I started learning Korean almost a year ago. I'm still very much a beginner, but I can read Hangeul with little effort, and I'm beginning to be able to figure out what part of speech a word is based on its spelling with good accuracy. I've still got a long way to go. It was a struggle getting to this point with no formal instruction. If you're looking to learn Korean on your own, I hope that I can separate some of the good resources for learning Korean from the bad.
5 Korean Flags
My favorite book for beginners learning Korean so far. This book walks you through the Korean writing system and some basic rules for pronunciation. Each chapter follows the same format: start with a short conversation on Korean, explain some of the grammar and vocabulary that the conversation uses, and then finally explain the conversation line-by-line.
By the end of this book, you won't be speaking Korean like a native, but you'll be comfortable with Korean enough that you'll be looking forward to learning some more. This book is really good for getting beginners excited about learning Korean because most of the explanations are very well written. This is probably because the author is a native English speaker that knows all the pains of learning Korean.
One problem with this book is that it's written by a native English speaker, not a native Korean speaker, so sometimes some of the explanations are ever so slightly wrong. If you're a beginner, don't worry about that. In your later studies in Korean, you'll figure out exactly what was wrong very easily.
4.5 Korean Flags
The sequel to Korean Made Simple follows the same format as the first book. All-in-all it's just a continuation of the first book, so everything about the first book still applies here.
The biggest difference between the first book and this one is that certain Korean words in this book are contractions that neither book ever introduced. This is a problem because contractions aren't words that you can find in some Korean dictionaries. Other than that, this book is also a very good book for beginners.
Given that Korean grammar is so heavily dependent on word endings, this book is indispensable. When trading Korean, you'll often want to look up words you don't know in a Korean-English dictionary. The problem with this approach is that Korean-English dictionaries often only contain the root word, and root words are almost never actually used in Korean.
Korean uses word endings to express verb tenses, like English, but in Korean, tenses, causes, opinions/suggestions, purposes/intentions, conditions, and many other things are all expressed as endings added to verbs. For this reason, understanding Korean Grammar is vital. This book has short explanations for each grammar form as well as example sentences and practice problems. It's well-organized and well-written.
2 Korean Flags
This book is great for intermediate/advanced learners of Korean. For those with a good grasp of the Korean language, this book is the best way to learn a lot of the words that many Koreans won't want to teach you. In a list of books for advanced learners of Korean, I'd give this book five stars.
However, beginners should stay far away from this book for several reasons. First, the font used to write Korean is effectively Korean cursive. This means it's very difficult for beginners to read just because of how the letters are written. Secondly, this book makes extensive use of Romanization. Romanization encourages an incorrect pronunciation of Korean because readers will subconsciously make connections between Korean words and how they are roughly transliterated to the English alphabet with a British view on how those letters are combined to pronounce words.
Photo of Gwanghuimun by travel oriented
In a post published June 21, 2015, I said I hoped that Korea would be MERS-free by the time I arrived in Korea for my trip this August. Good news! South Korea says the MERS threat is no more. There hasn't been a new case of MERS in Korea since July 2, 25 days ago, and the incubation period for MERS is usually no longer than 14 days.
I'm planning a trip to Korea in about a month. An outbreak of MERS started a little over a month ago, so I became concerned that my trip might have to be cancelled. I researched the MERS outbreak in Korea, and I learned about epidemic (or epi) curves.
Epi curves are used by epidemiologists (those who study the patterns, causes, and effects of health and disease conditions in defined populations) to track epidemics. The horizontal axis of an epi curve is time, and the vertical axis is the number of cases confirmed on a particular day.
I found MERS epi curves for Korea on the WHO (World Health Organization) website. You can see the epi curve for Korea and China for June 19 below. The rectangle for May 19 looks a little strange because it shows that there were two newly confirmed cases in Korea and one newly confirmed case in China on that day.
As you can see, the number of MERS cases is declining. I imagine this epi curve is fairly typical for outbreaks of disease. It starts slowly as the index cases infects a few other individuals. There is then a rapid period of growth as the victims infected by the index case infect others. Next, awareness of the epidemic causes health care workers and the general public to take action to quarantine and treat the outbreak. After this, the number of cases slowly declines to zero. I hope Korea will be nearly MERS-free by the time I arrive.
In response to the MERS outbreak, Korea closed hospitals and schools. MERS did not spread outside of hospitals, so schools and kindergartens began reopening.
Photo by Tom Thai
One technique I find extremely useful when writing a letter, essay, or research paper is to search through the paper for a portion of a word. Suppose I'm interested in finding a section of my paper that uses the word "converter", or maybe it was "conversion"? I don't remember, so I hit Ctrl+F and type "conver". This brings up both "converter" and "conversion".
Unfortunately, Korean words are represented by syllable blocks, and each block is a single Unicode character. The Korean word for Korea is two syllables long and six letters long: 한국.
The find functions in both Google Chrome and Notepad++ treat syllable blocks as letters, not groups of letters. If I search for "하" in either application, the word 한국 isn't highlighted despite containing the character sequence "하" as its first two letters. (If you're wondering, here are the six letters individually: ㅎ ㅏ ㄴ ㄱ ㅜ ㄱ.)
This causes a bit of a problem when searching through Korean text. For example, it's impossible to find all forms of the basic Korean verb 하다 (to do) because many of its forms share no important syllable blocks at all: 합니다 (do - formal), 해요 (do - polite), and 할 거예요 (will do - polite).
Photo of Sejong the Great by Katie Haugland
The Korean word for live fish is 물고기 (mul-go-gi). When you break that word down into its parts, you get "물" (mul = water) and "고기" (go-gi = meat). Literally translated into English, the Korean word for "fish" is "water meat". That sounds appetizing, doesn't it?
The word for dead fish, what you'd order at a restaurant, is 생선.
Photo by Chris Combe