Ever since I started subscribing to TTMIK’s “News in Korean” my reading speed and vocabulary have both improved rapidly. While that is a huge step forward, I felt that I was having a hard time learning and retaining the often specialized vocabulary presented in the news articles. Until now I’ve studied with the articles by looking over the text, marking the words I didn’t know, then looking them up in the vocabulary list (sometimes cross-checking the translation on Naver), and then making a Memrise deck with the words. This process is very time consuming, and I recently started questioning if this method would really yield the highest return in terms of internalizing the new words. (Thinking like a true economist) ^^

While I have definitely come to know A LOT of new words this way, I have probably memorized more words that I have learned. The difference? When memorizing a word, you may know that specific word and even recognize it in a text. When you have learned a word, you have learned the origin, the ways it can be varied, how it functions in a grammatically correct sentence etc. Starting from my most recent news delivery on Friday, I decided to go about it in a completely different way. (Disclaimer: This method is just as time consuming, but I find that the return to the time you put in is muuuuuch higher.)

So, here’s what I did: When encountering an unknown word, I looked it up on Naver, rather than relying on the provided vocabulary list, as in this way I have to write the word myself which aids my memory of the word tremendously. I then checked if the word had a Hanja character, and looked this character up in my “Useful Chinese Characters for Learners of Korean”. Why? Because this enables me to place the new word in a context, where I am better able to retain it. It may just be me, but I picture my brain making thousands of small links when I learn new words, and the more words I can connect together, the more easily they seem to stick in my memory.  Sounds weird? Here’s an example:

One of the articles contained the word 시승 meaning “trial ride” or “test run”. The Hanja for this word was 試乘 with the same 試 (시) as in 시험 (test) and 乘 (승) is the same character from 승객 (passenger). Now, it makes sense that the word is called 시승 and by linking this word to two words already internalized in my brain, I have learned the word – not memorized it. I find that I’m much less likely to forget words when I go about them this way, and on top of that it works a my own little “word building drill” where I can find new words with a shared Hanja.

How do you build and retain your Korean vocabulary?


  1. 재밌게 읽어봤습니다. 아주 유용한 조언이에요. Great great advice! This is the only to learn in my opinion. I really like your blog! I’m poke around from time to time.

    Have you checked out http://www.reddit.com/r/Korean yet? It’s a community of Korean learners like us and everyone just asks questions and talks on about Korean. There’s high level learners, low level, and Korean natives there. I make a little youtube channel talking about these things too called MotivateKorean. 자주 놀라오세요!


    • Hi. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog. I’m glad you like it. I’m really having so much fun writing it. I feel that it adds some structure to my Korean learning while allowing me to interact with other learners. I’ll be sure to check out the link and of course your youtube channel. I just had a brief look at it and it seems really awesome. Thank you for sharing your Korean learning advice!


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