Self-studying Korean | 독학으로 한국말을 배우다

Way back, I haven’t been reading a lot of blogs from people who self-study Korean, but now that I’m blogging about my learning experiences, I’m extremely curious about how hard self-studying is.

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My books

I started learning Korean through self-studying which is a good start for an intensive course. That way, I for sure, would just be learning about the most basic of the basics. So when I start with the real lessons, I won’t have to experience culture shock.

Especially, 한글 is extremely easy (sans the complex pronunciation rules, e.g. 연락, 막내, etc.), so studying it alone wouldn’t be very hard. What more, mastering how to read and write 한글 in advance is vital if you’re planning to study formally. That way, you’ll only be focusing on correct pronunciation rather than memorization. Other lessons like -(스)ㅂ니다, or -아/어요 are also exceptions but here comes the tricky part. Which speech level to learn first.

Through TTMIK, I started learning through -아/어요 form, so when I attended formal lessons, it shifted to -(스)ㅂ니다 form it was completely different. From ‘가요’ to ‘갑니다’, ‘읽어요’ to ‘읽습니다’, it was not really confusing, but I thought I would commence learning from what I already know.

Why worry about the difficulties of self-studying if you have a good textbook? It’s still hard. I’ve seen good and systematic textbooks, starting from conversations, dissection of words and grammar points, further explanation of the grammar points and student’s application. But I feel it’s not enough. There are some vocabulary entries that requires explanations. I’ve seen ‘그렇습니까’ defined as ‘That’s right’, which is really confusing if I don’t know the word ‘그렇다’ yet. And it’s more confusing since it was not used as ‘That’s right’ when you read the dialogue. Also, local bookstores (as for here) don’t carry a lot of good Korean books. More on faulty romanized dictionaries and phrase books, but as for legit textbooks… ㅡ.ㅡ

Some other words have different meanings, like for ‘쓰다’, I thought it was just ‘to write but I’ve learned four (3 verbs, 1 adjective) which I might not use if I haven’t heard it from my 선생님. Then there’s ‘사용하다’ which means the same, but when do you use them. How about -아/어서, -기 때문에, and -으니까? How about the various usages of -(으)로 and -(이)나? Of course you can always consult good books like ‘Korean Grammar in Use’ but you can’t expect to get answered instantly. Also, there are various Korean language study communities and resources online, but it’s not very instant.

Of course it’s also hard not to self-study most especially if you’re in desperate need of learning the language but no classes are being offered nearby, or it won’t fit your schedule, or it’s expensive and commute is inconvenient. But still, having a teacher is completely important. There are people who could juggle words and grammar patterns, make good sentences, but if you ask them to read what they have written, they sound like 군인, 사투리, or 평양 사람. They can introduce themselves but if you ask them in Korean what they did last weekend, they’ll be “네?? 음…. 그냥…..”.

Self-studying Pros/Cons

I try to look at both sides for every pro and con, some things can be a pro and a con at the same time.

Privacy, no fear of criticisms

Is this really a pro? Maybe in a different setting, it might be a pro, but when it comes to language, you don’t need privacy, you need criticisms. Why? Learning a language is liquid. You don’t use it just within yourself, you would never improve if you don’t want to talk with peers or a teacher about the language you’re learning. Having the confidence to read and write alone is good, but if you would not apply and use that confidence for conversations, there’s no sense in learning the language at all.

Why we need criticisms? Reading like a soldier, or in a different dialect-ish tone is just as embarrassing as being afraid to talk (though you’re proficient by yourself). People know you study hard about the language but when there’s a chance to be introduced to a native speaker, you go mute, and shy.

Time and pacing

Another good thing about self-studying is time flexibility. The ‘가나다’ book that we’re using right now is perfectly divided for the whole term of 72 hours, 1 lesson per day, and a review segment for the sixth day. Sometimes, only 1 easy grammar pattern is being taught for a lesson, and even if we can freely move on to the next, we just don’t. When you self-study, you can choose how much lessons, words or grammar patterns to study for a certain period. You can choose to ponder for a whole grammar pattern the whole day, but at school, you just have to move on. But then again, you can always ask your teacher about confusing matters.  Without this, studying alone adds more confusion and frustration.

But what’s the downside to a flexible time? Before, I would go for 3 to 5 TTMIK lessons per day and understand it perfectly, but the day after… *brain farts*. The more you learn, the quicker you forget. At school, there’s a syllabus to follow so practice and repetitions are guaranteed to increase mind’s retention.

Extensive source

This is not particularly limited to self-studying, but focusing on self-study, you are not being boxed on a single book. You can choose which method is better. You can choose to learn online if you don’t have a book. You can choose which particular book to use, etc.

But then again, if you’re having formal lessons and you have a required book, you can still look things up on different sources. I for one got very confused about -(으)ㄴ데/는데, so I looked it up through TTMIK and my confusion dissolved. You can always buy a book, ask native speakers through online communities, have exchanges with fellow learners, etc.

Syllabus

When I was still planning to learn the language, I’ve been looking for a good syllabus online. I had no access to elementary textbooks, so I wouldn’t know how to learn systematically and time-wise. Self-studying lacks this. If you’re planning to take the Beginner TOPIK you wouldn’t know up to what grammar point, and which grammar point to study first.

Which, on the other hand, if a syllabus is followed strictly, your teacher may not extend lessons outside the planned lessons. Like now, we encounter a lot of pure Korean and 한자-derived words, so I would at least want to learn how the word looks like in Chinese, so I have to look it up myself, which is deadly confusing. Self-studying is more wider and limitless, but it lacks system and order.

Motivation and confidence

Self-studying may take years until a student feels proficient and fluent enough, but conversationally, I’m not sure about their confidence and adeptness. They may be perfectly well and self-taught. May know most words up to Intermediate level. Can mix up a lot of grammar points, but when conversationally asked about things, I’m not sure.

Self-studying can be less motivating since you only study by yourself. Eventually you’ll lose practice and come to a conclusion that you don’t want to continue anymore. You don’t receive compliments if you did well. You’re not sure if you’re still learning the right thing, so when you have been studying wrongly and finally had the opportunity to converse with a Korean and you get corrected for something you thought right for a very long time, it’s embarrassing and demotivating.

With proper lessons, you get classmates and friends you can talk with, simple things about the time, weather, what happened last weekend, etc. And besides the teacher would be guiding your every step so mistakes are at minimum. It’s also demotivating depending on the teacher. There might be instructors who would make you feel down if you don’t get the lessons. But then again, it’s more important if you get criticisms and corrections… but that is…

Native teacher

It’s good to study formally if you will be handled by a native speaker. There are two sides to it. During my Elementary 1, my teacher had this hard Korean accent which was very hard to understand at first but as time went, it became bearable and music to the ears. And besides, it’s a good practice since most Koreans may also have hard English accent, so conversing with them in English might not be so hard anymore, given the chance.

It’s also okay if non-native speaker would teach, but then again, there are no deeper backgrounds from the words. A native speaker used the word all her life so explaining it from an experience rather than from a book is more fluid, accurate and more relate-able.

Romanization and translations

I never studied Korean through romanization. It is super super foul, and may I say ew?? Of course, at one point in my life, I searched for romanized lyrics, but I just didn’t want to study that way. The moment I learned how to read and write, I have always searched lyrics in 한글. I might have had difficulties reading them at first, but the results were all worth it. Now I can read and rap-along to Korean hip-hop music. For self-studying learners, this is one of the biggest mistakes. Instead of studying about how to read and write, they tend to study phrases and things they hear from dramas, then tweet or status it on Facebook, IN ROMANIZATIONS. It’s really foul, sorry.

There are mixed views about translations though. There are people who find it important. As for me, I try to skip translation as much as possible. Of course it’s necessary, but now that I can simplify definitions in Korean, I try hard not to use translations anymore. Sometimes, it’s also helpful to translate complex Korean words/grammar to own’s native language. ‘이/그/저’ for example is translated to ‘this/that/that’ in English. There are two ‘that’s and at first, it’s complicated to remember which is which, but since in Filipino it can be translated to ‘ito/ayan/ayun’, it’s easily recognizable.

Conclusion

Self-studying is probably the most convenient way to study Korean, but it’s also important to have lessons if you have the luxury of time. It might not be very necessary for some to take lessons if they can be proficient by themselves since proper studying habits and motivation are the only key in learning a language. It’s probably hard since Korean is almost always considered to be one of the hardest languages to study for English-speaking natives, but having goals on what to attain after studying is also important.

Immersion is as important as learning it by book. Having five years of self-study without personal interactions with native or Korean-speaking people is, for me, a waste of time.

It would probably be best to do both, formal lessons and self-study. As always, there are a lot of free resources online. Good thing about proper lesson gives you a system of learning, gives you a reason to stay focused, and on time. Good thing about self-study on the other hand is more on the improvement side. Things taught from school can be widened through owned books, online articles, online lessons, and people alike learning the same language.

What are your thoughts about self-studying?

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11 thoughts on “Self-studying Korean | 독학으로 한국말을 배우다

  1. Very well said! When I was studying E2, we often skipped words/sentences which were not related to the topic discussed that day. 선생님 said it would just confuse us if we ask too much questions. We should just wait until we discuss that particular point. That was one of the things I didn’t like before, because I was really curious. That was when self-studying came to light. I found self-studying more convenient because I am free to study anything at my own pace, whenever I like. But I miss being criticized when I mispronounce words or when my sentence sounds awkward.

    I remember that I didn’t take E2 as seriously as planned because I got too comfortable with the friends I made. I was irresponsible, and 선생님 noticed that too. One time, I forgot to bring my book and when 선생님 noticed, she came to me and asked me where my book was. I answered that I left it at home, but it’s okay because I can still manage to understand the lesson. And then she told me, “Oh, so you’re already good at Korean that you don’t need a book anymore? Okay.” Well that conversation was in Korean of course. I think she found me proud, but that’s not really what I meant. ㅠ_ㅠ I was embarrassed but I felt that she just wanted me to feel responsible. Even when I studied E1, I didn’t make effort to answer homework. I only rushed to finish those before the class started. I took that habit to E2, but since 선생님 comes earlier, she noticed that attitude too.

    What I meant to say is that, formal classes can be more effective is the student himself is disciplined and passionate. Before I began attending classes, I was really enthusiastic to learn but as I made friends who weren’t as motivated as me, my passion seemed to have turned to a simple past-time.

    Back to self-studying, I usually get more motivated when I see other learners studying. I just don’t want to fall behind too much. CHALLENGE. That’s one of my motivations in self-studying. I also sing along with songs through 한글 가사. I now find romanised lyrics hard to follow, maybe because I got too used to seeing 한글 characters. XD

    ~ Sorry for the long comment. I got carried away by your post. 😀

    • Wooooooahhh! Thank you for reading my very long post. I am indeed touched. ㅎㅎㅎ. 댓글을 길고 따뜻하게 해 드려서 정말 감사합니다. As for that matter, yeah it might be very frustrating at times, but I understand the teachers because they might just be avoiding information overload. I remember 노 선생님, sometimes she would unconsciously use grammar points that are not yet taught like -잖아, etc, but since we understood the gist of the sentence, we just didn’t ask anymore. Maybe because there are instances that can’t be explained in a simple way, if she try to explain it simply, we might just have a wrong understanding about it and when it gets retained in our brain, it’s effed up forever.

      어머! 나쁜 여자!! ㅎㅎ 저는, not being very arrogant or anything, but I feel like 노 선생님 trusts me so much. One time, during the -중에서… 제일… lessons, 말하기 – 쓰기 – 읽기… she told the class that whenever she thinks about 말하기 she would remember me instantly. And she would always exclaim ‘excellent’ or ‘맞아요’ whenever she’s asking trivial questions that my other classmates can’t understand. That’s why I try my hardest to study hard even if I’m already working, and my time’s very limited and tiring. There were a lot of instances too that I hurry my assignment the moment I arrived at school, or while I’m on the bus to school, I answer my assignments through my phone, but most of the time, my answers were just ‘formatted’, seems like I didn’t put much thought. I noticed it once, we had an assignment and I looked like I didn’t have answers so during question and answer items, she didn’t call me for the answer part, but just for the question. Maybe she was a little bit disappointed that time. My former E1 classmates told me that 노 선생님 talks with 강 선생님 about me, which was O_O.

      I guess if I wouldn’t get a slot or time, or opportunity or anything that might hinder me from taking this year or next year’s first term I-1, I might go transfer to self-studying which might be very hard for me since I started my first lessons with guidance. It would be very hard but I’m not satisfied with what I know right now. I will try to achieve Level 4 or 5, just so I could get highly conversational, could read 소설 and 신문, but not too proficient to conduct researches, etc (which is also an option if by the time I reached my goal, I’m still not contented).

      Reading some blogs through WordPress helps me get motivated, since I know for sure that I can also do what they do. And besides, it’s fun. If I fail or not, it’s not a very big loss since this learning is just for fun, not a basis for my humanity. ㅎㅎㅎ. If and by chance there’s I-1 next term, 같이 갑시다! ^^

      • Wow. That’s a looong reply! 😀 That’s interesting! At least she is taken more seriously now. Because during our time (and the batch before us), I think she wasn’t as respected as she is now. I mean, maybe because the students were not that comfortable with her before. If she’s that concerned about you, then that’s a good sign! She really likes you then. 😉

        “I will try to achieve Level 4 or 5, just so I could get highly conversational, could read 소설 and 신문, but not too proficient to conduct researches, etc (which is also an option if by the time I reached my goal, I’m still not contented).”

        I agree with this because I feel the same way.. For now I think I’d be fulfilled to be able to read 소설 and 신문 comfortably and converse more confidently on various topics..

        Yes, yes! Learning should be fun! ^__^ 열공하자! 😀

      • If she was not taken seriously before, I feel sad for her, and for… you know. It’s sad. *lol* 슬퍼졌어요. I mean she’s a sweet 선생님, or maybe there are just classes where teachers feel more warm, and there are classes where they feel demotivated. Orrr maybe, one theory may be because she can handle Filipino students now. Maybe before she’s still in the process of warming up.

        Thinking about that 소설 and 신문… I wonder when would that be… Let’s not think about it then, and just have fun, right? 😀 재미있게 공부할 때 좋아요.

      • Yes, it’s quite sad.. But that could be because both sides were still in the ‘adjustment period’ so we/they are still ‘nangangapa’ or ‘nakikiramdam.’ But I admire her because even when we were not as serious as she would’ve expected, she still urged and encouraged us to study hard. 🙂

        Yeah, who knows, one of these days, we might just be able to understand 소설 and 신문 before we realize it. 🙂

  2. Here I am again. I’m sorry. Your posts are enjoyable to read particularly this post. Forgive me for this LENGTHY comment. XD Just sharing my point of view as a self-learner. Yes, it is hard but there are things that you may find enjoyable when it comes to self studying.

    I’ve been learning Korean for over two years through self-studying. The disadvantages that you have mentioned on your post were true however, none of them were actually deal breakers and self learners like me have ways to solve these problems. I live in a city where no schools or institute offers Korean language courses so I said goodbye to my dream of being able to learn Korean. I thought it was just plain impossible to learn a language without taking a class. I have lived with that belief until one day, I found Shanna’s (hangukdrama) blog and reading her posts made me believe that it is possible to learn without taking classes. So I decided to self-study since I have no other choice. I learned Hangul in less than an hour and I read better in Hangul than in romanized text. I cringe in disgust whenever I see romanized words. I started with TTMIK then eventually started buying textbooks and within a year, I was already translating articles for fansites.

    I didn’t have someone to teach me the proper pronunciation but I still learned it just by simply using my ears and studying pronunciation rules. Language learners are familiar with a method called “shadowing” wherein you copy and mimic what you hear. We rip audios from dramas or TTMIK’s Iyagi and listen to it without reading the script to test our listening and comprehension skills. Then we study the script, look up the words we’re not familiar with then listen to the audio again while reading the script out loud and trying to copy the tone, the accent and the pronunciation.

    As for speaking problems, self studying doesn’t necessarily mean you do everything alone. Some learners join language exchange sites to find native speakers for speaking practice. Some are fortunate enough to have Korean friends they can talk to. I’ve met Korean friends online and I’ve talked to them through Skype’s voice chat. They’ve been generous enough to let me practice with them. My Korean friends are very kind and it pleases them to know I am going through all the trouble just to learn their language so they’re willing to help me with anything from speaking practice to correcting my journal. They are also very generous with criticisms and compliments and I’m very much grateful for that.

    As for TOPIK, there are books that were made for TOPIK learners. It contains a list of grammar patterns that will most likely appear in the exam. It also has TOPIK-like exercises or you can go online and download previous TOPIK exam papers. I have met learners who are really good in Korean but don’t have TOPIK certificates.

    As for getting embarrassed and demotivated for making mistakes…All of us will always make mistakes but you just have to shrug it off and learn from it. A language learner must never be scared to make mistakes. The more mistakes you make, the faster you learn and the closer you are to your goal which is fluency. If I don’t talk to a Korean because I’m scared that I’ll make mistakes then how will I know how good or bad I am at speaking? You just really have to take the risk.

    I have studied Fookien from a class years ago and gosh, it just caused my passion to learn it vanish in a heartbeat. I hated how we have to repeat lessons for other who still didn’t get it. I looked forward to each session hoping we would tackle another lesson but to my dismay, we had to review again. I didn’t like being forced to memorize long list of words for an exam. I just end up forgetting those words the next day. I also experienced attending a Korean Skype class for two sessions. I didn’t work for me. I’d rather study at my own pace.

    Sooner or later, you will have to stop learning from a teacher because you have already reached the end of the syllabus and they can’t teach you everything and you’ll have to continue learning on your own.

    But just like what they say, what works for me may not work for you. :3

    • Are they really enjoyable? *cries* I’m not gonna forgive you, lol. I’m actually gonna thank you for backreading my older posts because like what I’ve said from my last comment, not everyone backreads old posts, and you did. You even give LENGTHY comments which are not just helpful, but clears my brain and plucks some strings as well.

      Maybe there are just things that works for some and not for some, to each his own as they say, I never really imagined myself reaching my current level if it weren’t for my schooling. I’m very lucky to be living in Manila, since if Korean Cultural Center’s not existing, there are still a few institutions I can choose to learn Korean from. And without these institutions for learning, I don’t think I’ll be able to reach my level just by studying alone through textbook etc., things I’ve pointed out through my blog post. I think I was just somehow spoiled from schooling, that I never embraced the power of self-studying the language.

      Whenever I meet people like you who studied so much by themselves, and being able to do better than me, I’m actually envious, because I thought I should be better than most, but I’m not. But looking at how greatly I’ve improved over the past year, I’m really proud of myself that I reached this level. If I just spent good hours of learning by myself, it may be highly demotivating and since I’m a naturally lazy-assed kid, I don’t think I’ll be able to be more motivated, since especially, I never had super close friends who are highly interested in learning Korean. At least, through my school, I found friends whom I can share my Korean-ness with. They’ve been my inspiration and just spazzing with them about our future travel to Korea is just so exciting. All the more ways to learn Korean.

      I actually never studied alone when I was at my elementary to college days, but with Korean, I found my new self. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t fond of self-studying is be because I never actually self-studied my whole life. And maybe it was just super easy to say that I don’t prefer self-studying over formal lesson is because I had a choice. I’m actually proud of you guys because you didn’t have a choice, but you still push hard to learn.

      What’s actually good about you guys is that you never cease to find online resources, primitive and non-traditional ways of learning. Like me, I would never choose to go learn through Skype because it will just weird me out *though I’m weird myself*, and I’m highly shy so talking with someone through the webcam is somehow a big no-no for me. I’m actually in 두근두근 mode whenever there’s a Korean nearby, but if there’s a chance to speak with them, I wouldn’t really mind. I would even actually prefer it, but just like what happened last time, I was just embarrassed. I believe it takes practice for everything to finally sink in, and I believe it will happen in that moment when I can finally land my feet in the airports of Incheon. But that would still gonna take a long long time. But hey, it’s not yet right to judge myself. I just have to finish my Intermediate Korean 1 and that’s the time for me to reevaluate myself since I think my school would not be able to provide more higher levels above Intermediate 1 due to lack of students eligible for the higher levels.

      Good thing though, during my Elementary Korean 2 whenever I had a free time, I can continuously self-study for 6 hours, and thinking about it, I guess I just have to make plans for myself to be able to self-study efficiently. Since self-studying would be new to me after my Intermediate Korean 1 (if I pass), then I should start formulating study plans that would best suit me. I should be ready to explore more complex grammar patterns, memorize new words by myself, etc. Through blogging and through reading other peoples experiences, I’m pretty sure self-studying wouldn’t be a very hard thing in the future 🙂 Not continuing my Korean after Intermediate 1 would be just a waste of over a year of learning. I wouldn’t let that happen so like what you’ve said, sooner or later, whatever happens, I don’t have a choice but to stand on my two feet.

      Through your comment, I became excited about it, so thank you for a very wonderful insight from someone who’s been self-studying for a long time now. Thanks for giving your heart through the comment as it really helped me a lot, and motivated me to study more in the future 🙂

  3. Could you please recommend some textbooks for beginners and where I could buy it. I’m starting self study soon and searching for textbooks and there are a lot of books but I don’t know which are better to buy.

    • Hi, I don’t know about you, but in here, Korean books sold through local bookstores can be very annoying, rubbish and basically something I would never recommend. Firstly, try to go visit Talk To Me In Korean. I reached about Level 2, when I decided I should study in a legit school. Since it was a classroom setting, we used Ganada. Check my review of that book, but I have the old one, so better check out the newer version. 🙂

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