Book Review: Useful Chinese Characters for Learners of Korean

Title: Useful Chinese Characters for Learners of Korean
Author: SNU Language Institute
Paperback: 184 pages
Publisher: Darakwon (Apr 2007)
ISBN-10: 895995764X
ISBN-13: 9788959957644

Easily one of the best weapons to add to any Korean-language learner's arsenal is a good command of Hanja. This book helps to demystify the structure of Hanja and prompts the Korean language learner to recognize authentic examples in modern Korean. Like Latin and Greek roots to English, Hanja comprises of over an estimated 60% of the Korean language in use today and as such, presents itself as a possible speed bump to effectively learning Korean. While not nearly as prominent as it used to be, Hanja is still known to some degree by all native Korean speakers. If you are a student of Korean and you have even a passing interest in learning Hanja-based vocabulary, this is book to start with.

The text couldn't be easier to approach with its easy to follow baby-steps guide on how a single Hanja character is formed, brush stroke formation and how to recognize the sound and meaning of characters. If you've been looking for someone to hold your hand and show you the ropes but were frustrated that all available explanations are in Korean, this book remedies that nicely. Each chapter is arranged around a theme and therefore arranged slightly differently than the beginner books that native speakers learn by. Although increasingly difficult, the ten characters per chapter pace is not impossible to follow with some practice. Towards the end of the book is a step-by-step guide on how to recognize similarly rooted words by their main radical and how to look up words in a dictionary. I found the English explanation of radicals to be especially helpful.

The only true fault is the text's limited amount of space to practice writing. It does have an summary chapter practice cell sheet but the paper in the book doesn't lend itself well to being written on; it's too pretty. As a beginner, though, you have thousands of options out there. Plenty, and I do mean plenty of cheap low level practice books are geared for Korean children and are well-suited for rote memorization and muscle memory writing practice. Think of this book like a springboard and you're much better off. I used the textbook and wrote side-by-side in a blank notebook. For reinforcement, I ran through a few five dollar variously leveled practice books; 8급 being the most basic, 1급 the most difficult. This book is a good one to start with and it should already be in your collection.

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If you have not clue what Hanja is, take a quick detour and start with a background. I've mentioned this book before and I want to emphasize how valuable it is has been for me. Far from a perfect text, it got me started in what I hope is a goal of lifelong learning. Although I'm not finished with it by any means, I had got a lot out of it and wholeheartedly recommend it.

Oh, and it's crazy hard to find outside of Korea. Heads up.

One Response to “Book Review: Useful Chinese Characters for Learners of Korean”

JR said...

Thanks for all the great info. I have been on the verge of ordering a book of Hanja and just haven't done it yet. Great Blog by the way. Lots of good Korean language information!