4 In Others / General

[Korean Textbook Review] Elementary Korean


I still remember how, 7 years ago, I was in the bookstore debating with myself whether to purchase this book. There was only a hardcover version at that time, and it was way beyond my budget. I ended up relying heavily on online (and free) resources, which worked well for me. Fast forward to 2015. Thanks to Tuttle, I finally got to own a copy and I’ll let you know whether it’s worth spending the 40 plus bucks (SGD) on it.

Review under the cut!

Having got used to the style of textbooks published in Korea in the past few years, the structure of Elementary Korean was rather jarring for me. Old school, structuralist and very… foreign (to me). The immediate thought that struck me was “oh man I don’t think I can study with this as an absolute beginner.”

A rather strong statement, I admit. But I do have a strong preference for Korean-style textbooks (if you know what I mean).


Featuring Fuchiko!


hehe my collection! (sidetrack)

Lesson 1 starts off with a whole list of basic expressions in the Korean script and curiously, the transcription is on a separate page and list. As someone who believes in page to page learning (I don’t like to skip chapters!), this is pretty overwhelming and rather useless. Curiously, the book chooses to use phonetic transcription, which already scares off me (a linguistic student hahahaha). I don’t think the average learner will appreciate it either. Granted, the lesson notes are detailed, but I would imagine it just makes Korean seem like a tough language to learn, instead of reassuring the learner. Lesson 1 ends off with 3 exercises – 2 of which are translation types (which I h.a.t.e) and in the last one, you are given a situation (in English) and asked which expression in Korean is appropriate. lol. Skip.


Out of nowhere, lesson 2 (more basic expressions) starts with introducing numbers 1-10. The Korean one (하나 둘 etc). DOESN’T TELL ME ANYTHING. it doesn’t even explain that there are two numbering systems.

And hello, the hangul alphabet is not even introduced?!

In lesson 3 (finally!), we get to learn the hangul alphabet. The book comes with a CD, and basically it fails me on the first count already because it doesn’t pronounce the alphabet for me (!!!). Instead, the mp3 files are for the exercises. Fine, for the vowel exercise, I get to listen to the vowels. But for the consonant exercise, they actually teach me what the alphabet letters are called (기역, 니은 etc), which is …… so useful for the beginner learner. NOT.

By then, I have almost given up on the book.

Which is a pity.


Because the later parts of the book are decent. The grammar explanations are quite detailed, with ample example sentences. It’s not very common to find detailed Korean grammar explanations in English (I remember switching to Chinese or Korean ones pretty fast), so this is a plus point of this book for those who would still prefer it to be in English!


The exercises are still awful though, which makes me wonder if I’m learning the language or learning translation. (well, I’m glad they at least provide an answer key)

But yes, the grammar explanations are detailed and they do introduce quite a number of new stuff in each chapter.


If you would like to get the book, I recommend you to have some basics in hangul elsewhere and just start from chapter 5. Or at least, that is what I would do.


Overall, the structure of the book doesn’t suit my preferences but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. Some people might enjoy the structuralist approach this book uses.

All in all, can’t say that I’ll highly recommend this, but if you would like to purchase this, get the paperback version!

Buy it on Amazon 

Buy it on Kinokuniya (SG) 

For those who have used the book, leave a comment to share your thoughts!

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  • Reply
    2 June, 2015 at 9:59 PM

    I tried to use this book, tried to return to it few times but the vocab lists are just too much. 100 words at each chapter is just scary. Maybe good for someone who likes memorization.
    And little offtopic but I have a question. Under “Korean Language Resources” there’s something listed as books developed by National Institute of Korean Language but the link leads to an error page. I thought that they maybe had changed the address of those books so I searched but didn’t find it. Can someone tell me if it’s deleted? Thanks in advance.
    This site and blog archive is really a big help for a Korean learner. Thank you for it~

    • Reply
      6 June, 2015 at 7:51 PM

      Hello Tin! Sorry your comment got eaten up by the blog ><;; Yeah the lists can be quite long! Glad you found the right site again!

  • Reply
    2 June, 2015 at 10:05 PM

    Ok, nevermind about that question. Now I somehow found it -.-””’ Feel so stupid rn ^^””””” it seems they moved it to kcenter.korean.go.kr if someone interested ^^”

  • Reply
    5 June, 2015 at 6:24 AM

    It doesn’t seem all that helpful if someone wants to do more then the write in Korean. And even then I’m not sure. But I’m only giving my impression of of your review. At least I know not to spend 40 bucks on it.

    It does have a pdf version so maybe…I don’t know.

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