If you learn Korean on your own, you decide your own curriculum.
And as for me, I rely heavily on textbooks for my own curriculum.
I know Japanese so I’m learning Korean mainly through Japanese because of similarity in word order of both languages. When I started learning, I purchased almost all my Korean textbooks in Japanese from Kinokuniya Bookstore in Jakarta. Most of the store’s collection of Korean textbooks are old so I can’t really recommend the textbooks I used. If you plan to learn Korean with textbooks in Japanese, I think it’s better to get more recently published textbooks from Neowing Japan or Amazon Japan or get Japanese version of Korean textbooks published in Korea. But I’m going to show books I used anyway so maybe you’ll have some idea about textbooks for beginners you choose for yourself.
One thing to remember: you want to learn Korean words, grammar, and useful expressions, and you want audio CD to guide you to pronunce things correctly and for listening practices, especially if you don’t live in Korea. (So… two things? 😉 )
The first textbook I got was a phrasebook for beginners (with audio CD). The title was “Easy Korean Conversation”. It was the book that made me think that I could learn Korean by myself. It got me to think, “This is so easy. I’m in!” I was totally deceived. Hahaha.
The second textbook is what I considered my “main textbook” (with 2 audio CD). The title is “Master Korean Completely – Korean Training Book”.
The inside pages look like this. Black and white.
It consists of mostly exercises (with answer keys) that compel you to write and practice grammar. The so-called “write-to-remember” method. A boring textbook. Really hard to use for me at the beginning because I was still not accustomed to being in a “study mode”. Also, I preferred to have pronunciation guide (romanization/or in katakana) but the book doesn’t have it. I needed time to warm up to this book but I finally did.
It started from a chapter on how to read hangul and all the exception rules. All chapters begin with grammar explanation and a list of words. The exercises consist of translation practices, conjugation practices, and dictation (with audio from the CD). An amazing textbook for serious self-learners. Finishing it gave me confidence to move on to intermediate level.
The third textbook is a Korean grammar dictionary for beginners. The cover says it’s a reference for beginning to advanced level, but I think it doesn’t even cover most intermediate level grammar.
I liked it because the explanation is very simple and short, and I studied mostly by analyzing sentences so I used it most often. It came with an audio CD but I lost it.
The 4th textbook is an illustrated wordbook from Yubisashi series.
I didn’t really learn that much from that book because I wanted romanization or audio CD but it doesn’t have it because it’s meant for Koreans who learn Japanese. But it’s a nice book to have and look at from time to time.
The 5th book is a book with monologues and vocabulary for everyday use (with pronunciation guide in katakana and audio CD).
I really like it because the sentences in the book are really short but seem useful in daily conversations. I’ll copy one monolog from chapter 23:
좋아 보이네! (병문안)
You look well! (Visiting an ill friend)
1. 윤희야, 오늘 다 같이 문병 왔어.
근데 상태는 어때?
Yunhee, we all came to visit you today.
So how is your condition?
2. 뭐야! 안색도 좋고 많이 좋아 보이네.
Hey! Your face looks so good, and you look so much healthier.
3. 괜히 걱정했잖아!
There was no need for us to worry!
4. 아니, 내일 퇴원한다고?
Oh my, you will be out of hospital tomorrow?
5. 너무 무리하지 않은 게 좋은데…
It’s better not to force yourself.
6. 이왕이면 푹 쉬고 잘 치료해.
Now that you’re in a circumstance like this, just rest well and heal completely.
7. 걱정 마! 공부 따위는 금방 따라갈 수 있으니까.
Don’t worry! You’ll be able to catch up at school.
See? The sentences are really short and easy to memorize, but do you expect a foreigner who just starts learning Korean to be able to speak like this? You don’t!
*Please pardon my not-so-good English translation of the monolog.
The 5th textbook is the one I got on sale when I was studying for intermediate level, I think. But it’s a phrasebook for basic level with short sentences and daily vocabulary. Essential Korean for Everyday Use, published by Hollym from Korea. It comes with audio CD and romanization is provided.
Download free mp3 files here: http://hollym.co.kr/english/downloads.asp
I really liked it. I learned many interesting expressions from it.
For example, when eating meat: 입에서 살살 녹아요. (This melts in your mouth.). Or responding to praise: 과찬이십니다. (You are flattering me).
I love phrasebooks with CD. The words and expressions become useful right away. You sound fluent in the language right away even though you’re not. The CD is useful for listening practices. After all, it’s very simple in language learning. Words, phrases, grammar… if you remember, you can use them.
If you notice, I didn’t use classroom textbooks to begin my study (Yonsei, Ewha, Sogang series, etc.). The reason is because I went online for advice on textbooks, and someone told me not to use textbooks designed for classroom setting because they are difficult to study with if you have no teacher to teach and explain things for you. That person told me it won’t be too late if I buy classroom textbooks later for reviewing purposes, after I have some kind of firm foundation. I listened to that advice and bought textbooks for self-learning… only. I didn’t use classroom textbooks for basic level.
But many self-learners don’t mind skipping classroom activities and getting additional explanation from other reference books so I’m not going to dissuade you from using classroom textbooks to start learning Korean if you really want to. You should listen to yourself, not me, or language gurus on the internet.
Happy studying! ###