One of the things I really prioritize with learning Korean is making sure it’s fun and enjoyable for me. I mean, it’s always fun because I enjoy learning the language, but when actively studying I want to do it with materials I find fun (of course with grammar lessons thrown in as well because we do need some sort of structure).
One of the ways I do this is by using webtoons and making them a kind of primary source for improving my vocabulary and understanding grammar points as well. Webtoons are basically just online comics. There are multiple genres and they range from little three panel strips to full on stories, with some being a limited series and some having upwards of 200+ episodes.
The popular places I know of to read webtoons are Naver and Daum. I mainly use Naver though Daum does have a good selection of things. I think I just enjoy the Naver interface a bit more and find myself opening the app more often.
Now, one of the ways I’ve used webtoons to study is for reading. Not for comprehension but just to be able to read Hangul. This was back when I was a real low beginner and I only really knew the alphabet, basic phrases and a little vocabulary. When I first started learning Korean, my reading skills were poor. I read Hangul by reading each character and then reading each block so it took me forever to read just one word. For example:
I would read it like this:
ㅇ.. ㅏ.. ㄴ (Me: Okay, 안)
ㄴ ..ㅕ.. ㅇ (Me: Okay, 녕)
ㅎ ..ㅏ.. ㅅ ..ㅔ (Me: 하세)
ㅇ.. ㅛ (Me: 요!)
Basically, instead of reading it as a whole block or word, I read each character individually. I was tired of reading like that. I remember pulling up the Naver webtoon app, finding a webtoon that seemed interesting and just diving in.
Like I said before, at this point I wasn’t reading the webtoon to understand anything. If I did understand something, it was nice, but the reason I had the webtoon open was because I wanted to get used to reading and get myself familiar with Hangul so I could read more naturally. For anyone learning Korean, I definitely recommend doing this. Think of it as a kind of phonics lesson. You don’t have to read everything out loud; though you probably should especially when you’re just starting out learning, so you can practice your pronunciation and having the words in your mouth.
The second way I use Korean webtoons to study is to understand grammar points I can’t get on my own. Once I got to a point where I could read somewhat naturally and comprehend most of what was happening in a story, I wanted to see how sentences were formed and used in a natural setting. I found out webtoons would be helpful in this way after a particularly frustrating study session.
I was on TTMIK (Talk to Me In Korean) learning the grammar point (~으로). I played the audio twice and probably read through the accompanying PDF lesson about three times but it was just not clicking to me how it was supposed to be used. I was so frustrated and left the lesson alone. Sometime later, I picked up a webtoon I had been reading (at this point mainly for improving my flow of reading, but also a little comprehension as my vocabulary was a bit better) and I noticed one of the sentences used the grammar point I had just learned and had trouble with: ~으로. I can’t remember the whole sentence, but it was basically something like:
“창문으로 와” (Very roughly translated, “Come in through the window.”)
- Sentence Breakdown:
- 창문 – window
- 으로 – particle meaning way, method
- 와 (오다) – to come
Of course, this is only one way out of many that you can use ~으로 but it felt like in that moment a light bulb went off and everything I didn’t understand before made sense! I looked back on my notes and felt a bit more confident about the grammar point and using it myself.
Sometimes, learning something in one lesson with one person’s explanation won’t help you understand what’s being taught. You need to see things in a real context, how it’s used in certain situations and how native speakers would use it to really get the idea stuck in your head. At least for me, I learn best this way.
Now, whenever I read a webtoon, if I see a sentence structure, specific word or grammar point I’ve learned being used, I write it down or reread it multiple times to kind of get it in my head how it’s been used in that context and try to translate it so I understand it on another level.
How I Choose Webtoons:
No, I do not just go on the app and pick the first webtoon I see. Sure, I could, but I’m not as advanced yet, so I want to go in knowing I might understand the gist of what’s going on in each chapter and then I won’t feel too behind.
- This is very specific to me and how I like to personally choose what I read and want in a webtoon.
I usually pick webtoons where I understand the title and can get a gist of what it will be about.
I don’t usually(!) choose historical, fantasy or science fiction based genres. In general, when you think of those genres, they can be packed with vocabulary you won’t really be able to decipher. I mean, when I’m watching a sci-fi movie in English they’ll say something even I don’t understand related to medicine or technology. Also, the stories can be packed and dense with information. It would probably be easy for me to get lost and not understand what’s happening. At least that’s my mindset.
I choose genres like slice of life, or episodic webtoons. This is because they’ll usually be speaking like a modern Korean and using words that people today use and I, personally, want to learn Korean that I can use in everyday life.
Also, these stories about life, love and friends are ones that I enjoy anyway across the board in television, movies, books and the like. And I also enjoy that genre in English as well. Therefore, I know I’ll enjoy them in Korean.
You don’t have to be like me. If you enjoy fantasy, science fiction, or other genres, you should read those. It should always be enjoyable to you. If it’s not, you won’t want to continue reading.
Here are a few webtoons I personally love and would recommend for anyone, even beginners:
펭귄러브스메브 (Penguin Loves Mev) – probably the most popular among Korean learners because it’s about a Korean woman and her British husband and he’s also learning Korean. It’s very cute.
밥 먹고 갈래요? (Would you like to have dinner?) – This is my favorite webtoon. Each chapter is named after a meal and then tells the story about her connection to that meal or the why and how she got to cooking it that day. It’s lovely. And I’m a sucker for food in my media (tv, movies, books, etc.) And the drawings are so cute! Also it will make you hungry because her drawings of the food are amazing. She writes a little recipe for it at the end of each chapter as well and gives tips to make it taste better or alternative ingredients.
패밀리사이즈 (Family Size) – I started reading this years ago, but at that time I abandoned all webtoons out of the blue. Now, I’ve rediscovered it. I’m so happy I did because I forgot how funny it is. It’s about an already huge family who are expecting their fourth child and it goes through their daily life as a big family and all that. I’m only on episode 10 so their new baby hasn’t been born. I was at my desk just on the brink of tears because I was laughing so much.
If you’re into online comics, you’ve probably heard of Line Webtoons which are English comics. Some of the comics on the site are actually translations of Korean webtoons. If you’re interested in using webtoons to learn but you’re a bit unsure of reading fully in Korean without translations you can find the Korean webtoon and the English webtoon and read them side by side. Here are a few Korean webtoons that also have an English version.
And I’m sure there’s more, but these are the webtoons I know about for now!
- I will try to make a separate blog post about how I actually study a webtoon on a day when I sit myself down and study, including pictures etc.