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Hi, Kieran. My name is Gerry Bevers and I manage the “Korean Language Notes” blog. Three years ago we exchanged comments when you pledged to learn Korean in three months. I expressed doubt that it would be possible, based on how hard it was for me to learn the language, but you had learned Japanese and Chinese very quickly, so I was somewhat curious to see if you could possibly do the same with Korean, even though I still felt it would be almost impossible. Today, I happened to see your post in the results of a search I was doing and decided to comment.
Thanks for your comment! I apologize for my late reply.
You were very right that it was impossible (at least for me) to “learn Korean” in three months, and at the time, as now, I appreciated your healthy skepticism & sound advice.
In “years,” I think I learned Japanese & Chinese quickly. I knew virtually nothing of those languages at 18 years old, and by 20 I could speak colloquial Japanese, and by 23 I could speak Chinese. However, in “hours,” I don’t think I learned particularly quickly. I had 10 months in Japan as a student mostly devoted to learning Japanese, and 8 months in China. I spent untold hours trying various inefficient methods with each language, and eventually “learned” them both before I could figure out exactly what worked and what didn’t. Some things definitely didn’t work (like memorizing Japanese-English word pairs), while other things worked slowly (like rote memorization of sentences). With Korean, I have hoped to home in on efficient methods I can use in my spare time.
I am curious to know how much more difficult it has been for you to learn Korean relative to Chinese and Japanese. Did you find learning Korean to be much more difficult than you expected?
In a sense, I found Korean more difficult than I expected. I thought I could learn it to reading fluency in about one year, but has taken me 3 years to reach only intermediate reading level.
However, I don’t feel qualified to comment on the relative difficulty of Korean compared to other languages, because I learned Korean differently from the way I learned Chinese & Japanese.
Japanese & Chinese I learned while living in those countries. Thus I felt intense pressure to progress quickly. Also, I was a student, so I had lots of time to study. With that much energy & time put into the project, even inefficient methods showed results.
So, in another sense, Korean was not more difficult than I expected. Had I studied Korean for an hour a day for a year, I believe I would have achieved my original goals. However, there was no pressure for me to learn Korean quickly. Also, I was working and had little time to study. So, considering I studied it haphazardly but consistently for 3 years and can now read with some facility, I am satisfied with my progress.
What do you think is the most difficult thing to learn about Korean?
For me, I think the most difficult thing about learning any language is acquiring a large enough core repository of “chunks” of language that I can understand the gist of the spoken language. That requires motivation, as well as good materials & methods.
I can’t think of anything uniquely difficult about Korean. The grammar is difficult to master in production, but I don’t think it’s particularly difficult to read, or more difficult than Japanese.
Since communicating with you, I have had a chance to look through the textbook series published by the University of Hawaii entitled “Integrated Korean,” which was a project of the Korean Language Education and Research Center (KLEAR). I was impressed with the progressive series, especially the beginning texts. Not only are there English translations for all the reading material in the series, there are also comprehensive grammar indices and Korean-English/English-Korea glossaries in the backs of all the books in the series, helping to make them self-study friendly. You might want to check them out.
Thanks for the recommendation! I’m always hoping to find a really good textbook. Personally, almost all textbooks bore me. I think there are two main reasons for that.
(1) I want to engage with the real language, as used by native speakers with native speakers. I’m skeptical that a textbook represents real language (because native speakers often produce a simplified, idealized version of their language when teaching). There is so much existing content: why not adapt existing content for learners? For example, I really like the Talk to Me in Korean “News in Korean” textbook.
(2) I want to learn something more than just the language. Through the “News in Korean” book I can learn about the Ebola virus and dieting in Korea. Through reading Park Min-gyu’s (박 민규) novella “Is that so? I’m a Giraffe” (그렇습니까? 기린 입니다) in bilingual edition, I can experience quality Korean literature & learn about society.
For the past few years I have been trying to casually teach myself Classical Chinese, which I now find more interesting than just studying Korean, itself. I have not bothered to learn the Chinese pronunciations of the characters, but simply use the Korean pronunciations. I am currently creating a textbook that teaches Korean-language learners to read Classical Chinese sentences. That essentially means I am teaching the Korean pronunciation of the characters and explaining Classical Chinese grammar in terms of both the English and Korean grammars. Most of the time it is easier to understand Chinese sentences with English translations, but there are times when adding a Korean translation makes it even easier.
That’s great! After learning Japanese, I learned some Classical Chinese through Japanese, and then had the good fortune to take a class on Classical Chinese in college where we translated texts into English. Of course, you already know all of this, but Korean can help you learn Classical Chinese in two ways.
(1) You have a Korean pronunciation to attach to each character, so you can remember them.
(2) You have a hanja syllable to help understand the word that a character represents.
That said, I agree that Classical Chinese grammar is so similar to English, that reading English translations is easier than Korean (and fortunately there are places like http://ctext.org/ where you can find translations).
Anyway, I wish you continued success in your language studies.
Thank you, and likewise, I wish you the best in learning Classical Chinese, and more Korean!
My Korean Language Journey to date
I’ve been learning Korean since fall 2013. At that time, I had just finished a one-year study program at Fudan University, in Chinese literature. I was fluent in Chinese, having learned it since 2010, and Japanese (since 2007, with a year at Kyushu University 2009-2010). I decided to learn Spanish and Korean. I started with Talk to Me in Korean Anki sentence decks and reviewed a lot of sentences. I didn’t really catch on to either Spanish or Korean; I pledged to do the Add One Challenge (back when it was free) for Korean, and then for Spanish, but I couldn’t stick to my planned routine, and I didn’t complete either one. In summer 2014 I got a job that could have actually used some strong Korean ability, but I didn’t have it. Thus, I’ve been learning Korean consistently but slowly over the last three years, and not without progress–I can read decently with a dictionary–but I feel I haven’t really worked out a method that I feel is efficient enough. Lately, I’ve been taking 1:1 in-person lessons with a (great) teacher, and exploring how I can fast-forward this process.
The “Fluent Forever” Method
I’ve been a fan of Gabriel Wyner for a while; among other things, he introduced me to using core Word Lists with Google Images Basic Version on his blog. His content has only gotten better over time, and I’m going to try every approach in his 2014 book Fluent Forever. I’ll try to cover this as I go along.
I’m planning to return to blogging now. For a while, I’ve felt unsure what to blog about, but now I’m going to try to get some ideas out and see how it goes.
For this post, I’ll just share a picture I took of some good food.
This is Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo restaurant in Koreatown, Los Angeles.
- Hangari (항아리) is spelled and pronounced hang-a-ri (not Han-ga-ri) because the first syllable comes from Chinese 缸 (gāng), meaning a jar or container for liquid. Hangari means “jar.”
- Bajirak (바지락) means clam.
- Kalgooksoo is nonstandard Romanization for kalguksu (칼국수). Kal means knife, and guksu means noodles, so Kalguksu means knife[-cut] noodles, akin to Chinese 刀削麵 (dāoxiāomiàn).
The red part says “Hangari” and the black part says “hangari kalguksu. ”
- I recommend this place.
- The kimchi were fresh, and everything was tasty.
- I must have had +40 clams in my soup. If I went back I would order mixed seafood.
Text-to-Speech software is a game-changer for language learning. I’m using TTS to learn several languages at once. The Holy Grail of language resources—sentences with audio—is now something I can mass-produce on my computer. Not every language is included in the TTS functionality of the Mac (no Tibetan or Mongolian, for instance), but Turkish, Indonesian, Cantonese, and many other languages are included and work quite well. The last update added varieties of Spanish, so I vary my Spanish audio with some Argentinian speech.
TTS is so powerful because you can turn text sources into audio sources quickly and automatically. I use the Lonely Planet phrasebooks for most of the languages I study. I can type the text myself, copy it if I have a PDF, or even use the dictation function of TTS to input the text using my own voice. Using dictation is interesting, because it requires that the computer recognize my pronunciation. (For longer phrases, the computer recognizes what I am saying for the most part. For shorter phrases and single words, especially in Korean, it often fails to render.)
I put the phrases as text into an Excel spreadsheet, because Excel spreadsheets are easy to organize and can be converted into tab-delimited plain text files that can be imported into Anki. I started with Spanish and English, copying the Spanish via dictation and the English by typing. Then, it occurred to me I could add Korean in a third column. Then I thought, Why not put them all in one spreadsheet?
All the languages in one place
In one of his videos, Michael Campbell of Glossika in Taiwan explains how he learned eighteen aboriginal Taiwanese languages at once. He has a spreadsheet with glossary items and phrases in each language; to review, he goes down the spreadsheet and reads the phrases aloud. He records himself reading and listens to the recordings repeatedly. Now, I think listening to my own (non-native) pronunciation to memorize phrases is less than ideal, but Mr. Campbell is a pro and is working with languages that are nearly extinct. And, as a memory aide within a greater regimen, this may be a handy technique. I once memorized a Japanese speech that I wrote in this way, by reading it aloud, sentence by sentence, over and over again, and listening to a recording of myself reading it on repeat. I recited it with perfect delivery after only two days. Listening to my pronunciation of Japanese wasn’t ideal, but I had heard so much Japanese that a little foreign accent didn’t throw me off. Similarly, TTS pronunciations are approximations of native/natural speech and thus should not be relied upon solely, but they are far better than silence, and an excellent supplement to memorization. Ideally, we would have native speakers on call to read whatever we need and produce high-quality audio, but this is not feasible. (Mr. Campbell also reminds us that “memorization” is a misnomer, because we don’t need to actually recall the sentences exactly, only build connections in the brain.)
Two practical examples of using Text-to-Speech
- Spanish phrases from Lonely Planet
The first way I’m using TTS is for entering Spanish phrases from my Lonely Planet phrasebook into Anki. I type or dictate dissonances into excels in Microsoft excel, and then I add the English in another column. Then, I export the file as a UTF-16 plain text file, then convert it to a UTF-8 plain text file, then imported it into Anki. Then, I use the “Awesome TTS” plugin in Anki to mass generate MP3 files for the sentences using the Mac’s built-in TTS software. (The plugin also works with Google’s software, available for free via Internet.)
- Input Spanish phrases into Excel
- Input English translations
- “Save As” UTF-16 plain text file
- Open in TextEdit and “save as” UTF-8 plain text file
- Install & configure the Awesome TTS plugin
- Make sure Spanish TTS voice is installed (Mac)
- Make sure your Spanish card type has an Audio field
- Import UTF-8 file in Anki using the CTRL+I import function
- Select all new cards & use Awesome TTS mass generate MP3 function, using the Spanish field as the source and the audio field as destination
10. Make sure you put the audio field on the card, and you should have audio for every phrase
NB: In a later post I’ll show screenshots of how I organize my many note types.
2. Korean phrases from TTMIK intermediate dialogues
I think everyone and their mother studying Korean is using the Talk to Me in Korean series, with good reason. If you are, absolutely download the Anki public decks for the sentences from the grammar lessons, and the sentences for the “Iyagi” intermediate dialogues. These premade decks have saved me thousands of hours of work, and I wish I could tip the people who made them. As I go through the sentences in these two decks, I add the phrases that I don’t understand or need to memorize to new Anki cards, and then use TTS to generate audio for them.
A workflow for Korean:
- Download the public decks and convert the card types to match your Korean cards
- Add unknown phrases or phrases you’d like to memorize from the public deck cards onto new cards
- Use Awesome TTS to generate audio for the new cards
- Make sure your new cards are in your main deck and not in the public deck to ensure that you get those reviews as new cards first before getting new cards from the public deck you imported, otherwise you have to wait until you get to the very end of the public deck to see them, at which point they won’t be relevant to you anymore
NB: The TTMIK recordings and Korean transcripts are freely available online. Crowdsourced translations are being made at the Korean Wiki Project, but the official translations produced by TTMIK are for sale on their website. It’s hard to copy and past from their PDFs, though, as I don’t think they were designed with Anki in mind.
So what’s the big deal about Text-to-Speech?
This method of adding cards with audio from text sources is now my default, go-to method for learning languages. If you hear the phrase or the word, you are 1000 times more likely to remember. I just made up that number, but it’s probably pretty close.
Hear it. Speak it. Memorize it. – Carlos Douh
Being able to create audio from the text, rather than the other way around, gives you more control over what materials you study. I think this method combined with talking to native speakers after a few months of study is the most effective and sustainable method I’ve yet devised. It’s also scalable, so that you can simply add more cards when you want more material.
For example, if the phrases are arranged in a column with the translation under each phrase, how do you separate the target language phrases into a separate column? It’s a little trickier than I anticipated, but this can be done with Excel.
I will show you how to select only even rows or select only odd rows in Microsoft Excel, which I will use to take the phrases from the Wikitravel Cantonese phrasebook (I’ve also done this with Korean slang) and separate the translations into a separate column, so you can import the whole thing into Anki as a tab-delimited UTF-8 txt file produced by Excel.
1. Copy and paste the data into Excel
2. Use the “=ISEVEN() or =ISODD() function, combined with a ROW() function that references any cell in that row.” (click here for a tutorial).
3. As per step 2, type =ISEVEN(ROW(A1)) into the cell B1. It will turn to FALSE.
4. Copy the function in cell B1 into all the cells in the column.
5. Turn on the filter by selecting any cell in the column, then clicking the Filter button under Sort & Filter in the Data tab. (Source: techrepublic.com)
6. Next, “Click the new column’s filter dropdown and choose False or True.” (The “dropdown” is the little down-facing arrow in a blue box that should appear in the column.) (Source: techrepublic.com)
10. Open the .txt file in TextEdit, copy it, and save it again as a UTF-8 .txt file (the only kind Anki can read). Ready to import!
What do you think? Please let me know if these directions aren’t clear enough!
Can I learn Korean in 3 months with the #Add1Challenge?
The +1 Challenge was started by Brian Kwong, who has challenged us to learn a new language for 90 days.
The +1 Challenger’s Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLIyYMvGTq-ZwL3RuBk72O4Yv5y3cNRpnC
Language Tsar (Conor Clyne) pledges to learn Romanian: http://www.languagetsar.com/1-challenge-with-some-of-the-worlds-top-polyglots/
This is Kieran and I’m joining the “Add One Challenge.” The +1 Challenge was started by Brian Kwong, who has challenged us to learn a new language for 90 days. My goal is to learn Korean to fluency in three months.
I made a lot of South Korean friends at the University of Georgia, in Fukuoka, and in Shanghai. At Fudan University in Shanghai I lived with three roommates from South Korea and even made a friend from North Korea. I want to learn Korean to 1) to connect with friends, 2) to make new friends, and 3) to experience the beautiful Korean culture, particularly its rich literary tradition.
I’ve been learning Korean every day for a month. I begin my challenge today, September 30th, so my challenge will end on December 30th. At the end of the year, I will film myself having a spontaneous conversation in Korean with a native speaker. My plan is to learn at least an hour of Korean every day with Anki, Talk to Me in Korean, and some other resources introduced on the Mezzofanti Guild. I recommend everyone check out “Talk to Me in Korean;” it’s a fantastic course for learning Korean. I want to say thank you to Hyunwoo, Kyeong-eun, and the rest of the team for their hard work.
My daily goal is to review 100 new cards in my Korean deck. I’m using three public Anki decks. The first one is a deck of the 1000 most common Korean words with audio. The second is a deck of sentences, most of which are from Talk to Me in Korean. The third is a deck of Korean hanja. Since I speak Chinese and Japanese, I think the hanja will help me learn Korean words.
If I win this competition with myself, I’m going to win some delicious bulgogi. And for every day I miss our hairy cat is going to sit on my face. Gross.
I will update every week with a new video, so please subscribe to my YouTube channel! Check out the links at the bottom of the video, especially the playlist for the challenge where you watch other participant’s videos. Thanks for watching!
Korean grammar and Japanese grammar have a lot in common. They both use SOV word order and lots of particles; distinguish between “noun-adjectives” and “verb-adjectives”; don’t conjugate for plural, gender, or number; and are agglutinative (meaning they form structures by combining discrete parts with distinct meanings). However, Korean grammar is not exactly the same as Japanese grammar. For instance, negation is different.
In Japanese, verbs (and verb-adjectives) are negated by conjugation. (Strictly speaking, this could also be considered suffixation.) A verb nai that means ‘to not exist’ or ‘is not’ is added after a verb stem.
Verb: iku ‘to go’ or ‘[I/you/he/she/it] goes/is going/will go’
Verb stem: ik–
Negative: nai ‘is not; does not exist’
Negated verb: ikanai ‘to not go’ or ‘doesn’t go/isn’t going,’ etc.
Example: kare wa Tokyo ni ikanai ‘He isn’t going to Tokyo [with the rest of us].’
Korean can also conjugate verbs in this way. A verb anta that means ‘to not do’ can be added to the end of a verb. However, in Korean this is not the most colloquial or common way to make it verbs. The most common way to negate verbs is to add an adverb an ‘not’ before the verb.
Verb: gada ‘to go’
Verb stem: ga–
Negated verb: an + ga + ayo [present tense] = angayo ‘[I/you/he/she/it] doesn’t go’
Alternately, and less commonly:
Negative verb: anta ‘does not do’
Negative stem: an–
Negated verb: gaji + an + ayo = gaji anayo ‘doesn’t go’
NB: The formal form gaji an sumnida is much more natural. Adding anta to conjugate verbs is more formal than using an, but not formal enough for most formal situations, so gaji anayo is rarely heard, according to Lesson 21 of Talk to Me in Korean (TTMIK). I’ve been using TTMIK audio lessons to learn Korean.
Japanese and Korean grammar are similar, but not the same. Besides negation, can you think of any other differences?