Category Korean Textbook Reviews

Category Japanese Textbook Reviews

0 In Korean learning journey (:

12 years into learning Korean, I learnt how to say “armpit”

The title literally summarised what I am writing about today. It never fails to amaze me how despite being an “advanced” learner, there are actually a lot of words I don’t know, and sometimes they are so-called simple words or things that you come across on a daily basis.

No two learners’ vocabulary bank will be the same and they can differ vastly, depending on what kind of materials he/she has been exposed to in the learning journey. At the beginner stage, it’s more likely that two learners will roughly know the same set of words but as time passes, experience and exposure really makes a lot of difference to what and how much you know.

I can tell you what a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is in Korean (자유무역협정) but ask me what’s a potato peeler and I’ll be stumped. That’s because I’ve been reading a lot more in the economics / international trade field compared to say recipes. This is the kind of unbalance that I want to address but hahaha humans have their own interests and this ends up reflected in your learning (and proficiency). I tend to read more non-fiction for Korean and that really made the imbalance in vocab bank more stark because non-fiction articles tend to be focused on a particular topic. E.g. It’s more likely that you will come across the word “armpit” in a novel regardless of genre (horror/romance/comedy/sci-fi) compared to say focusing on reading articles on international trade.

Hence, I’m trying to shift my reading patterns towards fiction for Korean and hopefully that will help to build a more varied and balanced vocab bank.

Incidentally, armpit is 겨드랑이 in Korean.

Now you know too 🙂

0 In Korean learning journey (:

A morning spent with a Korean novel

Woke up early and spent the last couple of hours starting on a new Korean novel – 소년이 온다 by 한강.

This is my second time reading Han Kang, although the first time reading the original. I had read The Vegetarian, brilliantly translated by Deborah Smith, and was blown way. While brilliant, it was also highly disturbing at the same time and once was enough. Hence, instead of buying a copy of 채식주의자, decided to get both the original copies and English translations of her other works – 횐 (The White Book) and 소년이 온다 (Human Acts).

I own a couple of Korean novels in both the original and translated versions. I am perfectly fine reading the original but I get the translated ones just to learn about good translations, instead of using them as an aid to read the original. In fact, sometimes I choose books by looking at the translators instead oops. 😛

I prefer to finish the original before I read the English one. I want to make sure that I can fully understand the original by myself so I try not to refer to the translated version. But when I read a particularly intriguing or difficult paragraph, I would be immensely curious to find out how the translator parsed that into English.

Read about 80 pages of 소년이 온다 in one sitting and I was surprised that I still had it in me to have the motivation and energy to sit down for a few hours to read a Korean novel. One thing I’m trying to actively do is to train my reading stamina, so I’m trying to push myself to be able to concentrate and read for long(er) periods each time. That said, I’m also keeping it balanced so that I don’t feel like I’m being “forced” (by myself) to read.

Set in the times of the 1980 Gwangju Uprising and its aftermath, it’s not a light read. While a work of fiction, it’s based on a real historical incident and honestly it was so painful to read it and imagine what the people had to go through, not just during the incident but in the aftermath till the present day.

My reading method

My reading method differs slightly for Japanese and Korean (my stronger language). For Korean, I would read a couple of paras at one time, highlighting the unfamiliar words. I would not stop to search up the words and would try to use the context to guess the meaning. After a couple of paras, I would search up each of these words and write them down in the novel. yes I used to be one of those who absolutely cannot stand writing in my book (at first I would only underline with a pencil and not highlight) but hahaha with age, I have come to terms with it.

It also works well for me because instead of highlighting half the page (in intermediate days), I highlight about 0 – 10 words in a page and it’s easier to refer back if I write in the novel instead of a separate notebook. It’s also easier to read and annotate during commute time instead of being fixated on using a separate notebook.

I still don’t write in my Japanese novels, simply cos there are more words I don’t know and there’s really not much space to write in the small novels!

For those who have been resisting writing in your novels, try it! It’s so much more effective (and paper-saving).

I am also very into unique highlighter colours. After using mildliner highlighters (which every studygram uses lol), I cannot go back to neon highlighters anymore. This orangey-red one is my personal favourite which I use for novel highlighting.

I’m hoping to finish 소년이 온다 within a week or so. It took me 9 months to finish reading the last novel (cos basically I didn’t read for months). hahaha this level of procrastination is not acceptable! ):

0 In Korean learning journey (:/ korean textbook reviews

[Review] Ewha Korean 5 이화 한국어 5 + Study Guide + Vlog

Qn: Can you recommend a set of Korean textbooks?

Me: Ewha Korean.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Ewha Korean series. I recommend it to almost everyone who asked me for a general Korean textbook recommendation, probably since 2012. I have also wrote about the books in many blog posts over the years – check them out. Please come back to this post after checking them out!

If you prefer watching vlogs, here’s me talking about the books 🙂 If you prefer to read, scroll down!

Ewha Korean series is used in Ewha Womans University’s Korean language program (어학당) and hence it’s primarily designed for classroom use. That said, the textbook itself is also great for self-learners – with sufficient depth in explanation for its grammar points and a good balance of discussion-type (more classroom use) vs fill-in-the-blank exercises.

In general, each chapter is divided into the following parts:

준비합시다 (grammar) | 들어 봅시다 | 말해 봅시다 | 읽어 봅시다 | 써 봅시다 | 과제 활동 | 어휘 확장 | 사자성어 

The textbook itself is great for self-learners. It ticks a lot of boxes in the good-textbook checklist.

  • Well-structured
  • Adequate grammar explanations (in Korean)
  • Good balance of different type of exercises
  • Forces you to listen for the listening part as the dialogue transcript is right at the back of the book
  • Good length of reading practice
  • Separate section for 속담 (idioms)

But what makes the series amazing for self-learners is the study guide!

I’ve raved about the Ewha study guide before but really, please get the textbook + study guide (and also the workbook if you need more practice).

Expanded explanations

With the study guide (got the English version), you get the explanations in English and examples on how to conjugate the grammar points. There’s also more example dialogues where you get to learn how to use the grammar point and under the “focus plus” section, they even teach you the difference in nuances amongst other similar grammar points. It’s really like having a teacher next to you to explain the details.

Beyond the grammar points, there’s also expanded explanations for the other sections (such as proverbs, reading etc). More explanations in English and sample sentences – which makes it very easy for the self-learner.

Oh, if there’s a flaw in the textbook, it’s that some of the exercises don’t come with answers. But the good thing is there’s an answer key for these exercises in the study guide.

Can you buy the study guide alone?

Many people have asked me this question. The answer is you shouldn’t. It’s like getting half the product and then wondering why it’s not that useful. The study guide works best when used as a complementary resource to the textbook.

All in all, highly recommended!

0 In Korean learning journey (:/ korean textbook reviews

[Review] Intermediate College Korean

Sometimes old is indeed gold. One of my favourite Korean textbooks (which I used cover to cover) is Clare You and Eunsu Cho’s Intermediate College Korean. Together with College Korean, both books were published in the 90s and were probably one of the earlier Korean textbooks in the market.

Back in the 2000s, it was not easy to get access to Korean textbooks (e-commerce wasn’t mainstream and I was too broke for shipping fees anw) and there were frankly limited choices cos Korean wasn’t a popular foreign language back then. I recalled being super happy to find a copy of Intermediate College Korean in the school library and literally used it from cover to cover.

More than a decade later, I feel that the book still holds its ground against the newer k-textbook series and I would still recommend it to intermediate learners (roughly a low intermediate level).

Besides the hardcopy, the whole book is actually available (legitimately) online for free.

While I do love cute graphics and visual aids in textbooks, I’m also happy to have plain ones. Intermediate College Korean (both the book and website) is plain, no doubt about that. BUT it’s also very well-structured and easy to follow. Each chapter starts off with a passage and dialogue, followed by a grammar section, vocabulary list and exercises.

I am not that fond of their exercises, so I skip that.

But what I loved is the passage and grammar points. I don’t think the book comes with a CD, but you can access the audio files on their site, so no issue there. The passage is pitched at the right level for intermediate learners and while challenging enough, it’s not too overwhelming. The grammar section is also kept simple, with around 5-6 grammar points introduced per chapter. English explanations are used, followed by a couple of example sentences.

There’s 27 chapters in the intermediate book. For those who are not keen to spend money on textbooks, this is a great free resource! When I first started out learning Korean, I literally used whatever free resource which I could find in the local public libraries, university libraries, websites etc. Must emphasise that learning a language need not entail getting textbooks, signing up for expensive courses etc.

Till the next post!

14 In Others / General

Happy 12th Blog Anniversary!

Has it already been 12 years already?! This blog literally saw me through my twenties (and more). It saw me through a lot of ups and downs, even though they may not always be recorded down here. Took some time to read through all the past blog anniversary posts and I only have one word to describe how I feel: Grateful.

I’ve said it before but I would say it again. This blog has provided me a space to really be myself and it has brought me so much motivation in my language learning journey and in life in general. I’ve connected to many of you through this space, whether virtually or in person, and I’m always grateful for each and every single connection. People did come and go, but I’m glad the space is still here, and hopefully we will reconnect in time to come.

The past few years have been.. for a lack of a better description… really really busy. Which led to the neglect of the blog (and the absence of the 10th, 11th blog anniversary posts). Lost time can never come back and while I do feel a twinge of regret at not being conscientious enough, I take it as a lesson learnt that I should never ever abandon the things that truly make me happy. So I’m back on the blog and I feel that I’ve been doing a good job so far.

Took a trip down memory lane by reading some old entries and I realised that I have been writing Korean textbook reviews since 2010!!! TEN YEARS. Let me pause and take that in. TENNNN years. hahaha. The first ever textbook review is here (if you are interested). After that wow moment, I am also reminded at how I’ve only written 1 review in 2018 and 2019 LOL. The lost years indeed. 🙂 I love writing textbook reviews so I’ll definitely be on this again.

Hangukdrama started out a space for gushing over Korean dramas but over time it has turned into a space for me to just talk about all things languages. I’m glad that 12 years down the road, I’m still very much in love with Korean and Japanese (although not without downs), and I’m even starting Russian and Thai. ♡

I’m not sure where the next few years will bring me, but I hope to be here, and I hope that everyone reading this will still be. People do come and go, but I hope that our connection here stays.

Do drop me a comment if you are still reading this, just a 🙂 will do too!

Happy Saturday!

5 In Korean learning journey (:/ korean textbook reviews

[Review] Yonsei Academic Korean Reading – Advanced Level

Yonsei University Press publishes such great Korean reading textbooks. Blogged about the Yonsei Korean Reading Level 6 book in 2011 (9 years ago omg?!) and till date it’s still one of my favourite textbook series for reading.

(As an aside, time to refresh that blog post – I was still relying on Photobucket back then!)

Introducing another great reading book from them, which is part of the Yonsei Academic Korean (대학 강의 수강을 위한 한국어 시리즈) series. As you can see, they offer dedicated speaking (말하기), listening (듣기), writing (쓰기) and reading (읽기) books in 3 different levels – Intermediate I (중급I), Intermediate II (중급II) and Advanced (고급).

Introducing another great reading book from them, which is part of the Yonsei Academic Korean (대학 강의 수강을 위한 한국어 시리즈) series. As you can see, they offer dedicated speaking (말하기), listening (듣기), writing (쓰기) and reading (읽기) books in 3 different levels – Intermediate I (중급I), Intermediate II (중급II) and Advanced (고급).

Today I will be introducing 대학 강의 수강을 위한 한국어 읽기 (고급) book. I have another one in the series (should be a listening one..), will leave that to a separate review.

As usual, scroll down to the end for a succinct summary – and avoid my long-windedness.

Wow I love it. I often get asked why I’m still so “reliant” on textbooks when studying a language (and even after fluency). First, the language geek in me loves to examine language textbooks so this will not change no matter my level of fluency. Next, it’s true that I do better with the “academic/textbook” route when learning a language – this is a learning style. Thirdly, a good textbook is complementary to the so called “native materials”.

In particular, I lovee reading textbooks. I can read novel, news articles etc but a good reading textbook is a compilation of a variety of text types in different topics which I may not think of reading on my own. And through reading textbooks I can discover new authors, books and more importantly, gain new knowledge. A good reading textbook “forces” you to go beyond your comfort zone and read something different. I first got to know about 우리들의 행복한 시간 through the Yonsei Level 6 series and it went on to become my favourite movie and also one of the first full-length Korean fiction I’ve read. I’ve also bought a couple more books / searched up articles based on what I’ve come across in reading textbooks.

Oh, back to the textbook review.

Yes, I love it.

The focus of this book is on academic Korean and I thought it was a splendid compilation of texts with the right level of challenge for the advanced learner.

10 chapters, different themes

Each chapter introduces 3 pieces of text revolving around the same theme – about 2.5 pages each. The first two are main texts, where there would be guiding questions along the margins, as well as a list of key vocabulary at the end of each page.

I love the guiding questions on the margins! It’s a good way to test reading comprehension, and what’s best is that they come with answers at the back! Unless it’s open-ended questions asking for your opinions, I hate it when textbooks doesn’t come with suggested answers. Not sure if this is somewhat influenced by the number of “assessment books” we had to do as kids – fellow Singaporeans would get it 🙂

The vocabulary list is a great idea too. The book doesn’t spoonfeed you answers (go search up the meaning yourself!) but it’s great that they highlight what are the key new vocabulary introduced. Thumbs up.

Exercises after each main text

A mix of open-ended and MCQ questions to test your understanding. Helpful!

Additional Reading Text (더 읽어 보기)

I love how each chapter introduces 3 different texts. The texts are well chosen too – ranging from slightly philosophical in nature to factual articles. A good range of text types that you are likely to come across in academia.

The texts are pitched at an appropriate level too. I always believe in attempting texts that are slightly above your level, so would recommend it to those at the upper intermediate level. Even after 12 years of learning Korean, I am still learning a couple of new words every page from this book. It’s easy to read (for me), but I can still learn a few new words.

How I used this book

I like to read by paragraphs – Korean texts can have rather lengthy paragraphs cos each sentence is so long lol!

  • Read the para (or two) once through, and highlight new words – I don’t pause even if I don’t quite get a couple of sentences
  • Search up each highlighted word and write down the meaning and sample sentence. If there’s enough space, suggest to write in the book itself so it’s easy to refer to.
  • Re-read the part again which I didn’t 100% get it (cos of unfamiliar words etc) to make sure I now fully understand the text
  • Repeat for remaining paragraphs
  • Answer the questions in the margin – check against suggested answers.
  • Do the exercise – check against suggested answers.

(This is a new blog format, do you think it helps that I share how I use the book? Let me know in the comments)

What I like:

  • Good choices and variety of texts
  • Length of text is just nice!
  • Comes with suggested answers
  • Doesn’t spoonfeed you the glossary
  • Exercises are helpful

What to improve on:

  • Nothing. Publish 고급II? hahaha



Buy it at (direct link to page)

0 In Korean learning journey (:/ korean textbook reviews/ TOPIK

[Review] 빈도별 토픽 (고급)

The 빈도별 series needs no introduction. It should be on everyone’s bookshelf. I raved about the intermediate 빈도별 book in 2014 (omg!) and a friend passed me her copy of the advanced 빈도별 book, so yay I have both now!

The intermediate book

This is easily amongst my top 3 favourite Korean grammar book series and I would highly recommend it. It’s easy to find k-grammar resources for the intermediate / beginner learner but somehow less so for advanced Korean. And this book checked all the boxes which I look for in a good grammar book.

Grammar points arranged in frequency of use

빈도별 means “arranged by frequency” and this is probably a key selling point of the book as they put all the commonly used grammar points upfront, so you get to learn those first. Neat. It works like a grammar dictionary where each grammar point is introduced on a new page and it’s easy to search them up using the glossary.

Highly detailed grammar explanations

If you are a grammar geek like me, you would love this book. This TOPIK prep book has one of the most detailed explanations for Korean grammar and I LOVE IT. They also explained the difference in nuances for similar grammar points. Much love.

Exercises where you are supposed to fill in the blanks

I realised that I didn’t talk much about their exercises in my 2014 blog post. There’s an exercise (about 5 questions) after EVERY grammar point – great. And instead of MCQ, you are supposed to fill in the blank (which means you also practice conjugation) – awesome. It forces you to practice the conjugation and makes you remember the grammar point. I am quite good (ahem) at MCQs, but doing these exercises make me feel that I have a long way more to go to write Korean properly hahaha.

TOPIK Exercises

I thought I’m done heaping praises on this book. But nope. I loveeeee how they also include TOPIK-like questions after a couple of grammar points. It helps you get used to the format of TOPIK questions and are additional practice.

All in all, I love this book.

Please go buy it now. hahaha

Get it at

2 In Vlogs

[Vlog] Back on Youtube with 4 languages

I’m coming back to Youtube! It’s been two years since my last video and honestly I don’t dare to say if this comeback is going to last, but I’m going to try my very best.

오랜만에 컴백하니까 자기소개부터 해야지 🙂

Look out for the bloppers!

As usual, my weakest link is my Japanese. It’s a pity that I focused a lot more on reading and listening when learning Japanese so my spoken Japanese is horrendous hahahaha. For a lack of better description.

Let me know what kind of videos you would like to see me make! 🙂

6 In Others / General

[Tips] How to choose the “right” first novel in a foreign language

Starting to read a full-length fiction novel in a foreign language can be both an exciting milestone moment and perhaps also a rather nerve-wrecking one (with copious amounts of self-doubt). The completion of a novel will no doubt be an exhilarating moment for all 🙂

Sharing some tips and thoughts about when to start attempting to read fiction novels and how to choose a good one to start with!

When am I ready?

My advice over the past years has been consistent: You will never be ready unless you start. You are not going to wake up one day and feel “ready”. Nor is passing X level in a language proficiency test a good gauge – in fact, the process and progress you make in trying to read different types of texts will help you pass that proficiency test. Chicken and egg issue there 😛

That said, you will need some proficiency before you can attempt to read a novel. I would think a rough gauge will be when you are comfortable enough to read short articles in the target language. You need not be able to understand everything, but at least you can pinpoint what you don’t know – meaning you can parse the sentence and recognise where a word starts and end and what are grammatical structures/particles.

For example, you may not know the word in orange but you can recognise that it’s a word, and the character 을 next to it is a grammar particle. You may also not recognise the grammar point in green, but you kinda figure out that it looks like a grammar point.

늦잠을 자는 바람에 빵을 먹기는커녕 물 한 잔도 못 마셨어요.

Be prepared that you will be spending a long time with each sentence. I did and I enjoyed every moment though. I would probably highlight 5 words in one sentence and I’ll slowly search them up and write them down in my notebook. There’s no need to feel demoralised, it’s part of the learning 🙂

How to choose your first novel

Personally I’ll recommend an original novel in the target language which has been adapted for the big/small screen and you are familiar with the adaptation. This allows you to have some background when you first approached the novel and helps in the understanding too.

Choose a novel that deals with more generic topics – they could be easier than something more specialised such as a drama set in the courtroom.

One of the earliest (not the first) novels I’ve read was 우리들의 행복한 시간 (우행시). People who know me would know that the movie adaptation starring Kang Dong Won (my love) and Lee Na Young is one of my all-time fav movies.

I’m not too fond of reading translated novel (e.g. the Korean version of Harry Potter) as a start – although that might be quite intuitive to do so since you can reference the original work. I bought the Korean version of Twilight (LOOOL) and never managed to make any headway in it hahahha. Not all translated works are good and it’s also a bit strange to read about Edward and Bella in Korean?! Somehow I also think that if you know that you have the original work to refer to, it kinda creates a safety net and may make you too reliant on the original text.

Don’t be discouraged

I can’t emphasise how important this is. Especially if you know you are actually stepping out of your comfort zone to attempt reading a difficult material beyond your current proficiency. I love the challenge of searching up almost all the words in the novel when I first started – it’s a very slow process but it makes me happy. It’s important not to feel discouraged or feel that inadequate if you find it hard to read at the start – remember that you can only get better!

Share your experiences reading your first novel in a foreign language!

10 In Others / General

Hey, do people still read blogs?

On a whim, I googled this and found that it’s a question on many people’s mind. There were quite a number of articles saying how the way people read and find information is different these days and you need to capture attention in xx words or use visual aids to capture attention on key points. More depressing articles talk about how blogs have been overtaken by social media platforms where content are shorter, with more visuals / videos.

I am not sure about others, but I do like blogs and still read them. I may belong to the “old-school” camp, but I don’t think blogs are replaceable. I appreciate and admire good writing and reading a good piece of writing (whether informative or inspiring) is calming to my old soul haha.

So I will continue to write, despite not being a good writer. While blog viewership has come down over the years (in part due to my neglect of this space), I will continue to grow this space which has defined me and who I am over the years.

I admit that there were long periods where I found it difficult to blog and it’s actual rather telling of my mental state. I attempted to blog and end up deleting the half-baked post as it was too painful to write anything coherent. Sentences didn’t flow. Anything beyond a short generic caption on Instagram was too much to handle. I didn’t have the capacity to organise my thoughts properly and beyond the need to write at work, any forms of long writing was a chore.

I’m in a better state of mind now and am trying to blog consistently – attempting to write everyday if you have not yet noticed 🙂 Taking a couple of minutes out to type out of my thoughts helps to calm me down and makes me reflect on the day and how I view things. It gives me time to pause and to me that is is very important. It’s so easy to be caught up in trying to do more, while in reality, knowing how to pause and reflect is very important too.

My next step is to try to write in Chinese again. Somehow I’m developing a bit of a mental block on that – thoughts don’t seem to flow as well.

What’s broken can be fixed.

Till next post.