In the first part of how to learn Korean vocabulary, I gave tips on extracting and learning Korean words from sources that might be fun for you and showed how that extra bit of fun might aid your memory. And there is no denying that Korean export which millions of people around the world find fun is Kpop.
Which was more than confirmed to me when thousands of people flocked here to vote for their favorite Kpop song. With a big lead INFINITE’s ‘The Chaser’ won, and thus it was decided that will be the song used to demonstrate how to learn Korean vocabulary using a Kpop song:
- Find the lyrics. You are looking for two things: lyrics written in Hangul and an English translation of them as well. You shouldn’t look for Romanization. If you don’t know how to read Hangul well, make sure you learn that first. Learning Hangul basics takes only a few hours and it is indispensable in learning Korean properly. In your search engine type the name of the band, the name of the song and add ‘Hangul’ at the end, as shown below:
- Copy-paste the lyrics into a text editing program, or print them out.
- Start highlighting the words that you don’t know. You can either highlight them all at once or start with just the first verse and switch between steps 3. and 4. to be able to see your progress as you go down through the lyrics (less and less yellow highlights).
- Finding the meaning of Korean words. This is the trickiest part. With only a (very) limited knowledge of Korean grammar the challenge is determining the root of the word in order to find it in a dictionary. Sometimes you’re lucky and online dictionary figures it out on its own (don’t you love technology!). Sometimes you have to dig deeper. And sometimes you just have to skip the word and come back to it some day when you know Korean better. Here is the list of all the tools I use
Let’s start. (Open these lyrics in new window so you can follow easier)
Unraveling the dictionary form of words is difficult when you’re just a beginner learner like me, so you have to attack with every weapon from your arsenal.
The first word is easy, I know that 미안하다 means ‘to be sorry’ and that 미안해 is present plain form. Comparing it to the English translation I see that there’s word ‘sorry’ in the first line and that I’m on the right track.
However, it’s been just one word and already I’m in trouble. Neither 마 nor 독하게 when put in the dictionary match with the English translation I have. I don’t know what kind of grammatical meaning 하게 has. So, what now?
Well, I can either skip it and go on – which is fine, there’s no reason to expect that as a beginner you will be able to understand everything – or I can be stubborn and dig deeper.
I know that -지 마세요 means ‘don’t do it’ and I can see the ‘don’t’ right at the beginning of the English translation so I might be onto something here. I also know that 가지 마 is a plain way to say don’t go, where 가 means go. So, even thought I can’t be sure, I conclude that 마 is probably some shortened version of this grammatical form.
By searching 독하게 in the Naver dictionary, I get the dictionary form 독하다. Clicking on it takes me to sample sentences, and among them I find one that contains the verb with the same ending I have:
시험에 합격하려고 독하게 공부하다
study doggedly to pass the exam
I honestly didn’t even know the meaning of the word ‘doggedly’ (which may be a clue that I’m being too enthusiastic and instead should have just skipped these two words) and I look it up to see it means ‘In a way that is stubbornly persistent’. Which I guess in the end may be translated with ‘so’ (it does sound better than “Don’t be stubbornly persistently sorry”).
Now, I may be completely off here. I may have overlooked something, or mistranslated something else. But the point is, after putting so much effort into it I will surely recognize both the offending grammatical pattern and the word as soon as I come across it in a textbook or grammar book. Which is very valuable for my future knowledge.
Next line goes easier. I already know that 날 is short for 나를, ‘I’+ object marker. 고 is a verb ending that functions as a connector for verb, i.e. it simply means “and”, so the verb I’m looking for should look like 버리다 and I find it in a dictionary like that easily, to mean ‘to desert, leave, abandon, forsake, give up’. 도 is an ending that means ‘too’ so I’m looking for 떠나다 which I find to mean ‘to leave, depart, take off’. Now, 돼 might not be obvious right away, because while the dictionary form is 되다 in informal polite and plain forms ‘되어’ can contract to ‘돼’. You need to know some of the beginner grammar to figure this out. Taking that into account I can see that the words I found match nicely to English translation.
In the third line the only word I don’t know is 원한다면. Well, technically that’s not true because I know that 원하다 means ‘to wish, to want, to hope’ but I have no idea how the ending changes the meaning of that verb. Here Google Translate or Bing Translator might help. Both give the same translation and it matches perfectly with the English translation I already have.
The rest follows pretty much the same pattern, but I want you to pay attention to the seventh line (second line in the second verse) for a second. When you put the word 되찾을꺼야 into dictionary the result you get will be for the infinite of the verb 되찾다 ‘to recover, regain, win back’. I don’t know what the grammatical ending means, but this too can sometimes be found online, without you having to wait to learn it in your textbook some time in the future. In this particular case, I typed “을꺼 grammar” into search engine and very quickly found that it is an ending used to express the future. In general, just by typing the ending which you don’t know and the word ‘grammar’ yields satisfactory explanations.
And you continue through the rest of the song in the same manner.
You will not know exactly the same patterns and words that I know, and vice versa – something I didn’t know here you may already have figured out long ago. But I gave you as many details of my process as possible so you can follow the general outline when you are working on your own.
Once you have as many words as you can get input them into vocabulary program like Memrise or ANKI. You may even prefer the old-fashioned way of paper flashcards. Wrote Korean words on one side (best way is to turn the paper vertically and try to fit five or six words on it) and then flip it and write English on the other, making sure that you keep in the same line so that you don’t mix up the meanings.
Many people who are learning Korean are also Kpop fans. In fact, I’m willing to bet that there are plenty of people who are learning Korean BECAUSE of Kpop in the first place. So chances are, you already have a favorite Korean song, where you kind of sort of know the lyrics. So why not use that to further your knowledge of Korean? Songs are a great way to get the sounds and tempo of language.