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How I learn Korean vocabulary

Alot of people have asked me how I learn and remember new vocabulary and whether I have any ‘special method’ or ‘tips’. I’ve never given much thought to this topic, but since there were a few people who asked me that recently, I shall devote a post to it ^^

Please note that the following is my personal opinion and there is NO best way of learning vocabulary. You have to find the method that best suit your OWN learning style.

1. No flashcards / vocabulary lists

I’m not a believer of flashcards. I don’t believe in memorizing new vocabulary. The number of words in a new language is so large, how can you expect to memorize them? And definitely not vocabulary lists (especially those in books). I’ve seen some books with titles like ‘500 must know words in Korean’ or something along that line. Or books that claim to contain all the words that you have to know in order to take TOPIK etc.

It’s a total waste of money.

Apologies if I sound too biased, but I simply don’t believe in preparing for language tests that way. It may help you pass TOPIK if you have an excellent memory, but such memory are often short term and you will probably forget all of them 2 weeks later.

However, I quite like using interactive online resources that are similar to vocabulary lists. Eg, videos that introduces basic vocabulary while showing the picture or those sites that pronounces the word when you move the mouse over it (you get the idea). They are an excellent way of remembering some basic vocabulary when you are still a beginner. The interactive nature of such sites make it easy for beginners to learn new words in an interesting way.

2. Read widely

By reading widely, you come across words that you already know and also new vocabulary. Seeing familiar words strengthens your memory of them and you get to see how they are used in different contexts. New vocabulary placed in context (sentences) make it easier for you to guess their meaning without checking the dictionaries, and also make it easier for you to remember them after you checked out their meaning.

Below are the steps I usually follow when reading a new chunk of text. (I don’t follow through all the time though xD )

1. read the text and underline words that I don’t know

2. check the Naver dictionary for each word

3. write down the meaning and a sample sentence from the dictionary in my notebook (repeat)

4. re-read and look through my notebook (Do not memorize by heart)

5. practice writing the new words a few times on a piece of rough paper (hahaha i don’t do that always)

6. re-read the text and make sure you can understand everything, preferably without checking the notebook ^^

I can’t stress more on how each individual has their own unique learning style that best fit them. So, just take the above as one possible method! ^^ The best thing to do is to experiment with a few different methods and fine something that suits your character! Learning a new language is a long journey and you will only go far if you enjoy it~~

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13 Comments

  • Reply
    creativityjapanese
    19 August, 2010 at 11:06 PM

    I like this post!! Mainly because I can relate to it!

    I realized that I’m slowly adopting such method of learning as well. In the past, when I was learning Japanese, I used to rely on vocab listing a great deal, although that helped me to improve my vocabulary bank significantly but I find that it’s got boring. And the downside to this is, when it comes to application, I get confused~ So I really think learning through vocab lists is a bad idea~ Haha~ maybe that’s why I can relate to that~ Tested and failed XD

    I realized that my ability to remember words gets better after I changed my method, that is to read widely. But I have to admit that I’m not conscientious like you to write down new words~ cos I’m lazy~ XD

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      20 August, 2010 at 10:29 AM

      yeah vocab lists can get boring. I used to look at phrasebooks but I realised I can’t remember a single thing from them.

  • Reply
    rin
    19 August, 2010 at 11:24 PM

    hi!=D i agree with you..i don’t really believe in the idea of going through a long list of vocabulary and then memorize. I don’t think we learnt English or Chinese that way either yeah? I’m trying to read as much as i can and for beginners like me, i spent more time with the dictionary than the reading itself.=X

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      20 August, 2010 at 10:30 AM

      hello~! ^^ spending more time with the dictionary is normal 😀 i used to take a day just to finish a small chunk of text. you will get better as time passes ^^

  • Reply
    jean
    20 August, 2010 at 4:49 PM

    my sentiments exactly! ^^

  • Reply
    Irene
    21 August, 2010 at 9:48 PM

    Hi Shanna

    I am impressed by your Korean language proficiency. Did you take any classroom training other than your recent summer study trip to Korea?

    I understand that there are a number of textbooks used by universities in Korea? Would you be able to recommend one?

    I am following ttmik and short courses at cc.

    Truly understand your post on learning new words, I sort of use this method. Writing and rewriting it reinforces our memory.

    Hear from you then!

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      24 August, 2010 at 12:50 PM

      Hi Irene! ^^

      i used to take beginner classes at the singapore korean school! ^^ After that, no more classroom training.
      Each major university have their own textbooks and I have only seen the ones used by Yonsei and Kyung Hee. I would say that I prefer the ones by Yonsei if you are looking for something more in depth.

  • Reply
    James
    15 September, 2010 at 4:42 PM

    Hi, I was wondering if you could recommend some websites that have very beginning to intermediate level Korean reading practice… I don’t want to order a bunch of books because that gets expensive and I’m not advanced enough for novels and such, but I thought that I might start out the way my own children are learning English, with simple childrens books or stories in Korean and then I could have more practice and move on to more skilled topics and readings, but I can’t find any free Korean ebook or anything like that…any suggestions?

    James

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      15 September, 2010 at 11:30 PM

      http://hompi.sogang.ac.kr/korean/

      i think this will be a good site to start with! ^^ talktomeinkorean.com has awesome lessons too, for all levels of learners.

      it will be better to start with simple conversational korean compared to reading children stories. those books usually contain quite alot of grammar alr and the vocab there can be unfamiliar too (especially when fairies, globins appear) xD

  • Reply
    alodia
    5 February, 2011 at 1:27 PM

    I’m totally not into flashcards either (i don’t know in Japanese though). I’m more of a kindergarten-style writing over and over and over on a scratch paper.
    I do have my vocabulary list, but those are list of new words I pick up from class, or from a friend, or from a drama, or from a song, or from somewhere else. I memorize them from time to time. And I’m starting to try using them more in sentences.

  • Reply
    Anonymous
    1 November, 2011 at 9:17 AM

    Almost looks like the Pinsler (did I spell that right?) method to me. I’m only starting to learn korean, and I already found that flashcards won’t work for me. I found that I like guessing the words’ meaning in context; watching k-dubbed anime kind of helped in my case because of all the visual and vocal cues.

    Btw, the links are just awesome, especially the “talk to me in Korean” one. Thanks!

  • Reply
    iwantknow
    9 April, 2012 at 11:59 AM

    Reblogged this on iwantknow.

  • Reply
    Ashe
    1 March, 2019 at 7:28 AM

    I love this site so much!!
    I too am self-learning Korean (been doing it on and off for about 6 months so far), and Hangukdrama is one of my (new) favorite sources.
    I have some flashcard sets that I made and am now trying to use those words in sentences.
    I already tried vocab lists~ you-re right, they don’t work.
    I tried Duolingo for Korean, it’s so-so. Like it shows the conjugations and sentences and phrases and stuff but doesn’t really explain them in-depth.
    감사합니다!

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