Category Archives: Study Tips

Using Italki for Language Learning

Ever since I did the TOPIK test back in April, I’ve been feeling like I’m in a bit of a Korean studying slump. The goal of getting an advanced level on the TOPIK test was such a great motivator. I was studying flash cards every morning and reading news articles to find new vocab, and testing myself occasionally by doing old TOPIK tests. Having that goal was really helpful for me.

Now I feel like I’m floating around from one thing to another while I’m studying Korean, without a concrete goal. Some days I read newspapers, some days I listen to radio shows, some days I just watch variety shows. Not having that goal makes me feel like I never finish anything when I’m studying so it’s not nearly as satisfying. I’m really frustrated with myself!

So to get some of my studying mojo back, I’ve decided that my goal for right now is to focus on my speaking skills. Of course I still do language exchanges with friends regularly. The problem is that my language exchange partners rarely correct my Korean, which is what I really need. I worry that I will keep making the same mistakes and they will become habitual.

So I’ve signed up on a site called Italki to get some structured language practice and find someone to correct my speaking. It’s a site that links people who are learning languages with people who are professional teachers or want to do informal tutoring. It’s got a great system for scheduling sessions with teachers, and you buy credits to pay your teachers with so that you don’t have to worry about the hassle of transferring money internationally (such as added fees and exchange rates). The sessions themselves are conducted via skype.

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Studying Korean through Dramas without Subs

I’ll admit it, I am not a big drama fan. Although my first exposure to Korean culture was through watching Full House back in 2006, I think I’ve only gotten through 3 or 4 dramas from start to finish since then. I really prefer watching films or variety shows (I am addicted to Running Man!!). But since megaupload was taken down, it’s gotten harder to find films for download. And watching variety shows to learn Korean isn’t ideal because they always caption what people are saying… this makes it way easier to understand but also makes me reliant on that crutch, which isn’t helpful since in real life Koreans don’t have subtitles underneath them when they talk. Unfortunately. 😦

So since I wanted to improve my aural comprehension, I decided to attempt to start watching a drama again. I knew I wouldn’t be able to understand everything, so I planned to watch the drama without any subs once and then consult a Korean transcript or Korean subs to look up the parts I didn’t catch.

But finding those transcripts or subtitles was difficult… I tweeted TTMIK and asked if they knew where students could find Korean subtitles for Korean dramas, and they kindly RTed my tweet. I got A LOT of replies from fellow learners. Unfortunately they had all misread my tweet and assumed that I was looking for English subtitles and therefore linked me to streaming sites. I appreciated their help, but I definitely needed Korean subs.

After some more searching, I had only come up with dead links that had promised scripts or hangeul subtitles. Once again, the death of megaupload was foiling my plans. But then I stumbled upon SBS’s Video on Demand site. They have hundreds of current and former SBS dramas, and while you can’t watch them without registering and paying for membership, you can access their transcripts for free!

To find the transcript for the drama you’re watching:

1. Go to the SBS VoD site.

2. If the drama is recent, it will show up under the 최신순 category on the home page. If it’s not, click on the 가나다순 tab to find it through an alphabetical search.


3. Once you click on the drama, it will take you to the video player page. Note that you won’t be able to watch the video unless you pay for membership. But this is where you get the transcript! In the box on the right side of the player, there are two tabs at the top. The second is 자막 보기. Click that, and you’ll get all the dialogue from the drama! Great, right?

4. To watch the drama, I’d suggest downloading a raw file or using a site like Viki is awesome because not only does it allow users to create and share subtitles in various languages, it also gives you the option of having no subs at all! Most videos don’t have Korean subtitles (or only have say 10% of it subbed in Korean), but you don’t need them now that you have the transcript, right? 🙂

Sadly, although MBC also has VoD services, you can’t get the transcripts for free. I’m not even sure if there are subtitles or transcripts included in the purchase of each episode. KBS has a VoD site as well, but it requires a Korean SIN number or a foreign passport number to sign up, so unless you’re willing to enter your passport to check it out, it’s not an option either. But SBS has plenty of great dramas!!


I’ve been watching 내 여자친구는 구미호 (My Girlfriend is a Gumiho) this way for the past few days, and really enjoying it. If you’re just starting out with dramas, and are like me and don’t enjoy melodramatic or overly romantic storylines, I’d highly suggest dramas written by the Hong sisters. They’re always funny and don’t take the romance part too seriously!

I hope I can keep this up and actually make it through to the end of this drama! ^^

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Do-It-Yourself Studying…

I’ve been going through this list of the 6000 Most Common Korean Words for the past few days. It’s really made me wonder how these words were determined to be the “most common” words in the Korean language… At first, the order of the words seems to make sense. Obviously 하다 and 있다 are going to be pretty high up there on the list of common Korean words. But it takes a couple thousand words to get to 어머, and to get to it you have to first go by words like brokerage (증권사) and a military company (부대). And “저고리” (the jacket part of 한복) is more common than “구두” (shoes)?!

Anyway, despite the nonsensical ordering of the words, this is a pretty helpful list. I’ve been adding the ones I’m not familiar with into my flash cards database, along with example sentences from Daum and Naver so I can better understand their usage. I would definitely not recommend that anyone just copy the English definitions that are provided on that website. The same goes for any list of words that you’ll find on the Internet, including other users’ lists on sites like Quizlet.  Although I appreciate all the work that was put into matching each word with an English definition for this list, and most of the time they are correct, there are a few reasons why I think it’s better to search for definitions yourself instead of using other people’s work:

1) Looking up words and writing/typing them out yourself will help you remember them because you’ve experienced the act of engaging with that word. One of my Anthropology profs once suggested that we study in different places and in different environments so that we would be able to jog our memory about the subjects we were studying by thinking about the environment. I find this is true for all subjects, including language learning. Oftentimes I won’t remember the meaning of a word right away, but I’ll remember where I was when I looked it up on Daum, or what music I was listening to, or who I was sitting near. Associations like that can jog your memory and you’re more likely to remember what it is you were studying at that time. If you’re just copying/pasting someone else’s list, you won’t have the personal experience with each word and you will be much less likely to remember it.

2) A lot of the time, a simplified definition can really be unhelpful or even misleading. This is why dictionaries can be so frustrating. You get a language-to-language translate of the word without any sense of how it’s used in context. This can really screw you up if you’re relying on a one-word definition from someone else’s flash cards list to understand the meaning of a word.

Imagine this situation. You copy/paste someone else’s vocab list into your own, and start using it in your study rotation. You see the word 저지하다 for the first time, and see the definition the other learner has included for it: “to arrest”. Soon after, you’re talking to your Korean friend about a bank robbery they saw on the news, and you ask “경찰은 그 도둑을 저지했니?” (Did the police ‘arrest’ the thief?). 뭐라고? Your Korean friend gives you a funny look. Turns out that this word doesn’t mean “to arrest [a criminal]” it means “to arrest” as in “to hinder”. Like Arrested Development. Since English has more than one definition for many words, you need to have a better handle of what the Korean word means and not just rely on a simple definition.

The opposite can also be true. Korean words often have more than one meaning. One of the definitions on that list is for 가구, and it says it means “family” in English. True (although its meaning is closer to “household”, but anyway…). But if you just studied that, you’d be pretty alarmed if your friend said to you: “오래된 가구를 버리고 새 가구를 사고 싶어”“I want to get rid of my old family and buy a new one”?? Actually, 가구 also means “furniture”. So it’s important that you know all the meanings of a word (or at least the most common ones) to avoid confusion.

3) It’s important that you not only study single words, but also sentences, or you won’t know how to use the words. I usually input single words into my study program and also include at least one example sentence as well. I include a different example sentence for each possible meaning of the world. For some verbs, this can mean a lot of example sentences! But it’s well worth it or you’ll get seriously confused if you don’t know that, for example, 타다 means more than just “to ride”. Also, the sentences help because you can choose sentences that are interesting to you or that will be most helpful in the environment you’ll be using Korean in, so you can tailor your studying to your own tastes.

4) Typos! Everyone makes them. It’s inevitable that at some point in a list of words like this, there are going to be typos. If you just copy/paste the words into your study program, you’ll never know. You’ll end up memorizing an incorrect spelling (and pronunciation) of the word. But if you study it on your own, you’ll be putting the word through an online dictionary and will discover that it was misspelled. Crisis averted!

To sum up, while I think using lists such as this one of the “6000 Most Common Korean Words” can be helpful by providing learners with a list of words that they might not have come across before, it won’t be helpful to the learner unless they study it individually and learn each word on their own. If you try to skip the hard work by just copy/pasting someone else’s definitions, you’re much less likely to remember the meaning of the word, and if you do, you could be misunderstanding the meaning entirely!

So keep at it! Even though it seems daunting, if you try to take short cuts in language learning you’re just going to end up having to learn it properly at some point. I have to keep reminding myself this too… 아자!

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