Nearing the end of term one

So we just started chapter nine… of ten…

It’s been a long eight weeks, and it also seems to have gone by in a flash.

I would say that my Korean has definitely improved… in some areas, but not so much in others.

One thing I think my language institute (Kangwon National University) does really well (at the higher levels) is writing. We use the Ewha University textbooks (level 5) plus Sogang University’s writing book (number 2), and we have afternoon TOPIK classes with one class each week devoted to TOPIK writing.

Sometimes I (we all) think “Oh my gosh, not more writing!” but in the end it is actually really useful, and really the only way to improve in writing is to do a lot of it, and get feedback.

I’m not a huge fan of the writing section of the Ewha textbooks though. I’ve used a fair selection of the major Korean language institutes’ textbooks: Yonsei’s at the summer school and for self study, Sogang for a conversation class I took in Japan, plus the writing book now, and Ewha’s for my current class. At some point, I will do a review of Yonsei and Sogang’s books as well, but for now here are some opinions on Ewha’s textbooks. (I have only seen levels 4 and 5, so my review will be based on those.)

Each chapter in Ewha’s books is divided into several sections:

  1. Preparation: Introduces three grammar points (in level 4 all three are introduced at the beginning, but in level 5 there is one at the beginning and two later on)
  2. Listening: Listen to a short conversation or speech
  3. Speaking: Introduces a situation and expressions that can be used in such a situation
  4. Reading: The readings vary from opinion to fiction to poetry
  5. Writing: In level 5 there is an additional reading demonstrating a particular form of writing, and a topic for practice writing. In level 4 the reading section is the example, and the writing section just has the topic for practice.
  6. Debate/Discussion: Some short reading introducing various viewpoints, and a topic for class discussion
  7. Idiomatic Expressions (level 4): Introduces three idiomatic expressions
  8. Vocabulary Expansion (level 5): Introduces a verb with mutiple meanings and 6 of the ways it can be used
  9. Proverbs (level 5): Introduces three proverbs (similar in form to the idiomatic expressions section in level 4)
  10. Culture and Life (level 4): A short reading on some aspect of Korean culture
  11. Literature (level 4): Introduces poems or short pieces of fiction

One thing I like about the Ewha books is that they are fairly balanced in their content. Whereas the main Yonsei books are very grammar focused and the main Sogang books are very conversation focused, the Ewha books have everything in one place, in a single B5 sized book (with an additional workbook available). I also like the extras at the end of each chapter (numbers 7-11 above). Proverbs and idioms are interesting and also useful, and some exposure to literature is a good change from the normally non-fiction contents of language textbooks.

The one thing I don’t like is the writing section. In level 4 you are still practicing the basics, so I feel like the writing topics are still fairly related to real life tasks that you might encounter. In level 5, however, it becomes more like a creative writing class, and less like a language class. How you feel about this depends on what your goal is in learning Korean, and what kind of writing practice you’ve had so far. For me, my experience writing was way behind my other skills, so I was looking for more basic advice about writing. I am also looking for a more expository approach to writing. If you’ve gone through Ewha’s books from level 1, then the level 5 writing assignments may seem less “out of the blue,” and if you enjoy creative writing then you will have fun with the Ewha topics. But again for me, I’m not really looking for creative writing skills in Korean.

The writing topics in book 5 include: a comparison of dialects in your native language, a speech about your personal technique for good health, a PR statement for an exhibition of historical artifacts, a newspaper article from 50 years in the future, a rewriting of a fable to represent current societal changes, an editorial about differences between Korean food culture and your own country, an essay about something you’ve felt or discovered about the environment, a movie review, a product user review, and a poem.

One of my big objections to the Ewha writing portion of the program here at KNU is more to do with how it is taught, and less to do with the assignments themselves. The primary focus here is in class work, with very little assigned homework. Some people would find that good, but with these writing topics I feel like they require more thinking time than just a 50-minute class period. I feel like time would be better spent discussing what we already wrote for homework and talking about how to improve it, rather than doing the actual writing in class.

I also am just not that interested in writing poetry in Korean… But practice is practice I suppose.

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