The times have certainly been kind for language learners.
Now more than ever, aided by the growth of technology, there’s a huge variety of learning resources you can use in your quest to achieve Korean language fluency.
However, one resource that’s timeless in form and function still remains the typical go-to for all your educational needs: Korean learning books.
A good learning book is essential for Korean language learners.
But amid all the high-tech tools and digital doodads that aim to help you learn a language, what are the benefits of opting to use some good, old-fashioned books?
Why Learn Korean with Books?
Books are great for self-learning purposes
Self-learners often utilize books as a primary resource for their education, and for good reason: Books are widely accessible and can be picked up and put down anytime. Anyone can use them with little instruction and guidance, but still end up harnessing an impressive level of knowledge once the final pages are flipped.
Of course, many learners who opt to go the self-teaching route will require a variety of books to truly master a skill, especially something as massive as achieving Korean language fluency.
Regardless, with their incredible ease of use and availability, books are dependable tools even for those who don’t have a teaching figure to formally educate them.
Books build your Korean reading and writing skills
Text-based learning will automatically work to encourage your Korean reading performance and familiarize you with the language’s written form, as you’ll constantly be exposed to it.
You can easily and quickly learn Korean Hangeul just through books, and most Korean learning books will get you familiar with Korean words that use more complicated letter combinations you may not grasp just by hearing them out loud.
Books are level-based
Learning books are usually labeled with the learner level they’re most appropriate for, which takes away a lot of confusion and guesswork on your end. However, even with non-textbooks it’s often clear at first glance how much Korean you should know before you venture into their pages.
Using a book that works at your level is critical for your Korean learning purposes. Especially in the beginning, you’ll need to be quite careful in picking the right texts to ensure that you cover the fundamentals first and foremost. This can be a difficult task when there are just so many books to choose from, and the indication of target level will probably serve as your first guidepost to orient yourself.
There are specialized books for different topics
Sometimes, you need a book that covers a particular aspect of the Korean language, as opposed to a large and comprehensive textbook. Other times you need a book that’s tailored for a certain purpose, such as helping you learn the Korean used in business settings.
Luckily, makers of language learning books understand that different learners have different priorities. Finding that one book to fit your specific needs will likely be easy, since there are many books that cover a single topic, with varying focuses and strengths.
So if you’re ever worried that a book on a very specific topic may not exist, do a bit of research and you may be pleasantly surprised at your findings!
Books help you learn vocabulary quickly
Learning books can help you encounter all kinds of new words in proper context, with a few added bonuses. Text-based language learning gives you a visual memory of the characters used for words and phrases, which you’re likely to remember the next time you see them in front of your eyes.
Furthermore, good learning books may include words with not only the definitions, but also illustrations, example sentences, pronunciation guides or word breakdowns to help you understand why a word may mean what it does.
Books acquaint you with proper grammar
Grammar evokes a certain level of fear in language learning; sometimes it’s very simple and consistent, other times it seems to warp its own rules or become complicated when other elements are mixed together.
Of course, there are books that can strictly teach you the grammar of the language, but Korean learning books, in general, will expose you to proper grammar at all times. That’s because learning books are highly edited so that the grammar and sentence structure is quite precise. After all, they’re supposed to be teaching you the language as properly as possible!
Books are ideal for test prep
When you have to study for a test, one of the first items you might search for is a proper textbook or workbook that’ll give you a good idea of what you need to know. You can find books that contain a whole series of practice tests and questions to emulate the real thing, and with self-grading and analysis, you can figure out your weak spots quickly with just a few page flips.
If you’re interested in taking the TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean), then you’ll greatly benefit from using some good books as your study aids. This standardized exam assesses you on the fundamentals of the language in a particular way, and most TOPIK-related books aim to instruct you on not just the content you should expect (usually providing material from previous iterations of the test) but also how to navigate through the formatting.
You’ll thus be armed with both base knowledge of the language as well as useful test-taking strategies.
Where to Buy Korean Learning Books
Browse around your local bookstore for the “Foreign Languages,” “How-to” and “Asian Culture” sections, and you may find some excellent Korean learning books.
How much variety you’ll find will depend on the individual bookstore, so ask a worker or look up the store’s catalog to speed up the process. Some bookstores may even have native Korean books that you can definitely check out!
With a simple internet search, you can easily find any number of suitable Korean learning books that you can purchase online on websites and marketplaces. You might find some options from general online vendors, but you’ll probably have better luck with websites that sell books exclusively.
One major advantage to buying books online is that they’ll be sent right to you, so you can acquire books you might not be able to get locally, from anywhere in the world—even directly from Korea!
You might even find some more accommodating prices online, particularly if the book being sold is used, previously owned or exists as a rental that you can keep and use for a limited time.
If you’re into digitized books, then here’s some good news: Plenty of textbooks and educational texts are available in the form of downloadable e-books. With any smart device, you can carry around a mass collection of Korean learning books without any physical burden.
E-books available on certain platforms may also offer other useful interactive functions, such as read-aloud or text-to-speech features. Additionally, since e-books aren’t physical, updates made to the content of a book can be implemented instantly without you needing to purchase an entirely new edition!
How to Learn Korean with Books
So now that you have an idea of where to start your search for Korean learning books, how should you learn the language with them?
It seems easy enough: Just open up the book and start reading, right?
Well, that’s definitely the gist of it, but there are a few things you can do so that you’re truly learning Korean, not just reading it.
Here are a few tips on how to make the best of your page-flipping experience
1. Keep notes
There should ideally be two books in front of you while you’re studying Korean: the learning book and a notebook of some sort.
Note-taking is a tried-and-true study method that encourages you to pay attention to what you’re reading and reiterate it through writing. This aids your memory retention of the material.
As you write down tidbits of important information and your own thoughts about it, you’re basically organizing the content in a much more personal way so that it’s easier to digest and absorb.
For bonus points, and if you’re advanced enough in the Korean language, you can even try to take notes completely in Korean!
2. Read aloud
So long as you’re not in a library that requires you to remain hushed, you should read aloud from your Korean learning books as often as you can.
This applies to both Korean and English text. Like keeping notes, speaking is another way you can supplement your study and help you focus. There’s something about releasing the words into the air that makes them much more “real” and dynamic and, therefore, easier to remember later on.
Of course, reading aloud will also help boost your speaking skills in Korean, which is an important skill to hone. This is particularly crucial for self-learners, who often use a lot of study methods that are silent and lacking in audio practice.
3. Have a dictionary nearby
From the beginning to the end of a language learner’s journey, a good dictionary will serve as a handy tool and a steadfast companion.
As soon as you open up your book of choice, make sure that a dictionary of some sort is close at hand. There will always be vocabulary you’re not certain about while you’re reading, so instead of remaining doubtful or confused (or worse, moving ahead despite not fully understanding the text), find comfort in the fact that you can just grab your dictionary and find definitions or translations instantly.
Sometimes the translations or definitions may not always be 100% accurate, but that’s when your skills in picking up context clues can come into play, or you can do some supplemental research to make sure you’re on the right track of understanding.
4. Review previous content before moving on
Once you finish up a chapter of a textbook or a section in your practice book, go back and make sure you’ve confidently grasped the concepts discussed.
Book-based learners are vulnerable to a habit of trucking along without reviewing, making it quite easy for recently-learned content to slip away from memory. You might end up finishing an entire book and be startled when you realize you can’t quite remember some of the more fundamental material you were supposed to have learned!
This tip is quite essential if you’re using a book that progresses in difficulty or is formatted to build upon material from earlier chapters.
5. Fully analyze what you read
It’s easy to get immersed in reading, and while immersion promises focus, it’s also vital that you also analyze what you’re reading.
Analysis means that you break apart sentences, words, phrases and the like. This puts your brain to work as you truly grasp the text in its entirety and understand the elements within.
Without really picking apart what you’re reading, you fall into the habit of getting the “gist” of things as opposed to genuinely comprehending the material. Analysis ensures that you’re actively practicing your existing knowledge so that you can further build upon it in a steady manner.
If this requires you to pause often, such as after every paragraph or so, then do so! It might be tedious at first, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes to continue reading a given passage without feeling lost.
6. Add FluentU to your study routine
With all these tips in mind, you can make much fuller use of any given book so that you can properly learn the Korean language. But there’s currently a language learning resource that utilizes these tips (and more!) as actual provided functions.
FluentU creates a fun and engaging learning experience with videos housing content that native Koreans would consume.
FluentU exposes you to Korean in context so that you can get a fuller and more genuine picture of the language.
Besides all the basic conveniences of being able to pause, rewind and fast forward, every video comes with interactive captions and full transcripts that allow you to analyze a word and phrase in-depth. With a single tap, you can access definitions, audio pronunciations, supportive images and example sentences.
There are even review exercises available so that you can reinforce the material you learn from any given video. You can also add any word to your flashcards decks to study them at a later time through multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank exercises.
So if you’re interested, check out FluentU and give the free trial a go!
How to Choose the Best Korean Learning Book for You
Before you start running for the bookstores, there’s one more little but very important thing you should do: assess your current Korean learning level.
This might seem simple but the truth is, it can be a little complicated to figure out where you fall on the learner spectrum of learning books. For example, you might be modest and think that your Korean skills are at a beginner’s level, when truthfully you could whiz past most learning books catered for beginners. It’s made even more sophisticated when different publishers have their own standards and ways to measure difficulty.
So before you make your choice on the best Korean learning book for you, make sure you have a good understanding of where you stand in terms of Korean fluency. It’s probable that the varied Korean language skills you possess are at different levels, so you may need beginner books for some aspect of the language while being comfortable with more advanced books for other aspects.
Here’s a quick list of the different kind of Korean learning books that may suit your learning needs:
Digital books have a number of advantages that can make them particularly learner-friendly.
If you choose to use a Korean e-book, you get the convenience of having a portable learning resource that you can pull up anytime and anywhere. With a smart device of suitable storage capability, you can carry a multitude of books, whole textbooks even, without any of the physical burden.
What’s more, e-books tend to be cheaper than their paper counterparts and enable you to annotate or interact with the text directly on screen, with none of the agony that comes from desecrating a page.
However, if you don’t have a smart device, then you won’t be able to harness the biggest advantage of digitized books. There will also be cases where some books don’t have digital versions, so it’s possible you won’t always find a downloadable e-book of a particular learning book on the market.
Another particular drawback is the simple preference of physically holding and flipping through a book instead of tapping or swiping away at a screen, which is quite understandable when it comes to sensory comfort.
Audiobooks in Korean
Sometimes, you won’t be able to have a book in your hands to read. So why not listen to it, instead?
Korean audiobooks are a great way for you to practice your listening comprehension skills, something that regular text-written books can’t offer. The accessibility is also on par with e-books: All you need to do is plug in your earphones and hit “play” to get convenient pause, rewind and fast-forward options.
On the other hand, without the presence of any text, you won’t get the reading and writing practice you normally would from regular books. Audiobooks are very convenient for those on-the-go or too busy with their hands, but it can also be quite easy to lose focus due to a lack of visual stimulus to keep you engaged.
Make sure that if you’re using audiobooks for your Korean learning, you remain actively listening or interact with the audio in some way!
The textbook is the classic go-to learning resource, its revered reputation as broad as the span of its many pages.
With a Korean textbook, you’ll get a comprehensive overview of the language at the level the book caters to.
The formatting of a textbook is intended to teach at a sensible pace and order so that you progressively build upon the skills you learn in previous chapters. A textbook-based education is thus organized and detailed, and by ensuring that you absorb the information fully, you can feasibly reach a notable level of Korean fluency simply by learning from a series of textbooks.
As powerful as a textbook can be, there are some drawbacks to this particular type of book. Older-edition textbooks, while still usable, may lack certain material, have a number of technical inaccuracies or simply lose relevance in their outdated take on certain topics. This often means that you may have to purchase more current editions of textbooks.
Furthermore, a textbook may teach in a somewhat rote manner that often makes it less engaging than other resources.
You may also find that some concepts and matters aren’t covered in as much depth as you’d like, which is unavoidable for a book that aims to cover so much of the language all at once.
A final you might have with textbooks is their sheer bulk, which often makes them quite unfriendly for travel.
Korean grammar books
Grammar is usually perceived as one of the harder aspects of a language to grasp, so there’s good reason to have a grammar book in your shelf as a supplemental aid to your studies.
With Korean grammar books, you’ll learn the how and why of Korean sentence and phrase formation. This is a critical skill that can often be difficult to develop with other, more general learning books. A grammar book is also particularly useful if you want to build your Korean writing skills and learn how to both read and create text.
However, as these books do tend to mainly focus on grammar, you won’t get much content about other aspects of the language. This is why a grammar book should be a member of your Korean book collection, but not your sole or main resource for learning.
Korean vocabulary books
We can never get enough of vocabulary in our language learning! Naturally, that means a Korean vocabulary book would be an excellent and ever-useful resource.
A vocabulary book is a quick and direct way to get your fill of Korean words. Most of the time, books of this type do more than just supply you with a word and its definition, often providing example sentences, character breakdowns and other useful tidbits to help you memorize them better.
Vocabulary books may also be catered for different topics or themes and cover specific terminology.
Like grammar books, vocabulary books are highly specified in their purpose, so they work better as additions to other learning resources. You might also find that, due to the breadth of the words they cover, vocabulary books aren’t always able to cover all the nuances and subtexts of certain words. This means that you might have to do a little more research to figure out how some vocabulary would work in different contexts.
FluentU is a great resource for this—simply look up any word to see how it’s used in many contexts, watch videos that use it in different ways and see how native Korean speakers actually use the word in natural conversation.
If you’re looking for something to reliably help you ingrain the Korean language concepts you learn, then consider picking up a Korean workbook or practice book.
You can find workbooks incredibly useful as “enhancers” of your Korean knowledge. With their provided review exercises, quizzes and mock exams, workbooks offer a way for self-learners, especially, to test their skills and see where they need further practice.
Another standard use for workbooks is for test prep. If you’re readying yourself for a Korean language exam, whether it’s a final for your class or the standardized TOPIK test, you may want to stock up on a number of workbooks to help you prepare.
Since workbooks are catered more for review purposes, they work best alongside books that teach you the content, first.
Korean graded readers
Graded readers are books specifically tailored for those who are learning a second language. The content may be a simplified, shorter version of existing works or be entirely original material.
Korean graded readers will thus allow you to learn the language in a more natural and accessible manner, with the added plus of likely being more engaging than something like a textbook.
You’ll essentially be reading easy Korean books and stories at a level catered to you, which can make for a more enjoyable learning experience. Furthermore, graded reader series also tend to be formatted in an order meant to help you steadily progress in the language, so that you can continue to improve your skills at an appropriate pace.
While graded readers are generally great for reading improvement and vocabulary acquisition, they don’t teach you the Korean language in as blunt or technically a manner as you may need. Instead, they might require the learner to actively research for additional information when something isn’t clear from the text or its translation, which can lead to confusion or misinformation.
Additionally, there may be cases where the supposed level of a reader doesn’t fully accommodate a given learner and his or her specific needs, rendering the text too easy or too difficult.
Now that we’re all on the same page (pun intended) about how great books can be for language learning, you can start making some space in your bookshelves and fill it up with a new collection of some handy Korean learning books!
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