I’ve been studying Korean on and off since 2006, so over the years I’ve gone through a lot of books, good and bad. If you’re in the market for a Korean book there are millions nowadays to choose from. While I’ve only studied from a small percentage of those, I hope these reviews might help you in your decision when buying a new book.
Sogang Korean: When I moved into level 3 at Metro Korean Academy, we switched to the Sogang series. I was quite pleased with this book. The only downside to using this in conjunction with the Beautiful Korean series was that Beautiful Korea didn’t teach reported speech in level 2 (which I think is a good thing personally) but Sogang did, so we had to play catch up. However, the Sogang books are great otherwise. Each chapter is divided into speaking, grammar, listening and reading (not much writing to be found in the text book). The stories are interesting to read and there are lots of illustrations and photos. I think as far as interesting textbooks go, this one is one of the best I’ve found. As you can see in the photo above, there are actually three books you need to buy if you get the whole set. The student book, the workbook (which is great for practice if you have the time to study), and the student book supplement which is available in English, Japanese and Chinese so that you can have explanations in a more comfortable format. Overall, it’s a great series, but only for classroom study. There are lots of discussion pages and it’s kind of hard to discuss a topic by yourself. The price also adds up when you include all three books. When I studied in level 4 I decided not to get the workbook since I didn’t have time to do the exercises.
Ganada/가나다: I only studied this Ganada book for one month in a Saturday course at Korean Language Academy in Gangnam. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the book or the class and I switched back to Metro Korean Academy. The book has very few illustrations, short, uninteresting dialogues and exercises that need to be done in a separate notebook because they don’t give you space in the book. While I did not like this book much at all, my boyfriend was quite happy with it. As he teaches Korean classes on Saturdays, he often uses this book when he teaches level 3. While it’s not intriguing, it does have good explanations of grammar, in English, in the book (no supplements necessary). The exercises are also good for doing orally in class. So, while I was not a big fan of this book, it may be worth studying in the right environment. There are also Chinese and Japanese versions of this book available.
Yonsei Leveled Reader: Upon the recommendation of a classmate of mine, I bought this Yonsei reading book. It comes in six levels and actually is great for reading practice. When I went to Kyobo to buy this, they didn’t have the level 3 which I wanted (reading is not my strong point) so I bought the level 4. When I flipped through the book in the store, it looked fine, but as I actually read through it I found it way over my head. All the word definitions were explained in Korean, not in English, and some of those words weren’t even in my dictionary. This actually was a good way to learn some vocabulary, but I found that I needed to look up every third word and I realized that that is not an effective way to study. This is actually an old reading series. Later, I went back and bought the Yonsei level 3 Reader and was quite pleased with the level, vocabulary exercises and discussion questions. Highly recommended, especially the new series!
KIIP Textbook: This is the book that studied at the 사회통합프로그렘 (KIIP/Korean Society and Cultural Integration Course). As it’s Intermediate 1 (Level 3) it’s a little on the easy side, but even in just the first chapter I found one grammar point that I was unfamiliar with (and one that I use everyday and was quite bored during the hour that the teacher went over it). It’s also nice because they don’t just talk about language, but history, culture and geography as well. Our first week’s lesson was learning the provinces of Korea. This was good for me since I have heard of most of them but I could never have found them on a map. I should probably study that map a little more because that’s some useful stuff. Unfortunately, this book is not commercially available and is only provided, for free, to the students of this government run class.
유학생을 위한 한국어: I mainly bought this book because, while it is a text book, it mainly focuses on grammar. After doing the first chapter I practiced three grammar tenses. One which I had never heard of, and two that I’d learned before but rarely use. It’s also got some worthwhile vocabulary here too. If you want to study on your own this could be a great book. Unfortunately, it doesn’t explain the grammar at all, so for me it’s best do to with my conversation partner.
Complete Guide to the TOPIK: This was the only book that I bought to practice for the TOPIK exam. It’s basically just a practice test book, though perhaps better than some because it has English explanations for the first test (there are three tests). However, this test is based on the old format of the test, not the new one, the writing questions were much more difficult than the ones on some of the newer tests. Really, when it comes down to it, when you can download all the old tests for free online, is it really necessary to pay for a book of practice tests? If you’re looking for TOPIK practice, it may be better to buy a book that focuses on one subject like reading, writing, listening or grammar.
Wild Korean: A fieldguide to Real Korean Conversation: (Disclosure: I am an editor of this book) Wild Korean, while I’ve never studied with it, is a good textbook for several reasons. a) It’s great for self study. b) It purposely does not teach formal language. c) You can choose to go as in depth as you like. As you start to study the book, it can look really overwhelming, especially with the long lists of vocabulary. They’re not there for you to memorize everything (unless you want to), but we designed it that way so that you could find the vocabulary that you need in your own personal life. We purposely did not include any overly formal language, the book uses both informal and regular formalities with the ‘요’ verb ending. It’s quite surprising how many textbooks focus on the most formal language because it is ‘correct’ when in reality, you’ll rarely hear that language while you’re traveling or living in Korea. There are some weakness of the book too, however. The book does not teach Hangeul, it is meant for people who are at least a high beginner in the language.
원고지 (wongoji): Ok, this one isn’t a book, but rather writing paper. For westerners who are not familiar with writing on this paper it’s really important to buy this before taking the TOPIK test and to practice writing some essays on it. Korean proficiency tests judge the length, not by the number of words, but by the number of syllable blocks (자) used. Using this paper can be difficult and you’ll need to learn the rules. For example all punctuation is considered one space. Leave one space between sentences. Leave one space to indent a new paragraph. Get a Korean friend to walk you through it and correct your essays on 원고지 rather than on lined paper, since you’ll need to be prepared to use that on the real test. You’ll also find that while 400자 (minimum amount for the 중급 TOPIK) sounds intimidating, it’s not so long when you add in all the spaces and punctuation.
I hope this helps you when you go to buy your next book. While it’s only a small sampling of the books that are out there, it covers a lot of the most popular books out there.
What book or website do you use to study Korean? What do you like/dislike about it?