Foreign Language Tips #7 | Step Away From The Phrase Book

I think it’s some type of secret rite of passage when you start learning a new language to get a phrase book and to study it and regurgitate to anyone who will listen what you read. However, if you’re really serious about learning a new language, Step Away From The Phrasebook!!!

Did you do it? Why would I tell you to do that?

“That was my best way of memorizing simple phrases! Now what?!”

Well, speaking specifically about Korean phrasebooks, (but I’m sure this applies for all languages) those books are filled with lots of phrases and words that you probably will never use. They’re not only awkward for you to pronounce but they’re also a weird way to say things to a native speaker.

And then there’s this issue of translation…

If I say in English, “Excuse me, where’s the restroom?” it will not translate the exact same way naturally in Korean, however in a phrasebook they try to force that translation.

For example,

  • “화장실 은 어디 가요? Hwa-jang-shil uh-dee-in-ga-yo?” (taken from a phrasebook online)

Now, if you can read and comprehend Hangul, you know how awkward this sounds. Let’s break this down a bit, 어디 가요 (eodi gayo) means, “where are you going?” which is why it’s a but awkward when added. Also, the location particle is missing. That’s kinda important since you’re talking about a location. And of course, “excuse me” isn’t even translated here. That’s not to say that you can’t say this phrase, it’s just kinda awkward if you do.

So if you can read and comprehend Hangul, even if only slightly, you probably recognize how weird the romanization is. But if you’re new to the language, that is how you’ll be pronouncing things with a phrase book.

An easier way and more natural way to ask would be closer to,

  • “실례지만 남자/여자 화장실이어디에있어요? (sillyejiman namja/yeoja hwajangsil-i eodie-isseoyo?)”
  • It translates to, “Excuse me but, where’s the men’s/women’s restroom?”.
  • If you follow the WOTD, yes, I will explain 실례지만 later. Maybe Grammar of the Week?

But does this mean all phrasebooks?

Of course, there are some people who believe that using a phrasebook in conjunction with your regular study plan can be helpful if you memorize words and phrases from recent books with commonly spoken everyday words/phrases. That, I can agree with. Add it to your study plan but only if it’s an updated copy. You can ultimately end up backtracking if you’re using an outdated book.

So if you are using an outdated book, put it down. It’s not helping you.




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