We’ve got a different sort of post today: a language workbook review!
Basically, a while ago, I received an email from the author of these Korean language learning workbooks “Learn to write Korean,” asking if I was located in the US, and if I’d be interested to receive a free copy each, of their Korean writing workbooks, in exchange for a fair review.
The books are described as:
“A fun two-volume Korean workbook series, tailored specifically to those who want to learn the dialogue they hear so often in Korean dramas. Each volume features 100 of the most common words and phrases from K-dramas, and provides definitions, pronunciation guides, and tracing practice (with ample space) for each word or phrase!”
I thought that sounded like a potentially fun and useful resource for us kdrama fans, and accepted the invitation. However, because I’m not located in the US, Trent (who is!) kindly agreed to receive the workbooks, in exchange for a fair review – and here it is!
Big thanks to Trent, for reviewing these books for us! I hope you guys find this useful! (Links to purchase the books are at the end of the review.)
Learn to Write Korean: Common Words & Phrases From Korean Dramas, Vol. I-II
So a few weeks ago (okay, just an itty-bit more than a few…I’m tardy, okay? 미안해…) our gracious host contacted me to ask if I would be interested in taking a couple Korean language instruction books for a spin and then writing a review.
Conveniently forgetting both my generally full schedule and (more to the point) my seemingly ineradicable, innate propensity to procrastinate anything and everything right up to the cliff’s edge of disaster (and occasionally beyond), I blithely responded that sure, that sounded cool! Love to do it!
Anyway, here we are, a bit later than we might have hoped (fine, more than a bit), but late is better than never, sez I, and who is there that dares gainsay me? (Hush, you there in the back…).
Alright, so let’s roll up the sleeves and get right into it. I’m going to proceed by posing—and trying to answer—three questions. First, what are these books? (i.e. a straightforward physical description). Second, what are they meant to do? And third, who is the target audience?
What Are These?
The first question is the simplest. These are two workbooks, standard (U.S.) letter size of 8.5×11 inches (21.5×28 cm) and each about a half an inch (1.25 cm) thick. The covers are a standard “soft cover” of heavy cardstock, with a plain, straightforward cover design, as you can see here.
The production value on these feels quite solid: between the covers, the paper is of good quality, and is firmly bound – an important consideration, as these are first and foremost workbooks, meant to be used for writing practice (as we shall see), so it’s important that the pages are able to stay fixed in the binding – and the fonts are clear and simple, and large enough to see without eyestrain.
So overall, these are well put together on a physical level.
What Are These For?
Well, it’s kind of right there in the title, you know? Although I feel like there may be just a wee bit of misdirection surrounding the word “learn,” and the expectations it might generate.
What do I mean? Let me see if I can explain.
Each book is composed of 100 words or phrases, and each word/phrase gets two opposing pages, with the left-side containing the phrase written in Hangul (Korean script), the pronunciation in Romanization (Latin alphabet), a brief definition, a block of practice squares with the Hangul word printed in light gray font (suitable for tracing over), and another block of empty practice squares.
The facing (right-side) page is just a full page of empty practice squares so you can, well, practice writing out the word or phrase. After all, we learn through doing, right?
Here’s a representative two-page spread to show what the format looks like.
And here’s a page that has been used as intended, with all the practice squares filled in (by me) by writing out the word.
(You are welcome to point and laugh at my terrible handwriting: my handwriting in English is likewise pretty bad, and in spite of more than two decades of practice, my Chinese handwriting is nothing to inspire poets to exclaim in admiration, either.)
And that’s it, literally.
These are a set of books that espouse the principle that you learn to do a thing by actually doing it. Which on a very fundamental level makes sense, right? You want to learn to write Korean, well, at some point you’re going to have to put pen to paper and start writing Korean.
These books are here to give you that opportunity, which is why I described them as “workbooks” earlier. They are meant to be written in; indeed, that’s their entire focus and purpose.
As you can probably see from the pictures, the practice squares on each page are generously sized, so you can really be bold in writing out those individual symbols. That’s good, especially when you’re just learning.
If there’s one suggestion for a slight modification that I think might be helpful, it would be to have each square quartered by light gray or dashed lines, so that each square is divided into quadrants.
That’s a suggestion borrowed from my familiarity with similar type practice paper and practice exercises used to learn to write Chinese characters, the point being that a crucial part of writing legibly in Chinese is getting the relative sizing and spacing among the various elements of a character to be properly balanced.
And it’s just easier to do that when the writing space is divided into quadrants, so you can better gauge where to place each element and how to size them to make an overall harmonious whole.
This might be less of a consideration for Korean writing, where the usable symbols and combinations are much more finite, but I think you do still have to engage in somewhat the same sizing and balancing exercise to make each overall block of writing fit together legibly.
Just a thought…
Who Are These For?
So let me circle back around to that idea of “learning” that I mentioned up above.
As you’ve perhaps noticed if you’ve been paying attention and have made it this far, I’ve so far been talking about what these books contain. So now let me talk a bit about what they don’t contain.
The entirety of each book is just as I described above: 100 words/phrases, with space to practice writing them out.
There is no preface, forward, explanation (of anything), description of which Romanization system is being used for pronunciations, or Hangul chart (with or without a corresponding Latin letter/sound).
Nor is there any description or brief history of the development of Hangul (Sejong the Great is not amused!), any discussion of hierarchies built into the Korean language – not even the basic distinction between banmal and jondaemal (casual v. formal/polite), or anything remotely resembling an explanation of grammar.
Now, to be sure, there is something to be said for a minimalist approach.
Just jump in and start doing something, whether you really understand it at the outset or not, and pretty soon you’ll find that you’re absorbing the knowledge… You are learning through doing.
But I also feel like that is a potential recipe for frustration when you have absolutely no background or referents to build on, before you jump into the deep end and start trying to swim.
That’s why I feel that the key to whom these books are intended for, and who might make best use of them, is also contained in the (sub)title: “Common Words and Phrases from Korean Dramas.”
If you’re picking these up with absolutely no prior contact with the Korean language, you’re going to be at sea and it’s probably not going to be a very happy experience.
But if you’ve got a decent background watching kdramas, you will have already encountered most, if not all, of the words and phrases contained in these books.
Even if you don’t know a word, you may well recognize it as something you have heard – this happened to me several times, as I read a word or phrase in the book and was like, “Oh yeah, okay, I recall hearing something like that; that’s what it means.”
If you have that foundational familiarity to fall back on (and to be clear, it doesn’t necessarily have to be via kdramas – maybe you’ve taken a Korean class or two, or had Korean friends and you’ve spent some time listening to them talk in Korean – just some meaningful contact with the language), then it probably goes a long way towards smoothing out confusion that might arise from how a given Romanized word or phrase should be pronounced.
That’s because you’ll probably be able to recognize it as something you’ve heard a native speaker say a bunch of times and so your “ear” knows what it should sound like.
For example: you’ve probably heard a distraught drama character exclaim, “What to do?!,” a thousand times, so the Romanization that the book uses (“uh-dduk-hae”) – potentially confusing with no prior context – is probably enough to clue you in, and help you recognize that phrase you’ve heard.
Likewise, if you’ve had some contact with Hangul before, and how the symbols are meant to fit together to make discrete syllables, then you’re all set.
If you have no idea how Hangul is constructed, then it’s likely that you can sort of put things together just by practicing writing the words, but I’d wager it’s also going to be kind of frustrating, as you grope around to figure out things on your own.
Some things are easily explained (for instance, that a circle is an unvoiced place holder in initial position, but represents the sound “ng” in final position), and others are not so easily explained (double consonants, vowel combinations).
Fortunately, Hangul is really a very impressively efficient writing system (yay! Sejong! You’re Great!), so the basics can be explained and grasped quickly and fairly easily, but still.
So really, I think if you do have that basic foundational familiarity, having heard all of these common words and phrases many times (depending on how many dramas you’ve seen, of course), and having some notion of how the writing system works, then this is probably a pretty good set of exercises to really get your feet wet, to jump in and get some actual familiarity with writing words and phrases.
Now, just a word about preferences.
If you’re like me, coming from a quasi-academic, legalistic background, and always wanting to know how everything fits together, and what’s the explanation for everything, then the total lack of anything along those lines is probably going to be a bit dissatisfying.
I’m the type who wants and even expects to have that Hangul chart with approximate Latin alphabet correspondences printed somewhere upfront, and maybe a brief blurb about where Hangul came from and how it was developed, and a nod at the hierarchical complexity of the language.
To be fair, I realize that those are not the fish these books are setting out to fry, and all that knowledge can be easily found elsewhere.
But be aware that these books are not really crafted to teach anyone Korean in any real sense.
They’re meant to facilitate learning and practicing how to write Hangul, using words and phrases that their target audience – some portion of the assembled denizens of kdramaland -are already likely to have at least some passing familiarity with.
If that describes you (and would you be here if it didn’t?), and you want to try your hand at practicing writing Hangul in a reasonably structured, organized sort of way, these workbooks are going to be a good resource for you to get that hands-on practice.
Where to buy?
If you’re interested in trying out these writing workbooks for yourself, you can find them on Amazon!
Unfortunately, it looks like Amazon is only making the books available to a limited number of countries, such as the US, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, Canada, Australia.
However, if you’re keen to get the books but are not located in any of these countries, you might be able to make use of a service like HopShopGo, that will shop &/or ship for you, for a fee.
Thanks again for an awesome, fair and thorough review, Trent! 😃