Knowing how to read Hangeul and being able to read Korean books are two entirely different things. Many people claim to learn Hangeul in just 24 hours. However, getting to the point where you can actually read Korean books takes years. But, reading is the best way to take your Korean language skills to the next level. Slowly going through a book, searching for the meaning of words you don’t know, and then piecing together the gist of a whole word or sentence – this is how you become fluent in Korean. The journey to start reading isn’t easy. If you overreach, it can have a detrimental effect on your language confidence. And so, here are some tips on choosing Korean books to help you get started.
Best Genres of Books for Korean Learners
My genre of choice when first learning how to read in Korean was short poetry or essay books, also known as 시집 or 에세이집. They’re typically split into individual passages instead of long chapters. As a result, each passage is short and sweet, and easy to read without needing a lot of context behind the text.
Although some people may start with children’s books or picture books, I find them boring. Plus, I wanted to challenge myself vocabulary-wise with more advanced words. I wanted to learn words that adults use in social situations or at work. These books have served me well over the years while learning Korean.
The beautiful language used in these books also helped me learn how to better express myself. Being able to express yourself in a second language is one of the biggest problems people have. Now, I am able to express myself while both making sense and sounding good. Reading books has opened my eyes to different ideas and viewpoints that have allowed me to challenge the way I think and become more open as a person. You often read of Korea being a culture of sameness, lacking diverse perspectives and opinions. However, through reading Korean books you will find that that simply is not true.
Here are a few books I loved reading throughout my journey learning Korean.
I Decided to Live as Me: Kim Soo-hyun
나는 나로 살기로 했다: 김수현
A staple amongst learners of the Korean language, this particular book of essays has enjoyed immense popularity. It has perpetually stayed near the top of the charts for years now.
I first picked up this book when I wasn’t that good at reading Korean. The short passages, simple language, and the adorable caricatures caught my eye. Later on, as I worked my way through it, I realized that it was formatted like a to-do list of sorts. Essentially, it is a list of things to do to stay true to yourself instead of losing who you are due to society’s rules and demands.
A lot of the passages in it were written regarding the author’s own experiences. The little things she had seen and done in life prompted her to think against societal constructs that people mindlessly follow for a more peaceful life. Although living guided by expectations is safe, it may not be happy. The parts of ourselves that we sacrifice lead to small unhappinesses or grudges.
This book was actually harder to read than I had first anticipated. The beginning few passages contain easier words and phrases. But, as I went on reading, I found a lot of words that I had never heard of before. While working through it, I managed to learn a lot of vocabulary as I had wished, and so I was satisfied with my reading experience.
I Want to Die, but I Want to Eat Tteokbokki: Baek Se-hee
죽고 싶지만 떡볶이는 먹고싶어: 백세희
Among Korean books, this one is also immensely popular. It is written in the form of dialogue. The conversation is between a patient suffering from a severe mental illness, and her psychiatrist. It is said to have been written from the author’s point of view and shows her personal story in her battle with mental illness.
The book really opened my eyes to other perspectives. Reading the perspective of someone with a mental disorder was fascinating. I found the parts where she ponders and reflects on the things she had done and the thoughts that she has had really illuminating. She felt uncomfortable with her own thoughts, but at the same time wanted to reexamine them thoroughly.
The language may be a bit difficult to understand at times, but the story was truly compelling. With such an interesting story, I really wanted to understand the vocabulary that was being used. It was a great motivator to compel me to put in the extra effort needed to search up the meaning of the words in an attempt to understand it fully. Sometimes I felt like I related to the author, and reading her story gave me comfort. It helped me look at my own thoughts differently and prompted me to undergo a reflection of my own.
Reminder While Reading Korean Books
When beginning to read Korean books, the most important thing to remember is; to take your time. It’s difficult to get started and even more difficult to keep going and finish. Instead of focusing on wanting to know the story, focus your energy on knowing the meaning of each word, sentence, paragraph, and page.
Have you read any Korean books lately? If so what were some things you struggled with and how did you get past them? Let me know in the comments below!
Looking for an interesting place to buy your books from? Click Here to read all about some of Seoul’s most interesting bookstores and libraries!