While the recent phase of the Couch to Korean Challenge has been mostly about building vocabulary, isolated words aren’t very useful without the grammar to glue them all together in a meaningful way. So I have also spent some time learning and practicing the Korean grammar. In the process I have explored and evaluated many different Korean grammar resources. In this companion post to my earlier vocabulary resource review post (Some Useful Korean Vocabulary Resources), I will share my thoughts on some Korean grammar resources that I have found useful. As always, the Korean Resources page contains the up-to-date list of Korean resources I have come across during the Challenge.
A good grammar resource for a language learner is one that can guide self-directed study from the basics through the advanced topics, and also can act as a reference to look up and study particular grammar points at any stage of the language learning process. My desiderata for an ideal grammar resource would include the following:
- A well-organized, no-nonsense structure: A grammar text/course should start with the basics and build from there as it introduces more complicated grammar points. It should be easy for the student both to identify the important grammar points to learn as well as to find grammar items when clarification is needed. A good text/course does NOT clutter the lessons with complex sample dialogues or “phrases to memorize” or any other fluff that distracts the learner from the essential points to understand.
- Sensible, organized vocabulary lists to complement sensible, organized grammar lessons: The first words you need to learn are the essentials to build simple sentences like “My name is X” or “I go to school” or “His mother is seventy years old.” So a good grammar resource first gives you the essential vocabulary, then adds useful words as you progress through the lessons. You eventually might want to learn the words for “intergenerational residence” and “intracranial hemorrhage”, but certainly not before having mastered “house” and “head.”
- Lots of example sentences: One of the most important requirements for a good grammar resource is a large number of well-crafted sentences that demonstrate each grammar point. Nothing brings home a grammar concept like seeing it used in real sentences, with words that you understand so that you can focus on the grammar itself.
- Audio recordings of words and sentences: Learning new words and grammar points is much easier when you have both written and spoken examples. In 2017 there is no excuse for not having audio in a grammar resource.
- Free or low cost: I always prefer free language learning resources, so my ideal grammar resource would also be freely available, either online or from the library.
Below I give a brief summary of some of the Korean grammar resources that I have been using that meet most of the requirements for an ideal grammar resource.
How to Study Korean is a free, online Korean course that pretty much meets all our requirements for an ideal grammar resource. (Carlos has previously provided a detailed review of this site.) How to Study Korean includes over 130 well-written grammar lessons, starting from the basics of Korean sentence structure and word types through very complicated grammar points. Each lesson includes a rather long (usually 25-50) list of new vocabulary items, and a large set of sentences that demonstrate both the new grammar point and the new vocabulary items. Almost all the lessons in the first half of the course include recordings of each sentence spoken by a native speaker; later lessons do not have complete audio. The site is easily searchable, so it is also useful as a grammar resource to find descriptions and examples of words and grammar structures encountered elsewhere. The primary negative for How to Study Korean is that the grammar points are discussed in a stream of consciousness manner, so some of the lessons can be a challenge to slog through. But overall How to Study Korean is an amazing, free, online resource for a Korean language learner.
Elementary Korean is the most popular Korean textbook for University level Korean courses. It is the first in a series, followed by Continuing Korean and Advanced Korean. The book is structured like a standard textbook and consists of 15 lessons (with lessons 10 and 15 serving as reviews of the earlier lessons). Lessons 1 and 2 can easily be ignored or at least deferred until much later, since they contain just “Basic Expressions.” I found it silly that these chapters come before Lessons 3 and 4, which are about the writing system and pronunciation. How can you learn to read and say basic expressions if you haven’t learned the writing system and pronunciation? You obviously can’t. The remaining lessons, except the review lessons 10 and 15, start with sets of dialogues, which also can be easily ignored. Aside from the extraneous dialogues, the Lessons are well-structured, with useful vocabulary lists, explanations of grammar points, and many example sentences. Being a textbook, each Lesson also ends with exercises (fill in the blank, translate the sentence, etc.), with a full answer key in the back of the book. Also in the back of the book are full vocabulary lists (both Korean to English and vice versa) and a well-organized index of all the grammar points in the book (which combined with the excellent table of contents makes it easy to find any of the grammar items). Elementary Korean comes with an audio CD of mp3 files corresponding with the dialogues and example sentences in the book. This is unfortunately the best you can do with a physical textbook, since it is impossible to directly link to the audio from the book. I didn’t find the audio terribly useful because of the difficulty finding the place in the book corresponding with any given audio example. So in all Elementary Korean meets requirements 2 and 3 and most of 1 from our list.
Like How to Study Korean, Korean From Zero is a free, online course with lots of useful content for a Korean learner. Korean From Zero has a flashier interface, and it also provides the option of downloading or buying copies of 3 levels of Textbooks. The site (koreanfromzero.com) contains 6 Hangul writing system lessons and 51 Korean grammar lessons, divided into 3 Courses (probably corresponding to the 3 Textbooks you can download or buy). The lessons are well-organized, and the drop-down menus make it easy to find lessons on particular grammar points as needed. Each lesson contains a set of new vocabulary items, a thorough description of a new grammar item, and lots of example sentences and dialogues containing the vocabulary and grammar items. Each vocabulary item and example sentence is linked to a nicely-integrated audio file. Unfortunately, Korean From Zero is very clearly a work in progress. I found many errors throughout the lessons (misspelling in both Korean and English, bad links, and audio files that don’t match the text). There is a “Report a Bug” button on the site, but I never received a reply to any of the reports I submitted. The later lessons in Korean From Zero are incomplete, with some links going to empty template pages. Despite its flaws, Korean From Zero meets all our requirements for an ideal grammar resource, but it is not nearly as extensive as How to Study Korean.
The Test Of Proficiency In Korean (TOPIK) is the Korean equivalent of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). And like the TOEFL, there is an entire industry built up around helping students prepare to take the TOPIK. The TOPIK Guide is one such site that provides (and sells) TOPIK preparation resources. The free resources on the site, including the grammar resources and frequency-sorted vocabulary lists, are extremely valuable to a Korean learner. TOPIK Guide also provides free access to copies of past TOPIK exams, with answer keys and even the audio files used for listening comprehension, which is an amazing resource for anyone preparing for the test. I have been using the Beginner Grammar list via the Learning Korean TOPIK Android app to fill in gaps in my grammar knowledge. The TOPIK Guide site provides a great deal of free resources for a Korean learner, and since I am not planning to actually take the TOPIK exam, I haven’t fully explored the links on the site. From the resources I have used, TOPIK Guide nicely meets requirements 1, 2, and 5 from our list.
Two additional grammar resources are worth mentioning, the Wikipedia Korean Grammar page and Korean: An Essential Grammar, the Korean entry in the Routledge Essential Grammars series. Both fall clearly into the Grammar Reference category vs. the Grammar Text/Course category. I have been using these two to look up and clarify grammar points, but neither is suited (nor intended) as a full grammar resource that would cover all our ideal requirements.