How to take notes when learning Korean

korean language notes taking

Before starting your Korean learning journey, you should have with you a study notebook to jot down key grammar points and concepts so then you can refer to them timing again. This notebook will be your friend for the entire Korean learning process – not only was it next to me when I sat down to study Korean, I also had it handy when I watched Korean TV shows. So make sure you choose one that you really like!

Can I use my phone/tablet to take notes?

A hardcopy/physical notebook has two advantages over a virtual notebook. First, it gives you ample practice to write the Korean alphabet (Hangul). When I look at the notes I took at the very beginning, now I realise that I’ve got a lot of the words down wrong! (Geez) I just love killing two birds with one stone.

Picking up a pen and writing down something actually help reinforce your memory better than typing it out. Subconsciously, even the position of a certain note in your notebook, or where it is on a specific page, or the nuances of your handwriting will give you the visual cues to strengthen your memory. I also find it easier to leaf through to a specific section quickly.

I personally have not come across a language learner that does not have a hard copy notebook. This is just my recommendation and of course each person is wired differently and receive, process and retain information more effectively by different means and approaches. At the end of the day you will have to find what works best for you as an individual.

What are some tips on making more effective use of study notes?

Be brief – Don’t copy over your textbook. Study notes is like a cheat sheet to refresh your memory time and again. If the notebook gets too thick it is difficult to find the entry when you need to. Stick to the definition and one or two examples for each entry. This way you should be able to capture all the key points in one normal A5 sized notebook.

Include examples for each entry – One usage example explains better than any description and is the quickest way to jot your memory back.

What section should I have in my Korean study notebook?

In order to allow yourself to systematically refer back and review the notes you have taken, you have to organise your notes into certain sections. My study notes were a little bit messy because when I started, I didn’t know what categories of grammar concepts I will be learning and how many there are in each category. Now based on my experience, in hindsight I am now able to suggest to you how to organise your notes and what sections should go into your study notebook.

Hangul

All the Korean alphabet and their pronunciation
Sound change rules

Tenses

How the dictionary form of verbs/adjectives (-다) conjugate to indicate time tenses e.g. Present, past, future tense, past continuous, past perfect and all the good stuff. Koreans also have their “I would have done this if you had not done that.“ structures perfected.
Also note there is the present narrative tense (-는다).

Verb conjugations [long section]

If you want to say something like:
– I am afraid that… (-까 보다)
– It seems like that… (나/가 싶다)
– I can… (-ㄹ 수 있다)
– I want to…(-고 싶다)
You will use something called verb conjugation in Korean. Verb conjugations can also be used to provide context to the sentence, for example indicating a sentence is providing background to the preceding statements (-거든). These are extremely important in understanding Korean and make sure to reserve a lot of space for this section.

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Sentence connectors [long section]

In Korean, there are also the equivalents for:
– nonetheless (그래도)
– therefore (그래서)
– in addition (게다가)
which connects two separate sentences and indicate their relationship. There are also a whole suite of variations for reported speech/quotations.

Adverbs and prepositions [long section]

I group all the useful common adverbs and prepositions in this category. For example:

  • instead (대신에)
  • maybe (어쩌면)

Time related

  • often (자주)
  • Not until (그래야)
  • As soon as (자마자)

Extent related

  • all (다)
  • (Bigger) than…(보다…더)
Word variants

Similar to how English has standard, standardise, and standardisation, Korean also has different variations of the same word. It is very useful to know the rules how the words are transformed so that you only need to remember one form and can readily recognise all the others.
For example, to convert an adjective to an adverb, you would add either 히 or 이.
조용하다 -> 조용히
To convert a verb into a noun, you would add 기.
읽다 -> 읽기

Honorifics and politeness levels

You may probably be already aware that Korean speech have different politeness levels. For example
습니다/ 습니까?
십시오
They also use different verbs and nouns when the person being referred to is a senior.
먹다 -> 드시다 (to eat)

Irregulars

While they are quite clear rules in a lot of conjugations, there are also irregularities and exceptions to these irregularities. For example:
To change the dictionary form of 돕
다 (to help) into present tense, the ㅂ is dropped, an 오 is added to give 도오. Then the normal present tense conjugation applies adding 아요 to give 도와요.
I know this sounds very intimidating but for now you just need to know these exist and I would give a short section to it.

Vocabulary [long section]

As a beginner, I had vocabularies section in my notebook to familiarise myself with very basic vocabulary. As I advanced to intermediate level, I found that they are just too many new words and checking a dictionary is much more efficient than trying to locate the vocabulary entry in my notebook. As your Korean level advances, it is also easier for you to remember new words, so there is less reliance on vocabulary lists. I have another post with good tips on remembering Korean vocabulary.
You would like to group vocabulary entries under categories Noun, Verb and Adjective. For the verb and adjective entries, use the dictionary form (-다) and maybe add the conjugated from your saw it in e.g.
크다 (big) [ref present tense 커요].

I do hope these notes will set you off for a good start in the Korean learning journey. Please feel free To share your own experience and good tips in campaign is that the notebook for leaving a comment below. Subscribe to be notified of the latest useful Korean language learning tips and practical advice. Have fun learning Korean!

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