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Ideal Systematic Approach to Korean?

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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Senior Member
United States
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184 posts - 5 votes
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish

 Message 1 of 18
13 October 2007 at 9:43pm | IP Logged 
Hello Dr. Arguelles. I had a question for you since you have had a lot of experience with learning Korean. For a complete beginner to Korean, what, in your opinion is the most ideal, systematic approach to tackle Korean? Thanks for your generousity and taking time to answer the questions of the forum members. We all appreciate it!

United States
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 Message 2 of 18
14 October 2007 at 6:48pm | IP Logged 
1)     Understand that you are committing yourself to a very difficult task and make that commitment seriously.

2)     Commit as much time as possible to the project and develop the habit of regular daily study at fixed intervals.

3)     Begin with [iLet’s Learn Korean by B.J. Jones (Hollym Press, 1982). Before you do anything else, take a black marker and ink out all the Romanization in the book, and be prepared also to edit the music and English off the recording.

4)     Initially, do nothing but blind shadow the accompanying tape, focusing entirely upon the phonetic aspect of the language for as long as you can stand to do so.

5)     When you have made as much progress with the rhythm and sounds of the language, learn how to read Korean aloud by working systematically through this excellent little introductory work, which will put you on the road to good pronunciation, help you develop basic literacy, and give you some useful vocabulary, phrases, and, hopefully, some intuitive feeling for the language.

6)     Work systematically and thoroughly through all the materials in the Historical, Literary, and Cultural Approach to the Korean Language, upon which I first collaborated with Professor Kim Jongrok in order to fill precisely this very specific need for a more systematic approach to the language.

7)     When you have done all of this, you should be at a certain juncture in your studies. For maximum efficiency in attaining the final goal of an actual full command of the language, you should endeavor to get to this point after about three months of studying for several hours each day. After this juncture you should continue working with the same intensity using a six pronged approach consisting of six different elements, some of which may at times be easily incorporated into each other, but all six of which should nonetheless be given specific attention in different measures according to different learning styles. These six elements are:

A.     Shadowing

B.     Working through many different volumes of grammatical textbooks and teaching
manuals such as Francis Y.T. Park’s Speaking Korean series (Hollym Press) and Fred Lukoff’s series of Courses in Korean from Yonsei University Press.

C.     Writing many sheets of Hangul out by hand on squared paper, reading aloud as you do so.

D.     Systematically mastering the 1800 basic Hanja from Bruce K. Grant’s Guide to Korean Characters (Hollym), again writing out squared sheets by hand while reading aloud.

E.     Internalizing the material in Miho Choo and William O’Grady’s Handbook of Korean Vocabulary (University of Hawaii Press 1996) by reading and writing out loud, making vocabulary cards, using mnemonics, etc

F.     Chanting aloud the rhythms of the patterns of the paradigms to be found in A Handbook of Korean Verbal Conjugation, available from Dunwoody Press.

8)     Expect to engage in these activities for several hours each day each and every single day for at least one full calendar year and more likely for several years before you come to a new juncture.

9)     If you are fortunate enough to be able to add a 7th element of conversation with native speakers at any point in the process, by all means do so, but also by no means neglect any of the other six elements. If you do not have this opportunity, however, at this juncture you should actively seek it out, i.e., plan some sort of excursion containing organized intensive linguistic immersion on the Korean peninsula.

10)     While there, you should acquire both as many graded readers and as much easy authentic material in subjects of interest to you as you can (children’s literature and schoolbooks, translated texts, more complex Hanja workbooks, etc.), as from this point on you should be advanced enough to chart your own course.

11)     Keep your perspective at all times. Foreigners who have emigrated to Korea and engaged the language in a serious fashion generally report that it takes something on the order of fifteen years in the country before they feel truly 100% at home in it. So, do not berate yourself if after ten years of study you still cannot effortlessly read a novel; this is normal and to be expected. “Survival Korean” can be attained in a matter of months, but true systematic exploration and appreciation of the language is a life's work.

Edited by ProfArguelles on 05 November 2007 at 9:13am

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Senior Member
United States
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Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish

 Message 3 of 18
16 October 2007 at 9:03pm | IP Logged 
Thank you for the detailed response! I have one other question for you. I'm not sure if you are familiar with the book/cd combination package "The Sounds of Korean: A Pronunciation Guide" Published by University of Hawaii. I am heavily editing the mp3 cds to take out any english (the number for each exercise is in english) and the music that ends each section. Anyway, my question is where do you think this learning material fits in with the approach that you outlined? The book covers vowels, consonants, adjustments and prosody. It covers positioning of the mouth, lips, tongue etc for specific sounds. The exercises are varied. Thank you again for the response I greatly appreciate it.

United States
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 Message 4 of 18
21 October 2007 at 5:45pm | IP Logged 
I do not know the work you mention, but if it is from the University of Hawaii Press, then there is a high possibility that it might be very good indeed. If it is, then it could supplement or perhaps even substitute for the book by B.J. Jones that I suggested in point 3), very much at the beginning of your studies. Whether it supplements or substitutes would depend on the quality of the audio materials, and by this I mean not only production quality but subjective perception of the aesthetic quality of the recorded materials, and it is largely for this reason that I recommended Jones’ book.
2 persons have voted this message useful

Senior Member
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 Message 5 of 18
31 October 2007 at 1:35pm | IP Logged 
I would recommend The Sounds of Korean as a complement to what Professor Argüelles outlined above. To a complete beginner, I would think that much of The Sound of Korean is too steep, but it offers so much more on pronunciation than most introductory textbooks. It's the only English book I know where the different sounds are explained in some detail, and the sound changes of the Korean alphabet are described in detail. I keep coming back to the book and recordings to work on my pronunciation.

South Africa
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 Message 6 of 18
08 December 2007 at 5:45am | IP Logged 
Greetings Professor, I do apologise if I seem abit "nagging" in terms of all my posts about learning Korean. I have greatly reviewed all your (and others') posts concerning learning Korean and I have decided I will attempt your Ideal Systematic Approach. My question to you today is, does your recommendation provide a strong basis in reading, speaking and basic listening and writing skills ? My second question is whether you recommend purchasing directly from Hollym press (specifically refering to the materials in steps 3) and 6) ) ?

My situation: I want to start learning Korean for about six months, after which I will depart for holidaying in Europe for 3 weeks, during my holiday I will meet up with a friend of mine and her sister (they are both native Koreans) and so I want to have a basic literacy in this language to be able to communicate with them. Will your approach provide me with a means to be able to participate in basic communication and have a strong foundation in the language in order to persue further learning endeavours after my return ?

Thank you very much for your time and I do hope I haven't been too much of a hinderance.

Edited by Pip on 08 December 2007 at 5:53am

United States
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 Message 7 of 18
09 December 2007 at 5:49pm | IP Logged 
My approach will certainly provide you with a very strong basis in analyzing, reading, writing, and listening skills, and all of this in turn, provided you shadow properly, will provide you with what you need to get a strong basis in actually conversing, but that in itself you can only get from live practice with a conversation partner.

So many of the items I specifically recommend do come from Hollym, the world’s largest publisher of Korean learning materials, that it does make sense to order straight from them because their distribution also leaves a lot to be desired and you might have a hard time finding the materials elsewhere.

The approach I provided was in response to a request for an ideal approach to Korean, and I do believe this can take one further, faster, in all respects than any other approach. However, you need to be capable of using the approach properly, and disciplined and systematic autodidactic skills generally need to be developed. I do not know how much experience you have, and with specific upcoming goals 6 months away, you may well be better offer availing yourself of external discipline by enrolling in some sort of intensive FSI-like course.

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 Message 8 of 18
08 January 2008 at 11:15pm | IP Logged 
Hello Professor,

I've just come across this thread and I hope you don't mind my resurrecting it, as I find what you've written here very interesting and have a related question.

I assume the estimates you've given here for the amount of time it would take to reach each stage of your approach apply to the typical Westerner starting from scratch with zero knowledge of Korean or other Asian languages. But I wonder how much you think this time would be reduced for someone who already has an advanced knowledge of Japanese and a basic knowledge of Mandarin?

I've been chipping away at Japanese for several years now (almost entirely through self-study, though I did supplement this with four semesters of classes at university) and have reached the point where I can read Japanese literature without a dictionary and understand about 90% of the content. Lately I've been concentrating all my efforts on the seemingly endless task of increasing my Japanese vocabulary, as I hope to move to Japan in the near future and my goal is to reach the level of an educated native speaker.

However, I must admit that I haven't been managing my time well as of late, and many of those hours that could have been spent on Japanese have been wasted away mindlessly sitting in front of the TV or browsing the Internet. I want to kick myself for not using my time more productively, but I wonder if putting a little more diversity into my routine might help give me the motivation I need. As much as I love Japanese, sometimes it's difficult to get into it, and it can be frustrating at those times when it feels like I'm making no progress.

Here's the thing: I've always wanted to learn Korean. I love the way the language sounds, I find the culture fascinating and the people charming, and I really like Korean movies. Sometimes I wish I'd tried learning Korean instead of Mandarin, which I started in college and spent a couple years studying on and off before realizing that I just didn't like the language as much as I liked Japanese. (I can still have a conversation in Mandarin and can read simple texts, but I haven't actively studied it for a few months). I have a feeling I'd probably take more of a liking to Korean, but I wonder if it would be a good idea to start studying it at this point.

I work about 30 hours a week and need to sleep at least 8 hours a day, and probably take about 1 hour a day for things like eating, so that leaves me with about 75 hours of free time a week. Theoretically that would mean 10.7 hours a day, but since my work schedule is very irregular, the amount of free time I have in a given day varies. Anyway, with that much free time (assuming I can manage my time better than I have been) it actually seems quite conceivable to continue intensively working on my Japanese vocabulary while also working on Korean. Would you agree?

My thought is that my knowledge of Japanese should give me quite a head start in grasping a lot of Korean grammar and vocabulary. As for Hanja, all I'd have to do is learn their Korean readings. In your opinion, just how much of a "discount" would I get on Korean?

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. I know you don't have much time to spend on this forum and I understand if you're unable to reply, but I'll check bad next week just in case.


Jana F.

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