My Korean study has slowed down a lot lately. (Okay, I haven’t learned any new Korean in a few months.)
But this June magazine cover made me want to get back to work. Magazines are one of the best ways to learn a foreign language independently. And it doesn’t hurt my motivation if they happen to include a damp, brooding Ji Sung.
When I was studying a few Arabic years ago, I thought I was no good because no matter how much I studied, I was miserable reading the articles for class. Each sentence took an act of will to struggle through.
Then one day I was in a doctor’s waiting room in Cairo, and I picked up a Lebanese entertainment magazine. I had a revelation: I could actually read everything. I just hated those textbook articles about the latest failed diplomatic missions and World Bank loans. Give me articles about Khaled Nabawy’s latest movie and I was suddenly fluent. Or at least moderately proficient.
The great thing about learning Korean on your own is it’s easy to find fun “assignments” for reading practice. In my last post on Korean through K-dramas, I wrote about using subtitled dramas as learning tools. Today, I’ll write about how I use fan magazines as another form of “textbook.”
I got my approaches to language learning from How to Learn any Language by Barry Farber, a classic for decades (it’s so old it doesn’t mention the internet). It’s not an exciting read, but it showed me that if you’re really into a language, you can get the basics without paying teachers.
I do, however, pay for the occasional imported magazine. That’s just “textbook fees.”
Using Magazines to Learn Korean (Beginner to Intermediate Edition)
♦ If you’re learning the Korean alphabet (Hangul), a magazine cover gives you real-world practice. As soon as you can recognize a few letters, take a look at a magazine. Identify as many letters as you can.
Try this out even if you think you’re not ready. Flashcards and apps only help at the very beginning—you need to start looking at letters in the real world ASAP.
If you’re watching K-dramas, you already know a few Korean “words.” The names of your favorite stars!
Magazine covers are guaranteed to have a few celebrity names, and you can find them by sounding out the letters.
A few of the letters aren’t pronounced as they look, but Korean is far more phonetic and logical than European languages. (And way easier than Arabic—Korean has vowels!) The occasional silent letters usually turn up in verbs, not names.
For instance, if you’ve learned the simple vowels and consonants (refer to this chart for a refresher), you can find Gong Hyo-Jin’s name on this June cover. Give it a try:
Did you find it? No surprise, it’s right under the Roman alphabet words “Cover Girl.”
♦ If you’re starting to study Korean words and grammar, perhaps you already have some flashcards or a vocabulary list. (I wrote about mine at How to Learn Korean from K-Dramas.) As you sound out words on a magazine cover, look for your vocab words. Start by reading the cover. (Out loud if you want to entertain yourself.)
You won’t understand most of it, but stay alert for vocabulary. Also, stay alert for words you already know without studying.
Today’s South Korean language is full of words derived from English. It’s satisfying to realize you understand some of the headlines without knowing any Korean besides the alphabet.
One caution: Korean changes the pronunciation of English words a lot. An example on the cover above is the word 업데이트, which appears on the right under the Roman letters “SNS.” After three minutes of reading those letters over and over, I finally realized it was the Korean word “eobdaeiteu.” It looks awful in transliteration, but it’s actually the word “update.” I know what that means! But it wasn’t obvious at first.
For instance, on the Gong Hyo-Jin cover above, you can find the Korean versions of these English words: editor, tip, model, instagram, jumpsuit, one-piece, fashion, beauty and body. Can you find any of them?
The hardest word here is “fashion.” Remember that Koreans turn the English F into a P. Also, because Korean letter blocks always include a vowel, sometimes Korean adds vowels to consonant-heavy English words.
♦ When you’ve found the celebrity names, borrowed English words, and any of your personal vocabulary words, look up the words you’re curious about.
A really hardcore language learner would look up every word on the cover and learn them all, but I don’t have that kind of patience. I just follow my bliss: I’m curious about how they describe Gong Hyo-Jin on the cover above, for instance, because she’s awesome. I want her to play me when they make a movie of my life.
So I’ll look up the words under Gong Hyo Jin’s name. (Naver’s English-Korean dictionary works well and is very patient with bad spelling and confusing words.)
If they’re words I like, I add them to my list of vocabulary. I put them on flashcards and listen for them in dramas.
♦ Magazine covers provide hours of entertainment and language learning, without requiring you to know any grammar. But once you open them up, you can learn even more from tackling complete sentences. I’ll write about my reading strategies in an upcoming post.
Unfortunately, that Ji Sung cover sold out before I could get a hold of it. But I also found a great Kim Soo-Hyun cover above. Though Kim Soo-Hyun is hit or miss with me, I love his look here against a backdrop of contrasting red and green. And another cover with a great use of color is the Song Hye Kyo cover below.
Keep your eye on the sales at YesAsia and maybe you can grab a good “textbook.” Enjoy learning Korean through K-dramas! ♥