‘Useful Chinese Characters for Learners of Korean’ textbook review

Useful Chinese Characters for learners of Korean

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Useful Chinese Characters for Learners of Korean is Darakwon’s Korean textbook teaching Korean Chinese characters (also called Hanja).

→ Do you need to learn Hanja to be fluent in Korean.

The purpose of this book is not just to teach you Chinese characters used in Korean but, maybe even more so, to help you build Korean vocabulary by understanding its foundations and connections between words.

10 best ways to learn Korean vocabulary.

This book is specifically geared towards foreign learners of Korean language. Naturally, most books teaching Chinese characters (Hanja) are written with Korean children in mind. But children of that age already have Korean vocabulary developed, so those textbooks just don’t have the approach suited for adult foreign learners of Korean who have a vocabulary of a few thousand words at best.

I think this book would be useful for those that are interested in Korean Hanja calligraphy as well.

Introduction to Korean calligraphy

Useful Chinese Characters for learners of Korean review Korean textbook back coverA learner of Korean should probably pick up this book at about upper beginner level. Even though the textbook is in English and you could use it with nothing more than the ability to read Hangul, I found that to get the full benefit of the example sentences and exercises it’s better to already understand a bit of Korean language.

How to learn Hangul

As far as the Chinese characters go, Useful Chinese Characters for Learners of Korean is an absolute beginner textbook so you don’t need to know anything about them in advance. How Hanja evolved and were formed from pictograms, how to find a character in a dictionary, correct stroke order… everything is explained in the first few pages to get you gently eased into the world of written characters that represent whole words and phrases.

I think there’s a bit of apprehension when it comes to learning Chinese characters. At least I felt that way. That’s why the choice of simple and clean page layout for lessons was even more important in Useful Chinese Characters for Learners of Korean than in other textbooks. The authors did a good job of making it seem that each Chinese character you encounter in the book is an easy thing to learn and that lessons are manageable. Use of colors and space makes everything clear and logical at a glance and keeps it from being overwhelming at any point.

Textbook review Hanja Chinese character sample dates and days of the week Useful Korean Chinese Characters

The textbook offers a good selection of Hanja characters. Among thousands of existing Chinese characters in Korean language this book teaches less than 200. But even after memorizing only the first 30 characters from the book I already came across them several times, which I really didn’t expect since I didn’t think there is any Hanja in my life at all.

This is achieved by frequency being the main but not the only criteria used when selecting the characters. Each character fits well with the topic of the lesson which also helps you memorize the characters as a logical unit. I find learning in logical units much easier. If I learn a character for East, I want to learn characters for North, South and West right away, and not wait several lessons over. Luckily, this book didn’t let me down.Useful Chinese Characters for learners of Korean language by Darakwon look inside sample lesson

Above: A sample of a lesson from Darakwon’s Useful Chinese Characters for Learners of Korean. 

The book is divided into Beginner and Intermediate sections. Each beginner lesson presents about 10 to 13 new characters. Next to each character are its stroke order, Korean meaning, English translation, Korean pronunciation, and several Korean vocabulary words which contain that character.

→ Best Korean pronunciation books

Chinese Characters for Learners of Korean exercises practice at the end of a lessonThe example sentences are written all in Korean (everything in Hangul except the Chinese characters presented in that lesson). The sentences are short and very simple but there is no English translation for them unlike for the rest of the lesson.

Exercises are fun, engaging, and challenge you right before you come to a one page grid meant for rote memorization and writing practice, which just can’t be avoided when learning something like this.

Intermediate section has a similar structure as the beginner one, except instead of teaching single characters it teaches whole Korean words made up of Hanja.

In general, I really like Useful Chinese Characters for Learners of Korean and I think it is one of the better Korean textbooks out there.

As for the complaints, I have only two minor ones:

I wish there were little arrows next to strokes so I know in which direction to go. The strokes are clearly marked in order they need to be written one by one, but Hanja strokes are not always written from left to right and there is no way to see this in the book. The stroke direction is explained in the introductory lesson, but I found that in a several cases it didn’t help me guess the direction correctly. (Wiktionary has directional stroke order, but the Chinese one, which sometimes differs from Korean stroke order even for the simplest of the Characters.)

Hanja Chinese characters for fire and long 화 火 and 장 長Also, each character is presented using only one font. This makes the textbook look nice and consistent but I found I had trouble recognizing characters when encountering them in different fonts. This might be obvious to someone used to seeing Chinese characters all their life but to us novices it can be quite confusing. For example, in the character for “fire” 火, is the different direction of the smaller strokes just a stylistic preference or is it a totally different character? (It’s all the same character). Does the point of contact of the lowest strokes in the character for “long” 長 change something? (It doesn’t).

Useful Chinese Characters for Learners of Korean Darakwon with Hanja notebook Morning GloryIf you want to get a Korean notebook like the one in the picture read where to buy Hanja notebooks and how to use them

Useful Chinese Characters for Learners of Korean review:

Plus Well selected Chinese characters among thousands of possible ones in Korean. Clean intuitive lesson layout keeps it from being overwhelming. Teaches both single characters as well as whole words. Logical units aid memorization. Fun and engaging exercises. High quality print and paper.
Minus No major flaws. While stroke order is given for each character, stroke direction isn’t. Only one font is used throughout the books which makes character recognition in other fonts more difficult.

Useful Chinese Characters for Learners of Korean at a glance:

Pages 184
Author Seoul National University Language Education Institute
Publisher Darakwon

You can buy Useful Chinese Characters for Learners of Korean from HeyEonni where I bought it from, or even directly from Darakwon (they don’t have online ordering, you have to e-mail them), or simply get it from Amazon.


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