may have difficulty correcting their own answers in the workbook. “Class activities” are useless to self-learners.

By Sogang University
21,000 won (includes workbook)

Elementary Korean

“Elementary Korean” is Korean for linguists ― or those beginners aiming for full literacy and fluency. The early chapters use a transcription system based on the international phonetic alphabet, followed by hangul and grammar lessons based around explanatory text and dialogues.
Vocabulary lists are everywhere ― in the introduction the authors claim the book contains over 1000 items ― so flash cards are a must.
The CD helps compensate for the complete lack of illustration with listening and speaking practice.

Obsessive detail and incredible density of information make this the most thorough option for those serious about learning Korean.
Every step is explained, every part of speech parsed. Massive vocabulary lists and an attached glossary are good resources.

Visual learners will quickly find themselves overwhelmed by the mountains of text.
For quick and practical conversational Korean, look elsewhere.
The romanization and included CD can be difficult to comprehend, even for the serious student.

By Ross King and Jae-Hoon Yeon
$69.37 (includes CD)

Roadmap to Korean

A unique approach to Korean language learning, “Roadmap” is a combination of basic Korean grammar and cultural training for the beginner expatriate.
Written in a conversational, narrative style, the book surrounds its occasional Korean sentences and vocabulary lists with notes about what to do when you’re laughed at, how to understand Koreanized English words, the historical background of the Korean language and even the basics of Korean mythology.

“Roadmap to Korean” strikes a happy medium between practical cultural notes on such topics as Korean behavior and how to use a Korean dictionary, and academic background, with sections on Confucianism, hanja, the zodiac and Korean holidays.

Its cultural focus means that this is not by a long shot a complete course in basic Korean.
Students looking for a no-frills Korean language course will be frustrated rather than charmed by the sociological dilly-dallying. Try “Elementary Korean” instead.

By Richard Harris
15,000 won

by Ben Applegate
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