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.

New TOPIK learning log coming up

I have finished my last final exam for this semester at uni, and now I just have to wait for the result.
While I do have quite a few working hours scheduled for the summer holidays, I will start studying for the intermediate TOPIK exam from now on. And as usual, I will keep you posted on my progress, and hopefully not too many frustrations 🙂

I think aiming for the next level warrants a new category to distinguish it from the journey to the beginner TOPIK. Therefore I have made a new category called “TOPIK 중급”.

As previously, my learning approach is going to be one that aims for an all-round improvement of my Korean. I will not follow some “TOPIK-specific method” and only occasionally will I download an old TOPIK test to have a snapshot of how far I have come compared to my target. That being said, I think my “TOPIK practice” will become more frequent around November since that will leave me with six months to catch up on things that are particularly lacking.

The base-line of my studies:
Me being me and a moderately crazy planner because otherwise I will never get around to doing everything (although I don’t always stick to it 100%), I have made an initial overview of the things I must go through. Here is my 서강-list (which is sure to be followed by hanja-lessons, listening exercises, and other tremendously fascinating projects ;-)).


I have divided each chapter into the sections given by the books: 말하기, 듣고 말하기, and 읽고 말하기. That way I will have a sense of accomplishment even if I don’t finish a full chapter at a time.
By going through the Sogang books, I am fairly certain I will go though both the vocabulary and the grammar points needed to pass. As long as I work hard enough, I should stand a chance of doing fairly well on the next exam.

New elements to be included in my studies: hanja
Last year I was not interested in learning hanja. It looked complicated, there are so darn many characters, and I just couldn’t wrap my head around all those strokes while trying to keep all the Korean words firmly stuck in my head at the same time. However, there came a point where I started looking for the hanja when looking up new words – was that 중 the same as the 중 in that other word? So why not throw some real knowledge at the curiosity that I have been building up lately?

I know some people feel strongly about Korean learners learning Chinese characters when what they are trying to learn is Korean. But if the Korean children learn hanja in school, highschool students learn hanja, and some university students are required to sit hanja tests as well, why shouldn’t foreign learners of Korean learn hanja too? When picking up a random book in a book shop you will find hanja some places in a paranthesis if the 한글 could be interpreted several ways in a given sentence. Also, most proverbs and fixed expressions will have some four character hanja associated with it.

The way I see it, having at least a basic knowledge of Chinese characters in the context of Korean, is likely to make life easier when reading books as well as help adding nuances when speaking and writing. That surely cannot be a bad thing?

When to start learning hanja?
I don’t know. I guess whenever you begin to feel that it is not an impossible task, and you have a basic knowledge of Korean on which to hinge the hanja you’re learning. I feel that I am reaching that stage now so that’s why I am opening that door now. Some learners will have reached that point before me, others will wait longer than me.
Last year, I felt a little angsty just looking at the characters that my language partner seemed to sprinkle over her notes whenever she was in a hurry and had made a list of the things she would like to tell me in our meetings. Now it looks like just another skill to be learned, one that will help expand my vocabulary and knowledge of Korean culture – after all, proverbs and idioms reflect a lot of the underlying thoughts of a people. So there, that should be enough justification for one post.

New elements to be included in my studies: reading aloud
The Sogang books have texts that are about a page long. To help on my confidence when it comes to pronunciation, I will read them aloud to myself as well as listen to the recording of someone reading it on the Sogang CD’s. I might even try to record myself reading aloud, although I’m pretty sure those recordings will never see the light of day outside my room, so don’t get your hopes up about audio posts here on the blog. At least not for a considerable amount of time to come…

I’m really looking forward to this upcoming journey towards becoming even more proficient in Korean and to share that journey with you all.

Until next time!

Book review: Useful Chinese Characters for Learners of Korean

Title: Useful Chinese Characters for Learners of Korean
Authors: Choi Eun Kyu, Kim Min Ae, Kim Sang Hee, Min Jung Won, Oh Mi Nam
Pages: 184 (appendix begins on page 174, index of all characters from page 181)
Answer key for all exercises: in the appendix.

ISBN: 978-89-5995-764-4
Publishing house: Darakwon
Associated university: Language Education Institute Seoul National University
Year: first printed 2007, 2nd ed in 2010

Weight: 410 g
Price: 12,000 won
Bought from
To purchase the book from twoChois: click here to get directed straight to this book.

For pictures, please refer to the pictures on twoChois.

Structure of book:
Overall there is a beginner part and an intermediate part. The two parts are clearly marked in the book as the beginner section has a green border on the top of the page/fact boxes are lined with green while the intermediate part is marked with a blue border along the top of the pages and blue fact boxes.

The beginner part:
The beginner part introduces stroke order, how to search for Chinese characters in a dictionary, as well as of some 10-15 characters per lesson.
The lessons are structured according to topic so that for instance chapter 2 introduces dates and week days while chapter 6 introduces characters associated with the human body.
The topics are structured around the words and topics that beginners should know to have a good foundation for making conversation such as where you want to go, when, with whom, what you do, and the ability to say if you’re hurting somewhere.

The intermediate part introduces compound words, more advanced characters, and readings consisting of both hanja and 한글.
The last two chapters are dedicated to how learners can learn to infer the meaning of a newly introduced character based on “the main radical” such as 灬 or 木
Recognising the main radical is an important skill as it makes it considerably easier to look up characters in a dictionary and just by knowing meaning the main radical, you have an idea of what the new character is related to even before learning the exact meaning.

Suitability for self-learners:
The book is very pedagogically structured by first introducing a topic (which in a class setting you can discuss in more depth of course), then characters associated with that topic, then a little challenge to read something in 한글 but interspersed with the characters you’ve just learned, then a fill-in-the-blanks challenge and lastly writing practice. The chapters build up nicely.
While it would of course add to the experience to have a teacher to speak to and to explain any doubts that might occur while studying, I think that just by having such a clear structure, the book will pre-empt many questions.

“Workload” per lesson:
When working in some books such as the Sogang series, I cannot make it through a full chapter in one go. In this book I am quite confident that I will be able to go through a whole chapter in one sitting.

Dealing with doubts of self-learners:
To me, learning hanja has always looked like a daunting task, but for each character it is made completely clear which stroke comes before another. The stroke order is drawn both when the character is introduced for the first time and in small font on the writing practice sheet so you have a little guide to refer to when writing the characters yourself.
The book does not introduce new grammar, it’s pure vocabulary and the associated hanja. I think this will prevent many questions from arising since you don’t have to worry about the particular nuance of a grammatical tense or something like that.

I should have bought along this book: A Korean notebook
My hanja-writing skills leave a lot to be desired and in hindsight I would have liked to have a notebook that is “suited” for practicing Chinese characters to practice more. Regular note books with lines make the characters seem a little crammed for some of the more intricate characters – at least when written by me.
I will buy some of these for my upcoming hanja-adventure: notebooks from twoChois
These are regular notebooks that Korean elementary students use for 한글 practice rather than ones used for Hanja practice practice specifically (where the first square usually has an upper division for the character and two lower ones for writing the meaning and the pronunciation) but I think they will serve their purpose anyway.

Review: First buying experience with TwoChois

TwoChois is a relatively new online store, and this purchase was my very first from there. For others who have not bought from there before, this is an introduction to my experience with the site 🙂

Ordering process and overall impressions:
Super smooth. Really. You add the things you want to your cart and check out. When you get to check-out, as a first-time customer you create an account with your mail and a password of your choice. You can pay with paypal, credit cards and some options I’ve never heard of before. It took no time, and I experienced no problems. If you choose registered mail, you get the tracking number as soon as it has been assigned – a.k.a. shipped.

Prices are really competitive. I found myself thinking “oooooh, I could also get myself that!” and then decided to rein in my spending urge and stick to one book. For now. I’m considering allowing myself to buy myself a treat every time I finish a Sogang level.
The selection seems to expand every day so I will check in for inspiration quite often and make myself a wishlist for what to buy to celebrate my learning milestones.

I actually ended up paying almost double the price of the book for shipping (choosing the most expensive option since I’m impatient when it comes to my Korean books, I tend to track my orders two times a day as if the parcel would arrive faster for that reason, and the difference between that and airmail wasn’t that much anyway).

The book was $12 (I’m still in awe, I cannot remember the last time I and my wallet got away from a bookshop that easily) while shipping with EMS was $21, but that’s what you get for living on the other side of the globe… Considering the distance this book is travelling, it’s still quite reasonable.

Extra praise
It is possible to look up books not only by category such as grammar/listening/TOPIK, but also by difficulty for regular literature under “books written in Korean”. I think that’s a really great idea since it can be a little difficult to figure out exactly how difficult a book is when you can only see the cover and a few pictures of pages.
Also, if there is a book you’ve been eyeing, you can see app. which level it is and this way know how much work you need to put in before you will be able to read it witout spending a week per page.
If you click to a book from the general overview of all books, you can see on the top of the page which links are associated with that book – basically all links you could possibly have clicked to get to that book. This way you can also see the difficulty of the book. For instance if you look at Reply 1997 you see the following:

Home -> Korean Books -> Reply 1997 (응답하라 1997)
Home -> Korean Books -> Books written in Korean -> Reply 1997 (응답하라 1997)
Home -> Korean Books -> Books written in Korean -> Korea Drama scripts and original pieces -> Reply 1997 (응답하라 1997)
Home -> Korean Books -> Books written in Korean -> Books for advanced level learners -> Reply 1997 (응답하라 1997)
Home -> Books by language -> Reply 1997 (응답하라 1997)
Home -> Korean Books -> Books by language 한국어(Korean) -> Reply 1997 (응답하라 1997)

Categories I would love to see expand/introduced
Drama/movie scripts
Because of the focus on dialogues, these can sometimes seem more accessible than many other types of books. Especially for intermediate learners who are not quite equipped for the regular books, but would like to spell their way through some of the books that some movies or dramas are based on.

This category does not exist at this point in time, but I would do a dance of joy if it were introduced. I have a code-free dvd/blueray player and I would love to buy some of the box sets, but finding them can be a real hassle. As long as there are official English subtitles, I don’t have any preference for whether the dvd’s are made for region 1 (US and Canada) or 3 (Asia). I have yet to see a region 2 (Europe) box set…
Yes, Amazon has some, but for some of the dramas only private sellers have offers, which frankly come across as a bit shady most of the time. It’s just more reassuring if the subtitles are officially listed in the product description rather than in the title (“good English subs”), the cover photo might be part Chinese while official posters from the drama are not, and who wants to pay some random guy $169 for a drama from 2005???
If there were dramas on TwoChois I wouldn’t have second thoughts about placing the order.

Time-lapse: order-to-delivery
Saturday 1 June:
After browsing around TwoChois, I finally convince myself that passing the TOPIK is enough of an occasion to treat myself and buy a new Korean book. Really excited I placed my order after breakfast – which would make it about 16:30 In Korea.

Monday 3 June:
At app. 16:30 Danish time which would make it 1:30 in Korea(!!!): I receive a mail that the order is “awaiting fulfillment” and that it should be shipped Wednesday latest.

Tuesday 4 June:
Morning (4:40 Danish time so about 11:40 in Korea): I receive a mail with my tracking number. The parcel is officially on its way!

Wednesday 5 June:
Morning: The parcel is registered as “arrived” at some international post center in Korea.
Afternoon: The parcel leaves Korea

Friday 7 June:
Noon-ish: the parcel is registered in an international post center in Denmark (I suppose that would be the airport/customs in Copenhagen). From this point it’s up to the Danish post… Let’s see if they can match the Koreans on this one!
Evening: the parcel has left the airport and has been registered in a post center in Copenhagen. It seems it will spend the weekend there…

Monday 10 June:
Eeeeearly morning: the parcel arrives at a distribution center.
Noon: it arrives!