My first Korean language progress
Self studying Korean

Korean language blog ☆ My progress update #1 September 2018

I decided to start tracking my progress in Korean language here. Considering my pace of studying I think doing this once every four months would be optimal.

So, on the 1st of each January, May, and September I will recap how much Korean language I have learned in the previous four months and compare my current knowledge with the prior progress update.

#1 – September 2018

Area Current status
TOPIK Beginner Vocabulary and Grammar
(초급 • 어휘 및 문법)
TOPIK Beginner Reading
(초급 • 읽기)
Vocabulary size 1800 – 2000 words

Below I explain how I reached these estimates.

It is difficult to see the progress we are making when the task is so monumental, such as learning Korean language. We start from zero and our goal is fluency. It takes years.

Or decades, if life gets in the way.

Every now and then I open hoping that I will magically be able to understand articles in Korean, but of course I can’t (yet!).

In moments like those, it feels like I am stuck in a spot.

A spot called “I can’t read articles in Korean.”

Tracking progress in these milestone posts will encourage me and remind me that I am taking steps forward in the right direction, even if the destination is still far away.

I would love if you would also share your progress in the comments below.

Since this is the first time I’m doing this it will be much longer than subsequent posts. It will cover a time period much longer than 4 months, that is, from the day I started learning Korean to today.


My Korean Journey so Far

When I started learning Korean I knew nothing. I wasn’t even aware it was written using a nice, simple alphabet.

I’ve studied using textbooks, paper flashcards, Memrise, free online classes, Talk to Me in Korean podcasts, I even dabbled in Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur, and every single time that I started learning Korean I was interrupted. By surgery, by seizures, by moving, … strangely something always found a way to stop me.

Each time I would start all over again from -이에요/예요 to make sure I didn’t forget anything important during the break, since my memory was also getting worse.

This time around, since starting this blog, I decided to be brave and just move on in my studies, instead of being stuck in the endless loop of revising the same Korean structures over and over again.

No more. I am moving on.

…as soon as I finish one more beginner textbook “Sungkyun Korean 1” so I can review it here. Hehe, ooops.

In addition to restarting my studies more times than I can count, I also spent quite a few months learning Hangul handwriting, typing on all manner of keyboards, and pronunciation rules –  which are quite numerous.

That’s an important part of learning Korean, yet after a few months of work you really don’t have much to show for it, even though your pronunciation has improved and typing speed is impressive, you still don’t even know how to introduce yourself in Korean.

Before I take Korean assessment tests, I think it would be fun to try to judge by myself how much Korean I know and then see how well it matches the reality in the end.

My gut feeling is that I am aaaaaalmost upper beginner level in terms of grammar and communication skills, and that my vocabulary is somewhere between 1000 – 2000 words right now.

I figure I went through 1000 Most Common Korean words on Memrise, but later abandoned it because I realized learning words out of context is not the most effective way, so I probably still remember about 70% of it. That’s 700 words for sure. I also know 99% of vocabulary from my textbook Korean Made Easy for Beginners. Of course, I also picked up quite a bit of vocabulary along the way, from webtoons, from etc. If I had to pick a specific number, I would say I’m probably at 1500 words.

Read on to see if my self-assessment matches the measurements.


My Current Level in Korean Language

I used beginner TOPIK to estimate my current level of grammar and reading, and various online tests to estimate the size of my Korean vocabulary.

I am actually not sure if this is the best way to assess my current level and to track it in the future. If you have any advice how to do it better please tell me in the comments.

Hangul and pronunciation

I am done with actively studying both. I’ve known how to read Hangul (even handwritten!) for a while now. I know the stroke order. I know how to type it. I know basic Korean pronunciation rules, and even most of the pronunciation changes. I know that due to tensing of ㄷ in front of ㅂ 눕다 is pronounced [눕따] and that due to nasalization 국민 is pronounced [궁민].

There are some more obscure rules that I must have forgotten along the way, but I feel I would have to put in a lot of effort to find them and learn them with very little gain.

For those rarely applied rules, I find it more effective to check the pronunciation when adding new words to my Memrise courses, and add it in if it’s different from what I expected.

Point being, whatever pronunciation I pick up in the future it will be done naturally as I go along, rather than sitting down and memorizing the rules any further.

Korean grammar

The simplest way I could think of to estimate my knowledge of Korean grammar was to take a mock TOPIK exam. It’s not perfect because I’m not preparing for TOPIK so sometimes, usually when I’m slogging through webtoons in Korean, I just look up grammar which is way above my current level, but it is rare enough occurrence that I think beginner TOPIK will still be able to fairly accurately capture my progress.

I randomly picked The 33rd Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK for short) from TOPIK guide site. It is an old format of the test and I guess I’ll have to stick with that format when doing it in 4 months from now, for consistency. It’s honestly not important to me since I am not planning to take TOPIK but just taking the test for information.

In TOPIK Beginner, Vocabulary and Grammar section I scored 65/100 and Reading section 83/100. I think that matches fairly well with my guesstimate that I am almost an upper beginner. But not quite.

I am not sure why I scored so much better in the reading section. I think I got lucky with getting words I know there, so that number might be lower next time :)

Korean vocabulary

I found several sites which estimate a person’s Korean vocabulary size. Some were very bad, some were quite accurate, and I ended up using the results from two of those sites.

For each of them I took the test twice, since they pick random words each time, to get as accurate estimate as possible. That left me with 4 estimated numbers: 1900, 1800, 1947, and 1972 words. I rounded that up and wrote into the table at the top of this post that my receptive Korean vocabulary consists of 1800 – 2000 words.

(Receptive vocabulary consist of words one understands. Productive vocabulary, consisting of words one is able to use, is always smaller. I would say receptive vocabulary impacts reading and listening skills, and productive speaking and writing)

Korean listening

I can’t work on improving my listening skills due to my illness so I won’t be tracking that. No point.


I will write the second progress post in exactly 4 months.

Update: Here it is Surprising results with another Korean beginner textbook ☆ Update #2 January 2019

I don’t expect much, if any, change in that time. I study almost every day, but improve very slowly, and both TOPIK and vocabulary estimation would require a considerable improvement for them to pick up the change (even if I learned a 100 new words, I could still fall in 1800 – 2000 range, or the test might not pick any of the new words I learned since it uses just a small random sample).

Also, I will spend at least another month or two using the beginner textbook “SungKyun Korean 1” which is mostly revision for me so not much new will be learned.

We’ll see.

In the meantime, I will write about Korean vocabulary size test sites so you can try them too and review the textbook.

Update: I wrote How to Estimate the Size of Your Korean Vocabulary

3 thoughts on “Korean language blog ☆ My progress update #1 September 2018”

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