[Book Review] Practical Korean by Samuel E. Martin

I have been trying to learn the Korean language ever since I first watched City Hunter without subtitles. I got the idea of what was happening but if you were to ask me what they were saying, I wouldn’t be able to tell you specifics. Enter “Practical Korean”. A book which claims to be “your guide to speaking Korean quickly and effortlessly in a few hours. It was written by Samuel E. Martin and published by Tuttle.

practical koreanI have used different Korean language books and at best what I’ve seen has been average. I was curious to see if this book would also be mediocre or would it live up to the description printed on the cover. The book is broken down into 47 lessons and the first positive I noticed was that they have a lesson sentence structure. The Korean language is vastly different from English. Because of this, I always have a hard time figuring out which word comes back so this lesson was extremely helpful. The book also has the basics like counting in both Korean and Sino-Korean numbers, and the Korean alphabet, hangul.

There are lists upon lists of verbs and particles a person would need while staying in Korea and the author put example sentences on how to use them. Negative sentences have a different structure than normal sentences, so the author devotes a lesson to that. After the lessons, there is a Romanization Table that explains which English character corresponds to each Korean character. At first I thought this was a bit repetitive because the entire book is written in Korean and English, but perhaps the author wanted the reader to be able to pronounce Hangul as much as possible.


9780804843447.in02__18677.1425592958.1280.1280There are a few cons when it comes to using this book, and probably most language learning books. You will not become fluent by just reading this book.  At best you can memorize the verbs and phrases and hope to remember them when needed. You can, however, use this book as a supplemental tool in addition to whatever else you are using (going to school, Rosetta Stone, etc.). I have been using it to pester my Korean speaking friends with questions. For the most part, the book uses words that are acceptable to use with friends and elders. If you aren’t sure which word to use when, there is a chapter to help you.

Another con is you won’t be able to learn everything as quickly as you want. There is so much information that it would be nearly impossible for you to memorize it all. If you are looking for a book that will help you remember things fast, this probably isn’t it. You will probably end up like me, carrying the book around and going over it as often as you can.


I have been studying this book for the last few weeks, and while I am not, by any means, fluent in Korean, I feel as if I have gained more understanding. Will you be speaking Korean quickly and effortlessly in a few hours? It depends on how well you can speak Korean before picking this gem up. If you have never uttered a word outside of 안녕하세요, then probably not. Don’t let that discourage you though! Pick up this book and see how far you can go with it.

Have you used this book before? Let us know your opinion as well as any other book suggestions is in the comments.

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I fell into the world of Hallyu by way of Boys over Flowers, but isn't that always the way? I haven't looked back since. Join me on my Hallyu adventure at youngajummah.com
  • dannyR

    Samuel Martin passed in 2009, and this edition, revised by Jinny Kim, is ridden with (mainly formatting) errors that render many sections almost unintelligible. This becomes more apparent as you get to the halfway point. It’s almost as though the proofreader didn’t know any Korean, got tired, had a deadline, or something, and parts went transposed, out-of-place or missing altogether.

    Another reader, a Korean teacher, also noted these anomalies in an Amazon review, and I’m puzzled he seems to be the only one who actually paid attention, or even noticed:
    “Timothy J. Spenceron March 29, 2010 – Published on Amazon.com

    If there were fewer stars than one to give, I would do so. As a teacher, I picked up this book thinking it would be a good extra-curricular conversational guide. It is filled with errors, errors of pronunciation, errors of translation…”

    I don’t think the book is completely useless, but you’d have to be an lower-intermediate student to make use of it, and to pass over the mistakes without picking them up as bad Korean.

    “But for the meaning an honored person has something you use iseueseyo, the expected honorific of iseyo:
    Abeonim-i geu japji-reul gajigo geseyo? [should be gyeseyo, btw]
    아버님이 그 잡지를 가지고 계세요?
    Does your father have that magazine?

    It’s not hard to see, knowing no Korean whatsoever, that the intended example does not incorporate the special form at all; moreover the sentence is a sub

    • dannyR

      I have now tracked down the 1971 edition in Google books. The original was called “Korean in a Hurry”, and Martin indeed appears (you can only see so much in Google Books’ snippet view) to have had the example properly incorporated.

      This revised edition is terribly sub-standard.