Are you ready to hit the books and study some Korean?
If you answered “yes”, then at some point you’ll probably want to head over to the bookstore to buy a Korean textbook! While having the best Korean textbook isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of studying Korean, choosing a book that is suited to your needs can help speed up your learning significantly.
Motivation is another important factor to consider when choosing a textbook. If you choose something that is too dull or something with poor explanations, then you can become demoralized very quickly. The popularity of the Korean language has increased dramatically over recent years and there is now quite a large selection of books written by some very talented Korean teachers.
However, there are also many old textbooks in bookstores which teach out-of-date or overly-formal Korean. Korean language is wrapped up in Korean culture, so the best Korean textbooks aim to explain the cultural nuances of the language along with the language itself. For example, there are about half-a-dozen different ways to say ‘thank-you’ in Korean, and it is important to know which one to use in order to avoid offending somebody.
One final thing to consider is how long you intend to study Korean. Once you choose a textbook series, then it is best to stick with that series in order to prevent you from studying the same thing twice or missing out on an important subject. With that in mind, if you plan to study Korean for a long time, then it is best to choose a series of books that goes up to a relatively high level.
Below are some of the best textbooks currently available, with an explanation of the type of student that they are likely to be suitable for. Let’s get to it!
Korean Made Simple
For beginners who are just starting to learn Korean, this book is well structured. You will be able to say quite a lot early, on as it focuses on modal verbs and questions first.
If you want to reach a decent standard of Korean ability quickly, then this book would be useful. The explanations in the book are in-depth. However, there may be a little bit too much in the way of explanation in some areas, particularly the section explaining the alphabet.
Honorifics aren’t tackled until the second book (Korean Made Simple 2) which helps prevent confusion early on. It was published in 2014 so has up-to-date content.
This series goes all the way up to a lower intermediate level, so it is good for anybody planning to study Korean for a long period of time. It works best if you have a tutor to help you when using it, but the explanations are very clear. It is written by the Seoul National University Language Institute, so you can be sure of its quality.
All of the material inside has been tested on students before publication, and the contents have been well thought out. If you are studying on your own, then this book is easier to use than the Sogang series of book.
However, in the later books it does cover some content (such as reported speech) a bit too quickly. Therefore, you need to be careful to ensure that you fully understand and have assimilated content before moving on.
This is the textbook is written by the University of Hawaii and is used to teach Korean at SOAS (the leading place in the U.K. for Korean Studies). It can be used on its own without a tutor, and explains everything in detail, but may feel too stuffy and academic for some learners. Some of its content also feels outdated, and some rarely used phrases seem to crop-up more often than they should.
Korean Made Easy
Designed for self-study, this book has great reviews and is well thought out. The author is a current teacher at Sogang University and a writer of several of the Sogang books. This book is easy to use and is a good choice for beginners.
If you want a series of books that will take you from beginner to advanced, and you have a tutor and plenty of time on your hands, then these are the books for you! There are twelve levels (1A up to 6B), each with a workbook, so there is enough content for years of study.
Sogang focuses on speaking, and these textbooks are designed to be used with a tutor or in a small class. As a result, they may not be the best choice if you plan to study alone. The books also don’t contain a writing section as this was only added recently to the Sogang University course itself.
2000 Essential Korean Words
Not strictly a textbook, but using this book in conjunction with a quality grammar-based textbook and the ‘2000 Essential Korean Words’ list on Memrise.com is a great way of boosting your vocabulary. It contains many words that don’t translate easily into English so it is a useful tool for giving yourself a solid Korean vocabulary.
Korean for Beginners: Mastering Conventional Korean
While most textbooks start with ‘My name is Steve, I’m a student, I’m from England’, the actual first bit of language you are likely to need is going to revolve around ordering food or finding the bathroom. The fact that this textbook starts by talking about food is a welcome relief. It also covers Korean emoticons rather early on (before teaching the Korean alphabet in fact) and is written with a sense of humor.
Like ‘Integrated Korean’, this textbook has a more of an academic feel to it. Although it was published quite recently, a lot of the book was actually written around two decades ago!
Remember, when choosing a textbook, it is important to consider how you plan to study. Some textbooks are designed for self-study whereas some are designed to be studied with a partner or a tutor.
This list of the best Korean textbooks is by no means a list of every textbook out there, and most language schools produce their own textbook.
You will also have noticed that there are no textbooks mentioned that focus on the TOPIK test. This is partly because studying for a test is different than studying for fluency. Also the TOPIK test was recently changed, rendering most of the books on the market out-of-date (you have been warned!).
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