Category Korean Textbook Reviews

Category Japanese Textbook Reviews

0 In Korean learning journey (:/ korean textbook reviews

[Review] Korean for Beginners

I was listening to a Thai language podcast when my mum wondered aloud why she did not think of learning a new language when she was young. “Language learning books were scarce, and there wasn’t even Internet. Not like you now, still can listen to Thai radio on the internet,” she added.

This got me thinking. When I first started learning Korean back in 2008, it was so difficult to find textbooks / resources in Singapore. I can only imagine how it used to be like in the 60s/70s. Throughout the past 10 years, there were sooo many Korean language textbooks / guidebooks published. The Korean section in my local bookstore grew from a few measly standalone books to occupying 3 full shelves, with many series targeting learners from beginner to advanced. There’s so many choices, and now the issue is finding a suitable book.

For those who are looking for a beginner Korean textbook, there’s simply too many in the market to choose from. Tuttle’s Korean for Beginners is quite a good choice amongst them!

Lengthy Explanations in a Narrative Format

The first thing that struck me was that the explanations in book are written in a rather casual and conversational manner, as though there’s someone next to you guiding you along as you work through the chapters. It makes the book more approachable and less technical overall, and easier to read through.

That said, the lengthy paragraphs meant that it’s quite difficult to pick out key points of the lesson at one look, and you have to read through the paragraphs (like a novel) to understand what’s going on. Good for self-learners who appreciate the extra guidance, but not so much for those who prefer textbooks that are more cleanly structured.

Lighthearted Approach

Most language textbooks are on the “serious” end, so it’s refreshing to see a textbook that is able to explain concepts in a lighthearted and humorous way (and yet be effective).

Focus at the Sentence Level

Unlike most Korean textbooks, there isn’t any dialogues or passages in the book. In fact, the focus is at the phrase / sentence level. Normally I would think it’s a minus point, given that the inputs a learner get is limited. But I think this book does it well in that the accompanying audio CD (MP3 files are also downloadable on the site) also contain sound clips at the sentence level!

It’s sometimes frustrating to listen to a whole dialogue and repeat it n times just to hear a sentence in the middle. So it’s great that this book has an audio file for all their example sentences and you can repeat with ease! Great for those who need more help with Korean pronunciation and sounds.

Grammar Explanations Weaved in

It’s unclear from a quick glance what are the key grammar points being introduced in each chapter, given that they are kinda weaved into the narrative and all the lengthy paragraphs. haha. While there are sub-headings, the book tend to use its English equivalent (e.g. Should, should not) instead of the corresponding Korean grammar point (e.g. ~야 되다).

That said, the grammar points are well explained with ample example sentences, so I think it’s ok.

The book uses romanisation and while I normally hate that, it’s ok here because the Hangeul is written in a larger font. So I find myself being able to ignore the romanisation!

Appendix of Linguistic Terms

Aspiration, diphthong, homonym. These are terms that are hard to understand for those who are not familiar with the subject of linguistics. Thought it was a neat touch to have a glossary complete with examples to illustrate the meaning of the terms (and also include its Korean equivalent!). Most higher level Korean textbooks are in Korean, so it’s helpful to learn the Korean linguistics terms early!

Overall Thoughts

The pace of this book feels a bit slower than the Korean university textbook series, but I think that is to be expected, given that the explanations in this book are a lot more detailed and thorough. Would recommend this to a self-learner who enjoys the “narration-style” of explanations and those who like to have accompanying audio at the sentence level to help grasp the pronunciation. For those who prefer to be challenged with dialogues / passages of increasing length and difficulty with each passing chapter, this book will not be suitable.

There’s indeed sooo many good Korean textbooks out in the market, and hopefully my reviews will be helpful in your decision making. 🙂 If you have ever bought a textbook on my recommendation, do let me know in the comments! ^^ Would be very happy to hear from you.

What I like:

  • Audio clips at the sentence level, good listening practice!
  • Thorough explanations written in a light-hearted and humorous way
  • Easy to follow through, chapter by chapter

What can be improved:

  • No dialogues / reading passages
  • Book is structured in a way that makes it good for reading chapter by chapter, but it’s hard to find a specific grammar point. When introducing new grammar points, section headings are mostly in English (e.g. do/do not, should/should not) – would prefer that the Korean equivalent is also included in the section title for ease of reference

Buy it here.

0 In Korean learning journey (:/ TOPIK/ Vlogs

70th TOPIK II Experience and tips

It hits me once again that two years just passed like this. It doesn’t seem that long ago that i was typing out the 57th TOPIK II experience and tips post, nor did the 43rd TOPIK, 30th TOPIK and 26th TOPIK feels that far back.

It’s my 6th time taking the exam, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting (or easier). I get asked pretty often why I take the exam so often. Besides the practical reason of wanting to renew my certification (it is valid for 2 years), I see it as a way to do a “stocktake” of sorts of my progress and efforts in the past two years and more importantly, as a motivation to do better for the next two years. I love taking language exams (if not for the fact that they can be expensive). It also feels pretty cool to have a group of Korean learners gathered in one room – I wanna know everyone!! hahaha.

Ok, back to 70th TOPIK. Actually, my friends and I signed up for the 69th TOPIK that was supposed to happen in April, but due to postponements of the exam (COVID!), it ended up being the 70th TOPIK paper that we took!

Overall, I felt that the paper was tougher than the 57th TOPIK. I thought it was just me (and omg did my Korean standard drop?!!), but my friend also echoed the same thoughts. Usually I’m not the type that would like to go through the exam questions after it ends (haha so Hermione-ish), but I was sooo obsessed over a couple of questions which I had trouble with that after the exam, I still remembered the vocabulary that tripped me up. Went to search them up on Naver dic right after, and hence I know that I definitely got 2 questions wrong for the reading section.

NOOOOOOOOO. (says goodbye to any chance of getting 100 marks for the reading section again). Dang. Reading was supposed to be my strongest skill.

My key takeaways from the reading paper:

  • 일조권 (日照權) – the right to enjoy sunlight (in one’s home)
  • 고무적 (鼓舞的) – encouraging
  • 부실 (不實) – poor
  • 늦장 – dawdle / slow

Yup I will remember these 4 words forever!!! haha while the reading paper has always included passages from a wide variety of topics, I felt that the topics this time round was rather… technical and specialised. There’s a whole passage on 일조권 LOL. That’s oddly specialised. Now, it’s time to read more!!

Writing. Writing was … a disaster as usual. I think I lost my ability to plan for an essay within minutes in an exam setting. I spent half the time rolling my eyes over my weak points while writing them out. 自己鄙视自己。

Listening. Listening was not too bad, although I stopped understanding 100% of the passages towards the end. ;;;

Watch my YouTube video to hear more thoughts on the TOPIK exam, my experience and tips. (so lazy to type these days).

If you have taken the exam, please share your experience and thoughts too!!!

0 In Korean learning journey (:/ TOPIK

[TOPIK II Tips] Reading Section

TOPIK II in a nutshell

TOPIK 2 is divided into two papers – listening and writing (110 mins), followed by a short break before the reading paper (70 mins). Visit the TOPIK official site for more details.

TOPIK II also starts in the afternoon, so for those who are prone to post-lunch food coma, it’s even harder to concentrate. Personally, I hate it when my stomach growls during exams, so I always make sure I eat properly (and sometimes more than usual).

Note: If you prefer watching me talk, here’s a link to the YouTube video which I spoke about the same topic.

Reading Section

While the writing section is usually the worst section for most (if not all) test takers, the reading section can also be quite challenging in its own ways. It’s not just testing your reading proficiency + comprehension skills + grammar / vocabulary knowledge, but it’s also about your reading stamina. A lot of people tend to run out of time and energy halfway through the reading paper. It’s normal and reading stamina can be built up over time – sharing some tips below.

I love reading and I usually score the best for reading section in TOPIK (got a 100 in the last TOPIK II exam taken in 2018). Did the 64th TOPIK II practice paper a couple of days ago – the reading section took me about 42 minutes and I got a 96. The timing is not a good indication of actual exam conditions, since you will be so tired out after the listening / writing sections and would likely be slower. I probably would take about 55 mins or so in the actual exam, still sufficient time to check through. 🙂

I’m already in my 12th year of learning Korean so naturally I’ll be faster, but hopefully the tips below can help you! 🙂

Building Vocabulary Bank

Building Reading Stamina Consistently

Building reading stamina is about building concentration, reading speed and “scanning abilities”.

Set a goal (e.g. a paragraph, a page, an article, a chapter – depending on level) and complete it. It’s normal to feel tired (language learning is strenuous!) but keep going on for a bit more to complete your goal before taking a break. In the long run, you will find your concentration level increasing and you can read for longer periods before feeling the mental (and eye) strain.

There’s no short cut to training reading speed. You just have to read more and read widely. One thing I love about language learning is that while there can be more effective study methods, your proficiency is really a reflection of the amount of work you put into it. No hacks, no shortcuts.

One thing that I’m lacking still is the scanning ability. For our native languages, it’s easy to just take a quick look at a chunk of text and roughly get a sense of what it is about. While for the foreign language, you have to really read it word by word to understand the sentences. My Korean language scanning ability did get better when I was doing some research under the pressure of time. You just have to take a quick look at the article if it’s relevant – there’s no time to read it word by word.

General Tips During TOPIK Preparation

TOPIK is meant to be a gauge of your proficiency, which means your focus in learning the language should not be the language exam. Hence, I would suggest to only do TOPIK practice papers about 1 month before the exam. On normal days, you should use a wide variety of materials – i.e. not practice listening skills by working on TOPIK listening questions only.

Even for the most skilled, taking an exam means that you should not only have the content proficiency, but the exam skills. Hence, it’s always important to do sample test papers and get yourself acquainted with test format.

  • Always time yourself and do the paper in one sitting (this helps to build stamina)

General Tips During Test Taking

  • Do the test in chronological order. I approach all exams in chronological order. For TOPIK, the questions get increasingly difficult and I personally find that there’s no point in attempting the difficult questions first as you may spend too much time on it and end up having insufficient time for the easier questions which you can score. It can also be very demoralising to find that you don’t quite understand the difficult passages towards the end of the paper.
  • When in doubt, skip and come back to it later. There’s no point in mulling over it.
  • Always read the whole text. Sometimes it’s tempting to skip the last couple of sentences of the passage but I find that every sentence do matter and it’s easy to make mistakes if you read part of the passage and midst out on important points.
  • Read all the options. Especially for the questions at the back. There may be an option that is more appropriate, which you may miss out if you only read part of the 4 options.

Section-specific Tips

The question numbering is based on the 64th TOPIK practice paper available on the TOPIK official website.

Questions 1 – 4: Grammar

Sample question

Build up your grammar points knowledge consistently over time. It’s not ideal to cramp in as many as possible to prepare for TOPIK, but honestly you won’t remember much (or anything) after the exam! Remember that passing a test is a by-product, you should be focused on improving your real proficiency! A couple of grammar books I recommend:

Questions 5 – 10: Graph / Banner Comprehension

Sample question

You may not get much exposure to these materials if you rely on Korean language textbooks, but you can definitely use search terms such as 행사 안내 in Google Image search to familiarise yourself with the terms used!

Questions 25 – 27: News headlines

Sample question

I actually love this section the most! News headlines are supposed to be succinct, and often they contain a lot of 한자어. E.g. 즉시 사망 instead of 바로 죽었다. This section can be difficult for intermediate learners but one way is to download a news app (e.g. Yonhap) and practice reading all the headlines (no need to click into the individual news).

Remaining Questions

I don’t have any specific tips, just that one should read WIDELY – both in fiction and non-fiction! 🙂

I hope these tips are useful! 🙂 If you have any to share, please leave me a comment!

Follow me on Instagram and subscribe to my YouTube Channel on language learning.

0 In Japanese learning journey (:/ Vlogs

[Vlog] How to study Japanese grammar + organising grammar notes

New video up on my Youtube Channel:

  • Books and online resources which I use to study Japanese grammar
  • How I organise my Japanese grammar language notes + colour coding
  • How I write as a left-hander (there was a request for this!)
  • Japanese handwriting

More Notebook Pics

I like to colour code using darker colour pens – easier on the eyes.

Subscribe and follow me:

Youtube – Seoulareyou

Instagram – 2eightytwo

0 In Thai Learning Journey :)

Pronunciation rules – how important is it to learn them at the start?

Pronunciation / sound change rules are often introduced at the first few introductory chapters of a foreign language textbook after the writing system. They are probably the last hurdle to cross before you are able to dive into the individual lessons proper (and learn how to say hello and introduce yourself), which I’m sure all of us are very eager to start on.

The (long) list of pronunciation / sound change rules are already probably daunting enough.

X group of consonants + Y group of vowels = Tone 1

X consonant + Y vowel = X pronounced as Z

After braving through these, you still have to deal with the exceptions.

X consonant + Y vowel = X pronounced as Z (except for words a, b, c where X is pronounced as ZZ)

You get the idea. It can be very scary and overwhelming to the new learner.

Are we supposed to memorise all these at this point (absolute beginner)?

I don’t know about you, but I used to hate skipping things when I’m learning stuff. I like to make sure that I fully understand a part before I can move on to the next and I like to do things chronologically. While this is a good habit in general, I have learnt that when it comes to studying foreign languages, sometimes it’s more effective to have a broad understanding, and JUST MOVE ON (just remember to come back to it).

Especially when it comes to sound changes and rules. It’s gonna be a super painful process if you feel very compelled to learn them all by heart and have them all in your head (and apply them correctly) before you feel that you can move on. Cos there’s a high change you will just get so fed up or overwhelmed that you will never be able to go past that chapter.

While I appreciate that all these sound rules are introduced all in one chapter so it’s easier to refer to it, it can really be a huge hurdle for the beginner learner. There’s just too much to remember.

And so, my advice is to go through them once and understand the concept. Don’t feel compelled to remember them all. It’s ok if you don’t remember anything afterwards, but get a broad idea of what kind of sound changes there are. And just move on.

Learn by listening, not reading

As you come across words by listening, you will realise that there are some words that are not pronounced the way it’s written. Every time you come across such words, you can then refer back to these sound rules again and sooner or later, you will naturally get it. Learn by listening, not reading.

This was how I learnt Korean. I actually don’t quite remember what are the sound rules (as in I cannot list them out for you offhand), but after spending some time with the language, you will naturally get the rules and apply them. Our brain is more amazing than we think it is. Rote memorisation is not the only way to learn. If I had insisted on memorising the rules, I would definitely find Korean a very hard language to learn!

Applying that to Thai

I’m applying the above method to learning Thai too. Right now, I’m working through the chapter on tones and the tone rules and omggggg 救我 (save me). hahaha I generally get the concept that there are a couple of factors affecting the tone: (a) types of consonants; (b) whether the ending is dead or alive; (c) whether there is a final consonant; and (d) whether there is tone mark. But nope I refuse to memorise which consonants belong in which group (low, mid, high).

Even working through the chapter (not memorising) is daunting enough. But! I must emphasise that there is no need to feel (overly) overwhelmed and more importantly, there is no need to feel compelled to KNOW EVERYTHING at this stage. Learn as you progress. Learn by listening more.

So I’m going to practice what I’m saying here. I’m going to learn words by listening and not by trying to work out all the different rules and exceptions.

Move on, and come back to it later.

The same goes for learning grammar too. I used to find the concept of ~던 rather difficult when I was learning Korean and I kinda developed a mental block towards it. So I happily skipped it and move on. The next time I come across it, strangely it was like the bulb lighted in my head and I could finally understand it (perhaps with better explanations from another source).

So yes, it’s ok to move on! It’s ok to not understand everything 🙂 Language learning is supposed to be fun. But of course, not saying that you should just half-understand everything and just keep moving on.

0 In Thai Learning Journey :)

[Vlog] Self-study Thai with Easy Thai

My first attempt at a #mood study vlog, which honestly is not very informative hahaha. But thought I should try a different vlog format that doesn’t involve me talking (awkwardly) at the camera.

A couple of Korean textbooks I bought off G-market has been stuck in Incheon airport for the past month and honestly I’ve given up tracking them. Will be a pleasant surprise when they (finally) arrive. Using Tuttle’s Easy Thai textbook in the meantime and I’m loving it so far.

This is not a formal review (still at Chapter 3) but I do like how they have a lot of audio clips so it’s easier for the beginner to listen (repeatedly) and get used to the sounds of the language. I must admit that I am relying on the romanisation – more for the tone marks than anything else. The tone rules in Thai is still rather mind-boggling (more like I don’t remember…) at this point.

0 In Japanese learning journey (:

Shaman King Reboot 2021

Now that’s something I’m looking forward to in 2021!!

Was scrolling Facebook mindlessly this morning and saw this video shared by a friend and I’m like OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG.

Shaman King was THE anime for me back in high school days and Anna was just girl-crush material. I also remembered how I would discuss the plot of Shaman King and Inuyasha with my good friend (crush HAHA) back then – over many many SMSes and MSN chat. (自曝年龄) Fond memories. I even bought the VCDs and still have them somewhere in the house.

Definitely excited for the remake. Honestly, over the years I don’t really remember the plot in detail, but Ryu 木刀の 竜’s search for his “Best Place” really speaks to me and after all these years, I still remember the scene at the bowling alley. /ahhh memories.


Now it’s time to replay the OST. It was, for a period, the most played songs on my playlist. Just listened to it and omg I can actually understand the lyrics now! My high-school self won’t have imagined that one day I would be able to understand Japanese. ♡

0 In Korean Drama/ Others / General

This stop is Wangshimni, Wangshimni

Hey, if the title reminds of you of something, chances are we are thinking of the same thing, or rather. The same drama.

Going to be true to my blog url (for once) and talk about Korean dramas, specifically Hospital Playlist (슬기로운 의사생활). Well-told stories about friendships and growing up always get me in the gut every time and damn, I love everything about the five friends in the story.

There’s a tiny bit of spoilers, so read on if you don’t mind.

Favourite Character

I’m a huge fan of Jung Kyung-ho since I saw him in JTBC drama Heartless City (무정도시) and using Gyeol-wool’s words, it’s love at first sight HAHA. Jung’s character in HP is also the most swoon-worthy (hehe imo) and probably very close to my 이상형 too. Sharp with his words, stoic, smart, morally upright and aw only showing his crazy side to close friends. I really like his attitude towards love and relationships too, out of the 4 guys.


Favourite Scenes

I loved the eating scenes in the drama, from Joon Wan and and Song Hwa’s stuffing themselves with food at top speed to the amazement (and horror) of the rest, the boys stealing food from each other, to passing each other condiments and food so naturally even when bickering, and pouring each other water when realising a cup is empty. ♡

A particular favourite dining scene is in episode 10 where Ik Joon and Song Hwa sit down at the hospital cafeteria.

익준: 주문.
송화: 이거 다 내 거다. 누가 안 빼서 먹는다.
익준: 원 센턴스 (one sentence) 더.
송화: 난… 지성인이다.
익준: 먹자.
Ep 10, 38:26

Ik Joon: The incantation.
Song Hwa: This is all mine. Nobody will snatch it from me.
Ik Joon: You’re missing one sentence.
Song Hwa: I am… an intellectual.
Ik Joon: Let’s eat.

주문: 呪文 spell / incantation – not to be confused with the more commonly used 주문 (注文) which means “order (food)”.

지성인: 知性人 intellectual

Damn funny I cannot. It’s so Ik Joon, to show care and concern (for Song Hwa to eat more slowly) but in such a jokester way.

But the following scene really takes the cake.


익준: 야 아침부터 이 노래 뭐야?
석형: 몰라? 유명한 건데
익준: 알아.
석형: 뭔데?
익준: 이번 역은 왕십리, 왕십리 역입니다. 내릴 실 문은 오른쪽입니다. 시청, 신천, 성수, 잠실 방면이나, 옥수, 용산, 청량리, 성북 방면으로 가실 분들은 이번 역에서 갈아타시길 바랍니다.
익준: This stop is Wangshimni, Wangshimni. The doors are on your right. You can transfer to the Line Number 2.
석형: 미친 놈

Ik Joon: What’s this music in the morning?
Suk Hyung: You don’t know? It’s famous.
Ik Joon: (look of enlightenment) I know this.
Suk Hyung: (skeptical look) What?
Ik Joon: (proceeds to recite the subway announcement)
Suk Hyung: Crazy idiot.

BAHAHA. I burst out laughing at this and the next moment I found myself missing Korea so so so much it’s like an aching feeling inside me. I once wrote in a speech for a Korean speech contest on the sounds of Korea that I miss most, and one of which is actually the subway announcement. Bahaha I recited the subway announcement for Hongik University Station (홍대입구역) in my speech LOL.

I just went to google and there’s actually a video on the subway announcement (자하철 안내 방송) for Hongik University Station LOOOL. 진짜 별것 다 있네…

ahhh I really miss Korea.

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 🙂