Category Korean Textbook Reviews

Category Japanese Textbook Reviews

3 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

Rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Buy it at Twochois.com (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 TwoChois.com

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!

8 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.

2 In Korean learning journey (:/ korean studying tools

[Books] Korean Drama Manhwas 드라마 영상만화

I love how popular k-dramas get their own comic/manga/manhwa version with photos from the dramas used (rather than drawings). It’s like a photobook + comic and I would totally buy it for dramas I love – as a collectible and a very good k-learning resource.

I only own two (hahaha 1 volume each LOL) and actually the 상속자들 one was passed to me by wx. So technically I only bought volume 4 of my first ever k-drama Princess Hours (궁).

Do you guys like this drama? I love Kim Woo Bin’s role more.

The backstory was that back in those days when e-commerce wasn’t as commonplace (and I don’t own any debit/credit card), I could only depend on the local bookstores for the very feeeeew books they carry (at exorbitant prices). So I could only afford one and I bought the volume which had the drama scenes I loved the most hahahaha. Even now, I would think shipping these books is gonna cost they are often of very good quality (and heavy).

I still recalled how excited I was to be able to own a Korean manhwa and I was trying my best to read the speech bubbles (just started learning Korean then!). It’s a great resource for beginners and omg the sense of satisfaction you feel when you manage to understand a simple sentence!! Those were the days :’)

I have a lot of fond memories of these books and would highly recommend them to Korean learners. I kind of regret not collecting the full 궁 set of books and I doubt they are available for sale now – it’s like more than 12 years ago!

Love the manhwa captions so cute!
Lounging on my beanbag
0 In Others / General

Morning reads and time with yourself

It’s easy to lose yourself in the midst of the daily grind and I admit that the negativity was seriously getting to me. It was always an exhausting race against time, although looking back things always seemed better. Hobbies, family, friends were sacrificed and I was permanently feeling exhausted and unhappy. While there were brief periods where I tried to pull myself up, I went back to the same cycle after a while.

We all know the need for work-life balance, but the exact formula is hard to work out. What exactly do I want to do in the “life” part? What is it that will provide me with the happiness and motivation I need. I know the answer lies with language learning, so I have been trying to conscientiously trying to carve out time to do so. I started Thai this year (unplanned!) and so far I have been loving the journey.

That said, sometimes I do feel that I’m adding to the unhappiness (lol) by not having time and energy for languages everyday. It’s like my happiness meter is being determined by whether I did any studying that day and it was sorta unhealthy.

After all these years, I’m still trying to find a formula that works for me. I’ve been working at home due to the COVID-19 situation and honestly I think it’s really a more suitable arrangement for me rather than commuting to and fro the office. hahaha such a homebody. It allows me to have a bit more time to work with to get the balance and I’m starting to incorporate morning reading time into the routine.

Not everyday, but a couple of days per week. To wake up earlier and have some quiet time with a good book.

Decided to pick up The Court Dancer again and despite being a re-read, I feel myself drawn to the narrative easily. I’m probably a better textbook reviewer, so forgive me if I can’t articulate my thoughts about fiction eloquently. What I loved about The Court Dancer is that it’s an amazing piece of translated work. Some translated works feels very stilted and that it’s a very obvious re-telling of the story in a different language. The Court Dancer is probably one of the most smooth and natural translated work I’ve read and honestly, beyond the story (which is already amazing), I’m very much drawn to the craft of translation.

I had borrowed the book from the local library but felt so compelled to own a copy that I went to buy one (hardcover books are so expensive omg!) and proceeded to buy the original work in Korean too. I don’t own many fiction books in English (oops!)

I’ve been meaning to pore over both versions and I think I would start doing that again. I had tried to do a one-page translation to compare it with Anton Hur (the translator)’s work and hahahaha needless to say mine was so woefully inadequate and clunky in comparison.

Hopefully I can keep this up.

Till next post.

2 In Japanese learning journey (:/ Japanese Textbook Reviews

[Review] N2 文のルール(and comparison with Kanzen Master)

Besides the Kanzen Master Series, this set of JLPT prep books are my absolute favourite. They should be familiar names to those who have been learning the language for quite some time. Fondly recalled how I discovered the N3 Grammar book in my university library back in 2012 or so and diligently worked through it. #throwback to more studious days hahaha

Good books are hard to review at times. Cos I just wanna say.

Buy.

Basically I find it a very good grammar resource and I’ve used the N3 and N2 series and I bought the N1 too! Please trust my recommendation haha.

I think the bigger question is….

How does it compare with Kanzen Master Series?

职业病 (occupation hazard) has me compiling an TABLE OF COMPARISON. Tada. I have never ever done that in my 12 years of blogging. hahaha. congrats to me.

Kanzen Master文のルールComments
StructurePresents 4-6 similar grammar points together in a chapterEach grammar point is presented in isolation No clear winner.
Kanzen Master can sometimes feel more a chore to work through cos the content is quite dry and sometimes rather daunting (study fatigue) when faced with 5 very similar grammar points at one go. But can’t deny it’s helpful. 文 is easier to work through!
Explanations Japanese onlyJP, EN, CNNo clear winner.
Both have quite short explanations, but are quite clear.
Sample Sentences 2-3 sentencesDialogues文のルール.
I like how 文 use dialogues as example sentences. Somehow makes it easier to work through and remember how to use the grammar structure. Each grammar point is also introduced by a simple MCQ to test your knowledge and the answer is right on the next page. +1 for ease of use.
Exercises MCQ MCQNo clear winner.
Really is 各有千秋 (each has its strengths). Kanzen exercises are after each chapter and it really helps you learn how to use the similar grammar points introduced. Whereas for 文 the exercises are after each section (around 30 grammar points) and it can cover any of the grammar points introduced earlier. The plus point is that it has a couple question types.

Let me know what you think of the table format mmm.

In any case, the point is that both set of books are good and you should just get both la (Singlish is coming out).

4 In Others / General

How to take notes when learning languages

Notetaking is one of my favourite topics of language learning and I can go on and on about this (if anyone wants to hear). Thought to share my two cents on the topic today – I probably have written on this before, but my views may have changed with experience (I mean age).

Purpose of Notetaking

One very important question to ask yourself – why are you taking notes and how would you use them? To answer this question, you must understand your own learning style. Personally, language notetaking to me is a process and hence I feel that the learning comes from the act of processing and organising the information as I write the notes. Hence, I have almost never flipped through / reviewed my language notes after I’m done writing them. A lot of my language notes is actually writing down vocabulary and it’s meaning and sample sentence. I have no use for reviewing what would essentially be random vocabulary lists – the learning comes when I’m actually writing them down and internalising and remember the words in the process.

Hence, I have no qualms throwing away years of notes (which I did). I still recalled the outrage (?) and shock when I posted online that I was doing so haha, and received so many comments that it’s a waste to do that and people even asked me why I didn’t sell my notes. ;;; hahaha what would people want to do with a random vocabulary lists? Even for the part of my notes when I was writing down grammar points etc, I see them as only useful if you are the person writing them (and learning through the process). I see language notes as different from those organised notes I did on subjects like Chemistry / Economics back in school – those I admit would be useful to review and pass on to others (I kept them until now!).

Notetaking is a trial and error process

Not everyone will face this issue, but as someone who prefers structure and neatness, I admit that I struggled with language notetaking at first. I had (rather) frivolous concerns like – should I have separate notebooks for grammar / vocabulary? / how do I organise the information? etc. My piece of advice? – Don’t think, just start writing. Just like how you can never be fluent at day 1, there is no reason to expect yourself to be able to organise your notes properly at day 1. It’s through a trial and error process that you learn how best to organise the information for yourself.

I’ve developed a system which I am comfortable over the years and will use it when I learn new languages. I use one notebook at one time, and even though I may be learning from several books at one time, I will just continue writing in the same notebook without going to a new page. So a single page in my notebook can contain my notes from two different textbooks I’m using.

Never re-write notes

This brings me to this point. Neverrrrrrr re-write notes. Sorry this is such a waste of time and there’s minimal value in the process. You will be better off using this time to read a new chapter, or something.

Aesthetics – do just “enough”

Uh. So… I realised that “aesthetic notetaking” has become a thing on social media. On one hand, I’m very impressed at how pretty people can make their notes – the colours, the doodles, the perfect handwriting, the use of washi tapes and dunno what other things.. On the other hand… I DUN GEDDIT. I’m all for do-whatever-makes-you-happy but I do sometimes question if the time and effort that went into those notes is considered well-spent and effective for learning?

As someone who is aesthetically challenged, I honestly think that notetaking to that level is very time-consuming (correct me if there are people who can do their notes reasonably fast and maintain that level of aesthetics) and I won’t do it. And I don’t recommend it. Honestly (this might be an unpopular opinion), I feel like sometimes it’s veering into arts and craft rather than learning. hahaha sorry if I offend anyone. /looks around/ I just hope it doesn’t set some form of unrealistic expectations for learners/students to deliberately try to follow those notetaking style and feel that that is how good notetaking should be.

I recalled how back in school days, I have friends who will also take time to beautify their notes with like a whole pencil case of colour markers (hahaha) and write their notes in a certain font (dunno if anyone gets it? hahaha). But honestly, students these days have levelled up so much in the aesthetics department. I feel like I’m looking at art pieces 🙂

(yes I secretly have a lot to say on this topic)

I used to colour-code my notes (sticking to max about 5 colours) for ease of reference but I have settled into a comfortable routine of using mostly pencil for my Korean and Japanese notes (mostly vocab these days), but I do use a couple of colours for Thai/Russian, where I am just starting out and I find a couple of colours useful.

On aesthetics – I do admit that when I take photos for social media / this blog, I do (pretentiously) find some props and arrange my stationery neatly. (duh, I don’t actually study with random props like my camera lying flat next to my book, with dried flowers and dunno what other rubbish). I don’t think anyone will deliberately spend effort on their notes for the gram (and not just due to personal style), cos that’s really another level.


So if you are wondering why I haven’t exactly shared how I take notes, it’s because the gist of this post is find a method that you are comfortable with and fits your objectives. 🙂

hahahaha ok I will write a separate post on how I do language notetaking.

Till next time!

2 In Japanese learning journey (:/ Japanese Textbook Reviews

[Review] Tuttle’s Basic Japanese

I… cannot decide how I feel about this book and this is quite a rare occurrence because usually I’m quite clear about how I feel about a textbook! Let’s get into the review proper.

This basic Japanese book appears to be more suitable for someone who has some basic knowledge of the Japanese writing system as it completely skips the usual hiragana / kanatana table. I’m quite used to most beginner textbook having at least one chapter dedicated to the Japanese writing system (or even just having the tables) so this is rather unusual. That said, Chapter 1 essentially introduces the Japanese pronunciation, rhythm, syllable, voicing, vowels, consonants etc which to me was rather strange cos… why have these basic information and yet not introduce the writing system?!

Chapter one also started out with some basic dialogue and basic vocabulary which is written in hiragana, katakana and kanji (without furigana). Ok, I can deal with that, it’s authentic and how Japanese should be written. But why kanji without furigana? …. and WHY ROMANISATION. The whole book uses romanisation which… personally I find an eyesore. I would way rather see furigana on the kanji! It also does not help by romanising Kanji – e.g. 息子 is just romanised as musuko. As a beginner how would I know if 息 is read as mu or musu?

Fine, as a learner, I can ignore the romanisation if I need to (and I still think you should). Although it’s terrible that the romanisation is in bold so naturally your eyeballs are drawn to it. Also, in the explanations, the book uses the romanisation ONLY. Which to me is a huge turn-off and a nono. Because in this case, I see it as an encouragement to rely on romanisation, and romanisation is no longer an “aid” to help you to read the actual Japanese characters.

And at this point, I don’t quite know how to review this book anymore.

Which is a real pity. Because I do think that this point offers quite good structured lessons and detailed explanations of the grammar points, with decent (doable) exercises for the self-learners.

Overall thoughts

What I like:

  • Use of hiragana, katagana and kanji right at the start
  • decently structured lessons and explanations of grammar points

What can be improved:

  • Reduce the reliance of romanisation – either leave it out after 2-3 chapters, or STOP bolding it
  • Stop using romanisation only in the explanations