My Korean Journey 🌺 꽃길만 걷자

I’ve been learning Korean as a hobby sporadically for longer than I’d care to admit. My interest in the language began when I started reading manhwa, then I discovered Kpop, and later started watching Korean tv shows.

After enjoying a lot of Korean entertainment, I eventually decided to try learning the language, so I found the Talk to Me in Korean (TTMIK) website and worked my way through all 10 levels of their course. Don’t wanna make you jelly, but there was a time when all their lessons were available on their website for free! After that, I worked through all the volumes of Integrated Korean and Korean Grammar in Use.

I think what held me back from progressing was the mindset that I had to learn the language before I could use it. When I found native material too difficult, rather than looking up unknown vocab and grammar, or searching for something easier, I’d think to myself that I wasn’t ready yet, and go back to textbooks. Without the fun of using the language, studying became a grind, and inevitably my enthusiasm waned…

Thankfully, my mindset has changed, but I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot in the years(!!!) I haven’t been studying. I had been planning on returning to Korean for a while, and Natively’s Korean release was the catalyst for making it happen. I’m planning to reread my study materials to get an idea of what I’ve forgotten retained, as well as reading whatever I like for pleasure. BL smut :face_with_peeking_eye:

Incidentally...

I dove straight into reading Yotsuba&! only a week into learning Japanese. It was a pleasant surprise to find that Japanese and Korean share more in common than I had expected. I consciously decided to take the opposite approach with Japanese than I had with Korean, but I’m sure all the studying I did for Korean helped in its own way.


Timeline

Pre-2016
  • Over 10 years of reading manhwa in English, listening to Kpop, and watching Korean dramas with English subtitles. Learned a handful of words and phrases.
2016-2017
  • Daily anki sentences and vocab reviews (30+ mins)
  • At least one textbook chapter (30+ mins) every day
  • Burnout from a year and a half of studying without much actual input via reading/watching (reached about TOPIK 5 level)
2018-2022
  • Occasional short-lived attempts to resume studies
  • Limited exposure to Korean content but continued to collect Korean books
2023

July

  • Natively releases Korean beta; I am revived :innocent:
  • Read several graded readers, children’s books, and manhwa volumes
  • Reread several textbooks
  • Finished several manhwa volumes
  • Watched 커피프린스 1호점 S1 | L30

August

  • Read 173 books, mostly consisting of graded readers and children’s books, along with a handful of manhwa volumes
  • Watched multiple BL web series and several dubbed Disney films
  • 10k+ pages read

September


Currently working on bringing my reading (and to a lesser extent, listening) skills up to the same level as my vocabulary & grammar knowledge.

  • Reading a variety of content at different levels: easy (graded readers, children’s picture books), medium (children’s novels, manhwa), and hard (novels, web novels)
  • Watching about 1 hour of Korean content per day
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Your experience with struggling to jump into native content really resonates with my own experience. Of course, I started with Japanese before moving to Korean… but it took me a long time to finally attempt Yotsuba. This time with Korean, I started personal tutoring from the get-go and chatting with random Koreans.

While I still haven’t become very advanced in any language, I think you can reasonably do grammar study and some basic conversation and vocab without a lot of native materials, but once you’re trying to remember 3,000 → 6,000 words, it’s really impossible to just grind that out with Anki and no immersion. It’s too boring!

For Korean, I’ve been studying a year and a half, mostly with howtostudykorean.com (completed that), conversations on iTalki and Anki vocab / grammar notecards I create. I’ve only just started dipping my toes into Korean TV, but so far the shows I’ve seen have been really hard! Hoping we get some easy shows added :laughing:

Of course, since I live in Seoul, I do get a lot of random conversation… but you find you can quickly plateau without diving into reading / watching.

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Yeah, compared to Japanese, it’s really difficult to find recommendations for easy Korean content. It’ll be interesting to see what other people suggest as the Korean side of things grows.

Anki is indeed a harsh mistress. I just reset mine, there’s no way I was gonna review 10k+ overdue cards. :laughing:

I had long passed the stage where I should have been immersing, but on the bright side, we have learned from our mistakes!

Do you ever visit the local bookstores? I’d imagine there’d be recommendations alongside the Korean textbooks… Or at least a helpful salesperson. :smiley:

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I’m curious; is the Korean learning community as large as the Japanese one online? I would think that that Kpop/drama fans would be a big contributor in terms of number of learners, though I guess you wouldn’t necessarily get a while lot of book recommendations that way…

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I’d love to hear @bibliothecary 's thoughts on this too, but the korean learning online community is much smaller. If you simply look at reddit for example, r/learnjapanese has about 3 times as many people as r/korean and that feels about right.

There’s also no wanikani forum equivalent with open book clubs. If there are any bookclubs, they must be discords or something, but I haven’t found them.

Granted, interest in Korea & Korean has been growing rapidly the last decade. I read somewhere (forget where) that over the last decade, Korean is the fastest growing language curriculum in universities.

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I got curious and googled and that seems to be right.

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Tbh, I think Japanese learners are pretty spoiled in that regard. I’m not really aware of other languages that have such a vibrant book-club community on an open forum… with book club threads that persist after the club is done.

Would love to bring that model to other languages :slight_smile:

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In my experience, the online Korean language learning community is a fraction of the size of the Japanese one.

Ramblings

Personally, I’ve found that trying to find resources, advice, or recommendations for Korean learners is much more difficult than for Japanese learners. There are far fewer websites and communities (discord, reddit, etc.), and most of them are pretty stagnant.

I’ve no doubt a substantial number of K-entertainment fans want to - or have started - learning Korean (especially in the past few years), but are held back from starting or progressing to a high level by the lack of guidance and resources.

For example, I’ve come across dozens of posts while casually browsing where people have recounted how they learned Japanese to fluency (passing the JLPT N1, getting a job in a Japanese company, using Japanese for all their daily interactions and transactions in their personal and professional lives). These provide diverse methodologies, detailed explanations of what worked for them and what didn’t, which resources they found most valuable, etc. I’ve never seen anything like that for Korean.

If I want recommendations for easy Japanese books, there are a huge number of suggestions with indications of how easy or difficult a book may be depending on what level you are at: Natively, of course, but also jpdb, Jo-Mako’s readability list (with recommendations for multiple types of media), and many other websites, articles, blog posts, forum threads, etc.

If I want recommendations for Korean books, most of what I’ll find are suggestions for the same handful of textbooks. If I really dig, I might be able to find a few suggestions for novels, with no real indication of their difficulty level.

Obviously it’s not impossible to learn Korean to a high level without these kind of things, but I’ve no doubt the lack of guidance stymies casual learners. That’s why I think Natively supporting Korean is such a huge deal, because there’s a dearth of information about the difficulty levels of Korean media and very few reliable recommendations for where to start when dipping your toe into native material.

Although there’s definitely more information and resources available now than when I first started thinking about learning the language 15 years ago :exploding_head:, I think it will take several more years for the growing interest in Korean to materialise into something anywhere near comparable to the Japanese online learning community, if it ever does.

All just my own humble opinion, of course. :grin:

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I just want to echo all your sentiments … it’s surprisingly true! Even the successful language learners here in Korea, don’t seem to focus on media, which is surprising to me. But I agree… it’s very likely a product of the lack of resources rather than something unique to the community. I must say the Japanese community seems to be extremely innovative and resource heavy compared to basically every other learning community you find. New Japanese apps, websites, blogs are rolling out all the time, it’s crazy! I subscribe to every language subreddit and nothing is like the Japanese community.

And it’s true that Natively has a lot of comparable Japanese services that it somewhat competes with (JPDB for difficulty ratings, bookmeter for tracking, WK for book clubs / book discussion… etc). For Korean though, there’s nothing… not even a bookmeter analog!

In any case, I’m super happy to hear you’re really looking forward to Natively Korean as well. Hopefully it’ll be an exciting ride! :smile:

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Thanks for the breakdown, guys! I’m always extremely interested in hearing what other language learners/their communities are up to; it’s easy to forget just how relatively easy it’s become to learn Japanese. I hope Natively’s able to host its own Korean bookclub(s); hopefully once brandon’s able to start advertising in Korean learning communities we get a whole bunch of new blood who can participate. ^o^

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Me too! :smiley:

On a side note, a lot of Japanese literature has been translated into Korean, too, so I think reading the original and translation concurrently would be really interesting. I don’t think there’d be much demand for a Korean-Japanese bookclub, though. :laughing:

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Could be interesting; I’d sign up for the Japanese portion, at least.

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Over on Wanikani we had a Jp/English book club where Japanese people read the English translation of a Japanese book the WKers were reading. It was a lot of fun! I think there’s potential for more bilingual+ clubs.

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When I was studying before, I reached around TOPIK 5 in my textbooks, but as I mentioned previously, I never really put that knowledge to use by reading native material. I did worry that would mean I’d have forgotten a lot, because using a language is what really makes it sink in. Thankfully, after skimming through Korean Grammar in Use for Beginners, I can say that I’ve at least remembered all the TOPIK 1 and 2 grammar. :smiling_face:

Someone in the Japanese forums shared a link to a great blog post on How to start reading books in Japanese which I found really interesting. I’ve focused too much on vocabulary and grammar in the past, so I’m going to consolidate that knowledge while working on my reading and listening skills.

I started the 외국인을 위한 한국어 읽기 series recently, which feels like a comfortable level for me. At the moment I find the audio too fast to be able to follow along with the story comfortably, so I’ll read a paragraph or chapter first, then listen while reading along, or vice versa. There are 100+ books in the series, so hopefully it’ll get easier to keep up with the audio as I progress through them.

I breezed through Easy Korean Reading for Beginners, which would be great for anyone who’s looking for their first graded reader, especially if you’re in Korea or planning a visit, as it covers a lot of daily life topics.

I’ve started watching 커피프린스 on Viki (Netflix didn’t have Korean subs), which also feels like a comfortable level for where I’m at right now. It helps that I already watched it several years ago, but funnily enough I feel like I’m enjoying it more this time around (한결’s relationship with his 할머니… :rofl:). I think I’d struggle if I didn’t have subtitles, though, which is understandable given my previous study method.

I also listened to a KBS 무대 radio drama episode while following along with the script. It’s a weekly program of self-contained episodes just under an hour long, and the last 10 years worth of episodes (about 500!) are available to listen to online, which will keep me busy for a while… :smile:

I quite enjoyed it, and it’s another useful way to practice listening and reading. The script and audio didn’t totally match - a scene was cut out, presumably due to post-production editing - but that was just a minor difficulty. What I like is that you get lots of natural conversation without the descriptions you’d find in books (not that I dislike those, but audiobooks cover that for me).

I think I’ll put off going back to studying with textbooks and anki for now. I do really enjoy that kind of study (learning new grammar and vocabulary feels like I’m gathering clues on a treasure hunt :laughing:), but since I leaned too far into that before, I’ll just continue with graded readers and native content for now. :books:

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I’ve read quite a bit this week! :smile: Here’s everything I finished, most of which include (verbose) reviews:

Textbooks

Graded Readers

Children’s Books

Manhwa

Other

While going through Grammar in Use, I was surprised to realise I’ve actually retained most of the TOPIK 3 & 4 grammar, although I have no idea about the subtle differences between similar grammar points (which I guess will become clear from extensive reading anyway). I skimmed the chapters, mostly just reading the example sentences. I actually made anki cards for all the grammar points in the intermediate and advanced books (about 1800 example sentences) when I was working through them the first time, so I’ll get around to studying those at some point.

I’ve started the Advanced volume, which I’ll be reading through at a slower pace than the previous ones. I had a look at the list of contents, and while there were some grammar points I remembered, most of them looked unfamiliar. I’m not counting this as study, because I’m not trying to memorise the information; I see it more as priming myself for when I do get back around to actively studying.

I skimmed a couple of the TTMIK grammar textbooks, mostly only stopping to read the ‘blog’ sections on Korean culture. Now that I’m getting back into Korean again, I have this desire to go over everything I learned before by rereading all my study materials, even if I’m confident I remember the contents. I’ve got a few textbooks on the go, but I’m going to try limiting the time I spend reading them each day - I don’t want to be slogging through lots of easy stuff and putting off the more challenging (and interesting!) reading for later.

I’d like to find a novel that really grips me and pushes me to read more. I’ve been dipping into book samples on Google Play to see if anything catches my eye, but no luck so far. There are lots of books I’d like to read, and I think I’d enjoy them to an extent, but I’m really craving something unputdownable. It’s a bit difficult to find a book like that, though…

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Wow!! You’re putting in work. Out of curiosity, what sort of proficiency level / vocabulary size do you think you had before your break?

I have to say, my grammar knowledge (basically through KGIU book 2) far outstrips my vocab knowledge, which even at around ~4000 words makes most content very slow reading :confused:

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I think I must have reached about TOPIK 5 for grammar, and I learned at least 8k words using anki. But since I wasn’t immersing, it was only understanding at a very superficial level.

I held back from reading in Korean because there was so much I didn’t know, but I’ve realised that even in English I don’t necessarily understand 100% of what I read or hear, and I only notice when it inhibits my understanding.

And reading in a foreign language has brought back memories or learning to read as a child, and again, I wasn’t bothered when I came across words I didn’t understand: I would just reread the sentence to try to get an idea of the meaning, then carry on, because I knew that I’d learn the word eventually.

Looking back, I think it would have been better to just start reading extensively as soon as possible instead of studying more and more grammar and vocab. I was too focused on not knowing individual words, when what was actually important was whether I understood the meaning of the sentences. A “can’t see the wood for the trees” situation.

So this time I’m following the example of my younger self and just reading more naturally. There’s always going to be words I don’t know, but as long as I can follow along with the story, it’s not a problem, because I’ll probably learn it eventually.

Hopefully as more books are graded here on Natively, it’ll make it easier for learners to find books that are at a comfortable level for them to read. Unfortunately, we’re the pioneers, so we have a bit more work to do to find suitable reading material.

Me: Why just answer a question when you can write a whole essay about it? :rofl:

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Wow! Yeah, I start to get a lot of words mixed up at my paltry ~4000 words… immersion really seems to help with that :slight_smile:

TBH I’m still in this phase… I love intensive reading still. But then again, most of the unknown words I come across are reasonably important. Or at least, according to the wonderful Korean-English Learners’ Dictionary.

We’ll see if my thinking changes. I’ve tried extensive reading quite a bit and I just feel like i’m white-noising. But then again, i’m probably just trying content that’s too difficult for me.

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I only took like a semester of Korean at university, way way back. But my impression is that Korea is a lot better in English than Japan has ever been and Korea becoming popular only in the last decade or so means that probably, just for fan reasons, you don’t really need to know Korean. Whereas Japan has been popular already in the 80s, 90s and 2000s and just relying on English if you are anywhere outside of big cities is still a struggle.
I.e. not only did Japanese have a head-start, I think fewer people feel the need to learn Korean.

Is my impression correct? :thinking:

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While Korean people are undoubtedly much better at English than Japanese people, an average Korean person in Seoul will not be able to speak English well at all. Even restaurant workers… i’d say maybe 1/10 speak it well and 1/2 can say the necessary words (like receipt). So no, you really do need to know some Korean to operate well here. Probably on par with Japan, but a little easier, due to alphabet.

One thing I will say though, is that you’ll probably find many more near fluent or fully English-conversational Koreans, often in their 20s, than i think you’d find in Japan. Koreans really like to travel and many study abroad. But still, it’s a very small minority, no more than 1/10?

Countryside - forget about it. All Korean. :slight_smile:

I actually think Korea is much harder to travel to than Japan, just because it’s less set up for tourism. And Korean cuisine can oftentimes be complicated . The kpop tourists i’ve met here definitely just stay in foreign circles or among very western Koreans.

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