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.


4 thoughts on “Review: 사자성어 palm-sized flashcards

  1. twochois

    Thanks for the detailed review. 🙂 About 10-15 years ago, we had hanja on our newspaper and we used it a lot. However, the government policy changed its notion to encourage using Hangeul(한글) instead of Hanja(한자). Since then I also forgot many of hanja words but we still have 한자class as a mandatory course from junior highs chool to high school.


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