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Elementary Korean, by Ross King and Jae-Hoon Yeon, 2000. Boston; Rutland, Vermont; Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing. xxii + 409 pp. (ISBN: 0-8048-2079-1). US $42.95 (hard cover); includes a 74-minute audio CD-ROM.

Reviewed by S. M. Hong-Schunka
Munich University

Elementary Korean is a textbook for beginning and intermediate learners of Korean that includes an audio CD-ROM. It is written by two distinguished linguists who have substantial teaching experience in English-speaking universities in Europe and North America, and is based on Samuel Martin and Young-Sook C. Lee's Beginning Korean (1969). The main objective of the book is described as developing "communicative competence in contemporary spoken Korean through a systematic and streamlined introduction to the fundamental patterns of the language" (p. xv). The authors recommend it as "an out-of-class reference tool to ready the students for whatever activities their teacher has prepared for them in class", and not as a classroom course book. The text provides an ample vocabulary (approximately 1,000 words), example sentences, extensive grammar notes and pattern practice, some of which are recorded on the accompanying CD-ROM. Throughout the book, examples are given in the Korean script hankwul; both polite informal and formal styles of speech (-hayyo and -hapnita) are employed. The book, purchased easily through major bookshops and internet providers such as Amazon, is very readable.

The book consists of 15 lessons and a reference section. The two initial lessons introduce useful basic Korean expressions such as how to say "yes", "no", "thank you", etc. with the help of the international phonetic alphabet. Hankwul is introduced in lessons 3 and 4, which explain in great detail how to read and write the Korean consonants and vowels, and how to combine them into syllables. Furthermore, the major pronunciation rules about the assimilation of consonants in consecutive syllables are discussed with examples. The grammar lessons proper (5-9 and 11-14) consist of four sections: Korean dialogues (in most cases two to four pieces), vocabulary, lesson notes with grammatical explanations and exercises. At the beginning of each lesson the authors specify the planned communicative goal. Some lessons (6, 11, 12, 13) contain extra reading passages. The two review lessons (10, 15) consist exclusively of grammar reviews and exercises. The final reference section includes six subsections: 1. Korean to English vocabulary; 2. English to Korean vocabulary; 3. Korean to English pattern glossary; 4. English to Korean pattern glossary; 5. English equivalents to the Korean dialogues; 6. answer key to written exercises.

The main dialogues concern daily tasks such as introducing people, buying things, asking locations and making telephone reservations, etc. In general, such dialogues are more effective than descriptive texts when one's goal in learning a language is communicative competence, as is the case with Elementary Korean. For students outside of Korea who have few opportunities to meet native Korean speakers, the dialogues provided that concern common daily situations and are easily learned will prove particularly helpful. The meanings of some expressions in the dialogues are provided immediately below in the notes section. It is not clear to me, however, why the authors postpone the English translation of the dialogues until the final reference section. In most cases students starting to learn Korean find it difficult to read the hankwul text and comprehend its semantic content at the same time. Here English translations can be helpful. Students might also profit more if the book contained additional simple texts for reading in every lesson.

The vocabulary section explains the English meaning of the words used in the dialogues and provides additional words that students may employ to achieve the specified communicative tasks. The English meaning of the entire Korean vocabulary in the book can also be found in the reference section. Students will likely find the list of English words and their Korean equivalents in the reference section handy as a dictionary substitute, although I wonder if it might not have been better to provide the page number on which each word initially appears, instead of the lesson number. Most of my beginning students have difficulties browsing through a hankwul text and identifying a word within it immediately. Also, it is somewhat confusing to determine which lexical items occur in the vocabulary lists and which in the pattern glossaries. Some critical students may note the lack of historical or cultural vocabulary in the book because of the setting of the dialogues in a contemporary South Korean urban environment.

The lesson notes provide explanations of grammatical morphemes and structures occurring in the dialogues supplemented by further examples. Because of the agglutinative nature of the Korean language, many of the notes focus on norminal particles and verbal endings. In general, the authors' explanations are concise and easy to understand. For obvious didactic purposes they sometimes tend to simplify to a considerable degree. For example, in the grammar note 5.2 Sentence Subjects and Topics, the subject particles -i and -ka are claimed to be one and the same word with two pronunciations (p. 61), although this is certainly controversial. Historically speaking, the use of -ka as subject particle is a relatively recent phenomenon and began to spread into Korean for the first time in the 17th century. Nevertheless, it was not until the mid-18th century that usage of -ka expanded to subject nouns ending in all vowel sounds, as in contemporary Korean. Before that time, -ka had selected only head nouns ending in the so-called "-I-Type" vowels such as 'ay' or 'ey', etc. Of course, one might argue that mention of such derivational or historical processes will burden students at the beginning stage.

Most exercises are structural drills that require the students to practice grammar patterns by choosing the correct variation for particles or words, completing sentences, filling in blanks, building sentences with given words and phrases, engaging in sentence transformations, translating to Korean or English, repeating vocabulary, etc. Although some students may find such drills rather uninteresting, learning a foreign language is a long and at times tedious process that requires some rote learning and frequent repetition of grammatical patterns. If carried out in conjunction with the CD-ROM, some exercises can also be entertaining. My students found the pronunciation exercises in lesson 3 that introduce country names, English loan words and three-way contrasts of simple, aspirated and tense consonants quite amusing. Answers to the written exercises are provided at the end of the book so that students can check and improve the mistakes. It is not clear to me, however, why no answers are provided for some exercises (5.1, 7.6, 8.4, 10.4, 10.7, 11.1, 11.5, 11.6), although this may be because some answers are obvious from the lesson notes. Particularly for two very interesting and challenging exercises (11.5: telling a story in Korean, and 11.6: an autobiographical sketch), a model text may have proved helpful to the students in constructing their own.

Finally, the CD-ROM is recorded by several Korean native speakers and foreign students, who speak standard Seoul dialect in a correct and articulate manner. Since few Korean-language audio materials suitable for university-level courses exist, this CD-ROM is a very welcome production that can contribute to students' listening and speaking ability. Nonetheless, the organization of the CD-ROM is a little confusing because although there are 24 tracks in all, the book has only 15 lessons. Thus it is difficult to find the appropriate match between text and CD-ROM. The CD-ROM provides all dialogues and reading passages of the content lessons. In some lessons (4-7) selected examples in the lesson notes are reproduced, too. Exercises are recorded only in lessons 3 and 4 on Korean pronunciation. But the two review lessons (10, 15), which, in my opinion, are as important as the lessons that introduce new grammar material, are omitted. I also wonder why the grammar notes on Korean verbs (7.1-7.5) in the lesson 7 are excluded in the CD-ROM, while grammar notes on other linguistic elements (7.6-7.13) are recorded. This is all the more surprising because the authors jokingly call this particular lesson, which introduces all major verb types, the " 'heartbreak hill' of the course--if the students don't survive it, they will not survive the course (or ever learn Korean, for that matter)." (p. xviii). In general, the earlier lessons (1-7, particularly 3-4) are better represented on the CD-ROM than the latter, more difficult lessons (8-14), although students may need more assistance with those that come later.

To conclude, Elementary Korean is a solid textbook suitable for beginning to intermediate learners of Korean, which provides "comprehensive and detailed" grammar notes and "original" dialogues. The dialogues deal with daily situations and are thus useful and have the potential to motivate students to practise more often than other descriptive texts. The exercises that offer various structural and translation drills can enhance students' grammar skills. By studying with this book and the CD-ROM the students will be able to learn some fundamental patterns of the Korean language and achieve substantial communicative competence in Korean. For students who want to proceed to a more advanced level, the same authors have published Continuing Korean.


Hong-Schunka, S. M. 2004
Review of Elementary Korean, by Ross King and Jae-Hoon Yeon (2000)
Korean Studies Review 2004, no. 10
Electronic file: http://koreanstudies.com/ks/ksr/ksr04-10.htm

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