“Pictures are for kids.”
You may have heard that before.
It’s an attitude a lot of people have:
Once you’re an adult, learning with pictures is out.
Is it, though?
Or are we doing ourselves a serious disservice by believing that?
In this post, we’ll look at not just one, but seven different ways you can use pictures to enhance your Korean learning, no matter how old you are.
But before I point you to some picture-perfect Korean learning tools, let me just make one thing crystal clear:
Pictures are one of the best resources for learning Korean, or any language for that matter.
Pictures and Language Learning: A Match Made in Heaven
Generally, we process information in two ways. One is called “verbal thinking,” and the other is “visual thinking.” We use both types of mental processes in our everyday lives.
An example of verbal thinking is self-talk. Another is when we read and analyze written material—anything from dry cleaning instructions to a doctoral dissertation.
Visual thinking is when you hear the word “apple” and your mind doesn’t see the letters a-p-p-l-e combining to form the word, but instead a shiny, red object that you know will release its sweet, fresh juice once you bite into it.
Harvard psychologists recently studied the two types of thinking and discovered an interesting phenomenon: Even when test subjects were asked to think “verbally,” they still generated images in their heads. (This was tested with an MRI machine that showed the activated areas of the brain.)
Participants were asked to read sentences and lists of non-words for the “verbal thinking” task. For the “visual thinking” task, they were shown short movie clips of faces, bodies and scenes. The team found that even in the “verbal” task, areas of the brain implicated in the production of images were stimulated.
This means that visual thinking takes place even when we don’t want it to. We think of pictures even when we’re facing a wall of words or sentences. It seems that we can’t help ourselves. We think of pictures even when firmly commanded not to. For example, when I say, “Do not think of a pink, fat elephant…” (You just did, right?)
The “picture superiority effect,” or the phenomenon of pictures and images being more memory-friendly than words, has been supported by many studies. One study found that pictures are recalled much better than words. Another found that pictures require less time to be processed than words. There’s a whole slew of evidence pointing to the advantages of pictures in learning.
So when it comes to learning languages, the use of pictures is not only an awesome and fun but also an intelligent move. It will definitely make your life much easier.
What’s more, it’s believed that Hangul, the Korean system of writing, uses certain letters like pictures to represent the various shapes your mouth and tongue make when pronouncing them. For example, the letter ㄱ, which represents the “g” sound, looks that way because it represents the tongue blocking the back of the mouth, which is how that sound is produced.
The use of pictures isn’t so juvenile after all! As it turns out, images are super memory-friendly and totally congruent with how the human brain is wired.
So let’s head on over to some excellent sources where you can get your fill of images to help you learn Korean in no time.
Learn Korean with Pictures: 7 Sources of Pictorial Bliss
One thing that probably immediately comes to mind for you when you think about language learning and pictures is good old flashcards. Like a deck of playing cards, but instead of the Queen of Hearts, you get a picture of the thing you need to remember. You probably used them when you were a kid to memorize names of animals, colors, modes of transportation, even the multiplication tables.
It can be better to have a partner to quiz you, but you can still use flashcards alone. Flashcards are very simple, and yet very effective when it comes to learning Korean vocabulary at any level because they tap into the “picture superiority effect” we talked about earlier.
For example, this grown-up “Korean Flash Cards Kit” intended for learners can help you learn 1,000 basic words and phrases fast.
Or if you want to take it slow, consider the “Let’s Learn Korean” kit, which is designed for native speakers ages 4 and up, and so is perfect for absolute beginner language learners.
Okay, now how about we kick things up a notch? What if your flashcards didn’t just show a picture and a word? What if your flashcards came with audio pronunciation, sentence examples, games and, heck, a whole video clip? Do you think that could help you learn Korean?
Because that’s just part of what FluentU offers.
2) Children’s Books
If you think children’s books are only for children, then you’re not tapping into one of the most visual types of Korean learning content. Sure, some Korean children’s books are targeted at Korean kids. Others are intended for English-speaking kids whose parents want them to learn Korean. But for the beginning Korean language learner of any age, who probably has as much knowledge of the language as a 2-year-old, they’re also a godsend.
Where else can you get learning content in such bright and colorful context-forming pictures? If the book is about animals, for example, you get large pictures of lions, elephants and rabbits that stick in your mind. The images are accompanied by large fonts that are easy on the eye and that may practically or literally say, “Look, this is a lion!”
Generally, children’s books contain the most elementary words, phrases, concepts and sentences—easily digestible and ready to be milked for grammar lessons. Their storylines often follow a repetitive structure suited to language beginners. Other books are designed to teach language in a more straightforward way.
Absolute beginners might opt for a book like “My First Book of Korean Words”—an ABC of the most basic Korean words that come with interesting backgrounds and cultural explanations.
Or maybe you’d rather pick up a copy of the “New Bilingual Visual Dictionary,” which you can use to learn translations of the most common Korean words. Get a visual treat as you learn about numbers, tools, days of the week, modes of transportation, etc.
With Korean children’s books, you’ll never get bored as you move from one picture to the next.
Did you know that Korean posters are a great source of learning content? I’m talking about billboards, movie posters, advertisements and event announcements that you see plastered on walls, bulletin boards, on the sides of buses and practically anywhere with a flat surface.
Think about it. These things need to catch your attention. And the people who design them know they only have a few seconds to do this. So guess what, they give us the most awesome and the most attention-grabbing image, figure or graphic they can think of. A movie poster, for example, will tell you everything you need to know about the film in a single snapshot.
If it were all picture, a poster wouldn’t mean much for the language learner. But they put words on those things, too! And that’s why they’re pure awesomeness. Think about it. Advertisers only have a tiny space to tell you everything, so they write only the most succinct and the most memorable words or phrases (i.e., taglines/slogans).
In English, McDonald’s has “I’m Lovin’ It.” Nike has “Just Do It.” Korea has its own whole ecology of posters and products that target native speakers. And it’s this combo of image and text that turns Korean posters into pure gold for all levels of learners.
So that’s all fine and good, but maybe you can’t come to Korea and study the posters on their walls right now.
So Google them instead. Make sure to click on “Images,” and Google will specifically look for pictures or images relevant to your text. Type in terms like “korean movie posters” or “korean advertisement posters” and you’ll be flooded with more content than you know what to do with.
Go ahead, try it!
YouTube is the mother of all web video sites, but you can also use it to find pictures for language learning. YouTube has videos like the ones from KoreanClass101 that introduce new vocabulary through pics. This one, for example, deals with vegetables. Think of them like flashcards. But instead of actual cards, you have a slide showing the object and the accompanying audio pronunciation. Cool, right? There are other videos that deal with topics like weather, clothing, the kitchen, etc.
These YouTube videos are perfect for beginners and intermediate level students who want to expand their Korean vocabulary through images. If the pictures appear faster than you want them to, there’s always the “Pause” button.
Use search terms like “korean picture vocabulary” and you’ll find videos to keep you occupied for hours. This one, for example, stretches more than four hours long and teaches you 2000 Korean words.
Also, if you like the KoreanClass101 content above, you can subscribe on their website for additional video lessons that involve actual native speakers teaching you Korean, along with PDF lesson notes and other perks.
5) Newspapers and Magazines
Newspapers and magazines are excellent sources of stories. They’re good places to look at pictures and text in a specific context. Newspaper front pages show pictures and headlines, and even magazine covers by themselves contain so many language lessons.
But because these are authentic sources, targeted to native speakers, it’s good to keep in mind that newspapers and magazines best suit the learning needs of intermediate and advanced language learners out to give their Korean chops some needed testing.
Don’t worry if the title of an article initially escapes you. Be a sleuth, work slowly on the text and use the accompanying picture for clues.
To get your hands on some Korean publications, do a Google search for “korean newspapers in korean” and look at major dailies like 동아일보 (Dong-A Ilbo).
Doing a similar search for magazines will fetch you Korean Vogue and Cosmo.
6) Street Signs
Imagine you’re an English language learner, standing in the middle of Times Square in New York City. Think about the language learning opportunities in that scene! Everywhere you look, there’s something to pick up—ads, store signs, street signs, announcements of upcoming events, etc.
Now imagine yourself again, this time in Seoul, in the shopping mecca of Myeongdong, where everything screams to you in Korean. You see window signs, pedestrian signs, flashing lights, store names, product offerings, etc. (And they all beg you to do something—to buy, to stop, to shop, to eat, etc.) And you’re soaking in all that context.
Signs can be a great way for language beginners to get a taste of authentic Korean. Luckily, you don’t have to spend a fortune just to experience all that. Google, social media sites like Pinterest and the rest of the internet have plenty of signs on offer—from dual language street signs to hodgepodges of signage to fill your Korean vocab.
Google search “korean store signs in korean” or “korean street signs in korean” and you’ll be on your way to an immersive experience.
Just a quick reminder when you’re dealing with street signs, or any image and text for that matter: Don’t just passively look. Be active in the learning process. Write out the signs. Read them aloud. Draw out the image or command if you have to. Act it out.
Do anything and everything, just so long as you’re not staring blankly.
7) Comics and Webtoons
I think it’s absolutely fitting to round up this list with comics.
Comics and graphic novels have always gotten a bad rap, with parents sometimes thinking that reading them is a waste of time. They’re often full of pictures and not much text. But that’s actually the very reason why they make excellent companions for language learners.
Comics are context machines. They tell a story in bright, vivid pictures accompanied with relevant text. If there’s any doubt as to the meaning of the Korean words coming out of the mouths of the characters, you only have to look at the pictures or to the story for help.
When studying a comic series, remember that repetition is the name of the game. You may have taken in the plot or story, but you’re really not after the story. You’re after the language. So read the story over and over until you become familiar with the dialogues. It’s best to read comics daily and stick to a regular routine, like reading them right before going to bed.
As having some reading skills already will help you learn from comics regularly, advanced Korean language learners should be able to benefit from them the most.
And while comics are great for learners of any language, the internet offers up a ton of great Korean graphic content to learners in the form of webtoons.
When it comes to Korean webtoons, Naver is where it’s at. The site is regularly updated with new series and you’ll find loads of storylines to tickle your fancy. Go explore their array and you might just find a fascinating character who you’ll grow to love.
So those are your seven sources for pictures. Using them will help you pick up Korean faster.
You’ll find that, just as if you had suddenly gained superpowers, you’ll have a tighter grasp on words and your lessons will stick better in your memory.
And One More Thing...
If you enjoyed this post, you're already halfway to having the time of your life learning Korean with FluentU!
FluentU makes it possible to learn with K-pop videos, funny commercials, entertaining web series and more. Just a quick look will give you an idea of the variety of FluentU videos on offer:
FluentU really takes the grunt work out of learning languages, leaving you with nothing but engaging, effective and efficient learning. It's already hand-picked the best videos for you (which are organized by level and topic), so all you have to do is simply choose any video that strikes your fancy to get started.
Each word in the interactive captions comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and easily review words and phrases from the video under Vocab.
You can use FluentU’s unique Quiz Mode to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions.
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Review sessions use video context to help embed the words in your memory.
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