Yonsei Korean Readings
Below you will find reviews of the Yonsei Korean Readings series aimed to provide reading practice for people learning Korean. More to come soon!
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First Korean Readings - 처음 배우는 한국어 읽기
처음 배우는 한국어 읽기, or First Korean Readings, is definitely a nice book to get to supplement your Korean education. It is the first in a Korean reading series by Yonsei University, mainly consisting of reading exercises to help the learner improve their Korean and get real practice.
This book, the first one, starts off with about 20 pages that teach Hangul, the Korean alphabet. It has pronunciation, a few exercises, and goes into a few specific pronunciation issues. While it's important to know Hangul before diving into these textbooks (the readings are all written in Hangul after all), I feel that the few sections that introduce Hangul is wasted space in this book that could have been replaced with a few more actual readings. The reason for this is simply this - if the reader is just starting to learn Hangul, chances are they are not ready for the rest of the material. There is not any grammar instruction in the book, and the reader is expected to know (or know how to look up in a dictionary) the majority of the vocabulary in the text.
While this may mean the text is not meant for someone just beginning Korean, it also means that the text does provide good exercise and practice for people who are already studying Korean grammar and familiar with Hangul. The text generally focuses around two or three common characters put into various situations. It's also put together in a way that makes it interesting to read. You start out with greetings, where the characters are all introduced. They then go on to find out relationships, introduce friends, out for dinner, celebrate a birthday, etc. There is a reading on each topic, and they all seem to flow together. It's not a novel, but it's more interesting than completely separate and unrelated readings.
All of the topics are interesting and cover useful situations. A lot of the vocabulary is not defined, but it is basic vocabulary or easily looked up in a dictionary. The harder words that the authors feel readers may not understand are also defined. At the bottom of each text will be a few of the more difficult words. These have an English and a Japanese translation, which can be useful if you are familiar with Japanese. The grammar is simple enough in this first textbook so that it does not get in the way of the reading and vocabulary. Sometimes in Korean the grammar can confuse the reader and the vocabulary becomes more difficult since it is hard to know what is grammar and what is vocabulary. That shouldn't be an issue here.
The grammar that readers should be familiar with before diving into this first textbook is formal verb conjugation, your basic particles (이/가, 은/는, 을/를) along with a few other particles (ex: 도,에,에서, 으로). Honorifics are also used fairly often (insertion of 시 into the verb). Other grammar used is 고 싶다 (to want) and verb stem + 고 (connects sentences). These few concepts form the majority of the grammar in these readings. It seems as if the authors were able to put together useful and appropriate readings using the essential grammar but nothing more. This is useful for people first learning as it helps the learner to focus on the vocabulary, the essential grammar, and simply practice putting it all together.
If you follow the lessons at Learn Korean Now. This book will provide the necessary practice for that grammar - especially formal conjugations. Almost all verbs are conjugated in the formal style of speech throughout this first textbook. It's a good style of speech to understand as a beginner (you want to be careful not to offend others), so the practice is necessary.
Finally, the only other parts to this first textbook are pronunciation guides every couple of readings, and about three questions to follow each reading. The pronunciation guides touches the irregular pronunciation. Again, this is useful if you do not already know it, and slightly more useful in this textbook than a Hangul introduction, but not needed in the textbook if you are simply looking for reading practice. There are only a few questions per reading, but they simply ask you about something in the reading, and you can respond with the correct answer.
Overall, I highly recommend this textbook to those in the beginning stages of Korean. It's difficult to come across good readings that do not overuse grammar, but this book does not do that. You will still be able to practice your reading even if you are limited in grammar. It uses enough to make it useful, but it does not use grammar that is not needed in the conversation. Anyone studying verb conjugations, the particles, and core vocabulary will definitely get a lot of use out of this book - it offers many, many readings to practice with, ranging from dialogs, paragraphs to read, the questions after each section, and other forms of reading practice.