Surprising results with Korean beginner textbook progress update #2
Self studying Korean

Surprising results with another Korean beginner textbook ☆ Update #2 January 2019

Exactly 4 months ago I started measuring my knowledge of Korean language to see how it grows (or shrinks) over time. I wrote about my experience with learning Korean language up to that point:

Korean language blog ☆ My progress update #1 September 2018

Now you will find out if I succeeded or failed to learn any Korean between 1st of September 2018 and 1st of January 2019, which is today (Happy New Year!).

After taking mock TOPIK exam and Korean vocabulary tests, these are my current results:

#2 – January 2019

Area Current status
TOPIK Beginner Vocabulary and Grammar
(초급 • 어휘 및 문법)
TOPIK Beginner Reading
(초급 • 읽기)
Vocabulary size 1800 – 2100 words

Below I explain how I reached these estimates.

I would love if you would also share your progress in the comments below. (Despite there being fields for name, email and site, none of those are required. Feel free to leave them empty and just write the comment and press “Post Comment” when it appears).


Where I think I’m with Korean language right now

So, this part I am writing before I take the mock exams and tests, and before I know my results. It’s about my impression of where I stand with Korean language at this moment. (If you want to see how I fared for real, scroll further down.)

The morning the delivery man knocked on the door and I was handed the “Sungkyun Korean 1” textbook in my bed was the morning the ambulance drove me to have an X-ray.

It’s been a rough 4 months.

Despite all this, the first two months since the last update went surprisingly well. I managed to study from the textbook at least 15 minutes each morning, usually more, and revise the vocabulary each evening.

Korean beginner textbook I studied from each morning

Although it’s a beginner textbook, meaning it covers the same ground as my previous one, I did learn a few new grammatical patterns and some 100 new words. I can’t say I memorized everything, but I wasn’t just skimming it either. I solved every single exercise, diligently revised vocabulary, and really put in an extra effort when I came across a new grammar point.

The biggest improvement that going through a different beginner textbook brought to me was that it really solidified the Korean grammar I had previously learned. I was exposed to a lot of new sample sentences that really hammered it home.

Keeping this up, I went through 80% of textbook during those two months (I kept a tracker of my progress, trying to be consistent).

Things looked promising.

But then I caught a nasty cold, had to get vaccinated (flu is too dangerous for me), had to be moved once again, and suddenly my brain felt so inflamed that it would take me an hour after waking up to just be able to focus my eyes on objects in my room.

I spent the days in darkness and pain wondering if it will ever get better, and all available energy was spent just on basic functions such as eating.

Needless to say, studying was impossible.

Tracking days on which I studied Korean language from Ostober 2018 to January 2019
On October 8 I started tracking on which days I studied Korean. As you can see after November 10 things didn’t go well. December would have been even emptier had I not taken mock TOPIK from 20th to 22nd.

I got a three-day respite, when I was feeling slightly better, and since I still couldn’t focus on textbooks and memorizing I used that time to read through a webtoon. I could barely understand anything and although it did improve my reading speed I doubt that will impact my scores in any way since I give myself as much time as I need when taking the test.

I know real TOPIK has a time limit but real TOPIK also doesn’t have people taking it who need a nap every 15 minutes, so go easy on me :)

I wrote down grammar and vocabulary from the said webtoon if you would like to give it a try.

In conclusion:

My overall impression is that my already existing knowledge of Korean grammar solidified with a very small addition to it, and my Korean vocabulary grew by about hundred words. Then again, when I think back on how difficult it was to study and how many weeks I haven’t done anything, I fear I forgot more than I learned.

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


My actual level in Korean Language right now

I continue to use beginner TOPIK to estimate my current level of grammar and reading, and two different online tests to estimate the size of my Korean vocabulary.

Since this is my second time doing it I compiled some TOPIK tips and observations further down.

If you have any advice how to assess my level better please tell me in the comments.

Hangul and pronunciation

Still know Hangul. XD

Ah, I did finally manage to remember that 넓다 is pronounced as [널따], so there’s that.

Korean grammar and reading

Like last time, to gauge my Korean grammar and reading levels, I took a mock TOPIK exam.

Since last time I did The 33rd Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK for short) from TOPIK guide site this time I did the 32nd. TOPIK Beginner, of course.

I was so out of it that it took me three days to solve those 60 Korean questions (30 questions per section). When it came to reading paragraphs at the end of the reading section I thought my brain would burst into flames. I can barely read (or write, as you can probably tell) paragraphs in English these days.

Korean notepad with mock TOPIK Reading sample
My little notepad where I jot down answers to TOPIK. This is Reading section (읽기). Pay attention to which number my inflamed brain thinks comes after 50… This is what I have to deal with every single day… In case you are interested, I got both this notepad and the notebook above in Korean stationery haul.

In Vocabulary and Grammar section I scored 83/100 and Reading section 82/100.

Does this mean I am now (un)officially an upper beginner?

This is what I wrote last time: “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 :)

And I was right, I did score less in reading section this time around! One point less, haha.

I also got one question right in the Vocabulary and Grammar section thanks to learning the meaning of –(으)니까 from that webtoon. Who said they doubted reading it would impact my score? (Me. It was me. I said that.)

Well, now the scores for the two sections have equalized so I can be more certain they are reflecting my knowledge of Korean better. It really does depend on luck somewhat, because one key word can change whether you get the answer right or not.

That’s why I would like to be able to truly understand the whole paragraph before choosing the correct answer to eliminate the factor of luck. Rather than what I am doing now which is guess the meaning of the word by what follows after it.

For example, I had no idea what 오미자차 was until I picked up words “hot”, “cold”, “cough” and “drink” from the rest of the paragraph. Going back with those keywords I realized that the last syllable of the mystery word was something I was familiar with – tea (차). That way even though I had no clue what 오미자 is I guessed it might be some type of tea and proceeded to guess the answer.

Should I understand the whole paragraph or is this kind of desperate resourcefulness exactly what they want? Is Schisandra chinensis (오미자) a word beginner is expected to know? I don’t even know what kind of plant and tea that is in English! Maybe I just dislike drinking tea too much to know stuff like that…

Korean vocabulary

You can read my review of sites that estimate the size of person’s Korean vocabulary. I used the same two sites as last time.

I took each test twice.

The score for the first, simpler and shorter, vocabulary test was: 1800 and 1900. Exactly the same as the last time. Not surprising at all, since the test is pretty rough and while I did learn some 100 new words from SungKyun Korean 1, and solidified a lot of vocabulary from before, I also must have forgotten some. I didn’t expect any test to pick up such a small change in my Korean vocabulary size.

Which is why the other test results really surprised me.

2093 and 2151 words.

Would you look at that? It noticed!

Since the range increased this time I input in the table above that my receptive Korean vocabulary consists of 1800 – 2100 words.

January 2019 estimated number of Korean words I know

Interestingly, I got 83% of beginner vocabulary correct which fits perfectly with TOPIK results.

Korean listening

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


Some thoughts on TOPIK and tips

  1. All questions in TOPIK are written in Korean that’s beyond beginner level. I had trouble understanding the questions, although I picked up what I’m supposed to do from the examples or, if there were three sentences that seem right to me and one that seemed wrong, I would pick the wrong one, and the other way around. Still, I didn’t like the feeling of having to guess what the task is. If I was to take TOPIK for real I would definitely learn how to say synonym, antonym, “pick the incorrect sentence”, “pick the correct sentence”, etc. Maybe it would have been enough had I known 틀린 means “incorrect”, haha.

  2. The way the test is set up I can easily get the right answer without understanding the actual Korean sentence. For example, I can pick the opposite word of 오래 “a long time” without knowing any of the words that surround it.

  3. While all beginner textbooks I have are almost exclusively in informal polite style (해요체), almost all sentences in the reading part of the TOPIK were in formal polite style (합쇼체). Even though my textbooks did teach me this style, I just never had enough exposure to it to develop a “feel” for it. I have to do conjugations in my head. For example, I used to mix up 쉬디 and 쉽다 and put some extra effort lately into telling them apart, so now I automatically know that 쉬어요 is “I rest,” and 쉬워요 is “It’s easy”. I never saw either of them written in formal polite style so when I saw 쉽니다 my brain automatically grabbed onto 쉽 part and thought “easy”. Had I stopped for a second and conjugated it, it would have been quite clear it’s 쉬 + ㅂ니디. Same with 삽니다 being conjugated form of both 살다 “to live” and 사다 “to buy”, and 팝니다 irregular from 팔다 “to sell”.

My plan for studying Korean in the next 4 months

It’s so difficult to resist making plans for getting a better score on TOPIK while looking at mistakes I made this time around.

However, I promised myself I won’t do that. TOPIK is a tool for me, not a goal.

I’ll keep that promise and when (if?) I feel better, when I’m done with the CT scan (did I mention X-ray was useless, after all that trouble) and whatever therapy may come after that, I will continue with the Sungkyun Korean 1, then once I’m finished, write a review of the textbook here, and finally move on from complete-beginner textbooks.

I think next textbook in line will be Ewha Korean 1 – 2.

I am glad to be doing these updates even if the tests are not a perfect measure of my knowledge of Korean and it’s a tiny bit stressful publishing my results so you can see them.

Still, I can always use my horrible incurable neurological illness as an excuse, right? :)

I will write the third progress post in exactly 4 months, on the 1st of May 2019, and hopefully in the meantime write about many fun stuff I discover about Korean language.


3 thoughts on “Surprising results with another Korean beginner textbook ☆ Update #2 January 2019”

  1. OMG! That is so exciting! (Honestly, I am so pumped up for you!) I mean, those are like GOALS for me at this point. XD

    I cannot wait to see your progress and all that fun stuff! I want to be like you. ;P

    Once I get my new planner, I am going to start doing some of the things you do and all that fun stuff so I am stoked for that. No lie. I guess January will be my “Set up” month to get that started and for real start February (since I won’t get my nice planner until the 16th or after.)

    Congrats!! (I seriously feel like this is all good news – especially you are going at this on your own. ^.^)

    1. Haha, such enthusiasm! Please don’t be like me – at a rate of 100 new words per 4 months I will be able to understand Korean in…. 67 years? Haha.

      But seriously, thank you for such a wonderful comment. I hope I will be able to study more soon and share even more exciting progress :D

      I also got a new study planner for Christmas!! I can’t wait to use it, but I will wait to fill out my current one. Such self-control.

      I think I’ll do like you, and decide on the set up while I wait, since it’s quite different than the one I’m currently using.

      How is your Korean studying going?

      1. It seems to almost be at a standstill right now to be honest. XD I am using January to recoop and start planning and figuring out. Prep month! XD

        Self-control? What is that? ;P I was heavily stating to my husband which planner I like from Staples hoping that maybe he would just give in and get it for me today while at work. Then he said we can get it together on Friday. *sigh* It is my birthday gift… just get it for me and let me have it early! XD

        I have my small weekly planner for now to at least start figuring things out and set up so when I DO get it, BAM! I can start. ;P

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