Published in 1992, the two-book series: College Korean and College Korean Intermediate are probably one of the earlier Korean textbooks published in English. I was a huge fan of College Korean Intermediate and finished the entire book during the earlier days of learning Korean. Today, I’ll be reviewing the more elementary book in the series: College Korean.
Don’t be put off by the title. College Korean is a beginners textbook designed for Korean learners, just that it’s probably aimed at college students (I see no particular differences).
Frankly speaking, Korean beginner textbooks are… probably 半斤八兩, content wise. (meaning: about the same)
So this is how I judge a beginners textbook:
- how well it does in not scaring people off the language
- how engaging it keeps the learners
- how it approaches introducing the alphabet and the basic rules – dump the entire sound-change rules in the beginning chapter?
- how well it introduces basic concepts
The usual rules apply: scroll down for a summary if you are lazy to read my lengthy post!
Let’s get the bad stuff over, shall we? The book uses a modified McCune-Reishauer romanization system which I find…. horrible. -.- Not that I have anything against the system, but I just find that very foreign and off-putting for the English learner. It makes Korean look like a ridiculously difficult language to pronounce. And that probably may turn learners off.
Personally, I advocate using your ears to learn Hangeul and then approach any book without looking at any form of romanization!
Okay, other than that, I have to say that I have nothing much to complain about. The book is well written, comprehensive, suitable for self learners, although a little dry and formal. And picture-less.
Culture-knowledge wise, it’s all in the dialogues and there’s no additional ‘culture tidbits’. It makes the book a little dry in that sense, but nevertheless, a useful one.
Vowel and consonant contrasts
One of my favorite parts of the book is that it forces you to recognize at the start that ㄱ ㄲ ㅋ are different and that a change in that one particular consonant means a different word altogether. 근 (pound) 끈 (rope) 큰 (large).
A lot of beginner students know that there’s a difference, but choose to conveniently ignore it when learning the sounds. But this book forces you to recognize that a small difference in pronunciation makes a large difference in meaning.
I like that there is a separate section for these rules and you can choose to either absorb everything at one go, or come back to refer to it as and when you need it.
Once you start lesson 1, the romanization is gone. Which is awesome. No honeymood period, right straight into business.
Each lesson is structured according to the following:
- grammar patterns
- dialogue 2
- vocabulary list (with meaning)
- grammar and notes
- exercises (which I just ignore)
The grammar and notes section is well written and easy to understand. I like that they introduce around 5-7 new grammar notes / structures every chapter. Enough to make it challenging but not too many that you feel overwhelmed.
The textbook is great for English speakers, because it addresses the differences between English and Korean and it eases you into the language instead of immediately assuming that you know that Korean is a totally different language system.
This book is awesome for people like me: who loves structure and well explained text and don’t mind it being a little too rigid and dry.
If you are someone that prefers a lot of engaging pictures, small chunks of knowledge at one time, fun facts etc in your language textbook, this book might be a little too dry for you.
- well structured
- not intimidating, easy beginners into the language
- good explanations of grammar points
- not liking the romanization system
- can be a little boring
Michael C. Rogers, Clare You, Kyungnyun K. Richards
University of California Press, Berkeley