Improve your Korean in 6 unique ways

You may have just finished your Korean textbook or passed your first Korean class. Now you feel accomplished but not sure where to go next. You might be bridging the gap from beginner to intermediate, or making your way from intermediate to advanced. Wherever you are in your journey, there are a few things you can incorporate into your day to improve your Korean fast. Note that most of the tips in this post might not apply to beginner learners.

1. LISTEN TO PODCASTS IN KOREAN (NOT JUST ABOUT KOREAN)

If you’re over listening to podcasts and audio lessons like TTMIK and Koreanpod101, you might want to try listening to podcasts made for the Korean market. Here are my favorites that I listen to on Google Podcasts:
🎧 2018 문장의 소리 (The Voice of Text)
Description (KR): 이 방송은 한국문화예술위원회에서 운영하는 인터넷 문학 라디오 <문장의 소리> 팟캐스트 버전입니다.
Description (EN): This is the podcast version of the Internet literary radio program called “The Voice of Text”, run by the Korean Culture and Arts Council.

🎧 [KBS]라디오 다이어리 그 남자 그 여자 (That man, that woman, KBS Radio Diary)
Description (KR): 우리는 누구나 일기를 씁니다. 연필로 쓰는 그 남자, 휴대폰에 쓰는 그 여자, 그리고 마음에 쓰는 그 남자, 그 여자. 우리 일상의 일기로 영화 같은 꿈을 꾸는 시간입니다. 좋은 음악과 함께 듣고 싶다면 매일 밤 자정 KBS 2라디오 101.6Mhz를 찾아주세요.
Description (EN): We all keep diaries. There’s the man who writes in pencil, the woman who types on her phone, and then those who write in their hearts. Through our daily diaries, we have time to dream like our life is a movie. If you want to listen to good music with this, tune into KBS 2 Radio every night, on 10.6Mhz.

🎧 [MBC] 박경의 꿈꾸는 라디오 (Park Kyung’s Dreaming Radio)
Lindie’s description: This radio show is hosted by Park Kyung from the Kpop group Block B. He’s quirky and has a lovely voice for the radio. The only downside to this is that the songs are cut short, but for language learning it’s good because the radio show will mostly be him talking. He talks about various daily life topics with different guests and relates the topics to music.

🎧 [MBC] 음악의 숲 정승환입니다 (Indie Radio, Live Forest)
Singer Jung Seunghwan runs this radio show, and has a soft voice that might relax you so much that you’ll fall asleep – but if you stay awake, it’ll be good language practice because he speaks at a natural speed and talks about daily topics. He’s funny and I often find myself laughing out loud and things he says. He also reads messages from listeners and these are great to learn new vocabulary from.


You can make listening to a podcast a learning experience for yourself by trying to write down what speakers say. Some podcast apps like Google Podcasts let you slow down or speed up the pace, so don’t worry if you can’t understand natural speed at first! Then, go over the script and highlight new words. Write them down in context with their example sentences, and write down new expressions and slang you hear too. Read them out loud in different voices, paces and mental situations so you can solidify it into your memory.

To summarize: 1. Listen to the podcast once through > 2. Write down sentences you hear > Highlight a new word > Write the definition of the word > Make your own sentence using the word.

You can get your sentences checked by native speakers on websites or apps like HiNative, HelloTalk, iTalki or even Facebook groups dedicated to learning the language.

2. SPEAKING PRACTICE

You can talk to yourself when you’re walking around the house. You can also record yourself sometimes. What I like to do is shadowing dramas and podcasts and repeating what people say. I’ve found that after watching a movie in one language, my brain tends to try and think in that language after, or I’ll find myself walking around the house repeating phrases I’ve heard in the movie. Can you picture how much your accent and vocabulary will improve if you’re immersing yourself by speaking and listening practice every day? If you encounter new words, and you hear those words repeatedly, it’ll start to solidify in your memory. I’ve learnt many words without ever needing to write down what they mean, just because I expose myself to hearing the words as much as I can.

Improving speaking skills by talking to yourself is good, but it’s even better to talk to native speakers. The best way to get proper speaking practice in if you can’t find native speakers near you is to get a tutor on italki. Having a native speaker to chat to or correct your mistakes is one of the best ways you can start sounding more natural in a language and increase your vocabulary, as well as working on your listening skills. I use italki for Mandarin Chinese and Tagalog practice, and it’s boosted my confidence in speaking by leaps and bounds.

Many people write to me and say they’re afraid of getting a tutor because they don’t feel ready to speak – but you’ll never really feel ready until you throw yourself in the deep end and try. Even if you know only a few words, the tutor is there to help you – it’s their job to teach you and guide you, and they’re the last person who will judge your or laugh at you. If you’re keen to use italki, feel free to use this link to get $10 in italki credits after booking your first lesson! Note that I titled this post ways to improve Korean without needing lessons – you don’t need to go to a class or book specific lessons with someone on italki – there are many tutors and regular native speakers who are more than happy to book single sessions with you to get your speaking practice in.

Alternatively, you can try apps like HiNative, HelloTalk, Wakie, Goodnight, Saito-san, Tandem or a website like MyLanguageExchange or Penpalworld to meet native speakers and practice talking to them.

3. JOURNAL IN KOREAN

I’ve been journalling in Korean for years. It’s so funny to look back at my high school diaries and see how bad my Korean was but how passionate I was to try and express things in the language!

Things you write in your journal are related to your daily life, which is exactly what your daily conversations are about with others. If you don’t know words, you can mix languages! It’s OK to just throw in a few Korean words here and there until you know enough to make a full sentence. Use as many vocabulary words you know in Korean and mix languages until you look up the words and learn them and use them. Be sure to get a native speaker to correct it though!

4. VOCAB NOTEBOOK OR WORD LISTS ON YOUR PHONE

You can use a small notepad and write words down and keep it with you when you are commuting or waiting in queues. Alternatively, make a word list on your phone or use Quizlet. I’ve recently started using Quizlet to make flashcards of new vocabulary words, having shifted away from a larger notebook. I find Quizlet more user-friendly than Anki, mainly because as a UI/UX designer, I’m very sensitive to the way things look and function. I found Anki clunky and boring to use, but I know many people who can’t live without Anki. Although I don’t use it anymore, you can see my Korean vocabulary notebook in use in this video:

5. JOIN KOREAN FORUMS; USE KOREAN SEARCH ENGINES

Some of you might be asking where to encounter new words. All you need to do is start living like you are Korean. If you’re Googling something, do it in Korean. You can start using Korean search engines like Naver or Daum.

If you’re a Kpop fan, you can try joining a fancafe, or follow some Twitter threads in Korean about your favorite artists. Hashtags on Instagram and Twitter are useful – if you learn a new word you can search its tag and join communities online related to it. Fully immerse yourself in your hobbies and interests – but try to do it in Korean!

6. PARTICIPATE IN ONLINE CHALLENGES

If you’re having a hard time staying motivated through self-study, you can always participate in online challenges and join a community of fellow language-learners who will keep you motivated. Some of these challenges include:
Add1 Challenge
Record Yourself challenges on Instagram
90 Days with Drops
LanguageJam (though for this, you’re assigned a language)

If you’re active in the language-learning community on Instagram, you’ll see lots of people doing these kinds of challenges and it’ll be easy for you to join in and learn about them.

Summary

Thanks for reading! I hope these tips are helpful for you. Remember to check out my Korean learning playlist on YouTube and to follow me on Instagram or Twitter for more language related content.

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.


Tips & tricks for vocabulary acquisition

New language learners often look at others and think learning vocabulary is something that happens quickly. They seek for ways to speed up their vocabulary retention. It’s not wrong to look for ways to learn faster, but one needs to keep in mind that having vocabulary words stick in your long-term memory takes a while!

Methods to try

GOLDLIST
Lots of people use the Goldlist Method for remembering vocab. However, it is not my favorite because of the long time between learning a word and reviewing it again, but it’s nice and structured.

FLASHCARDS
Write the word on one side of a card/paper and on the back write its meaning/pronunciation/usage. If you don’t like paper you can use apps like Anki. You can go further and categorize the cards into piles of “know” “review” and “new”.

REMEMBERING WORDS 
Make sure to use your words as soon as you learn them. You can write them in sentences and have them checked on websites like italki, or you can use it with a native speaker and ask them to correct you if you use the word wrong.

LABELLING
You can label things around your room/house. Stick a piece of paper to your fridge that lists the word for “fridge” in your TL. You can do it with anything from your mirror to your closet to your potplant.

SHOPPING LISTS/PLANNERS
I usually write my shopping lists and planner/diary entries in another language. For example, if I have a “meeting”, I won’t write it in English, but rather in a language I’m learning. Especially if it’s a new word (like “call plumber”, for example), writing it down more than once in your planner will engrain it into your memory if you use it enough.

NOTETAKING
I find it much faster to write notes using Chinese characters/Korean words mixed in with English. It sounds insane, but writing “名” is much faster than writing “name”. Fellow students in university used to get frustrated when they asked to borrow my notes because half of it wasn’t English. I guess this is just for speed rather than vocab retention. You can make up your own ways to write things. For example, instead of writing “design”, a word I use a lot, I take the Korean word 디자인 and shorten it to ㄷㅈ – two characters which are super fast to write!

Finding new words

Watching TV shows/movies/dramas can help you pick up new words easily if you make sure to write them down when you encounter them. Korean/Japanese/Chinese shows are especially good because they often put the word being said on the screen (especially with explanations or something funny someone said). You can also watch shows with subtitles in your TL rather than your native language so you’re sure about the spelling.

Listening to music/radio/podcasts: Same concept. You might not know how to spell the word that you hear, but you can try, and then type it in to a dictionary app and check if you were right. In terms of checking word meanings, you can also do a google search/other search engine search with the word to see what pictures come up.


tl;dr: Here’s a video to go along with this post!