34 In Korean learning journey (:

What NOT to do when picking up a foreign language

Was writing another post when something strikes me. The different approaches an experienced language learner and a newbie take when learning a new language. Especially if you are going to self-study. Here are some things not to do when picking up a new language.

1. Buy a phrasebook and a pocket dictionary

Hands up if you ever did that. I know i’m guilty of that (for Spanish years ago). It’s the stupidest thing to do and I can almost guarantee that you will never get very far with it.

Sometimes I dunno why phrasebooks are so popular. They will NEVER EVER help you learn a language and seriously, how many of those phrases are you likely to use even in your trip to the place? Most people feel awkward speaking in a totally foreign tongue and probably won’t even utter a single word in that language during their travels. And the extroverted ones probably will use just a few phrases.

So why buy a phrasebook? You can search it up on the internet.

And a pocket dictionary. A ‘must have investment’? No. There are tons of good online dictionaries, and if you are those that learn ‘on the go’, get an electronic dictionary instead.

2. Language applications on the phone

Urm. I’m not a fan of most of them. Unless they are really proven to be accurate. Such apps are like the online equivalent of a phrasebook and seriously, I think the phrasebook has more accurate phrases. I’ve seen a couple of Korean phrase apps that are ridiculously wrong. Awkward phrasing – did the developers use Google translate? – and awful use of 당신 for YOU.

They amuse me more. Rather than teach me something useful.

Not to say there aren’t good apps. But please be more selective.

3. Buy tons of Textbooks / Grammar books

A newbie learner often gets too excited and enthusiastic and end up buying loads of books at one go. A wrong move for various reasons.

First, are you sure you will be committed? Not trying to be mean(?), but a lot of people give up on a language within a few months. Or even less. Are you sure you want to invest on all these expensive books before being sure that you want to learn this language? Language learning is for life. That is, if you are serious about it. Using the internet first will be a smarter choice. There are loads of awesome websites and content on the internet. Especially so for beginner learners.

Make use of that.

Also, not all textbooks are good. And not all are suitable for you. Get a sense of how the language is like and then decide on what kind of books to use. Try to avoid vocabulary lists, or books with titles like ‘Learn Korean in 3 weeks’.

An experienced language learner will somehow develop an eye for deciding whether a book is good or not. And how to complement his/her study with various books. A newbie will learn the same skills too.

4. Rely on romanization

Probably another of the most stupid thing you can do. Habits stick and you will find it hard to wean off the ‘convenience’ of romanization after a while. Just learn the script. It might be difficult and tedious, but you have no choice in the end anyway.

5. Set unrealistic goals

Probably a major reason why many learners get so disappointed and fall out along the journey. You can’t be fluent in a language within a year. Unless you stay in that country. The best thing to do is just not to set any goals. Enjoy learning. Why must you learn to achieve certain goals? I prefer to concentrate on the process.

If you have any other do nots, feel free to share via a comment! ^^

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  • Reply
    22 February, 2012 at 8:48 AM

    Hi there~! I think i tried almost every way mentioned in this post~ and i didn’t realize it was a wrong method until i saw your blog post.. So, Do you have any good Eng-Kr online dictionary sites that u would recommend? ^^ Anyway Thanks alot for this useful post!! ^^

    • Reply
      22 February, 2012 at 1:24 PM

      Hello! endic.naver.com is the best ever 😀

  • Reply
    journi (@twilightjourni)
    22 February, 2012 at 8:59 AM

    I’m guilty of #5…unfortunately. Somedays I get more frustrated than others but I’ve made myself the promise of trudging on and not giving up! It’s a bit daunting doing self-studying with no one to have a conversation with so I often find myself asking if I’m constructing the beginning sentences correctly. I also wish there were classes in my area, I think it would be easier. But I’ll constantly question why I shouldn’t be further than I am at times.

    I’m doing the TTMIK lessons, I’m probably overdoing things but am already on my 3rd copybook, I have another one set aside just for vocabulary, have a concise dictionary…but I have a big problem with the latter. It’s both in Korean script and in a romanized pronounciation system/McCune-Reischauer version. It’s driving me insane looking up things! Do not have a phrasebook but for Christmas received the Living Language Spoken Word Korean. That isn’t helping in the least bit since you’re thrown right into conversations that confused me even more. I’ve halted that until I’m further along.

    Only thing I do want is a good Korean language text/grammer book. One that I can supplement the TTMIK lessons, one that I can study when I shut the computer down. I yearn for the day when I can listen to K-Pop without going..”what” “what are they saying” and watch one K-Drama without busying myself with subtitles and missing the interaction between the actors. Looking forward to other “what not to do’s”….

    • Reply
      22 February, 2012 at 1:21 PM

      Keep studying and you will get to where you want (: Without being too ‘concentrated’ on the goals. I usually do my Korean study with the computer on. I absolutely cannot study being offline. ^^ Naver dictionary is my best friend 😀

      • Reply
        22 February, 2012 at 8:10 PM

        Me too! I can’t study offline. Review, yes. But definitely not studying. All my resources are online. Or even if I’m using books, I use an online dictionary. What I like in being online, aside from the dictionary, there’s google (or naver). In using a paper dictionary or an electronic dictionary there were some limits. Let’s say a word is vague or has many uses, I can always search google or naver to see how the word is used outside the limits of a dictionary and textbook.

    • Reply
      22 February, 2012 at 8:13 PM

      Haha! I used to have a dictionary like that. It was a price for winning a 삼육구 game and I was so excited to have it since I was a noob. But I guess I only opened it twice in my lifetime. It made me dizzy! I gave it to my bestfriend (coz she said yes when I asked if she wanted it haha!) – a lame excuse to get rid of it.

  • Reply
    22 February, 2012 at 9:03 AM

    The thing I tell people the MOST….is to not be afraid of making mistakes!!!
    How else will you learn effectively? Make mistakes and make them often. Too many people “study” by copying notes and making perfect sentences instead of writing them from their head. Once you do that, you really know what you need to work on. 🙂

    Awesome post, just found your blog 🙂

    • Reply
      22 February, 2012 at 1:19 PM

      Thanks! ^^

      Making mistakes is definitely the way to go in learning a language. 😀

  • Reply
    22 February, 2012 at 9:53 AM

    Great post, I agree with all of these. I’m also guilty of all of them with Japanese. However when I started Korean I was just flat out broke, no money to waste. It turned out to be a good thing, because I know I would have wasted money on textbooks for sure. I had to rely on free internet resources though, but (even though there is way less tools and resources for Korean than Japanese online) I was able to find everything I needed to get started for free online.

    One thing that shocked me a bit was that so many people rely on romanizations, especially when the romanizations for Korean are absolutely horrible and hangul is so incredibly easy to learn.

    • Reply
      22 February, 2012 at 1:18 PM

      haha! I’m the opposite. I did buy quite a few Korean textbooks (not at one go) but I have wayy fewer for Japanese and those that I have are in Korean. ^^ Not sure if Japanese is going to stay with me for life and I’m generally very broke as well.

      Can you recommend some good sites for Japanese? I prefer those with grammar lessons and structured out properly with dialogue instead of places to learn kanji or vocabulary lists. I tend to rely more on Korean sites that teach Japanese at the moment.

      • Reply
        22 February, 2012 at 6:50 PM

        I could do with some good online resources for Japanese too. At the moment I’m sticking with the ‘genki’ books but sometimes it could help to have things described in different ways.

      • Reply
        27 February, 2012 at 1:22 PM


        Tae Kim is always a good bet, not necessarily dialogues, but its one of the best free grammar resources for Japanese

    • Reply
      22 February, 2012 at 8:26 PM

      … when the romanizations for Korean are absolutely horrible (alodia: Agree!) and hangul is so incredibly easy to learn (alodia: Agree! Agree!)

      Thus I hate books or learning materials that keep putting romanizations! It gives an impression, especially to beginners, that it’s difficult to learn hangeul thus romanizations are needed.

      In my case though, when I first attempted to learn Korean, I noticed right away that it’s impossible to learn Korean not knowing its script. And it made me quit right there and then. Ah!!! Probably that’s why some books (AND phrasebooks) have romanizations all-throughout… probably a marketing strategy since a lot of potential learners are scared of seeing scripts.

      • Reply
        22 February, 2012 at 8:37 PM

        I guess I realized romanization will not work is because I was somehow exposed to the language for a few months before I attempted to learn it, thus my ears were “pre-trained” to the sounds and I know that the last syllable of saranghae is not pronounced as ha-eh (that’s how ‘ae’ is read in my native language) nor hey.

  • Reply
    22 February, 2012 at 2:00 PM

    Reblogged this on The Black Hole Of The Internet and commented:
    These are great tips for polyglots, linguaphiles and language learners.

  • Reply
    22 February, 2012 at 9:21 PM

    #1. Guilty! I bought two. At least I did not get the romanized-version-only ones. I even read them thinking that if only I can memorize everything from at least those 2 phrasebooks I can be fluent! OTL. I’ve memorized the first 5 sentences before realizing that it’s impossible. I never opened them again. I wish I can get my money back. I can buy a couple of good textbooks from the money I spent on those rubbish.

    #3. I have a few books and I’m always tempted to get my hands on new ones. I see nothing wrong in getting books as long as one already have an eye to spot good ones (I don’t buy anything that I haven’t seen at least a chapter or half a chapter. I also don’t rely on reviews unless it’s Hangukdrama’s or other fellow blogger’s). However I promised myself not to get new ones unless I’ve finished what I have now. I am such a slow reader especially since there are also good online resources. So I’d rather spend my money on something else first while I’m not yet done with the books I have on hand. Also, since, again, it takes me forever to finish a book, I don’t want to buy something that I probably won’t need anymore by the time I get to read it because I have already learned it from somewhere else.

    #4. Yeah! I’m just so happy I realized that romanization is not really needed in the first place. Romanization confuses me because we also use roman letters in my native language and our phonology is different from English so I don’t really know how to read them. Also they really can’t represent all the sounds of Korean after all. Anyway learning Hangeul is easier than I thought (recognizing the characters, not reading them properly – I still can’t read everything properly until now! OTL). And I was just so happy because I used to sing Korean songs with romanized lyrics and I can’t enjoy it because I’m confused most of the time. But after learning the script, I can sing along Korean songs without the confusion.

    #5. You tell me! I know/read/heard of a lot of beginners whose goal is to watch a drama without subtitles. It’s not a bad goal. Who wouldn’t want that? But after 5 chapters from a textbook or 5 lessons from TTMIK and they still can’t understand unsubbed dramas, they were frustrated and disappointed thus they gave up. For me setting mini goals has kept me going. Once I achieved it, I felt very motivated. Or even if I didn’t achieve it, I set up a new goal to achieve. And another. My only goal when I started was to register in Kim Sun Ah’s fancafe. Not too big a goal for a beginner. Thus it was easy to fulfill. Then I realized I wanted to talk to other fans. So I keep studying until I can talk to them bit by bit. Then I wanted to talk to Kim Sun Ah too. I did, but I don’t think we understood each other well. So next, I wanted to be able to ‘communicate’ with Kim Sun Ah. I did, but I still messed up a bit. So now my next goal is to be able to talk to her without making a fool of myself anymore. 🙂

  • Reply
    22 February, 2012 at 9:28 PM

    + Do Not Compare Yourself To Others.
    I’m guilty of this before. Seeing other learners improving while I feel like/know that I’m not. There are lots of factors why one learn faster than others. It could be the time they spent learning, their passion, their motivation, their methods, their exposure the language, their native language/the other languages their are learning, etc. And these are different from one individual to another. Why not make them an inspiration and use them as motivation to work harder. Knowing that they can do it, most probably you too.

    • Reply
      22 February, 2012 at 9:31 PM

      urgh typos!
      *exposure to the language
      *they are learning
      *you can too.

    • Reply
      23 February, 2012 at 12:22 AM

      I agree with this one! Be inspired by another person’s fluency – don’t let it diminish your confidence 🙂

  • Reply
    22 February, 2012 at 9:40 PM

    Any good En-Jap dictionary sites to recommend? 🙂

    • Reply
      22 February, 2012 at 9:52 PM

      ㅋㅋㅋ not too sure. I use naver’s kor-jap dictionary 😛

    • Reply
      23 February, 2012 at 12:23 AM

      I don’t actually study Japanese much, but a good one that I found is http://tangorin.com/. I prefer it to WWWJDIC!

    • Reply
      27 February, 2012 at 1:26 PM


  • Reply
    Messala Ciulla
    23 February, 2012 at 12:21 AM

    Nice post, I did some of those mistakes in the past while learning other languages. I’m learning korean just for fun and I’m enjoying doing that.

    In the topic about romanization I would suggest an virtual keyboard such as http://www.branah.com/korean it’s really handy. In the beginning typing was slow and awkward, but with a little practice it became easier to handle.

  • Reply
    23 February, 2012 at 12:36 AM

    UGH! I hate those phrasebooks! Might I add, most of the phrases sound awkward, and Koreans don’t even use them!

    I am guilty of buying too many textbooks when I first started – but not for the reasons you think! I bought them thinking I didn’t know any Korean when in fact, they were a little too easy! ><;;; I ended up wasting money. I think the internet has helped me more in terms of learning grammar structures than the textbooks.

    I think textbooks are only helpful to a certain point, then after that, you have to immerse yourself in the language by talking, reading etc.

    Oh and I hate romanization! I never used it and I never will! It just takes away from the language and ends up making things more confusing later on. If Korean people didn't learn their alphabet through Latin characters, than neither should the learner haha 😀 Plus, most Korean content is not available in romanization so it's bad to depend on it.

  • Reply
    journi (@twilightjourni)
    23 February, 2012 at 1:30 AM

    I LOVE this topic! This might sound totally strange but I’ve went to some of the children’s websites that you’ve posted. Love “Pororo”, thought even with counting I could catch on and I was still lost. In counting I know the difference between native and Sino and have been practicing cell#, address etc. Any recommendations on children’s books in Korean that could be purchased online and easy for a beginner?

    I’ve also made small index cards that sit by the computer monitor to look back to. For some odd reason I’m totally good with consonants but I’ve got a mental block on some of the vowels. I’m hoping my brain kicks into gear someday so I won’t have to keep referring back to the cards.

    • Reply
      24 February, 2012 at 11:13 AM

      ㅎㅎㅎㅎ the vowels are easily to remember once you see the pattern. 우/어 and related patterns are the ‘darker sounds’ and 오/아 are the bright vowels.

      As for recommendations, actually children books can be very difficult for foreign learners. Since they contain vocab and phrases that we are not exposed to at beginners level.

      • Reply
        25 February, 2012 at 1:15 PM

        Yeah, children’s book are meant for native speaker kids. I still can’t read a children’s book without using a dictionary. But I love watching dramas/movies with kids because I find them easier to understand (not to mention their short dialogues XD)

  • Reply
    23 February, 2012 at 8:10 AM

    I think this is a good article and worth thinking about it.

    I think you push the internet too much. What I like about it is the access to new material and realia. I would not use accuracy as a “pro” in regards tot he internet.
    At least the phrase book will have proper editors so you can be sure there is at least a minimum standard.

    I wouldn’t want more than 1 text book but I find that 1 text book really important….but it must have a CD. Without the sound then all your learning is to read and write and most books are written with conversation in mind.
    Very frustrating to think you know a word only to learn that all that practice you put in was just you teaching yourself to say it badly. Not to mention that is potentially embarrassing.

    What I think is best about apps and phrase books is their convenience. Basically you want to be able to study as much as possible and a phrasebook allows you to do that while on the toilet and an app while on the bus.
    I wouldn’t recommend discarding anything that will let you study but agree not to rely too much on those methods.

    Number 4 should be the golden rule of learning Korean. Learning to pronounce the alphabet is so important and romanization just delays that.

    • Reply
      24 February, 2012 at 10:47 AM

      Thanks! ^^ I agree that the internet may not always offer the right materials too, but I was thinking more of the accurate native speech and articles that you can find online. I haven’t seen a phrasebook that is good enough though. The sentences may be grammatical, but not what Koreans usually use in daily lives.

      CDs in textbooks is definitely a must have. ^^

      Do you have any good apps to recommend? 😀

  • Reply
    23 February, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    hi! i’m new to your wbsite. i knw it’s late but better late thn never right?

    i’m also learng korean on my own using TTMIK materials. i thnk that kind of materials are already good for learners esp bgnners like me.

    i hope one day i will be able to undrstnd korean as good as you are. I would love to hve friends whom i can converse with using korean, sadly i dont hve one. so i dcded to talk to my wall [pasted some big paper and keep writing my thoughts] hehe

    thnx for sharg these tips and seems like i’m abiding the rules excpt for buying a dictionary.

    thnx a lot! =D

    • Reply
      24 February, 2012 at 10:44 AM

      thanks for finding my site 😀 😀

      When I first started out, I’m pretty much learning it alone and in my own world. lol. Try to reach out to people. Koreans are very helpful and friendly when they see foreigners enthusiastic about learning their language ^^

  • Reply
    24 February, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    How about buying Korean study books on the internet that you haven’t been able to actual look at (not even a “search inside the book” function) and that you’ve read no reviews for—in other words, a total unknown except for the cover? I have done that a couple of times and what a waste of money! I have learned the hard (and expensive) way not to do that anymore. I’ve seriously wasted money that way.

    Totally agree about the paper dictionary. I actually downloaded a dictionary to my iPhone and I think it’s better than the electronic dictionary I bought a couple of years ago. It’s great when I don’t have access to Naver.

    • Reply
      24 February, 2012 at 10:45 AM

      ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ I’m not a fan of online shopping so I forgot about that. I hate waiting for packages. But that’s definitely a valid point 😛

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