PROPER reading material

One of my frustrations in learning Korean has been (not) finding real or realistic material which takes me beyond textbooks. So I was excited to find ‘Korean Short Stories for Beginners’, promising ‘PROPER reading material’, ‘interesting reading material’ and ‘easy-to-read, compelling and fun stories’. For beginners.

After ordering and receiving the book and its Intermediate companion, I found that their idea of PROPER reading material for beginners is three pages of text per story, albeit at a readable size and divided into paragraphs. My wife (a native Korean speaker with a qualification in teaching Korean to speakers of other languages) gasped with astonishment when I showed her. A member of my church choir said “There a no pictures!”. My idea of PROPER reading material for beginners is three paragraphs of text per story, with at least one picture.

The book also contains vocabulary lists for each chapter, English translations paragraph-by-paragraph, a one-paragraph summary of each story and a comprehension quiz. But three pages of text! With no pictures! I can understand the occasional sentence in its entirety, and get the gist of about half the sentences. 

I wish I could recommend the books, but I can’t, which is why I haven’t identified the publisher (but search and probably find). Maybe if they marketed the first one as intermediate and the second as upper-intermediate and included pictures, I might.

On Sunday I caught a bus to the city centre and a train home. I took this book to fill in time. Just after I got on the train, two women sat behind me and started talking Korean. I quickly hid the book; I didn’t want them to start speaking to me in Korean.

Most advice for second language learners includes something like “Take every opportunity to practice actually using the language.” But I rarely do, which partly explains why my level remains so low. And I would be terrified if people started speaking to me in Korean.

Some years ago I was reading a Korean textbook on a train when a woman sat next to me speaking Korean on her phone. She finished the call and looked straight at my textbook, so I had to say something. It quickly became apparent that her English was better than my Korean, so we talked in Korean until she got off.

PS A few days later I took and read the intermediate book, and found the language much easier (except the stories are longer and there’s no complete English translation).



In a comment to a recent post, I mixed up the Korean words 색 (saek, colour) and 책 (chaek, book). Two words which I often mix up are 의사 (ui-sa, doctor) and 의자 (chair). Of course I can tell the difference between colours and books, and doctors and chairs in real life (but maybe a doctor is chairing a meeting!), but the words kind of look the same. In fact, the consonant letters of the Korean alphabet were designed to illustrate the connections between the sounds they represent. They are (with their most common transliterations):

ㅁ m ㅂ b ㅍ p

ㄴ n ㄷ d ㅌ t 

ㅇ ng ㄱ g ㅋ k

ㅅ s ㅈ j ㅊ ch ㅎ h 

(Annoyingly, Korean typewriter/computer keyboards don’t advantage of these patterns. My Korean typing is very slow.) (Compare the IPA chart.)

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Slow, repeated listening in Korean

I had been struggling to find slow but mostly real spoken Korean to listen to repeatedly, but in the last few days I’ve found two resources which I will use a lot. 

The first is by Paul Shin, a Korean-American living in Incheon. One of his playlists is Learning Korean while you sleep. I can’t promise the “while you sleep” part, but he presents a large number of reasonably realistic sentences at full sleep, then slowly, then word-by-word, then a literal translation, then a more-or-less idiomatic translation. Some of his videos are only aural and others have the sentence written as well.  

Korean Class 101 is a major site for learning Korean. Their Slow listening for absolute beginners uses a totally different understanding of “absolute beginners” than mine, but they also have videos of repeated slow listening which work in the same way. They don’t have a playlist (at least, that I can find), but here is their main page and here is one slow listening video, from which you can link to others.

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498th post – Last day as English language teacher

Today is my last day as an English language teacher, after more than eleven and a half years at a language college, provincial government high school and university in South Korea and language colleges in Australia. I am making this move for a wide variety of reasons, related to the ESL sector in general (an Australian student visa requires attendance at classes for 20 hours per week, so most teachers are engaged for 20 hours per week, and there is very little opportunity to advance to a full-time position), the college and colleagues (some classes at some colleges are run as courses – the students start at the same time, do the course, and finish at the same time, but our English classes have been ‘start and finish when you need to’, and I’ve had to share a small office with up to four other people of various degrees of loudness in various languages, as student of various degrees of loudness in various languages come and go), the students (who have different levels of English, life experience and personal and study backgrounds, some of whom attend way less than 20 hours per week, and come and go, use their phone, chat in their own language or sleep when they are there), and myself (basically, dealing with all of the above, and commuting). 

Through English language teaching, I’ve lived in South Korea for two periods totalling three and a half years, met my wife, travelled to Hong Kong and Japan, met all kinds of other people in South Korea and Australia, gained my masters degree (and may yet go on to doctoral study), attempted to learn Korean (하지만 아직 잘 못 해요), developed a serious hobby of photography and started this blog. On the other hand, I’ve had to largely give up my other serious hobby of classical choral singing. (I can and will return to that, but it remains to be seen whether I will ever again perform at my peak.) So now it’s time for a change. From tomorrow …

Reading Korean

I have been looking for material in easy but “real” Korean to read. About a week ago I remembered a book I bought during my first stay in Korea (2006-2009). At that time there was a popular tv program called 미녀들의 수다 (mi-nyeo-deul-e su-da), which translates literally as “beautiful women’s chat/gossip”, but which was officially called “Global Talk Show”. Young women from various countries chatted in Korean with a Korean host or panel. The topics focused on the women’s lives in Korea, compared to their own, and varied from insightful to superficial.

In 2008 I saw a book based on the show, with the women’s spoken contributions transcribed and maybe edited, and bought it for my girlfriend/fiancee/wife, who, as far as I know, never read it. For about a week I have been browsing through it. The women’s levels of Korean varies, and I am able to get the gist of most of what they say, most of some sentences and all of occasional sentences. In one case, I understood a whole paragraph:

한국에서 만든 브라지어 너무너무 귀여워서 사고 싶어요. 하지만 나는 못 사. 한국 브라지어 너무 작아요~. D컾까지밖에 없어. 영국에는 F컾까지 있어. 나 영국에서 D컾 했지만 한국 D컾 너무 작아요. 캐서린과 도미니크도 힘들 거야.

I have no idea why I read that paragraph (it’s towards the end of the book – I’ve been browsing) and I have no idea why I can understand it all. If you don’t read Korean, I’ll just point you to the fact that a young woman is talking about D컾 and F컾 and let you guess from there.

From the information at the back of the book, that young woman had been learning Korean for three and a half years at the time. I certainly couldn’t put paragraphs like that together at that stage. In fact I probably couldn’t speak paragraphs like that now.

(I think I’ve typed that paragraph correctly. Anything strange may be her spoken Korean or may be my typed Korean.)

이레 sennight

Last week we bought some food at a Korean takeaway in Lidcombe called 이레. (We have been there before but I hadn’t noticed the name.) The simplest transliteration is ire (two syllables i-re), but the shop sign had irae (which of course reminds me of Latin) and the server’s apron had irea.

Neither my dictionary app or Google Translate has this word, so I asked my wife. She had to think long and hard before answering “seven days”. The usual way to say “seven days” is 칠일 (chil-il), but I thought of two words I know from one of my Korean textbooks 하루 (ha-ru) and 이틀 (i-teul), meaning “one day” and “two days”. I asked her if 이레 was related to those, and she said yes. (The textbook introduced those words in the context of taking medicine after a medical appointment.) Continue reading

Speaking and listening to Korean

My wife’s sister-in-law is visiting from Korea, less to visit us and more to visit her daughter/our niece, who is living with us while she studies at university her. Her English is very limited (essentially just those English words which are used in Korean), so we must rely on my Korean to communicate. My listening is the worst part of my Korean, and three instances of a mis-hearing have stuck in my mind.

On the day she arrived, her daughter/our niece caught a train to the airport, met her, they caught a train back and I picked them up at our local station. I said hello, it’s nice to see you (in Korean). She then said something which flummoxed me. The Korean word for wait starts with 기다 (gi-da). I heard 기도 (gi-do), which is the Korean word for prayer, and I couldn’t figure out why she was asking me about praying. Our niece eventually translated (she’d said Have you been waiting long?). Continue reading

Slow listening for absolute beginners

Recently I have been searching online for “easy korean reading practice”, of which there is not much, and “easy korean listening practice”, of which there is some, but Korean educators’ idea of “easy” doesn’t match with mine.

There’s 25 Minutes of Korean Listening Comprehension for Absolute Beginners from Talk to me in Korean. Reading the comments, I’m not alone in thinking that it’s not really for absolute beginners. The format is helpful and consistent: a cartoon graphic four choices, the audio gives a scenario and asks a question, then there’s a short conversation or monologue without subtitles, the question is repeated, then the conversation or monologue is repeated with Korean and English subtitles, and the graphic animates to eliminate the incorrect choices and highlight the correct one. I can’t understand anything in its entirely, mostly understand enough to answer the question, and sometimes don’t understand anything. My reading is far better – I can understand everything (especially because the English translation is given as well). Continue reading

English be, have and do v Korean 이다, 있다 and 하다

The three most common and important verbs in English are be, have and do, and in Korean 이다 (i-da),  있다 (itt-da) and 하다 (ha-da) (in all their forms). As main verbs, these cover much the same meanings, but divide up those meanings in different ways. 이다 is narrower in usage than be, and 있다 and 하다 wider than have and do respectively. In particular, 하다 takes on meanings represented by English be and have, and also many main verbs.

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