April 2014


My Korean Notebooks

To date, I have 4 notebooks for Korean. I started my notebook collection 1.5 years ago when I decided to really start studying Korean. I keep notebooks with all the information in it because I like to have things in one place rather than spread across many books.


My main notebook is my Korean grammar notebook. It is by far the largest notebook that I have. It has 400 pages in it. This notebook includes all of the grammar I have learned from the beginning to end. When you open it up to the first page, it starts with 은/는 and ends currently at (느)ㄴ 답시고. So right now I have about 255 grammar points in one place so that I can review at any time. I write down the grammar point, highlight it, then the explanation and all of its conjugation form. Then I write down all the practice problems and answers. Despite having several Korean books, I’ve never written in any of them as I remember more when I write it all down. Here are so more photos from inside my grammar book:

My notebook index. Its handwritten. It goes for 400 pages so I can easily find stuff. 

This is an inside page of my notebook.

Notice my handwritten numbers and highlighted grammar and practice problems. I probably could have saved so time had I just written stuff in the Darakwon books, but I like it this way.



Next up is my vocabulary book…..



This is my second favorite book for Korean. I’ve written nearly 4000 or so words in this book. Many people seem to discourage writing words down in a list and memorizing them that way because many people think that reading them in context is better. I agree, it’s easier to recall them in context, however, there are many words I’ve been able to learn long before ever reading them in context anywhere. A while ago I bought a vocabulary book with 3500 words in it and learned all of the parts of the body (inside and out) which wouldn’t come up in reading until the advanced level. Also, I can just carry this around if I want to review words rather than all the readings that include them. Here is a shot from my vocabulary book:

This a a page from the beginning part of my vocabulary book. 

I usually write down all of the words in groups. I number them to keep track of how many words or in a group and how many I study a day. I used to memorize about 50 or so a day when I was studying for the intermediate Topik.

20140430_102227Next in line there is my writing notebook…



Many people struggle with Korean writing and before the test I decided it was a good idea to start practicing writing. I put all of my writings in one notebook so that I could review them at anytime or look up sentence patterns and grammar I’d previously written but couldn’t remember well. I think that anyone studying Korean seriously should have a writing-only notebook. I love being able too look back on the things I’ve written and to see how far my writing abilities have come. Here is the inside:

This is a previous essay I’ve written. 

I usually write the essay in English. Then, I translate it into Korean. Then I have my tutor look at it and correct it. I re-write the entire essay and include all of the corrections in read so I can visually see what I did wrong and how many mistakes there were.



My final notebook is my Korean grammar practice book.



I started this book a long time ago. When I first started reviewing the beginner’s Darakwon book, I wanted to make sure I knew how to use all of the grammar points in that book correctly. So I started a new notebook in which I would just make practice sentences for every type of grammar conjugation. This helped me to practice grammar which helped me to remember them.


So those are my 4 notebooks. I like to keep everything Korean related in its own separate place so that I can focus on each part at one time. If I did combine them, I think it would be very hard to find stuff without leafing through half of the notebook. Also, if I want to practice writing and I need to look up the correct form of a grammar point I can do it easily with another book rather than trying to do it within the same. To some people, 4 notebooks might seem like a lot, but it sure beats the 6 books that I found all of this information in.

How do you keep track of your Korean studying?




blog picture

Knee deep in advanced grammar and it has me thinking

Or is ankle deep? I’m only just now starting the third chapter.

So far, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. For some reason I was under the impression that “advanced” anything would just be difficult. I’ve only learned a total of 8 grammar points in the last few days and if anything, I find that Korean is getting easier. Not because Korean is an easy language for a native English speaker to learn, but because I’ve exposed my brain to Korean for so long that it was bound to feel easier at some point, right?

Then something hit me. Beginner’s grammar is, of course, easy. Intermediate grammar is a bit more complex, but the grammar points themselves aren’t difficult to comprehend, so why would advanced grammar be any different? When I finished my intimidate level Darakwon book last year and opened up my first intermediate level reading, I struggled. Not because I didn’t know the words, not because I didn’t know the grammar, but because I wasn’t able to fully understand the sentences in front of me. Korean, just like English, has complex sentences that use dependent clauses, independent clauses, relative clauses etc which I found difficult to read.

Will I encounter the same problem once I learn advanced grammar?

This is what I’ve been thinking about these past few days. I would like to be an advanced student of Korean after finishing this book, however my writing ability, and reading ability likely are not up to par. So, to fix this, I’ve decided to hire a tutor. I plan on meeting with this tutor only a few hours a week to help me with my writing (I’m currently only focusing on writing to the intermediate level since I still need to learn advanced grammar) and my my reading. You might be wondering, “What about listening and speaking?”. To me, these are less important because I’ve always been a visual learner so my listening and speaking abilities have always been affect by my writing and reading abilities.

I once read that a language can only be taught up to a certain point. While most of a language can be explained and summarized nicely in a book and given to those who aim to learn it, a large chunk of it remains highly ambiguous. I felt this ambiguity when I crossed the threshold from beginner’s reading to intermediate. Without black and white “rules” my writing and reading abilities got better, but they aren’t as good as I’d like them to be.

For the past few months everything that I read or hear in English automatically gets translated to Korean in my head. I’m confident in the accuracy of these translates about 75% of the time. The other 25% of the time, my brain knows it has the information there to translate it, but doesn’t know exactly how the sentence would work. I’m stuck in the awkward phase of language learning, if there is such a thing. Language puberty anyone?




My flame for Korean has been reignited

If you read my last few posts before the Topik exam, then you will know that I was running on gas fumes. On the days leading up to the Topik intermediate, my brain just couldn’t handle looking at Korean anymore let alone studying it. I felt like once the test was done, I would take a month break from anything Korean-related. Well, that just didn’t work out.

It hasn’t been 4 days since the test and the flame has been reignited. What caused this, you ask? Time. Plain and simple. Korean is probably the only “hobby” I’ve ever managed to stick to. Once I called myself developing poetry as a hobby. I bought fancy books and pens and stuff and quit shortly after. Last year I decided I was going to learn to knit. I did learn to knit. I knitted myself a cowl. I knitted one for my dog as well. Never made it past the knit stitch and the purl. I have about 10 rolls of unused yarn and 3 scarfs in the process…..a year later.

When I first started studying Korean 5 years ago, I never thought I wanted to become fluent. I studied (half-assed, I admit) for over 2 years and then didn’t do anything with Korean for another 1.5 years. In the past year, I have been able to make more strides in Korean than all the time I spent studying in college combined. So now that the test is finished, a break just doesn’t seem to be in the cards. If I had been passively studying it, then maybe. However, I’ve been aggressively studying it. So now that I’ve achieved my Topik goal (of taking it anyway) I have nothing but time on my hands.

I could use this time to do something else, but I feel like I’d be forcing myself to do it. The only thing I could be doing with that extra time that wouldn’t feel forced, is studying Korean. And boy does that purple advanced grammar book look good from across the room. So, I’ve officially decided to not take a “break” from Korean. For, what? It’s the only thing I can truly say I love doing. It’s the only thing I’ve every stuck to long-term. It’s the only thing I’ve made large strides with in my entire life. It’s the only thing I’ve every felt like I accomplished.

Some people climb mountain, build businesses, travel the world and look back and say “I did it.” That’s what Korean does for me. It’s my Mount Everest, my fortune 500 company and backpack trip across Europe. So from tomorrow, I’m going to start again. Since preparing for the 34th kept that flame lit under my butt, I’m going to aim for the Topik advanced 39th or 40th next year. 화이팅!




P.S. I mentioned I was planning on adding a new part to my website and I am. However, despite all of my planning, I hit a snag and it won’t be ready until the end of the first week of May at the earliest. I really hate it when stuff doesn’t go according to schedule, but my hands are completely tied and I have to just wait. If you’re interested to see what that is, stay tuned. 

The Topik intermediate 34th test is already up!

I can’t look at it. I refuse to download it. I will be kicking myself if I find out now which answers I got wrong. I feel like I did well, and I want to maintain that sentiment for a while. I have to wait 5 weeks for the results and I plan on feeling like I did well up until that point. If I didn’t do as well as I thought, then so be it. But for right now I think I deserve that high. The test was just yesterday and I prepared so much. Nothing would be more defeating than to realize I blew it.



finally finshed picture

My Topik Intermediate 34th Experience

I thought I had hit the jackpot because the testing area was at a school that is (technically) in my small city, however I didn’t realize until a couple of days ago that it is off the beaten path. So much that I have to take a taxi from my apartment to the campus and then walk about 7 minutes to the testing building. It cost me about 10,000 won.

I arrived at the building about 1.5 hours before the test hoping to be able to get some last minute review in. I foolishly assumed that it would be set up like any standardized test I’d taken in the US. It wasn’t. There was no one giving out information or directing anything. I looked around and I was the only Westerner there. Nearly every other people present was of East Asian or South East Asian descent. I wasn’t exactly surprised since the majority of people who would even study Korean are more than likely international students here. I heard a mixture of Chinese, Thai, Tagalog, and some Indian languages being spoken and zero English.

Through the groups of people standing around I saw a board with numbers on it. After staring at it for about 10 minutes I figured out we needed to find our ID numbers and match it to a specific classroom in which we would being taking the test. I found mine and waited. After about 40 minutes hundreds of people came pouring out from the morning exam. There were 8 doors on this building but only one was open so all (what seemed like) 800 of them came out of it. After this we were allowed to enter. We went in and found our classrooms that had lists with our names on it. The classroom sat 40 people and was quite large. I was happy when I entered because I wanted to grab a seat near the side. Then I realized our seats were assigned so I found mine and sat down.

I sat there hoping I’d see another English speaker because then I wouldn’t stand out so much. Not one came in. Not one. I wonder if any were there, still. Before the test started, I overheard quite a few people speaking their native tongues and then seamlessly switching to Korean when they needed to. Everyone seemed so well learned in Korean. “Great, I’m the only one here who doesn’t speak that well”, I thought. Being an English speaker people don’t expect you to, so despite living here, I rarely find people who try to use Korean with me.

I sat there pretty much alone until about 10 minutes before the exam when everyone else started to come in. The exam proctors came in and started passing out the fill-in sheets. We all filled in our information and with about 10 minutes to go, they came around to check that everyone was who they claimed to be. The exam booklets were passed out about 5 minutes before and I looked around the room at at least 10 people had their books open. This is also something I’m not used to. Every standardized test I’ve ever taken has been sealed shut and breaking the seal and opening the test is an automatic failure. The proctors asked everyone to refrain from solving until it was time. They waited. When the announcement came on, we started solving.

I felt the test wasn’t that bad. Right out the gate it was easier than expected. Until today, I had never taken a timed Topik test. I realized that like 5 minutes before the start and that had me worried. All too often I read about people feeling like they didn’t have a lot of time to finish. I thought I did okay on the first part of exam. There were definitely a few questions I wasn’t 100% on. After solving the first page of the grammar section I remembered to look at the writing topic. It read:

“What was the happiest day so far in your life? Why was it so happy? What happened on this day? When was it? How much did it affect you?”

“Fuck yes! I can write about my dog”, I thought. I finished up the grammar portion and realized something. Out of all that advanced grammar I learned, none of it was on the test. Okay, maybe there was one. I got the the end of the grammar section and the idioms got me. There were 2 I knew (which were not the answer) and 2 I didn’t know. So, I just guessed. On the writing section I also did much better than I thought. I got one of the ‘fill in the missing part’ problems right and the jury is still out on the other one. I made it to the essay and managed to write all the way down until the last two lines of the paper. I actually wanted to write more, but I didn’t have room so I just sucked it up and ended it. Who knew I could write so much in Korean considering I practiced essay writing the least?

Then I put my pen down expecting there to be 10 or so minutes left. There were about 35 minutes left. I finished 35 minutes early. “Um….what the hell?”, I thought to myself. I had gotten good at solving correctly and quickly while studying, but I thought I’d slow down for the actual test. Apparently not. Since I had so much time left, I went back to the fill-in problems and re-read the one I was unsure about. In the end I changed it to a more likely answer. I then re-read my essay and corrected 2 mistakes and put the pen down and waited.

Those were the longest 25 minutes of my life.

After the bell rang I went outside and had a snack. I needed to stretch my legs. I went back in about 15 minutes later and the answer sheets for the second half had already been passed out and the tape player was already set up. Even though I’ve heard “tape condition” a ton of times on the Topik listening track, I had no idea it was an actual tape. A damn cassette. It tickled me pink. I got my answer sheet, filled in my information and prepared for the test. Although I haven’t studied listening in at least 2 weeks, I did well. I even understood the final listening track which I’ve never understood. I managed to do 5 or 6 reading problems in between tracks but decided to stop that as I needed to focus on listening once I reached the 20th problem. Like other parts of the exam, the reading seemed easier than when I’d practiced. Again, I understood the final question and I’ve had that happen exactly twice on the past tests I’ve used. Half way through the reading, my study burnout started coming back. It became harder to focus and I started to get a bit of a headache. I slowed down A LOT and just rode it out. I finished with like 10 minutes left, though I would have finished sooner had my head no started to hurt.

All in all it was a good experience. Despite it not running how I’m used to, it really surprised me in the end. I can’t wait to get the results back and I’m even more excited about expanding my Korean horizons.

If you took the 34th exam, how do you think you did?


%d bloggers like this: