Monthly Archives: June 2013

Learning log: 24-30 June

This week I have worked 6 out of 7 days amounting to some 48 hours at work (saving for Korea!), consumed approximately 30 cups of coffee, and listened to somewhere between 5 and 6 hours of Korean podcasts while commuting. So what have I accomplished?

I’ve been listening to about half of the level 4 lessons and they are finally beginning to stick – I think. Now I have to find some time to sit down and do the exercises to see if they really do stick.

I had this ambition of writing one page of hanja in my new hanja note book every day. That lasted for two days since by the time I came home from work, finished chores and had dinner, I was mentally more than ready to go to bed… on day three I tried to revise the 10 characters I had written the day before, but they were bery far away so I saw no point in going on to the next ten.
When writing, I feel a bit like a young student, learning to write from scratch, thinking so carefully about every stroke, but it’s also fun.

What did I not accomplish?
– Read something in Korean
– Answer your comments… Sorry!

Next week I’m only working five days so hopefully I will feel more “human”.

Learning log: 17-23 June

This week I have been working full-time, but I have also been studying a bit of Korean.

I listened to some podcasts from level 4 when walking to the station (on days where I bike I don’t listen to anything to be able to focus entirely on the traffic). I also completed some exercises from the book in a quiet moment at work over a coffee.

Practicing writing makes me feel like a first grader again; meticulously writing every stroke, thinking over the apparance of the character, the meaning of it, and the pronunciation.
I completed one page in my new hanja note book 🙂

100 proverbs
This is a book from twoChois that I have not yet reviewed (I think I will have time to post one next week). So far I have been leafing through it and “strategising”. I started reading the first story on the train, but I cannot claim that I finished it. But it’s in progress.
It’s a children’s book explaining proverbs with small stories and with a bit of focus it should be manageable to finish a few stories per week. Let’s see how much I get done when I start working odd hours, though. I’m by far an evening person so on mornings when I have to be at the office by 7 am, I will have finished the first 3 cups of coffee by eight, so I might not be in a super studious mood by the time I get home.

Review: Korean note books

Basic information:
What: Korean note books
Brand: Komatorae / Barunson (

How many pages: 40 pages/book (a.k.a. 20 sheets of paper per book)

Purchased from: twoChois
Direct link to note books: click here
Price: $1/ book. Discount when buying 3 note books.

All the note books are standard school supplies in Korean elementary school.

The one to the far left is the “tiny space” book, the two in the middle are “10 space” and the one on top is a hanja book.

The covers are really cute, but why does everything also have to be so serious? 😉

10 tiny space: 국어 10칸
It’s a bit paradoxal, but the “tiny space” book is actually the one with the largest spaces.
This is a beginner note book for students to practice writing 한글. Each syllable gets its own space and a space is left blank when making a space between two words.
Every 5 lines are numbered although it doesn’t show in this picture.
The paper is similar to the type that the beginner TOPIK is written on albeit the spaces are a little larger and there are slightly fewer spaces per page than on the TOPIK answer sheet.


This note book is good for:
– beginner writers of 한글. More experienced learners might be a little annoyed by the size of the spaces.
– beginner writers of 한자 (who do not have a real 한자 practice note book – see below!), and who would like to have a bit more space than what is offered by a regular note book with lines.

10 space: 쓰기 10칸
In this note book, the large squares are split into 4 smaller ones.


This note book is good for:
– more experienced writers of Korean who write in “regular sized letters”.
– it could be used for TOPIK practice since every 5 (big) lines are numbered so that you know exactly how many syllables you have written.

Hanja note book
This was a present from twoChois 🙂 when they found out that I would like to practice writing hanja, they included a note book that is specifically desiged for that purpose 🙂 정말 감사합니다!

As you see, the spaces are different in this book:

Also, did you notice that even the year/month/day on top of the page is written in hanja?
There is a big space for writing the hanja character, and just beneath it there is space for writing the meaning of the character and the pronunciation.
Example: in the big space you can write: 學, and in the smaller space underneath you can write 배울 (meaning) 학 (pronunciation) 🙂

This book is a great supplement to the hanja book I bought last time on twoChois 🙂

Review: 사자성어 palm-sized flashcards

Basic information:
What: flashcards with Korean idioms based on four character hanja
How many: 580 cards
Number of characters used: no less than 2000
Size of each card: 73mm x 52mm
Language: Korean only (한글/한자)

ISBN: 978-89-6809-008-0

Publishing house: 손바닥공간 (
Publisher: 김성태
First published: 20 April 2013

Purchased from: twoChois
Specific link: click here to be directed to the site for the flashcards specifically.
Price: 20,000 원/ $20

Customs information:
Customs category: book.
Even though they are flashcards, in Korea, these types of cards are considered books (thank you to twoChois for letting me know this) and many students use them to revise for their hanja exams.

When I ordered I was a little worried about getting my parcel through customs since “playing cards” are taxed when imported into the EU, and when you add customs tax, handling fees, and regular VAT, it could add up to quite an expense all of a sudden.
I wrote to TwoChois to ask for their guidance and they were really helpful by writing “educational study cards” on the box they were shipped in. The parcel made it through customs without any fuss.
It was opened for inspection, but they accepted that they were for an academic purpose and didn’t charge me anything. (Maybe they thought “they must be telling the truth, there is no way this is playing cards, who would do this for fun???”).

Structure of complete set:
The whole box is divided into 6 individual decks of cards. Each deck has its own coloured box with a number on it.
In the first 5 boxes there are 100 cards in each. In box number 6 with the stripes, there are 80 cards, a folder with a complete overview of all the cards in alphabetical order (한글) as well as a sort of key ring that can be used to put the cards together if you take some of them with you and don’t want to risk losing one.
All cards are numbered so if you shuffle them or accidently drop them, you can put them back in order.




Let’s look at a card:
This is the very first card (see the little number 1 in the upper right-hand corner?).
In big font you see the hanja and under each character you see the meaning and the pronunciation in smaller font.
In the little boxes under each character you see how many strokes you need to write the character as well as the difficulty of the character.
Also note the little hole in the top left corner. This is where the “key ring” goes.

And the back:


Difficulty levels of hanja:
Levels are counted from higher numbers to lower numbers. A character defined as 1급 is therefore considered to be at a higher level than one which is 4급. The easiest level is level 8. The most difficult one is level 0.
I have no idea why it is defined this way…

Difficulty of the overall box/learner proficiency required:
To me they seem difficult. Chinese speakers are likely to have a serious edge here – even if the meaning might be a little more “poetic” than in regular spoken Chinese.

I think a learner who doesn’t have a background somehow involving knowledge of Chinese or who has less than a solid intermediate level of Korean will be spending a disproportionate amount of time on each card because not only will the hanja be all new, so will the Korean explanation on the back of the card.
These cards teach characters when put together as idioms and having a firm grasp of Korean as well as a basic knowledge hanja will make it infinitely easier.
If up for a challenge, I suppose studying these can be a good way for lower-intermediate learners to expand their vocabulary simply by working their way through the Korean translations of the hanja, but there are probably easier ways to do this – such as just reading a book.

Why even buy these cards?
In all languages there are fixed expressions and proverbs that regularly make their way into our daily-life language. In Korean many of these expressions happen to be based on 4 character hanja. Just as knowing that a regular word comes from a Chinese base can help a learner understand and remember a word (e.g. a “half-man-half-beast” is called 반인반수 and not 반 사람 반 동물), learning idioms will make a learner seem more fluent and help him/her understand expressions heard out and about or in dramas/movies.

That being said, first things first. Seing these cards, I would recommend to first have a good command of Korean, then getting exposed to the concept of hanja, and only then study hanja-based idioms. Of course I cannot speak for everyone, but I think that demanding oneself to learn 580 idiomatic expressions before being able to hold a regular conversation is a recipe for how to grow very tired of idiomatic expressions very quickly.

The odd food post

I like to cook, and I like to eat. Here are the results of some of my Asian food adventures 🙂
I hope they will inspire some of you for cooking up something nice for lunch or dinner one of these days 🙂

My language partner showed this picture to his mother and she praised them, which really made my day. I made three rolls for my lunch that day.

Filling: leftover 제육볶음 (stir-fried spicy pork), fried carrots, and blanched spinach seasoned with sesame oil. Maybe not traditional, but very good 🙂

Before frying and steaming. I made three varieties for me and my parents, and it took me three hours to prepare the fillings, fold all the dumplings, and cook them! I suppose people who cook these things often can do it a lot quicker…

Front: pork, vegies
Back left: vegetarian with mushrooms and some other vegies
Back right: siew mai with chicken – to be served with trout eggs.

A close-up on the ready-to-fry-and-steam pork dumplings:


This took a bit of time to make as well, but I forgot how long.
Filling (if I’m not mistaken): pork, cabbage, carrots, spring onion, a bit of wine to taste.
Actually, I used rice paper for these ones, but they look this way because they have been covered in beaten egg and then baked in the oven until golden.


New count down to TOPIK

Putting a new count-down function on the blog makes it feel a little more official that I will sit the 중급 exam in April next year.

The date has not been published yet, but I presume that it will be about the same time in April as the 30th. When the date is confirmed, I will make sure to update it.

Now all I have to do is study, study, and then study a bit more 🙂

Korean Learning Log: Keeping the spirit up with Korean

Today studying Korean is almost therapeutic. I downright prescribe myself another chapter.

I don’t usually mention my work here, but today was a really tough day to get through. I don’t dislike working on weekends. It’s usually more quiet, we can get some paper work done, I can learn some new things from my 선배’s and ask odd questions because we’re not drowning in new assignments, and we can chat a little bit more over coffee.

But people who call outside regular office hours can be a little more… challenging… and today the reactions of a person I crossed paths with, even made me wonder if they have been the sole inspiration to the past decade’s worth of 막장-dramas.

Today, studying Korean (and biking some 10 km in spite of it raining cats and dogs) is a way for me to stay sane. Today I study not because I want to, but because I need to.