Two Korean textbooks

Korean Grammar for Speaking textbook review

As a grammar fan and Korean learner, I was really excited when Song Won, the author of Korean Grammar for Speaking, contacted me regarding his newly released textbook series. The books are brand new – the first volume came out in 2016 (a revised version in 2018), and the second volume was only published in November 2018.

Korean Grammar for Speaking is currently available in two volumes, volume 1 focusing on beginners and 2 geared more towards intermediate students.

Content overviews

Korean Grammar for Speaking volume 1

This book is good for beginners who have some grip of hangul already. Although there are 10 pages dedicated to learning hangul, I find that a hangul-specific textbook/website/resource may have a better approach to help people learn the alphabet faster. Once you have a grip on hangul, regardless of the resource you’ve used, it’s good to use this textbook to understand grammar going forward.

I was surprised to see that the first unit in KGFS volume 1 is about numbers and how to read different types of numbers. Given the title of the series, I would have expected something conversational, like introducing yourself or speaking about hobbies. That being said, there are plenty of textbooks that do that already. For this reason, I think KGFS is good for someone who already has a basic grasp of greetings.

Right after the sections that teach/review hangul, you’re presented with numbers and questions like translating “When is your birthday” or “What is your postal code”?. If you don’t know the word for birthday, for example, you might feel lost. Once you are past the first 10 units, you’ll reach sections that start appearing more conversational, with questions and answers as examples.

Here are some example unit headings so you can see what you’ll learn.

  • To be
  • I do (polite)
  • Particles
  • I do (formal)
  • Will
  • From, until
  • Want to
  • As soon as
  • Please do it for me
  • Look
  • I heard, someone said
  • Know how to/don’t know how to
  • Will you?
  • Allowed to
  • Not allowed to
  • Because, so

Korean Grammar for Speaking Volume 2

The structure of the book is the same as the first volume (grammar units with examples and exercises plus a vocabulary list and test at the back). I’ll just bring out a few grammar points you’ll learn here so you can get an idea of what the level is:

  • ~나요
  • ㄹ/을 뻔하다
  • 던데요
  • 더라고요
  • (아무리)더라도
  • 는지
  • 잖아요
  • 는데요?
  • 다가
  • 하다/어하다/해하다
  • ㄹ 수밖에 없다/을 리가 없다
  • 버리다/어 버리다/해 버리다
  • 라고요/라고하다
  • 면 할수록

What’s different? (KGIU comparison)

The textbooks focus on commonly used grammar structures to make your Korean more natural. It’s different from Korean Grammar in Use from a few aspects. Both KGIU and KGFS have units based on a single grammar structure, followed by example sentences and activities, but the layout of each textbook is slightly different. Let’s compare.

Korean Grammar in UseKorean Grammar for Speaking
Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced levels1 and 2 (beginner and intermediate)
Comes with a CDLinks at back of book for video lessons and audio clips
Lots of illustrationsNo illustrations
Glossy pagesMatte pages
Units arranged into chaptersNo sectional chapters, units are continuous
Index arranged by unit (vocab presented according to unit/grammar structure)Index arranged by verbs with batchim, verbs without batchim, adjectives with batchim and adjectives without batchim
Level test after each section2 big “Final Tests” at the back of books
Multiple authorsAuthored by a language learner himself

Pros and Cons

Pros

1. Quick and concise
Each unit teaches a single grammar structure with lots of example sentences on the left page and has exercises on the right page. There are no ramblings, culture notes or images, so if you’re keen to focus just on grammar, these books are great. That being said, if you’re looking for in-depth, advanced grammar explanations, this book may be too simple for you.

2. The book feels more human-centered
Korean Grammar for Speaking Vol 1. starts off with a few pages titled “How to study languages”, which is advice from Song Won the author. He provides the following tips:

  • Memorize the characters
  • Study grammar
  • Memorize words every day, little by little
  • Study with movies and TV shows
  • Talk to native speakers
  • Meet native speakers
  • Don’t ask why
  • Take the language as it is
  • Use the circumstances around you
  • Simplify

There’s also his “language autobiography” in the second volume which makes for an interesting read. At the back of the book he also provides links to his social media and his email address to contact him. Though I don’t recommend spamming him with questions, having a “face” behind the book makes the book feel more human and friendly.

3. Video and audio lessons
Song Won has made audio to accompany each lesson. Note that the audio files just read what’s on the page and don’t provide extras.

On the other hand, his video lessons are much more in-depth and he’ll mention some example words and sentences that you won’t find in the books. Unlie audio, video lessons are for both the first and second volumes.

4. Big focus on exercises
As mentioned before, each section ends off with a series of exercises. There are answers at the back so you don’t need to worry about getting them checked.

5. Textbook look and feel
These books have thin soft covers and nice paper for writing on. I found KGIU to have glossy paper which smudged pen easily. KGIU is also heavier and thicker. The design is simple, fonts easy to read, and uses a handy color coding system (conjugation changes in red, extra notes in green, subheadings in blue etc).

Cons

1. Not immediately “conversational”
First few units in the 1st volume focus on hangul, telling the time, reading numbers and saying days of the week/months. This is good for general knowledge but not directly focused on “conversational” Korean. The “conversation” part only starts later.

2. No long conversations
There are also no long-form conversations, and “conversations” are generally in the form of Q&As (e.g. “Have you ever met the president?” “No, I have not met the president”).

3. Exercises can get repetitive
Some exercises are just in the form of “Make a sentence using X grammar structure”. This may get boring for some learners.

How to study using Korean Grammar for Speaking

Use supplements
KGFS is best used alongside the audio and video lessons that Song Won has so professionally prepared and made available for free! That’s right, even if you don’t have the book and you’re reading this post, you can still check out his video lessons or his Soundcloud with audio!

What I did for the second book was to do the lesson first by going through all the example sentences and writing down vocabulary I didn’t know. I like to learn words in context, so I made sure to write the accompanying sentence too, so I can remember how the word is used.

Use a note-taking structure suited to you
I color coded my notes to have vocabulary words in one color, English translations in another color, and example sentences in a different color. This is optional and ultimately how you decide to take notes should not be forced, but a comfortable way that works for you!

Drill in the grammar and practice on native speakers
Unlike some textbooks that have phrases for you to memorise, these grammar-based books equip you to make your own sentences. This empowers you to start speaking because after the drills you’ll have a good grip on how the grammar works. Be sure to use the grammar structures you learnt so you can apply your knowledge and not let it get rusty!

Where to buy Korean Grammar for Speaking

Buy books and full videos one by one here
You can also take Song Won’s course on Udemy. There are e-books on iBooks for iPhone users too.
Ebooks are also available on Amazon, and will be on Google books soon.


Disclaimer

This is not a paid blog post. I was sent the textbooks by Song Won free of charge, but promotion is done out of my own will to share content and tips with you, my readers.


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