16 In Korean Learners/ Special Series

[Special Series – Korean Learners] #4 Zach Sarette

This is part of an ongoing special series when 1-2 Korean learners/bloggers each week are invited to share their Korean learning journey! It will be nice if you can leave a comment after reading! ^^ To participate in the series, check out this post. Check out previous entries HERE.

About the Author:

Zach Sarette has delved into learning many languages of the world including Japanese, Spanish, Latin, Italian, Hungarian and Arabic. He has also developed a few web applications for language learning. He is currently in Korea learning Korean while teaching English at a middle school in Ulsan. He’s going to share with us a bit about his journey with Korean.





Other websites:




Q: Can you tell me about the first impressions you’ve had with Korean?

A: “안녕하세요?” was not the first Korean word I learned.

It was 지구. How beautiful is that?

In my high school English class we had to do a transcendental presentation in groups. We wanted to make something cool about the earth and all that jazz. So I said, “Hey! Let’s do a song!”

We started brainstorming lyrics. We were thinking about using the Latin word “tera” instead of Earth to make it sound more cool. But then we asked our Korean classmate who was in our group what Earth was in Korean. Then I proceeded to write a song heavily influenced by U2’s “In God’s Country”. Same chords and beat, different lyrics. It was called “In 지구.”

Other than that I wasn’t really interested in Korean as a language until much much later.

My first Korean song I’ve ever heard was this video: http://youtu.be/EVJ3G0e5Q5o

My brother showed me it. I was in my hardcore watching only Japanese stuff phase. He was like “Zach, I know It’s not Japanese but you gotta see this…” And I thought, hey! It’s not English, it won’t hurt.

Q: How did you get started learning?

A: After struggling with figuring out how to learn Japanese, I had a good sense of how to go about learning languages. I ordered a novel in Korean and I looked for a really good text book on Amazon.

I really hate language text books, but I figured it was a good place to start.  I needed something that was as good as the Japanese textbook I bought. I finally stumbled upon “Integrated Korean.” That was kind of painful to read. I ended up being bored with it and mostly just read the dialogues and tried to understand them.

As for the Korean novel, I kidnapped a Korean princess from Busan, tied her to a chair and forced her to read it aloud while I shoved a microphone in her face. I tried listening to the recording every night before I went to bed so I could try to pick out the words as I followed along with my finger in the book. It started to work pretty well… and then I got bored with it.

At least, that’s how I got started. It lasted for a few weeks. Then I went back to learning Japanese and teaching myself how to program web applications.

Q: What motivated you to learn Korean?

A:  Korean slowly came out of talking to my Japanese friends and resisting learning Korean.

Yes, I didn’t want to learn Korean, just like I didn’t want to learn Chinese. I thought that I only wanted to learn Japanese. But I noticed a lot of people who had already learned quite a bit of Japanese were then studying Korean or Chinese.

And at that point, I had to be honest with myself. I was mostly worried that I wouldn’t get good at Japanese if I tried to learn Korean and Chinese as well. But then I realized that was all a bunch of garbage holding me back from my desires.

I really do want to learn more than just Japanese. In fact, I want to become a super polyglot! I love languages and discovering the world! And that’s when I told myself I would become fluent in all three.

And would you look at me now! I never really studied any language in a formal setting except 1 year of Latin and 3 years of Spanish.

My first Spanish teacher told us a joke that reflects the attitude of a lot of people in countries like America:

Teacher: “What do you call somebody who speaks three languages?”

Students: “Trilingual!”

Teacher: “What do you call somebody who speaks two languages?”

Students: “Bilingual!”

Teacher: “What do you call somebody who speaks one language?

Students: “Monolingual!”

Teacher: “American!”

Students: ” 🙁 ”

This attitude makes me sad. I see it everywhere. That also motivates me to learn even more!

Flip them the bird and ignore them. Then go learn and grow and conquer!

Q: How do you learn Korean now?

A: Well, there’s no one way. But! I’m very much into watching comedy shows and movies. I also read comic books and sometimes delve into more harder material to see if I can pick up some interesting phrases. Sometimes I use a dictionary, somethings I just try to infer meaning through context. Basically I do whatever I want like.

However, I do believe that building up a good core of the language from a class room  or other beginner material such as a few textbooks is essential to jumpstarting the learning process. That’s why I’ll be taking a formal class at the University of Ulsan this March.

Q: What’s the biggest obstacle you face while learning Korean?

A: My inner struggle. That includes worries, distractions, curiosity, my emotions and maintaining a balanced lifestyle.

Q: Would you like recommend any books for learning Korean?

A: No. But I will…

I would recommend “Survival Korean” and “Integrated Korean” for textbooks, but I’d also recommend just finding something you would normally read in your native language and read that. Whatever peaks your interest. The more native material you can conquer the better. Trust your gut on it. Test out the book. If you don’t like it move on to something else and quick.

Q: Any last words for people out there starting to learn Korean?

A: Yep.

I hate K-pop. K-dramas are also kinda boring for me. There are so many more interesting things in Korea. You don’t have to like dramas or K-pop. But if you do that’s cool.

There’s a lot of pressure I think to like dramas and K-pop. I personally really like Korean movies and I like watching Anime dubbed in Korean. They also have ridiculously awesome comedy shows. My favorite right now is called “Comedy Big League.” You can watch clips of it off of TVN’s website too if you’re interested.

Language is a rolling cycle of a skill extracting information in the form of patterns of meaning.  Developing the skill greatly affects your ability to acquire information.

In other words, learn how to listen, pronounce and read Korean. Then learn to touch type. Then you can delve into the real language using a good web dictionary such as this one: http://www.dic.naver.com

Don’t do romanization. It will mess you up. I absolutely hate romanization. I was saying “See- ole” for the longest time. I think Romanization was invented to keep foreigners from learning Korean.

DAMNIT! My manga is getting cold. Sorry, I gotta read!

Good luck guys, and go kick some butt!

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  • Reply
    15 February, 2012 at 7:45 AM

    Wow this is amazing. you don’t love k-pop and drama but succeed in learning Korean. I will apply this to my Japanese because I also don’t like J-pop ^_^

    • Reply
      Zach Sarette
      15 February, 2012 at 6:16 PM

      Yes, but if I’m honest there are some K-pop songs and dramas I do like. Here in Korea, it’s hard to avoid K-pop. It kinda just grows on you.

      I just don’t like the highly paid for talentless productions where we have very pretty girls or pretty guys who have mediocre singing and dancing.

      I really enjoy Japanese rock and Japanese hip hop. Korean hip hop is pretty decent too!


      • Reply
        16 February, 2012 at 4:23 PM


        I love K-pop so much, following every news and where they go but rarely buy any of their products. I would buy some good korean books instead.

        Anyway hope you will enjoy both of your Korean and Japanese.

      • Reply
        16 February, 2012 at 6:01 PM

        I’ve actually found Korean Hip-Hop to be much better than Japanese Hip-Hop. Though I have no clue what they say in Korean, and a foggy understanding in Japanese.

      • Reply
        17 February, 2012 at 1:45 PM

        May I ask if you have favorite K-Pop song or artist?

      • Reply
        29 February, 2012 at 12:47 PM

        I really like IU. She’s probably my favorite because she seems to be the least fake. I also really like 노을’s “그리워 그리워” It’s really fun to sing along to. It reminds me of the old school RnB like Boyz II Men.

        It also makes me kind of sad. I get bored with music easily. It can be so conservative and so monotonous. It all sounds the same more or less. I really enjoy seeking out more independent forms of music that can afford to be more creative and kinesthetically pleasing.

        Yeah, that’s right. Music touches me.

        I visited Seoul and stumbled into the cutest little coffee shop called “카페 디디다.” To my surprise they had live music that night. I saw 하늘달리기 playing. It was so awesome!

        That experience beats any big concert where you might stand 100 meters away from your pop-stars who are lip-syncing anyways. 😉

        I also got to buy the cd! Check it out! http://music.naver.com/album/index.nhn?albumId=177102

        That’s what really gets me motivated to learn Korean. Discovering new and interesting things. 🙂

  • Reply
    15 February, 2012 at 2:57 PM

    Wow you know quite a lot of languages!. Haha nice post with photos and all~ 😀

    • Reply
      Zach Sarette
      15 February, 2012 at 5:58 PM

      Ahh, but here’s the thing. I don’t “know” a lot of languages. I mostly know Japanese, Korean and some Spanish. I’m not fluent in either. I can make good conversation in Japanese and read Japanese, but I still need lots of practice. I will go to Japan perhaps in a few years to brush up on it.

      The other languages I learned a little bit for fun. When I was studying abroad in Budapest, I learned a little Hungarian, and I had an italian roommate so I decided to lean a little Italian as well. I studied a little bit of Arabic one summer when I was bored, but didn’t get very far at all.

      Thanks for your comment!

  • Reply
    15 February, 2012 at 11:48 PM

    Here is an another story. I really like what you wrote. You are right we need to read what we find interesting. I like learning languages too 🙂 I don’t have any textbooks in Korean because in my country Turkey, it is really hard to find Korean sources so i am learning through Internet. I can make simple sentences and sometimes i can understand the dialogues. Language is a journey that lasts for years. Also, i don’t like romanization too! 😀

  • Reply
    Xing Wei Poh
    15 February, 2012 at 11:50 PM

    That’s a really good description! A fun read! Hope you’re enjoying your time in Korea~

  • Reply
    Lucie Dvorakova
    16 February, 2012 at 3:40 AM

    Reading your post and thinking back on my own language learning journey I do realise at the beginning I was somewhat reluctant to learn Korean. I was studying Japanese initially and did French at school and I thought there is no point in trying to learn another language without being able to speak either French or Japanese fluently. But for some strange reasons I got addicted to Korean.

    I love the “Anti-calculus” toothpaste. Made my day. 😀 😀

    Good luck on learning languages. 🙂

  • Reply
    17 February, 2012 at 1:56 PM

    I really would like to learn Korean too..
    Since Hangul is based on phonics, I think the 1st step in learning it is by knowing the romanization cause basically like for example… Saranghae… that’s 3 syllables.. Sa Rang Hae, therefore its 3 Hangul characters right, 사랑해

    Now, I don’t know why you hate romanization? Cause that’s how I am learning as or the moment… I tried writing Hangul characters by knowing its pronunciation then its romanization and try writing its hangul characters then check if its correct?

    In my place, there is no good book for learning Korean here. Or I must have not found it yet. I hope I will soon. Any good website where we can learn Korean easily?

    I also have first studied Japanese with a friend… but no writing Katakana or Hiragana or Kanji yet.. reading characters is hard.. I think I had to use familiarity as well as memory in it.

    • Reply
      17 February, 2012 at 2:00 PM

      talktomeinkorean.com is the best website around ^^

      Romanization is an iffy business in Korean. There are a lot of different ways of romanizing it but none that accurately portrays the sound. There is simply no aspirated or reinforced alphabets in English.

      It might be alright to use romanization to help you learn Hangul but not Korean. Before you start learning grammar etc, you should already be familiar with the Korean script.

    • Reply
      Zach Sarette
      18 February, 2012 at 10:01 PM

      First of all, I do like Talktomeinkorean.com and think it’s a decent starting point. I kinda got bored with their lessons and moved onto more interesting things. Though sometimes they produce interesting videos, to me most of them are kinda cheesy. I much prefer watching music videos and comedy show clips.

      Here is a decent website I’ve used a little bit for grammar. http://parksguide.blogspot.com/ But I don’t really use much of anything for online lessons anymore. And I hadn’t relied heavily on them in the past.

      Lyna4u, you bring up an interesting point about learning different Scripts and Characters.

      Let me first say that romanization is not real Korean and not real Japanese.

      How are we supposed to make sense of these scripts and Characters if we don’t have any representation of how things are pronounced?

      For Japanese, I made flashcards with the romanization on the back for the hiragana. Also, the Japanese textbook I used was “Japanese from Zero” which slowly substituted in the hiragana for the romanization as you went along through the chapters. It’s probably the best textbook EVER for ANYTHING.

      For Korean, I used an app on my ipod called “Hangul” which is a flashcard type application. I did have a friend read for me, and I went through a few online videos, online explanations and eventually went through the very painful yet thorough explanation in “Integrated Korean.”

      This all takes lots of time. The more time you spend reading actual Korean or Japanese the faster and the better you get at it. You want to get to a point where you can hear what someone said and be able to write it down. Then you can go and look it up in the dictionary. Isn’t that an awesome skill to to realize you have?

      I don’t like romanization because it slows me down. You want to take away what slows you down, because there is a lot to learn.

      Most importantly I would say trust yourself. You won’t remember everything. That’s part of the learning process. A lot of people spend way too much time reviewing the same material over and over again, when you can just move on. You are capable of more than you think.

      Read about other polyglots and see what they do. You can learn a lot from them. They have lots of experience in learning languages.

      Good luck, and I hope this answers your question.

    • Reply
      19 February, 2012 at 7:43 AM

      And let me also add that romanization doesn’t work for everyone. Even if we use roman letters to represent our native language, It confuses me because not all Korean nor English sounds are present in my native language. Thus I can’t read the ae of saranghae properly, because to me, when I see ae, I have a tendency to read it as ah-eh. But I can remember that when I see ㅐ then it sounds like an e that is quite close to the a in apple.
      As for a website, talktomeinkorean.com is good. If you find it slow, you can have it as a supplement to a textbook. There are some good ebooks available for download too. There’s also Sogang Online Program. I like it because it has lessons until advanced (intermediate?) level – though it can be quite boring. XD
      Good luck! 🙂

  • Reply
    18 February, 2012 at 5:52 PM

    As always, it’s fun reading you, Zach! ^^
    I also had the same attitude towards “having” to learn Japanese when I just want to learn some more (a lot more) Korean. I feel that learning Japanese will just hinder my improvement in Korean. THAT and a whole bunch of other things (or excuses!) made me fail learning Japanese. But because most of the whole-bunch-of-other-things-aka-excuses are not present anymore, I’m far better off in my study of Mandarin and to my surprise it doesn’t hinder my Korean learning at all. I maybe confused on familiar words sometimes, or my Korean study time is cut short because of Mandarin, but in general it’s also helping me improve my Korean some more.
    I also hate romanization. I glare at Korean textbooks that have romanizations on it. It just won’t work for Korean. Plus hanguel is very systematic thus it’s not difficult memorizing it (I’m the VP of King Sejong’s fans club, Shanna’s the President XD). As soon as one is familiar with all the hanguel, romanizations can be thrown away (ㅋㅋㅋ but i hated that my Japanese textbook doesn’t have romanizations, I could’ve cheated my way through recitation that way).
    By the way, I just discovered your other blog, learnlanguagehacker (through this post), and I’m loving it. I like how nagging and direct it is, at the same time funny. I realized a lot of things and I hope.. no, I’m sure it’s going to help me with my Korean and Mandarin learning. Thanks! ^^

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