Category Korean Textbook Reviews

Category Japanese Textbook Reviews

0 In Korean learning journey (:

10 years, what it’s like to self study languages then and now

Well, actually 13 years.

Today, it struck me that the environment for language learning has changed so much over the years, supported by an advancement in technology, and more importantly, there is greater interest and acceptance of language learning as a hobby.

Some time in June 2008, I told my classmates at the Beginner II Korean class that I am not continuing classes and will try to self study instead. My memories are slightly hazy, but I do recalled their surprise, with a couple wishing me good luck and expressing hopes to reunite in higher level classes. Others were quite sure that I would give up after a while, or fail.

“Wah you damn brave.”

“Huh, is it possible to study without a teacher?”

“How to self study without going Korean?”

For a while, I did wonder if I’m ‘too brave’ or reckless to take the plunge. The norm for language learning back then was to enroll in an established (and often expensive) language school and go through level and levels of lessons—the likes of 4 beginner levels, 6 intermediate levels, 5 advance levels, 2 masterclasses and what not. At the end of it, it feels like you are nowhere enough those who were privileged to have gone for classes in the country/region itself. Language learning books at bookstores were expensive, few and far between and buying things overseas wasn’t a norm. Apps and smartphones were relatively new concepts and I owned a non-smart phone. Nobody around me was self studying languages.

2013 aesthetics

Everything led me to believe that it is indeed a challenge, but I took up the challenge anyway. I learnt to be resourceful, trying to find as much free resources online and in libraries as possible, and be creative in what can be used as learning tools. For a couple of years, my blog was kinda centered around the theme of self-studying languages and showing that it’s not impossible. I even wrote a short e-book (!) on self-studying Korean, and reading it again made me feel how there it needed an overhaul if I were to come up with something again, given the numerous changes in environment and available resources.

Back then, self-studying languages seemed like a feat and I was (ridiculously) proud of myself for being able to do so.

Fast forward to 2021.

It’s amazing to see so so so many self-learners that there’s even a whole language community active online, with language content makers, studygrams and social media accounts dedicated to talking about language learning journeys. It’s just so surreal to see how self-studying languages has become so normalized, something that was quite unimaginable back in those days. I think what is amazing is the level of support and sharing there is ongoing, and that is something that I wished I also enjoyed back in those days.

Language learning has become so much more accessible, and now the headache is to find the ‘best’ or most suitable resources, especially for the popular languages, instead of lamenting the lack of them. There’s a dizzying array of resources online, and I love how it’s so easy to pay for them. Having ebooks also meant that it’s possible to save on shipping costs and a lot of times, you can get a trial of a service or a book sample before committing to the purchase.

Another part of language learning that has undergone transformation is teaching. Back then, there are few options beyond language schools. Now, there’s online marketplaces matching tutors to students and it’s possible to take customized lessons at reasonable fees, and the best part is that, you get to determine the frequency of classes. This is indeed a game-changer. It means that we are no longer restricted on many levels and it’s possible to find language teachers for languages, dialects or creoles from far-flung places. I have yet to go for a language class myself (still on that 100% self-studying mode), but I would love to try some conversational classes for Japanese. My spoken Japanese falls wayyy behind my reading and comprehension abilities and that’s also partly my fault in neglecting that aspect in my self-study.

With the language learning landscape being the way it is now, I wonder if people can still relate to my experiences 10 years ago, especially those who are a lot younger. It does feel impossible that language learning, just 10 years ago, feels so much more inaccessible.

I’m very glad that it has changed (:

2 In Others / General

Erm hello Danish?

3 months away from this space and I came back with a new language! That kind of sounds cooler than it really is (as with everything online).

Honestly, I don’t know where I’m going with this, nor how long this is going to last. But it appears that I’ve developed an interest in Danish recently (i.e. last week).

Pardon all the tentative terms. I’m still trying to wrap my head around how I just went from absolutely zero knowledge of Danish (and Denmark) to having an interest in the language. The geography noob in me can’t even pinpoint the country on the map…

So. It started with randomly watching The Chestnut Man on Netflix a couple of days ago. The premise looked promising and right up my alley. And indeed I enjoyed it very much.

And I got intrigued by the language.

I’m basically clueless when it comes to Scandinavian languages. It’s a region that I’ve never given much thought about and know next to nothing about. And that is going to change, hopefully.

So, I got intrigued.

And like every other language learning, I YouTube-ed “basic Danish lessons” and watched a couple of videos.

I switched my LING app to Danish and did a couple of exercises.

I went to watch ore YouTube.

I went to the bookstore to look for Danish textbooks in English. I saw three, none that I really liked.

I went to the Japanese section. They carried very few European language textbooks, none for Danish.

I googled Japanese textbooks for Danish.

I went to Amazon JP.

Yup. You get it. hahaha.

All these happened within a week. I’m glad I still have that ‘action-taker’ in me. Yeah, while I procrastinate on everything else I should do.

But I’m excited. 🙂

Send Danish resources my way please. And please say hi if you are also learning Danish!!

0 In Thai Learning Journey :)

Learning to type in Thai

After a couple of months of procrastinating, I finally started to learn how to type in Thai. I had been relying on my phone keyboard for a while, and even then I am still very slow and squinting at the letters and tone marks before choosing the right one (out of several similar looking ones). When it comes to language learning, I always advocating learning how to write and type in the script at the beginner level, but hahaha I’ve procrastinated for long enough for Thai.

I found this website which shows you the keyboard and make it easier for me to figure out what’s what without referencing a separate picture. Then I can copy what I’ve typed out into the dictionary website. It’s a slow (and rather) painful process now, which involves me putting my nose close to the screen and squinting at the letters and my fingers placed awkwardly on the keyboard.

Yup, so now it takes a couple of minutes just to type one word, and occasionally mixing up ั and ้ cos I really cannot see very well.

Learning Thai has been a really therapeutic activity for me so far, and I love that it’s the first language that I’m learning completely on my own (without taking any classes). I did toy with the idea of taking classes, to have more interactions with people LOL, but nah, not at this point. I’m pretty happy to do it at my own time and speed.

If you are learning Thai, how long did you take to master typing on a computer keyboard?

3 In Japanese learning journey (:/ N1 Journey

N1 Grammar Study

It’s been a long time (> 6 months) since I last touched my N1 grammar books. While I love learning grammar at the intermediate level, somehow I hate it at the advanced level. This happened to me for Korean too. I developed somewhat of a mental block to them and it took me really long to commit those to memory (no memorisation). Perhaps it’s because those grammar points introduced at the advanced level are lesser used in daily life so I find it harder to remember.

I also can’t seem to find good Japanese textbooks at the advanced level (those with dialogues/passages, grammar, vocab, cultural notes etc) and the materials at the advanced level seem to be very specific and geared towards preparation of the JLPT exam. I’ve been learning grammar from the New Kanzen Master series and the 文のルール series. They are great but I get grammar fatigue very easily after seeing 5 similar grammar points at one go. hahaha. So for the Kanzen Master N1 grammar book, I can only do one chapter in a day.

Just finished Chapter 2 (hahahaha) and yep, many more to go!

Sharing a photo of my notes cos it’s been so long since it’s so colourful! I put in more colours when doing grammar notes, and prefer to use pencil only for vocab notes.

0 In Japanese learning journey (:

Am I still on the N1 journey?

The other day, I was asked if I am still planning to take JLPT N1 exam in the near future. My answer is yes, but I do not have a timeline for it, and neither am I actively preparing for it. A couple of years ago, I was more motivated to “chase progress”, in that I feel good (about myself) when I intensively learn and progress in the languages that I’m learning. That said, the goal is always to improve my proficiency, and not chasing after test scores. The TOPIK and JLPT scores themselves do not matter to me. When I first passed N2 back in 2016, I was keen on getting my N1 soonish (in a year or two), but life happens (haha 輕描淡寫的帶過)and I didn’t have time to prepare. It was also not fun to prepare for N1, as the grammar points were not as commonly used and the whole process felt too dry for me. I had the same issue with TOPIK advanced (before TOPIK II kicked in), and I found myself having a mental block of sorts when trying to retain the “advanced grammar”.

I took the JLPT N1 test in 2019 December (after passing N2 in July) and I failed. I wasn’t really disappointed, given that I did not prepare much and didn’t feel ready at all.

Then COVID happened, and I’m not sure if it’s a direct causal link or not, but JLPT test fees increased! The N1 test now costs $130 hahaha and I can no longer “take it for fun”. So yep, the motivation to take N1 exam in the foreseeable future has dropped again.

For now, I would focus on improving my Japanese skills, mainly by reading and listening more. hahaha I know I should speak and write more, but unfortunately I have minimal interest in going out of my way to look for language exchange or to make friends to practice languages. Small talk tire me out. I may be more keen to write more. I used to have a Japanese blog somewhere on the net, hahaha and I no longer remember my login details 😛 Perhaps I should write my Japanese diary here and display my abysmal writing skills that are not befitting of the N2 level. But I read and listen at N2!! hahaha.

I enjoy Japanese novels a lot and I’m going to focus on reading more and enjoy the process. Gonna share about a couple of books which I’m reading in another post.

Till the next post!

0 In Japanese learning journey (:

Orange: The anime, manga and novels

What are some of the things that you regret for life? If you have a chance to set things right again, to erase regrets, what would you do? Is it really so easy to take a different path, to make a different decision?

These are some of the questions that Orange tries to answer, and it does it with depth and sensitivity. Naho, a 16 year-old high school student, receives a letter one day from her 26 year-old self, asking for her help to erase her regrets in life and in the letter, the adult Naho spells out exactly some of the key incidents in the future and how she would like the younger Naho to do things differently.

While it may appear easy to follow a set of instructions to avoid regrets in life, we come to realise that a lot of times, it still takes huge courage to step out of our comfort zone and make a different decision, and personality cannot be changed so easily. It’s one thing to know “what to do”, and another to “actually do it”. It’s also a reflection of life. There are many moments in life where we know what is the better decision, but somehow we cannot stop ourselves from doing otherwise, whether it’s due to our own personality, lack of courage, or other reasons.

Friendship is a huge theme in Orange and I love that despite personality differences, the six of them make it a point (in their own way) to look out and care for one another. The show also made me realise that a lot of times, we just need that one person to gently guide us through a difficult time and having company and understanding is so important. Then again, not all “friends” are the same, and there are also times where friendship is nothing but people being brought together in the same space at the same time and being able to only share fun but not the tough.

There’s a lot of little moments in the story that speaks to me. When Kakeru told Naho to stop enduring and to speak out, I thought it was a poignant moment, and I loved it even more when Naho told Kakeru to do the same for himself. It’s often hard to do the right thing (despite knowing it deep down) and it just takes a friend to keep each other in check and to offer support and a reminder at the right moment.

我慢ばっかりしてたら、自分が損するよ。

It’s been a long time since I last watch an anime that made me feel so much. I had seen the Orange manga in the bookstore a couple of years back and told myself that I needed to watch the anime (something about the cover art just appealed to me), and I’m glad that I finally did it. I don’t buy manga normally (because expensive and too many volumes), but I caved in for Orange and bought the 6-volume set. It helps that it’s not a 20-volume set because I would have to think thrice about it hahaha. I also caved in and bought the 3-volume light novel set.

The last two times I was SO into an anime was 神様はじめました and NANA. I have part of the 神様 manga set (hahaha yup I never finished collecting) and for NANA, I don’t know if I want to get the DVD or a second-hand manga set one day. NANA is one of those stories that rocked me to the core, and I wonder if I have the courage to go through the same raw pain again. I watched it in my 20s, and perhaps it’s time to revisit the story in my 30s.

I’m about halfway through the first volume of the light novel and I’ll share more about it next time!

Till the next post.

0 In Korean learning journey (:/ korean textbook reviews/ Others / General

[Review] Korean Made Easy for Beginners

One thing about the Korean Made Easy series is that it’s very consistent in its cover design, featuring the author in the same pose and wearing similar clothes. So it’s very easy to recognise it among all plethora of Korean textbooks that you can find these days.

And you should. Find it. Buy it.

I own the starter, beginner and intermediate books in the series and I have already reviewed the other two. I’m a HUGE fan of this series, to the point that I wished so much that it had known about it when I first started learning Korean (this is published in 2006 and reached its 20th printing in 2019!), or that it’s easier to purchase from Korea back then. It would have been the textbook of my choice. It still is, and I’m glad that this book is now more accessible to Korean learners all around the world.

A lot of Korean textbooks are made for classroom use, so I love it that the Korean made Easy series manage to hit that sweet point of being suitable for both classroom and self-study use.

Substantial focus on Hangeul

The starter book is entirely focused on Hangeul and suitable for those who like to have a little more help and practice with the writing system. But I feel that that the beginner book is a sufficiently good book for the uninitiated, as there’s about 50 pages worth of introduction on Hangeul, and sufficient listening exercises too. I always think that a good (truly) beginner textbook shouldn’t skimp on the introduction of the writing system, cos it’s just gonna demotivate the learner if they can’t even figure out the alphabet properly.

Well thought-out structure with sufficient explanations

The book adopts the structure of introducing grammar points first, with sufficient explanations/example sentences, before moving to two sets of dialogues, additional sections on pronunciation/vocab/phrases, exercises and a cultural note.

I love a well thought-out structure and it’s very clear that the team working behind this is GREAT.

Certain highlights for me:

No romanisation after the introductory Hangeul chapter

For this, I’m going to give it 5 additional points. 🙂 I also love how, in dialogues, the English translation is presented on the side and in a much smaller font. This gives focus on the Hangeul and visually, this helps the learner focus on parsing the Korean instead of relying on the English translation. Glossary, while present on the page, does not feel intrusive too. I love this.

Gradual introduction of pronunciation rules

I’ve once seen a textbook where they introduced all/majority of pronunciation rules right in the Hangeul chapter and oh man, I was so intimidated by that. Some learners may not realise that there’s NO NEED, I repeat, ABSOLUTELY NO NEED to learn the pronunciation / sound change rules right at the start. In fact, I learnt most of them “naturally” through listening practice and even though I will read about them if I come across an explanation somewhere, I don’t bother trying to remember/memorising them. Till today, I will not be able to tell you exactly the rules.

Exercises that people do

One gripe I have about a lot of textbooks is that they tend to focus on classroom activities in the exercises section and honestly I find that rather disappointing. Not that they are not useful (for classroom use), but I thought that the sole focus on that would make it difficult for self-learners to use the book. And honestly, not all classroom exercises in textbooks are fun / actually used in the classroom too. So I’m SUPER glad that this series go for the multiple choices/fill in the blanks type of exercises, with answers too! yay!

Cultural Notes

I enjoyed each and every of the cultural notes behind each chapter. Language learning cannot be separated from culture and history, so I’m very happy that the book takes effort to include a substantial passage (in English) on it.

Additional touches

Corresponding listening tracks are marked out clearly in the book, and I love that they do break a chapter’s audio into different tracks because it’s tough when you get long tracks of say 15:00mins and you have to mark out on the book the corresponding start time of individual sub-sections.

I love the illustrations in the book too. Overall, the colours, the placements etc are very well done and it’s a very pleasant book to go through. Kudos to the team!

Overall thoughts

Definitely very very highly recommended! No matter whether you are looking to dabble, or to focus on the language, I feel that this book is suitable for all 🙂 It’s pitched at just the right level and pace.

Just buy!

What I like:

  • everything LOL

What I don’t like:

  • Nothing. Can they come up with an advanced book too?

Check it out on Darakwon’s website.

0 In Others / General

Too many loves, too little time

I honestly don’t know how people learn / dabble in multiple languages. I find it difficult to spread my (limited) time evenly across just a couple of languages. I think it has to do with my personality, as I much prefer to be engrossed in one thing at a single time.

Recently, I’ve been in a Japanese mood and I tend to spend majority of my free time on it. I’ve been reading more in Japanese, which is a great thing, because a large proportion of my unread books are (surprisingly) in Japanese. Most people would think that I read (or own more books) in Korean, which is my stronger language, but hahaha no. I love buying Japanese books omg. I think I have more than 30 unread ones, and this doesn’t stop me from wanting to buy more.

This year, I had wanted to focus on learning Thai but so far, I’m not doing it intensively. It’s a deviant from my previous language learning approach, which is to focus intensively on one language when I’m learning it. Perhaps it was easier to do so when I just had Korean, and then Japanese, but now… no. hahaha. Given that I’m also interested in casually studying Spanish, hahaha it’s really 时间不够用.

I’m also trying to be a better and more consistent reader, and having 4 languages to read in means that my attention is constantly being divided.

I wonder if I should come up with a “schedule” of sorts, but then again, I’m never one who likes segmenting things so cleanly.

One thing I need to do is to break the bad habit of reading a book halfway and then getting distracted by starting a new one. I’m okay to give up reading halfway for books I am not keen on, but most of the time, I actually love the books and stopping them halfway made it difficult to continue again because by then, I would have forgotten most of the story. I’ll then feel compelled to start reading all over. The cycle continues LOL

There’s a book that I almost finished reading and I told myself to slow down and leave the last bit to another day to savour. One month later, I still have not gone back to it. oops.

Till the next post!

0 In Korean learning journey (:/ korean textbook reviews

[Review] Korean Proverbs Book 속담이 백 개라도 꿰어야 국어왕

I’m always excited about proverbs/idioms related books because I feel that they are such a good way to learn more about the language and the culture of its people. It’s interesting to compare proverbs/idioms among languages and look at the the similarities and differences – e.g. how proverbs with similar meanings may be presented differently in each language.

There are some proverbs books that are targeted at foreign learners, and those proverb more explanations / English translations / glossary etc. This book is targeted at Korean kids and hence it’s essentially a collection of stories on proverbs.

I would recommend this to intermediate learners and above who are looking for reading materials. It’s fun to read stories and learn about proverbs at the same time.

Honestly, when I was learning Korean, I read a lot more “adult” materials (e.g. news) compared to kids’ stories. In some ways, my vocabulary range for words appearing in kids stories may not be that great. I’m also horrible at onomatopoeia words and adverbs such as 살금살금 (walk stealthily).

Personally I do not think that kids stories are necessarily easier than so-called adult materials, when it comes to foreign language learners. This is because typically, we would start off learning the language using the “adult” materials and we are more attuned to the way of writing / vocabulary. In fact, kids stories can be rather difficult, especially fables / folktales.

E.g. 누구슈?

The meaning is 누구세요 (who are you), but if you see it for the first time, you might be stumped as most (if not all) Korean textbooks do not cover this. Honestly I also don’t know how I learn it, you will just naturally get it as you read more books 🙂 Actually I’m also not sure if it’s considered a dialect and/or used more commonly during the olden days etc. If someone can shed light on this, would definitely be helpful! I should go and google later on.

The book is completely in Korean and I love it 🙂 The stories are interesting and I would recommend Korean learners to consider this if you are also in love with learning about proverbs. ♡

0 In Korean learning journey (:/ korean textbook reviews

[Review] A Brief History of Korea

One thing I love about language learning is that it leads me to find out more about the world. It’s impossible to learn languages (as a communicative tool) on their own, and during the journey, we come to learn about a place’s culture, history, and its people. I was never quite a “history lover” in the past, and I avoided taking history when we were able to choose our subject combinations in school. But after I started learning languages, I become deeply interested in a place’s history and in the subject in general.

I’ve been reading up on bits and pieces of Korea’s history, but sometimes when the resources are detailed and focused on certain events/aspects, I found it hard to get an overview / introduction of Korean history. So I was very happy to read Michael J. Seth’s A Brief History of Korea. It’s a very smooth and interesting read, and I am able to read for chapters on end at one go.

While it’s not possible to be comprehensive when limited by the page numbers, I feel that this book offer quite a good overview of Korea’s history and I would recommend it as an introductory read.

I actually read this last year and shared it on Instagram, didn’t realise I have not blogged about it!

I want to re-read this again, but hahaha I have too many unread books. Happy problem 🙂

Check it out if you are looking for an introductory text about Korean history in English. Thanks Tuttle for the book!