12 In Korean learning journey (:/ Korean Lessons/ Seoul Life 2011

How to master word usage (collocations) in Korean

I’ve received an email and I thought it was an interesting issue. I thought I would just share part of the email here and my response. Would be nice to hear what you all have to say about it! ^^
the homework this week (as I guess how it will be for weeks to come) is to master a set of vocabulary (around 50 words a week).
Like you, I hate memorizing and to have a word stick to my head I will have to know the usage.
I feel like I have to run to someone with more experience in learning Korean to confirm this:
Do you think Korean has more words than English (for example, they have a lot of word that has the meaning ‘stop’ with each own usage, etc)
or is it because I’m still in beginner phase and things would go better after this?

I’m sorry if I don’t make my question clear. I’m checking the new words (the homework words are all verbs) into the Naver dictionary first
then I’ll try to make up new sentences, usually with different nouns, only to find out that I have to use another verb to be paired with those nouns.
It’s frustrating! *but not in any way this would make me give up Korean! ㅋㅋ

What do you think about this? Do you have any trick to master the word usage? Thank you for your time and have a nice day~~

Firstly, I am really against the idea of have the course objective as ‘master a set of vocabulary in xx time’. Sure, setting a goal is good but personally I prefer ‘qualitative goals’ than ‘quantitative goals’ in language learning. The thought that I need to remember/know/memorise a certain number of words turns me off the learning process.

To address one of the questions, I don’t really think Korean has more words than English. There are probably words that cannot be translated to English, but likewise some English expressions do not have an equivalent in Korean.. so I guess it all balances out?

As of the main issue of word usage, I think the person is referring to collocations (correct me if I’m wrong). For example, stop.

stop: 멈추다, 서다, 세우다, 그만하다, 중단하다 끝나다 etc (and the list goes)

and the question is: how is each used?

time stops: you have to say 시간을 멈추다 and not any other verbs.

Personally, I have never thought about this issue before. Looking back, that is indeed a huge difficulty. But why is it that I’ve never thought about this issue before?

I think it’s because I’ve never tried thinking / conceptualising Korean in terms of English. And that I always focus on the present, small steps at a time, instead of the far away goal.

First issue. I think it’s really dangerous to conceptualise a foreign language in terms of your native language, no matter how close or far apart the two languages are. I learn each word in Korean one at a time, and with every new verb, I learn the nouns that goes with it. I don’t care how English does it, I am learning a whole new system from scratch and thus, I don’t try to compare. Every language has it’s own logic and beauty. Do not try to question why certain expressions are expressed in such a complicated way etc. Take things as it is.

Second issue. If you look at learning a foreign language as a whole, you will probably be scared of how much you have to learn. Words, expressions, idioms, culture etc etc. It’s endless. Looking at the far away goal will only make you give up easily. For me, I’ve never thought about ‘being fluent in Korean’ when I was a beginner. I just love the process of learning. Picking up the language bit by bit. Sure, I do get frustrated when my progress is slow sometimes, but I’ve never thought about things like ‘when will I ever get fluent? / why is it taking so long?’. I always look back, instead of forward (in some sense). I always think back and am amazed by myself of how much I managed to progress without even noticing it. (okay I sound a little …. arrogant xD)

How I do it.

First. Stop worrying. ^^

Learn the words in context. For example if you come across a text that goes ….. 시간을 멈추다….., look up the word that you don’t know.

You will probably see tons of examples and collocations (nouns that this verb is used with). Do not panic. You can read through them and get a sense of the types of nouns that are usually used with the verb.

But, you just need to remember 시간 is used with 멈추다.

This is the context that you have seen the verb in. So just remember that. (NOT MEMORIZE).

As you progress in your learning, I’m sure you will come across 멈추다 again in other contexts. Look up the word again, and this time, learn it in its new context. At the same time, read through the other entries in the dictionary.

Personally, I find that I tend to remember most of the collocations after looking at the entry a few times (in different context and time). Trust me, you get even better after awhile. Now, I can easily look up a word and possibly remember everything about the word – how it is used etc. Although I wont be able to use it productively, I can comprehend it when I next see it ^^

This is just one method and it may not work for everybody. Find something that you are comfortable with. That is what I always say.

Let me know your opinions on the issue too!!

If you have any other questions about learning Korean and would like a detailed answer, feel free to leave a comment or email me (works better) and give me permission to use your email in a blog post! ^^

I tend to answer more in details in a blog post rather than in a personal email. But still, I reply to all emails (just that the content is more succinct and to the point). ㅋㅋㅋ I tend to be long winded in blog posts 😀

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  • Reply
    10 December, 2011 at 12:14 AM

    I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re pretty much the same person XD. I agree with everything in this post; this is definitely the approach I’m taking right now!

    • Reply
      10 December, 2011 at 6:55 AM

      yay~! i always feel that we have similar approaches to language learning ^^ High 5! ^^

  • Reply
    10 December, 2011 at 6:47 AM

    Shana, thank you for the answer and advice!
    Language learning is so hard that I need a good reminder like this, a reminder to always enjoy the process. That’s one thing that will keep me going.

    • Reply
      10 December, 2011 at 6:56 AM

      thanks so much for the email! it got me thinking and reflecting too~! ^^ hope your korean journey will be even more awesome from now on!!

  • Reply
    11 December, 2011 at 12:07 AM

    i’m def with you on this one, shanna. i’ve made some of the mistakes along the way and learnt from them. looking up a new word in the dictionary and realising it has 8 diff meanings used to freak me out big time! i’d try to note down one sample sentence for each meaning – but soon realised that without context, i couldn’t rem them at all.

    now, like you said, i just rem new words in context. and when i find them used in other contexts, i go look them up and the surprise (for lack of a better word) actually helps me rem better (이렇게도 되구나!)

    little things help me stay upbeat abt learning – like reading a tweet in hangul and realising that i understand it perfectly! (doesn’t happen often… koreans need to tweet in simpler language ^^) it’s the joy of discovering progress cos when you’re hip deep in studying, you dun often realise how much ground you’ve covered.

    so 힘네, all us korean learners ^^

    • Reply
      11 December, 2011 at 2:30 AM

      i know how you feel about little things helping you stay upbeat! ^^ I get really happy when i make small progresses too. small progresses will lead to big progresses later on 😀 힘내!!

  • Reply
    11 December, 2011 at 3:10 AM

    I think the way to master collocations in Korean is the same as the way to master collocations in English: read a lot and watch TV. With things like this, dictionaries are rarely helpful because Eng-Kor and even Kor-Kor dictionaries generally don’t explain which verbs go with which nouns/prepositions, etc. It’s hard to memorize things that aren’t even in the dictionary.

    • Reply
      13 December, 2011 at 11:16 PM

      That’s true. nothing beats exposure to the real language ^^

  • Reply
    Lucie Dvorakova
    11 December, 2011 at 7:09 AM

    I’ve noticed that there isn’t much point of learning word lists, the best is to read as much as you can with the company of a good dictionary (really glad to have online dictionaries nowadays, since copy pasting a word is so much easier too) XD.
    Strangely enough words usually end up sticking randomly in my head and I remember different words that I intend to after coming across them several times. Wish I had more time to focus on language studies.

    And speaking of linking with a native language. A large percentage of people do it. From my experience teaching English (in the Czech Republic) and my mum’s, people have the weirdest questions and are completely confused by certain things and end up asking why is something written like that and not in a different way that would make sense in Czech. The most amusing was, how do people in English know you are being formal to them. In Czech you distinguish between the type of people you talk to by using a different person (2.nd person plural), which in English is a system/rule that has been abandoned sometime in the 17th or 18th century and can be seen in old works such as Shakespeare (“thee”). Consequently Czech people though you are being informal when you use “you” (same for the singular and plural of the 2nd person). Such questions make you question your own language abilities.

    haha. Now I don’t know if I made sense.

    Good luck with exams!

    • Reply
      13 December, 2011 at 11:16 PM

      I understand what you mean! I guess it’s as strange and confusing to you as it was to me when I first know that Korean has both the informal and formal styles and also things in between. I was like ‘urmmm i want to be polite to everyone….’

      Guess it’s also strange from the opposite perspective! 😀

      one more exam to go!!

  • Reply
    Ally/Nerd of Prey (@_lobotronic)
    13 December, 2011 at 6:29 AM

    Good approach. You learn the exact same way that I do. 🙂

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