Are you ready to hit the books and study some Korean?
If your answer was a big “YES!” then you’ll probably want to head over to the bookstore and pick up a Korean textbook.
But which one to choose?
While having the best Korean textbook isn’t the be-all-end-all of studying Korean, it’s important to choose a book that’s a good match for you.
With that in mind, we’ll introduce you to the best Korean textbooks below!
- 1 Korean Textbooks: So Many Choices!
- 2 List of Korean Textbooks for Self-study
- 2.1 Korean Made Simple
- 2.2 Active Korean
- 2.3 Integrated Korean
- 2.4 Korean Made Easy
- 2.5 Sogang Korean
- 2.6 Yonsei Korean 1 (English and Korean Edition)
- 2.7 2000 Essential Korean Words
- 2.8 Korean for Beginners: Mastering Conventional Korean
- 2.9 Elementary Korean
- 2.10 Ewha Korean
- 2.11 Once Upon a Time in Korea
- 2.12 Learning Korean Through Traditional Fairy Tales
- 2.13 Korean Grammar for International Learners
- 3 What About TOPIK?
- 4 A Goal Without a Plan is Just a Wish
Korean Textbooks: So Many Choices!
With the explosion of popularity of all things Korean, there is a huge selection of new books for learning Korean written by some very talented teachers.
However, many are just reprints of older textbooks which teach very traditional Korean. That means they may be out-of-date or overly formal. The Korean language is wrapped up in the culture, so the best Korean textbooks teach 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. It’s important to know which one to use so you sound polite and not offensive. The right book will help you with that.
Identify Your Focus
Another thing to think about is why you’re learning Korean. If you’re taking a course, then you can follow the structure laid out for you. However, if you’re starting out on your own, you’ll need to best understand how you learn to keep you motivated.
For example, if you want to be able to just talk in Korean, then grammar focused books will quickly bore you. On the other hand, if you want to gain a more academic understanding of the Korean language, then a conversation book will probably leave out details you care about. Studying what you will use helps maintain your motivation to learn.
Choosing A Korean Textbook
See if you can preview the contents of a textbook before buying it. You might also choose something recommended by someone you trust or who learns in a similar way to you. Choosing the wrong textbook will frustrate you or put you to sleep.
Also consider how long you intend to study Korean. Do you want to just spend a few months learning so you can get around on a short trip to Seoul, or want to become fluent enough to understand K-pop and K-dramas without translation?
While a longer series may divide concepts into several volumes spanning months or years of study, a standalone or beginner book may cover everything you’d want to know in a shorter period. Think about how long you want to learn and what level you want to get to in that time.
Stick to Your Choice
Once you choose a textbook series, it’s best to stick with that series in order to learn effectively. Textbooks often have a planned out road-map for what you’ll learn and when. Mixing different books can make you study topics you’ve already learned or confuse you with their order.
If you plan to study Korean for awhile then choose one series that goes up to the level you want to reach. You can always switch to another series later when you understand Korean (and your own study habits) better.
List of Korean Textbooks for Self-study
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, in no particular order.
Let’s get to it!
Korean Made Simple
This book is for beginners who are just starting to learn Korean since it’s very easy to follow. You will be able to learn quite a lot early on, it focuses on modal verbs and questions first.
Because of how the book is segmented, it works for learners that need some assistance structuring their studying. You won’t have to bounce around sections or “go with the flow” if you commit to studying this book.
If you want to reach a decent level of Korean ability quickly, then this book would be useful. Its explanations are in-depth and easy to understand.
However, there may be a little bit too much in the way of explanation in some areas, particularly the section explaining alphabet.
Feel free to skim some of the more detailed explanations if you feel like you’re not getting anything out of them — they’re very interesting and can sometimes help you remember concepts by providing context that you’ll remember, but they’re not absolutely necessary unless you want some additional knowledge.
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 and will provide you with relevant examples of conversation.
This series goes all the way up to the lower intermediate level, so it’s good for anybody studying Korean for the long haul. Although the explanations are very clear, it works best if you have a tutor to help you when using it.
Since it’s written by the Seoul National University Language Institute you can be sure its quality is high.
All of the material inside has been thoroughly tested before publication, and the content has been well thought out.
If you are studying on your own, then this book is easier to use than the Sogang series of book, and you can be sure that you’re receiving a quality textbook education due to the extensive thought and planning that went into putting it together.
However, in the later books, it does cover some difficult concepts (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.
If you continue through the series and come across content that you don’t fully understand with the textbook explanation alone, you should consider supplementing your studying with online and video resources that can help you understand higher level concepts better.
This foreign textbook was written by the University of Hawaii and is used to teach Korean at SOAS (the leading U.K. school for Korean Studies).
It can be used on its own without a tutor since it explains everything in detail, but it may feel too stuffy and academic for some learners.
Some of its content also is outdated, and some rarely used phrases crop-up more often than they should. If you’re interested in a book that focuses on more modern conversation and current Korean cultural trends, consider a different textbook.
However, this is still a solid choice for any motivated self-learner.
Korean Made Easy
Designed for self-study, this book has great reviews and is well thought out. The author taught at Sogang University and is a writer of several of the Sogang textbooks.
This book is easy to use and is a good choice for beginners, especially if you prefer to work through a textbook without skipping around from section to section.
The listening and reading sections are based on the KLPT (Korean Language Proficiency Test), so this could be a great companion book for anyone preparing for the exam.
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 — it’s hard to nail correct pronunciation if you don’t have a tutor to practice it with.
It’s also way easier to become better at understanding spoken Korean when you’re working with a tutor rather than watching videos and listening to dialogue that way. You just can’t break down the conversation you just heard in the same way if you’re watching a video compared to with a teacher.
The books don’t contain a writing section as this was only added recently to the Sogang University course itself.
However, they’re still very extensive and a great series to commit to for serious Korean learners. Consider supplementing the books with an additional Korean writing resource rather than passing them up altogether.
Yonsei Korean 1 (English and Korean Edition)
Yonsei Korean is a series of textbooks developed and created by the Korean Language Institute at Yonsei University, one of the top universities in Korea.
The institute’s primary aim is the study and teaching of the Korean language. These books aim to help students develop well-rounded abilities in Korean communication.
They provide lessons and activities that target listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. Aside from the communicative skills that are targeted in these books, Yonsei Korean also incorporate lessons about Korean culture.
Because of their academic nature, these books are best suited to a Korean classroom or with a tutor.
The beauty of Yonsei Korean is the continuity of learning that it provides to students. The Yonsei Korean textbooks are made up of 12 books divided into 3 levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced.
If you are a beginner student, the Yonsei Korean 1 and 2 textbooks are best for you. Each textbook is made up of 10 units with 5 lessons each. Lessons in these books are highly focused on the essential grammar and vocabulary that will help students to develop a basic understanding of the Korean language.
Once you complete the beginner levels, Yonsei Korean 3 and 4 are available for intermediate level and Yonsei Korean 5 and 6 for the advanced level after that. This series is a complete curriculum of lessons which are useful in helping students to communicate in Korean.
2000 Essential Korean Words
Not strictly a textbook, but using this book for learning Korean in conjunction with a quality grammar-based textbook and the ‘2000 Essential Korean Words’ list on Memrise.com is a great way to boost your vocabulary.
It contains many words that don’t translate easily into English so it’s a useful tool for giving yourself a solid Korean vocabulary.
If you’ve recently found yourself trying (and struggling) to translate a phrase or word into Korean from English (or vice versa), you should have this book by your side.
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.
Not necessarily the best book for a structured approach to learning Korean, it’s designed more around getting you up and running in the language quickly with stuff you’ll be using on day 1 in Korea.
Like ‘Integrated Korean’, this textbook has more of an academic feel to it. Although it was published quite recently, most of the book was actually written around two decades ago!
It still tops ‘best Korean textbook’ lists because of how well structured it is and how thorough it can be in its explanations without being too wordy.
A great starter textbook, if somewhat dated in its content.
This series of textbooks published by Ewha Women’s University in Korea covers six levels of fluency, so if you decide to invest your time studying Korean you’ll have five subsequent books to take you step by step through your Korean language journey.
The Ewha textbooks are great for self-study — every aspect of the book is designed in a clever and well thought out way that can be enjoyed without a tutor.
From the table of contents to the illustrations and explanations used to introduce and explain concepts, this book was designed for a self-starter that wants to learn Korean fast, but the right way.
Another thing that sets this textbook apart from others is that rather than dividing up sections based on grammar, tenses, and other aspects of language, the book is divided into real world scenarios that you’ll encounter, like making a daily schedule and making meals.
Then you learn different things about the Korean language through activities and conversations centered around these various tasks. The flow of the book is very narrative, so it’s great for readers that get bored with books that are too dry.
Consider investing in this textbook if you want to practice speaking Korean but you don’t have a tutor — there are very brief “try what you learned” speech sections at the end of each chapter that give you an opportunity to try out the phrases you’ve been reading.
Once Upon a Time in Korea
The Once Upon a Time in Korea textbook is the perfect textbook for learners that are just beginning to venture into learning Korean, or for learners that aren’t entirely committed to learning Korean.
The book is fun, colorful, and anything but boring, so it does a great job enticing readers that are true beginners or readers that are on the fence about committing to their Korean language journey. You just won’t want to put it down!
Rather than being structured around different aspects of the Korean language, this book uses the unique approach of centering each of its sections around a different story from Korean folklore.
Folklore is a great way to become familiar with a new culture because you’re not only exposed to the language that the story is written in, but also the morals and values that are being passed on for generations through the story. This can reveal important aspects of Korean culture that will provide some interesting context in your studies.
Learning Korean Through Traditional Fairy Tales
If you’re not a fan of straightforward vocabulary lists and you want to experience a little bit of magic while you’re studying, this is the textbook for you!
It’s way easier to feel motivated to sit down and study when you’re following a story, so this textbook’s ability to weave traditional Korean fairy tales with concise and pointed language direction is a great introduction to learning Korean and keeping you motivated.
This textbook also has an interesting approach to introducing new vocabulary that helps ensure the learner will retain the information.
Rather than listing a word and a definition side by side (which, face it, makes it easy to quickly forget a word), this textbook introduces a new word by providing context to help the reader guess the meaning of the word.
Then, after providing the meaning of the word, there is an activity that asks the learner to practice the word. It’ll definitely be hard to forget new vocabulary after that!
Korean Grammar for International Learners
A bit different from the other books on this list, the primary focus of this textbook series is a deeper understanding of how the Korean language works.
It’s definitely not a book for those who want to get up-and-running in Korean as quickly as possible, but it’s an invaluable reference for those who want a complete understanding of Korean.
This also isn’t a beginner textbook, and you should only move on to this series after you know the basics of Korean, or at least can read Hangeul (there is no romanization).
While the book is a bit short on explaining grammar points in detail, it makes up for that in an abundance of example sentences! This helps give a better sense of when, and how, different Korean grammar would appear in use.
Although not the book to start with, as you progress in Korean learning and want to become more fluent in the language you’ll need a good reference textbook. They don’t get much more comprehensive than this series.
What About TOPIK?
You may have noticed that there are no textbooks mentioned that focus on the TOPIK test. The TOPIK is the Test of Proficiency in Korean. It’s the official test used for gauging a non-native’s level in Korean in business and academia.
If your goal is to score highly on the TOPIK, then you’ll be studying very differently than you would if studying for fluency. You would be better off studying for the test itself and the types of questions you’d encounter. An example of this would be to download the previous year tests and study those.
The TOPIK test, at high levels, will have questions on Korean vocabulary and grammar that you’d likely rarely (or never) encounter in daily life. The assumption is that if you know that level of Korean, you would already be familiar with the simpler aspects of the language. Even Korean native speakers can get a poor score on the TOPIK if they’re not prepared for it.
Also, the TOPIK test questions change every year, rendering most books on the market out-of-date (you have been warned!).
A Goal Without a Plan is Just a Wish
Remember, before choosing a textbook, it’s important to have a plan for how you’ll study. The best textbook in the world won’t help you learn Korean if you don’t study from it regularly.
Keep in mind that some textbooks are designed for self-study while others are best used in Korean classes or with a tutor. Consider how comprehensive the textbook is, and how much support you might need to answer questions about it.
Most importantly, choose a book with contents that will keep you interested and engaged. You’ll be a lot more effective learning Korean when you can enjoy the process.
This list of the best Korean textbooks is by no means every textbook out there, and most language schools produce their own textbook. Of course, as well as using a textbook, you can study Korean in other ways such as enrolling in a university course or online course.
Do you have a favorite Korean textbook that you use to learn? Let us know in the comments below!
And best of luck with your Korean language studies!