Korean from a Chinese Textbook

28 Oct 2006

As I explained before, my wife and I are learning Korean here in Shanghai. Progress has been slow, though, because our tutor unexpectedly had to return to Korea for the summer. Dedicated students that we are, we seized the opportunity for a two-month break from our studies. She’s back now, though, so we’re back in the saddle. We all decided we needed a good textbook.

Korean Textbook (in Chinese)

the book

We textbook we decided on with our tutor is 新韩国语基础教程(上) (New Korean Foundation Course – Part 1 of 2), published by 大连理工大学出版社 (Dalian University of Technology Press). It may not be perfect or even particularly enlightened, but compared to the cornucopia of crap with which it shared space on the book store shelves, it seems like a Godsend.

The reasons I like the text are:

1. Chapter 1 of the textbook eases into the sounds and writing system of the language with extensive explanations of the simple vowels, then simple consonants, then diphthongs, then finals, then rules of pronunciation. That’s 32 pages! There are explanations (in Chinese) with IPA, examples, exercises, illustrations of the mouth, etc. There’s even a diagram showing exactly how the Korean writing system was designed to resemble the human mouth as it makes the sounds of the language (which is something I’d been curious about for a while). I complained last time about spending too much time on writing and pronunciation before learning any useful language and I still stand by that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a very complete reference in Chapter 1 that I can come back to any time.

2. The regular chapters are broken down into pretty standard sections: (1) sentence patterns, (2) sample sentences, (3) dialogue, (4) new vocabulary, (5) Chinese translations of parts 1-3, (6) grammar explanations, (7) exercises. Nothing ground-breaking here, but it’s all very usable and practical. The grammar explanations are clear, with helpful charts and diagrams. I haven’t really spent much time on the exercises yet, so I won’t say anything about that.

3. I like how outside of Chapter 1 there is no romanization of the Korean anywhere, and the Chinese translation is on another page. This forces the beginner to trudge through the Hangul, which is a necessary ordeal.

The big disadvantage of the series is that all the listening exercises are meant to be accompanied by cassette tapes. I guess that can be forgiven since the series was published in 1999, but that doesn’t change the fact that tapes are useless to me now because I own nothing that plays them (and I’m not buying a stupid tape player).

Anyway, if you’re looking for a textbook for learning Korean in China, I think that 新韩国语基础教程 is a pretty good way to go. The two book set cost 48 RMB altogether (without the tapes).


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Is it always obvious when a word is of Chinese origin? Does the book introduce to the Hanja as you meet Chinese loan words? I am wondering if it possible to nto quite realise a word is of Chinese origin and thus miss an opportunity to leverage your Chinese? Arguably Korean without Hanja is dumbing down?

  2. Koreans native to China and North Korea never use Hanja, so it would be quite reasonable for a Korean textbook published in Dalian to omit them too.

    “Does the book introduce the Hanja as one meets Chinese loan words?” 🙂

  3. Why not simply borrow a cassette deck someplace and transfer the recordings to your PC, then to CD if you like? You would only need it for a day or so.

  4. Check out the Assimil Korean, (you can get the book from their website, or you can just download the audio portion from emule)

    Also, this book might be interesting:

  5. parasitius (Justin) Says: October 29, 2006 at 11:49 am

    This is CHINA buddy, get with the program! The VAST MAJORITY of language learning material stuff is still on tape. So get used to spending hours plugging tape player->line in, fine tuning the peak levels so your final .ogg doesn’t have blaring spots that cause permanent hearing loss, etc.. And of course always bear in mind the pit-bottom prices of items in China is a reflection of the half-arsed quality so you can expect random massive fluctuations in volume level throughout the tape requiring you to re-rip portions of it 10 or more times. If you don’t pay with your pocketbook, hope ya don’t mind paying with your TIME. Bwahaha.
    Seriously, tapes are at least tolerable, but what’s with the continuing Chinese addiction to VCDs? I’d MUCH MUCH sooner watch absolutely nothing that try to make out the few pixel representations of like hot actresses etc, not even reaching 50%-of-VCR-quality rubbish VCDs.

  6. Da Xiangchang Says: October 30, 2006 at 2:14 pm

    Interesting, but I always wondered whenever a Chinese person learns a foreign language that’s not English: WHY?! If I were Chinese (as in Chinese-CHINESE, not a wimpy hyphenate), I would spend all my energy learning English. I mean, it’ll give you a lot more bang for your buck–or yuan. And if I’m already okay in English, being MORE than OK. German, French, Japanese–these are has-been languages. And Korean–it’s a never-has-been language. I don’t know–maybe I’m just a philistine. But I figure you only have X number of years on this planet–if you already like learning languages, why not learn something useful? I mean, even Cantonese is a lot more useful for a Chinese person than Korean!

  7. I think, DXC, you were right when you said you were a Philistine. There are more reasons for learning languages than making money. Korean probably can help you make money, and most Chinese are quite interested in Korean culture, and apparently Koreans are believed to be the most attractive of the East Asians!! Most Chinese tell me so!!

  8. she already speaks english, so your rant is moot.

  9. Da Xiangchang Says: November 2, 2006 at 7:00 am

    My “rant”?! Haha. First of all, I wasn’t speaking about John’s wife, if that’s what you meant by “she”; I meant ALL Chinese. And I also wrote if a Chinese is already “okay” with English, he should strive to be “more than okay” instead of learning another foreign language. A lot of Asians just learn the rudiments of English then never progress, which alienates them from the mainstream society when they immigrate–which is what I see A LOT OF in America. Second of all, the most vibrant culture in the world right now is American, and if you want to participate in this, you need to be excellent in English. Learning Korean when you haven’t perfected English is like learning Aramaic when you don’t know Latin during the Roman times.

  10. I’m afria that rant isn’t very grounded in reality, considering the many Korean owned JV companies in China. Especially in Nanjing, Tianjin, Dalian etc, they are looking for Chinese who speak Korean.

    While this demand is being somewhat met by the ethnic Korean Chaoxian-zu, you meet plenty of young Chinese who are doing quite well off their Korean lessons.

  11. Mr. Big Sausage,

    Inter-Asia trade is booming. China, not the U.S., is now South Korea’s biggest trade partner. The rest of the world does not exist solely for the purpose of selling stuff to Americans. Yes, English skills are useful in China, especially in the business world, to the point where it’s getting hard to find a white-collar job in China if you don’t speak any English, but that also means that knowing English isn’t a particularly remarkable, distinguishing skill in the Chinese job market anymore. Lots of Chinese study Korean or Japanese because a) they want skills that are distinguishable from every other Zhang San out there, and b) because they might actually be interested in those countries’ cultures, and want to go visit someday.

  12. ” I mean, even Cantonese is a lot more useful for a Chinese person than Korean!”

    Actually, not quite, since many in South China who speak Cantonese on this planet can speak Mandarin (cringeworthy Hong Kong accent notwithstanding). Korea on the other hand is no man’s land when it comes to English (and Chinese!!). Furthermore, it’s a very active and modern economy, some place you might go on business. Learning the language could be really fun and useful. South Korea alone has about 50MM and of course, in North China you’ll find many more.

    Cantonese is great, but it’s kind of redundant for fluent Chinese speakers (if the only thing you’re focused on is, maximizing the number of people you can talk to).

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