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[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.

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