Book review: Wild Korean (야생 한국어) – Sanghyun Ahn
Stop being stuck at the basic level.
Calling itself “A Fieldguide to Real Korean Conversation”, Wild Korean promises to get you conversational by the time you’re finished with the textbook. While my own book, Korean Made Easy, teaches you enough to get started and make your way around, I was delighted to hear about Wild Korean. Kudos to Ahn Sang-hyun for writing it and Jo-Anna Lynch over at The View From Over Here for her role as editor.
With little review of the basics, the book jumps right in and assumes a basic understanding of Korean – the hangeul, numbers, and some of the basic conjugations. The introduction informs us of the free Korean class Kongbubang offered in Seoul by kind volunteers, including the author. After being in the classroom for years, the material has improved based on feedback and become the 231-page book available today.
Let’s be clear about the level here – if you’re still reading the Romanized version of Korean words instead of the real thing, you’ll find this book a struggle. There are precisely zero Romanized terms used – and that’s exactly where the intermediate learner ought to be. If you’ve lived in Korea for awhile (let’s say six months or more, to give a definitive figure) or have picked up a fair amount of the language, you’re probably ready for this book. If you know what kind of word ends in ~다 and know what 학생 and 어제 mean, you’re good to go.
A highlight seen throughout the textbook are the pencil illustrations done by Douglas Holden – in some cases, they’re a way of breaking up long pieces of text, while in other cases they humorously portray some of the Korean dialogue. Across the twenty chapters, four appendices, and 18 Cultural Notes (fun reading in their own right), a set of audio files are easily downloaded from the book’s official website. There’s also plenty of vocabulary to help you perfect your own sentences instead of simply memorizing some prescribed sentences.
There are no major complaints about the book – not that I’m looking for one or trying to be too picky. I do wish there was a bit more of a ‘catching-up’ curve at the very beginning, or at least a few pages of reference materials of vocab the reader has already learned. Since the reader might be in a position to study for the TOPIK, I’d be curious to know the level of this book, as compared to the standardized test. Additionally, a few of the phrases learned seem unlikely to be used at best, and inappropriate at worst. The overall tone, however. is like a Korean friend teaching you the stuff foreigners aren’t supposed to know.
For serious Korean study at the intermediate level, this can’t be beat. Being in print form only (for now) might make a little more difficult to pick up, but it’s worth it.
Highly recommended, if you have the basics down. If you don’t, pick it up later.
For more information, check out the book’s official blog at wildkorean.blogspot.com, or head to Kyobo Book’s website to buy the book (15,000 won). It’s expected to be available in the major bookstore chains around Korea, so watch out there as well.
Disclosure: Chris in South Korea received a review copy of the paper book.
© Chris Backe – 2011
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