Korean textbooks are old-fashioned, with heavy focus on memorizing

It’s true! I’ve seen a bunch of them when I was trying to self-study.
The “official ones” made by Korean universities and publishers, generally the ones which don’t have a Western co-author, are in this style.
It reminds me of my teenage days, when all language-learning books were like that. Since then, the style has change a lot, sometimes going to the other extreme, full immersion, supposedly as kids learn (but we’re not a kid), not giving you any grammar at all to put all you’re learning into context.

Now I’m learning in a classroom setting and we have a book called “Easy Korean for Foreigners”. Every chapter that deals with something offers you a full list of this something.
Chapter one, self-introduction, expects you to learn the names of twenty countries of the world (the Asian ones in great detail, Latin America and Africa less so, let alone ex-USSR countries). Then, about thirty job names, including pharmacist, nurse, bank clerk, firefighter, chauffeur… It was a good thing that I had watched “Spring night” and I knew pharmacist, and of course doctor and lawyer from many medical and legal dramas.

And when we got to verbs, it was a whole page full of different verbs to learn, all at onceEasy%20Korean%20for%20foreigners%201%20-%20coursebook%20-%20colour_Page_075
Same with buildings.
And every other category.
Not only that! The workbook with the exercises, doesn’t limit itself to using the words learned during the lesson, but randomly introduces a bunch of new ones, which we also have to memorize.
Like this one, with all the noteworthy attractions of Seoul.
And you can’t ignore this stuff, you’re expected to know them in order to do the exercises.
I’m not saying that those things are not useful. But I’m really bad at learning such stuff by heart all in one go. It’s not like learning a poem which has context and meaning.
Oh, I forgot to say that the introductory chapter has a lot, a huge lot of completely random words, whose purpose is just to learn the pronunciation. Many pages like the one below. But the teacher expected us to learn those as well! Okay, she said we can skip acorn and ostrich.
All my classmates are more than 40 years younger than me, university students with a fresh brain and still on “study mode”: yet many of them have a hard time too. One told me that to keep up she has to dedicate to Korean three hours per day.
But to be sincere, even when I was young, I never liked lists of words like this, that’s not the way I learn.
As I said at the beginning, I’ve seen many such books (like “Active Korean”, actually made by Seoul National University), and they invariably have the same approach.


I have found several good textbooks. And some online methods, really great ones. But this is the one adopted by the organizers of my class (the Athens University) so I have to go with this one.
There are not many available Korean courses in Athens (actually another one only, or private lessons at €20 an hour). This one is the cheapest option, and they are very thorough. Two 3-hour lessons per week. The fact of being in a group of 22 also helps, because there’s a lot of repetition and you learn from what others do. The girls are friendly (there is only 1 guy out of the 22 people, LOL!). I tried to recruit some for Viki, but they are more interested in k-pop than in dramas or maybe their English is just not that good.

Of course I have the choice of separately studying on another book at home, but that would not only be extra work but confusing, because each one has separate sets of words and the material is often taught in a different sequence. For instance, our book starts by teaching you formal style and then it goes to polite on chapter 10 (more than halfway through the book). Others start with polite (the -yo form) and they only go to formal much later on, after you’ve learned all the verb tenses.
Well, if you ever meet a Korean person, since it will be a stranger, you’re supposed to address him or her in the formal style, not the polite which is for same-age friends and colleagues.

And yes, the book does start with two pages of greetings, goodbyes (different if you’re the one leaving or the one remaining), goodnights (different if you’re talking to an elder), excuse me, sorry, thank you (in three degrees of formality), “come in”, “take good care of me”, “glad to meet you”, “You’ve worked hard” and everything in between, before going to chapter one. An enormous chunk of long, composite words without any anchor or reference, just to memorize as they are.
Fortunately some of them were well-known from dramas. But still you also have to learn the spelling, because there’s a spelling test in every lesson. And no, hangul is NOT pronounced as it’s written. All sorts of letters are pronounced differently according to their place in the word, some are skipped (sometimes) and generally it’s a hot mess.
I tried copying each word twenty times, it didn’t really work (my writing skills got better, but that’s about it)

The only thing that works for me is making sentences with each word, to provide context. But there should be at least five or six for every word to make it stick, and where’s the time to do that when the list is so daunting?

The problem is that I started studying a bit late in the year, I wasted two months because of 100 Days My Prince and My Mister coming simultaneously, I had literally no free time that wasn’t employed on Viki. The course started mid October and I started studying in January. Now I have to revise the previous chapters AND keep up with the new stuff, and weekdays are super-full anyway.
I mean, those girls, after their lesson, go home to a ready hot meal made by their moms, their clothes are washed, dried and probably even ironed, they have nothing to do except take a shower, play some games and then study before going to bed. They are supposed to put on serious effort only in studying.
My life is veeeery different from theirs. I come back from a full day at work and my brain is fried, I have to hang the laundry, wash the dishes, cook, eat, feed the cat, water the plants, remove makeup, maybe take a bath, then I don’t want to do anything else except watch 1 episode of something, come here on Discussions, check my mail, feed the strays and then sleep.

Something I did lately and it worked is record myself on my phone and listen to it in the car (I have bluetooth, so it comes through the speakers). I spend so much time in the car, instead of listening to music or audiobooks, I can listen to this.

And I also discovered Quizlet! That’s an awesome tool, and it works perfectly even if you don’t buy the premium membership. There are tons of free resources made by other users and you can make your own as well. Flashcards, matching games, you name it. Even group study with fun games.


The previous posts in the other topic were erased (I’m not good at remembering).
Here’s my try:

  • I might be selfish to say that but think of yourself first because no one will do it for you.
    If not you, whom?
    You’re the priority vs dramas.
  • There will be always something to do/begin/complete on Viki, it’s a never ending cycle and it asks a big chunk of time!!
    I think it could become easier when:
  • the team is big enough or has people to share the workload with you
  • you have time (retired, student holidays, your holidays, a job that allows you some free time at the end of the day…)
  • Me too! I’m an empiric adept who understands better with examples to go back to the rule. Context helps a lot for me!
    For the long list you talked about, learning a little every day could help (5 words a day from your teacher list for example while making review sessions midway or at the end).
    Finally, I think you’re doing the tasks of what a teacher should be doing: giving the context in examples to make students understand.
  • In my point of view, I find it really hard to have something else outside of work, other responsibilites and relaxing time (not making our brain works).
    It converges with above, i.e. finding time to allocate to volunteer, because it eats up a lot of time.

Don’t resist. You don’t “have” to do anything! You can incorporate everything in one reply and add to it, or whatever you like.

Personally, to memorize foreign words I find it useful, even if it steals some time (but only at the beginning) to create “cards” with the original word on the front and the translation on the back…
I tried this method with middle school kids who had to study irregular English verbs and I applied it to the study of Spanish (and now I’m trying with Korean…).
The positive thing about this method is that you can group the words every time in a different way: once you can divide nouns, verbs and adjectives and then check how many you can remember. Then you can create groups of words of the same category, or with the same initial, or with a similar sound, and so on… You can also start sometimes with the front and sometimes with the back of the card.
As the words are memorized, they can be “discarded” and used again only for a final check.

It has always been difficult for me to learn foreign languages precisely because it is difficult for me to remember words. Over time, I realized that textbooks have the main fault, because things got better when I started watching subtitled movies and TV series, reading books in their original language or watching interviews with the actors I love without subtitles (nothing motivates you like wanting to know at all costs what your favorite actors are saying :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:).
In my opinion, many textbooks lack context (this doesn’t happen in movies and books) and they almost never know how to give you a valid motivation.


That’s exactly what I’m doing at Quizlet. Do check it out, it’s a wonderful resource.

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Strangely enough, I have a different experience. I prefer memorization of words even though I am not great at memorizing in general except when it comes to learning a language. Or else, I have to hear the word/phrase repeated over and over and over, just like a Kdrama. I have had no classroom exposure to Korean what-so-ever, so my pronunciation and vocab aren’t great, but I know conversational phrases thanks to the wonderful subbers here on Viki :smiley:

When I took a semester of Mandarin, my professor told us that when he was studying in school, the teachers had them write their vocab many times, but that he would only have us write ours three times. He wrote down a conversation using the new vocab or the theme of the lesson, then we practiced with our partner, and finally we stood up and said the conversation in front of everyone. For homework, we just wrote the entire conversation three times. It was useful in that we practiced writing and speaking and reading.

I researched online for other ways to build vocab, and one way is writing the word on a post it note and sticking the note on or near the object. I plan to do this with Mandarin, just to continue practicing until I can take more classes in university. Things are about to get colorful around the house :sweat_smile:


Thank you. I think I’ll start using it. :wink:
I usually use https://www.memrise.com/it/, since I don’t have to learn specific words: I just need to learn as many words as I can.

But I find myself much more comfortable with “real” cards, first of all because writing them by hand helps my memory a lot, then because I can insert visual aids like colors, drawings, different types of writing…
Finally, because I can see at a glance how many cards I have learned: seeing the cards that pile up is one of the things that helps my motivation the most!


I had some trouble with memrise in the sense that they wanted you to transliterate it with their method.
And yes, if you want to make your own lists, quizlet is better. Ah, also anki.
Anki is good because you can download it on your computer, you don’t need to be online. It’s also available as a phone app. And they also have TONS of ready lists and lots of support/tutorials.

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Thank you very much. You are a gold mine of information. :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

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@ [chiaramasca86_666]
I used to write new vocabulary on little cards until I literally collected a shoebox full of flashcards which were about 10 cm x 10 cm – It did give me both a sense of accomplishment and a sense of guilt. I would occasionally try to go through the whole box to see how many I still knew. The pile of forgotten words got larger and larger as the years went by! So I finally threw away the whole box because I acknowledged I was never going to re learn systematically the forgotten words. The Chinese used to say that to be a scholar, you had to know at least 10000 characters. I think I will never achieve that number of Korean words.


I’ve learned the basics of Korean grammar and vocabulary with a Korean textbook and from there I mostly used the internet. In the beginning when I wasn’t used to Korean variety shows, I used to think that all colourful words or words in different were important words, so I would search them all. Now I get that most colourful made words in variety show subs are not important at all. They were just given a colour because the editor liked it. Still, in this way I’ve written down a lot of words in a Word document throughout the years and it now contains almost 60 pages. Of course, I haven’t learned all these words by heart. Some of them also are really random and I get surprised when I read through the list and see them. Recently I discoverd the videos from ‘세바시 talk’. It’s similar to ‘ted talk’, but then in Korean. I noticed that I can understand most of it if I pay attention.


I can understand you, because when I was studying in high school I used a similar method to memorize ancient Greek verbs, but at that moment I had not really understood the usefulness of learning words by heart. As a result, I could remember about 50 verbs for the test, but then I forgot almost all of them.

Now I understand that learning words by heart help me to increase the understanding of the context, and so to be able to learn new words with listening and reading.
With Korean, I am focusing much more on the “useful” words (conjunctions, pronouns, adverbs…) and I “choose” the words to memorize according to different criteria, for example the words that my brain mentally repeats during the day after watching a drama (even if I don’t know what they mean), or those that have sounds that remind me of English or Italian.

But the most important thing is that I take one step at a time: I never create new cards until I have the absolute certainty that those that I “discarded” have now implanted in my brain. This makes me avoid the sense of frustration.

And then I think that in alphabetic languages it is enough to know from 2000 to 3000 words to have an elementary understanding, so it seems to me a more realistic goal :wink:


From your experience, what would you guesstimate is the number of Korean words needed in order to understand 90% of a modern rom-com? (Excepting legal and medical or other specialized words)

Irmar, according to this paper a working vocabulary of around 6,000 words will ensure around 90% comprehension of typical (nonspecialist) written texts in English.

When I started learning Korean vocabulary, I created a Memrise course for “Hyde Jekyll, Me”. The first episode had around 600 words that I didn’t know (not including words whose base form I couldn’t guess). “Hyde Jekyll Me” has 20 episodes so perhaps that can give you an idea.

Hmmm… There must have been many words that were repeated in all episodes, though.

I just found an interesting article about that.
They say that that estimates on how many words you need vary because there is a huge difference if you count the different forms of each words (run, ran, runs, running), or different uses of the same word (to run = walk quickly, to run a store = manage etc.)
And there’s also a big difference between “knowing” a word passively, i.e. recognizing it when reading or hearing it and knowing it “actively”, i.e. being able to recall and use it when producing writing or speech yourself.

Let’s say that our vocabulary counts are using headwords and word families that are included in our active vocabulary .
So, we’re not counting all the various forms of a given word, and we’re not counting anything that’s only in our passive vocabulary.
When we narrow our perspective down like this, we can start making approximations.
In general, we can describe levels of fluency in a foreign language with these rough word counts:

  • Functional beginner: 250-500 words. After just a week or so of learning, you’ll already have most of the tools to start having basic, everyday conversations. In most of the world’s languages, 500 words will be more than enough to get you through any tourist situations and everyday introductions.

  • Conversational: 1,000-3,000 words. With around 1,000 words in most languages, you’ll be able to ask people how they’re doing, tell them about your day and navigate everyday life situations like shopping and public transit.

  • Advanced: 4,000-10,000 words. As you grow past the 3,000 word mark or so in most languages, you’re moving beyond the words that make up everyday conversation and into specialized vocabulary for talking about your professional field, news and current events, opinions and more complex, abstract verbal feats. At this point, you should be able to reach C2 level in the Common European Framework for Reference (CEFR) in most languages.

  • Fluent: 10,000+ words. At around 10,000 words in many languages, you’ve reached a near-native level of vocabulary, with the requisite words for talking about nearly any topic in detail. Furthermore, you recognize enough words in every utterance that you usually understand the unfamiliar ones from context.

  • Native: 10,000-30,000+ words. Total word counts vary widely between world languages, making it difficult to say how many words native speakers know in general. Estimates of how many words are known by the average native English speaker vary from 10,000 to 65,000+.

Then the article goes on to discuss frequency of words and which ones you should concentrate first. Yes, I think that acorn and ostrich will not be high on that list.

A good starting point in any language is a list of high frequency vocabulary or a handy base vocabulary list for any language.

In English, for example, 3000 words make up about 95% of everyday conversation—you’ll want to be sure you can recognize words like “the,” “is” and “goes” before you concern yourself with learning the names of plants and animals or today’s slang.

Here’s [an article about high-frequency vocabulary](https://wordbrewery.com/blog/learning/pareto-principle-and-language-learning/):

For language learners, the “80/20 rule” is real. The most efficient path to fluency is through mastery of high-frequency words.
As described by Vilfredo Pareto in the late 19th century, the Pareto Principle states that 20 percent of the input into a project yields 80 percent of the output. This 80/20 rule has been demonstrated across disciplines from economics to software engineering to language learning.
The 2,000 most frequently-used words in a language cover about 80% of most conversation and texts (Nation 2001), even in complex reading materials like economics textbooks and academic articles. These are words you probably use at least every other day. “Back,” “inside,” and “home” are all within the 2,000 most common words in English. While 2,000 words may seem intimidatingly large, that is only a fraction of the more than 171,000 words that the Oxford English Dictionary counts as currently in use in the English language.

And here comes the relevant part for Viki users:

New words tend to gradually build a home in your passive vocabulary, the words that you completely or somewhat understand when encountered in context but can’t independently use on your own (yet).

To learn more words in a language, you’ll need to saturate your passive vocabulary with new information constantly. That means exposing yourself to linguistic input like TV, videos and reading material, as well as plenty of real-life conversation.
Beginning learners, don’t fret over not understanding all the new words you expose yourself to every day. Every new word starts as an unfamiliar word, and repeated exposure is the only way to truly learn (rather than memorize) unfamiliar vocabulary.

And here’s another article on the question of “How many words”. It’s a scientific paper rather than a blog aimed at the general public, so I’ve summarized here the most relevant parts.

Up to a vocabulary size of around 20,000 word families, we should expect that native speakers will add roughly 1000 word families a year to their vocabulary size. That means that a five year old beginning school will have a vocabulary of around 4000 to 5000 word families. A university graduate will have a vocabulary of around 20,000 word families.

A small study of the vocabulary growth of non-native speakers in an English medium primary school (Jamieson, 1976) suggests that in such a situation non-native speakers’ vocabulary grows at the same rate as native speakers’ but that the initial gap that existed between them is not closed. For adult learners of English as a foreign language, the gap between their vocabulary size and that of native speakers is usually very large, with many adult foreign learners of English having a vocabulary size of much less than 5000 word families in spite of having studied English for several years.

With a vocabulary size of 2,000 words, a learner knows 80% of the words in a text which means that 1 word in every 5 (approximately 2 words in every line) are unknown. Research by Liu Na and Nation (1985) has shown that this ratio of unknown to known words is not sufficient to allow reasonably successful guessing of the meaning of the unknown words. At least 95% coverage is needed for that.
Research by Hirsh and Nation (1992) looked on novels written for teenage or younger readers. The study looked at such novels because they might provide the most favourable conditions for second language learners to read unsimplified texts. These conditions could come about because they are aimed at a non-adult audience and thus there may be a tendency for the writer to use simpler vocabulary, and because a continuous novel on one topic by one writer provides opportunity for the repetition of vocabulary. Table 2 shows that under favourable conditions, a vocabulary size of 2000 to 3000 words provides a very good basis for language use.
The significance of this information is that although there are well over 54,000 word families in English, and although educated adult native speakers know around 20,000 of these word families, a much smaller number of words, say between 3,000 to 5,000 word families is needed to provide a basis for comprehension. It is possible to make use of a smaller number, around 2,000 to 3,000 for productive use in speaking and writing. Hazenburg and Hulstijn (1996) however suggest a figure nearer to 10,000 for Dutch as a second language.

Substitute “novels for teenagers” with “rom-com dramas”. And here is the crux of the matter, one that we all have encountered here:

The problem for beginning learners and readers is getting to the threshold where they can start to learn from context. Simply put, if one does not know enough of the words on a page and have comprehension of what is being read, one cannot easily learn from context. Liu Na and Nation (1985) have shown that we need a vocabulary of about 3000 words which provides coverage of at least 95% of a text before we can efficiently learn from context with unsimplified text.
However, even if a limited vocabulary covers 95% of a text, a much larger vocabulary is still needed to cover the remaining 5%

Substitute “unsimplified text” with “drama made for native audiences”.

Watching dramas for five years now, I’ve learned, from context, quite a large number of Korean words (although a bit more focused on romance than on real-life useful stuff like asking for directions or shopping). However, without the grammar to link them, knowing random words doesn’t help much. Just a few months of studying Korean have made a huge difference in the understanding of the dialogues, because formal grammar learning gives you a structure where you are able to place all the little pieces of information you already know and even each subsequent one you learn every time you watch a new episode. Many “aha” moments. Both in the classroom (recognizing words you’ve heard a zillion times) and while watching.

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The test went well, for a person who has just started to learn how to study, for the first time in her life (including school - I went along just fine by just paying attention in class and only doing written assignments).
I did skip completely one of the four exercises, which needed vocabulary I didn’t have the time to study, but the remaining three went very well, I think about 98% correct.
If the skipped part was 20 points, as the teacher said, I may have gotten something like 76 or 77 on 100? Something like that.
More hours are needed for all these words. See, they were mostly place words, like “near”, “in”, “out”, “on”, “between”, “in front of”, “on the back of”, “below”, “over”. One-syllable words which can’t be etymologically connected to anything else I know. Memorizing is the only method. On the other hand they are super useful. So… back to Quizlet for another list. I will get this.


I have a book “The Handbook of Korean Vocabulary” – It contains approximately 1500 Sino roots of Korean (Chinese origin) and about 600 Native Korean roots. For each root there are several Korean words used which have the Sino root. Approximately 65% of Korean is Chinese in origin, about 30% is Native Korean and about 5% are loan words from English, French, German, Spanish. etc. The problem in learning vocabulary is that Chinese is a tonal language (but Korean is no longer tonal.) The first word in a Korean dictionary is 가 (ga). There are 8 different Sino root meanings of 가, each written with a different Hanja (Chinese character) and each has more than a dozen derived words. To add to the complexity of learning vocabulary, there is also a Native Korean root word 가 which is root meaning 9. There are some syllables with as many as 12 different root meanings. (It is because Korean is largely derived from Chinese that there are so many homonyms.) As the years of my study of Korean have increased, so has my exposure to homonyms so that I really have to think long and hard about which meaning of a word I hear or read is correct because the number of alternative meaning for what I hear has expanded so much.


But why did they let this happen? They could have inserted at least some little variation to avoid this confusion. I get it that most of the time you immediately know which one it is by looking at the context, for instance it’s not easy to confuse temple with shoe store, but, as you say, there are many where the meaning is not immediately obvious.




This is a promise! Go, Irmar!

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