Part 2: My new hobby – Korean language 한극어

Learning Korean in Japanese

Shifting gears a bit after the last heavy post, I wanted to revisit an old subject. About six months ago, I wrote about my new hobby at the time, which was studying Korean alongside studying Japanese. It started out as an experiment to see if Korean was really as similar to Japanese as people said it was, and also for other personal reasons. I’m surprising to realize how much time has passed since then.

For the record, on a typical day I’ll spend about the same amount of time for studying both Japanese and Korean. However, I started Japanese 3-4 years ago for both the JLPT exams, and to communicate with my wife and her family better. At first, I struggled to get started, find good resources online, and get into a routine. In 3 years, the tools and skills have sharpened a lot. Now, I have access to 4 different dictionaries for both vocabulary and kanji, have a polished flashcard deck using Anki and have plenty on interesting manga reading material. Although I’m not fluent in the language, I learn the material efficiently because I’ve had 3-4 years of experience doing it.

However, Korean is much newer to me, so I’ve had to start the process over, and I have had to struggle to find good resources, study methods, etc.

For Korean, I have used Anki, just as I did for Japanese. Each day I work through flash cards using timeboxing. However, I made my Korean deck a little differently. I’m creating basic cards (front/back) with Hangeul on the front, and Japanese on the back. Why Japanese? Because I am trying to use my L2 language (Japanese) to learn my L3 language (Korean) in keeping with AJATT’s advice.1 Speaking of which, the photo above is a Japanese-language introduction to Korean which I bought early this year in Tokyo. I’ve found it pretty useful for solving pronunciation issues, and understanding sound-shifts in Korean. If you’re in Japan, I highly recommend the book.

Based on my experience, some things are much easier to translate into Japanese than English anyway because the languages are more similar. For example when you first eat a meal, the Korean phrase 잘 먹겠슴니다 has no real parallel in English, but is quite similar to the Japanese phrase いただきます in terms of usage, though the literal translations would be different. Or another example is 반찬 which are little side-dishes in Korean cuisine, analogous to おかず in Japanese. Again, there’s no direct translation in English (though if you’ve ever eaten Korean food, you’ll know what they are), but there is in Japanese, so it’s easier for me to study that way sometimes.

Japanese decks in Anki have built-in pronunciation help, but as Hangeul is a lot easier to read and the Chinese characters (Hanja, 한자) are minimally used, it’s not really necessary to have pronunciation aids, especially if you’re populating your cards with words you learn from online podcast lessons (see below). Investing the time to learn Hangeul right away, and to learn it well, pays off big. No need for complicated flashcards with built-in pronunciation aids.

For dictionaries, on my iPhone I bookmarked Naver first, as they have good English and Japanese dictionaries for Korean, but lately I like Daum as well, as the interface is just a big nicer. It also has English and Japanese dictionaries.

But what about Korean podcast lessons? That has been tough one. Originally I used KoreanClass101.com, because I liked the beginner lessons with Keith (Hi Keith!) and Seol and it was in a format familiar to me from the days I used to use JapanesePod101.com. I managed to get through a large number of beginner lessons and started looking forward to intermediate lessons and such when I noticed that they had surprisingly few, and that newer lessons just seemed to lack some of fun or chemistry of the basic lessons. It appears that KClass has had some turnover in the last couple of years and lost some its original momentum.

Also lately KClass, like JPod101, more and more feels like a slick business that really wants your subscription, and offers a lot of gimmicks in return. Both KClass and JPod have/had awesome people and instructors working for them, but it still feels like a business. So finally, after much consideration I decided to cancel my subscription last week, though I’ve kept a lot of the beginner podcasts as I do enjoy them and hope to finish the series.

Meanwhile, recently I heard about another site called Talk To Me In Korean (TTMIK for short) and I liked it from the start. I found the lessons a little more natural in format, less textbook-like, and I enjoyed the passion and pride the cast takes in their lessons and their culture. But one big reason I like the site is their business-model is quite different. The main course for Korean is entirely free, PDFs and all, and they derive their support through purchases made in their Korean Store. You can buy Korean candy, ramyeon (ramen), and other accessories. I’m planning on getting one of their ramyeon packs, and keyboard stickers for my computer (still struggling to type Korean a bit) in the near future. Plus they often post updates on Twitter about new Kpop songs or other cultural trends. They’re not just selling language proficiency, they’re selling Korea. 🙂

Anyhow, one challenge I haven’t solved for Korean though is listening practice. For real language proficiency, exposure is the most critical element. For Japanese, I have the benefit of a Japanese wife and daughter, plus lots of movies and such. However at the moment, I really have no opportunity to listening to Korean outside of listening to KPop.2 Speaking of which, I highly recommend Big Bang’s latest album “Alive”. “Blue” and “Bad Boy” are great songs. I’m also listening to another YG Entertainment group, 2NE1 as I write this. ;p

Both the podcasts and KPop help though because words and such I learned from KClass appear all the time in KPop songs. And, thanks to KClass/TTMIK, I’ve gotten comfortable enough to strike up conversations with the waitresses at the local Korean restaurant. Still, I am hesitant to really delve further until I at least get to know the basic verb forms of Korean plus more vocab.

As for reading, that too is very limited. I mostly read stuff at the local H-Mart grocery store where my wife and I shop, or the food labels when I am at home. Also, I follow a few KPop stars on Twitter (e.g. Taeyang from BigBang, Shindong from Super Junior), and I like to read their posts because they’re short and usually more casual. As with Japanese though, I hope to graduate to proper reading resources once I get the basics down. I don’t know if Korean has their own equivalent to Japanese manga or not though.

So, to summarize, my resources for learning Korean currently are as follows:

  • Lessons – TTMIK (still plodding through series 1, but making swift progress as I learned some of it already via KClass)
  • Dictionary – Daum
  • Flashcards – Anki of course
  • Listening – KPop plus podcasts
  • Reading – the food labels at Korean grocery store. :p
  • Conversation – my favorite Korean restaurant, plus patient friends.

I will say though that despite the challenges, I’m very happy I’ve stuck with it as long as I have. I have a recurring problem with starting projects and not finishing them, but because I have a genuine interest in Korean culture, it’s kept me motivated and helped me get over the initial fear of learning a new, unfamiliar language (again, thanks Keith!). Once I got into a sustainable routine, I could forge ahead and learn it bit by bit. Ultimately, I think AJATT is right, in that exposure is the key but I also think a certain amount of “basic training” is in order too. For now I haven’t “graduated from boot-camp” yet.

So that’s a look at my efforts to continue learning Korean language. I’d love to hear from people who are in the same situation and how they work through it.

1 I somewhat contradict this rule though, since the Korean podcasts are all in English, not Japanese, but I do lookup Korean words in Japanese as often as possible. It does help. Also, I don’t follow AJATT’s advice too literally, but rather follow his other advice to just use whatever the hell works. 🙂

2 I have this theory that KPop is to Korea what Manga/Anime is to Japan: it’s the gateway that most foreigners learn to appreciate the culture. I’ve seen Korean editorials complain about KPop being vapid and a poor way to represent Korean culture, but speaking as a foreigner, it’s highly accessible, entertaining, and really does help bridge the gap between cultures. It’s not perfect, but it works, and really helps people appreciate a country that is otherwise often overshadowed by its bigger neighbors.

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Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

17 thoughts on “Part 2: My new hobby – Korean language 한극어”

  1. I am also interested in learning foreign languages:) I don’t learn Asian ones (at least not until now) but I like this article because it gives also advices to people (like me) learning other languages. There are tips for everyone wanting to learn any new language.

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      1. Yes 🙂 and I’ m looking forward to yout next article. It is a really interesting topic you’re writing about. I usually only read about in newspapers. Now I can read more about this from someone who has to do with this in daily life.

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  2. This is really interesting to me because I’ve recently starting paying attention to the Korean language after paying a lot of attention to Japanese for quite awhile. (Although I admit outside of college classes and some tutoring prior to that I never settled on the Japanese. I need to get back into it. I miss it way too much.) But I never realized that Korean and Japanese were similar. Good to know!

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    1. Hi Lissa and welcome to the JKLLR. I first got an inkling that they were similar when a Korean friend once told me in Japanese class that it was very easy for him to learn because the grammar was so similar. For him, it was just an exercise in learning new vocabulary and writing. I wrote about the subject a few months back as well, but now I need to post an update as some assumptions I made then weren’t quite right. That’s a post idea for another day, hopefully soon. 🙂

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  3. Doug wonderful article! As I’ve said before on your blog I went to Korea in 1959 at the ripe young age of seventeen and as the saying goes (went native ) I spent a lot time in the village and tried to learn as much of the language and culture as I could. which wasn’t much but more than most cared to learn. One thing was I found theuse of gutteral sound was used more in Korean such as the word “Choogi” which sort of means to travel, according to the length of travel it would be exspressed as “Choooooogi” useing the throut souond. Also if I remember the Koreans have two alphabets.

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    1. Hi Timetales, good to hear from you. I thought you might enjoy this post. 🙂

      I believe Korean only has one alphabet, Hangeul, but it does have a small number of Chinese characters used though.

      Yeah, if you’re going to learn a language, going native is by far the best way. I think you should be really proud of yourself, since Korean language resources at that time for Westerners were probably very limited. 🙂

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    1. Hi Mixingupblog and welcome! You’re ahead of me for sure. I’m learning 2 languages and that’s a full-time job so to speak. 🙂

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  4. Hi. You’re post is really interesting and at the same time inspiring. I’ve been studying Korean for several years now. I’m proud to say that I’m studying it though I still have a veeeerrrrry loooooong way to go.

    Regarding the anime in Japan thingy, Korea has some form of manga too. They call it 만화. Since you’re already using naver try using navertoons hey have a vast list of manhwas you can try to read and learn expressions from. I’ve tried using them before but I think my brain isn’t wired to reading those Korean yet. I don’t know when my brain will be. I can read Korean fairly well but having those long complicated ones I find difficult.

    Anyway, good luck in your Korean language studies. Will be looking forward to reading more about it. 🙂

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    1. Hi owbEe and welcome! Thanks very much for the advice. I checked out your blog post on Korean apps and installed a few of them. 🙂

      Thanks so much!

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  5. btw your blog is awesome!!! im currenty learning French, Spanish, Korean, and Japanese. Out of all of them, I think Korean is the easiest but I am most advanced in French conversation (listening is とても難しい).

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    1. Hi Dev and welcome! I bought the book in Japan at Kinokuniya bookstore. If you are not in Japan you might have to try either Amazon JP or White Rabbit Express. Good luck!

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  6. You are correct…kpop/kdramas are the forefront of the Korean “Hallyu” Wave. Also they have their own comics too…called manhwa.

    I actually have all 6 versions of the Korean version of Alive and I’m looking to pick up the Japanese version too since it has two new songs that the Korean version doesn’t have. I’m a proud iVIP LOL. I cannot wait for the Alive Tour to come to America.

    For listening you can also try dramas and online chatting. TTMIK was actually created by people who used to be at KC101 and didn’t like how it changed apparently.

    I’m only working on Korean right now but once I get to a certain point there, after I move there, I’m going to try to level into Japanese or Mandarin…pending where I move after.

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  7. I also forgot to mention I started with LearnKoreanOnline.net which is videos of a guy teaching korean to english speakers. The first four lessons are free and they are starting a new interactive webinar type deal too.

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  8. Hi hipployta and welcome! Always happy to meet another KPop fan, and always happy to meet new people.

    I just got my Alive album today. I didn’t know which one I’d get, but I actually managed to get my favorite member on the cover. Must be karma or something. ;p

    Thanks for the mention of LearnKoreanOnline.net. I am glad to see that resources for Korean are getting much more commonplace. I remember trying to learn Korean maybe 11-12 years ago, and back then it was just dry textbooks (the Internet was still relatively new) and outdated information. With all the new resources out there, it helps brings two cultures together. 🙂

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