Customer Reviews: A Guide To Korean Characters: Reading and Writing Hangul and Hanja (A Mini Dictionary of Characters for Modern Readers)
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on July 17, 2001
Along with my Korean-English dictionaries, grammar guides, and textbooks, GUIDE TO KOREAN CHARACTERS: READING AND WRITING HANGUL AND HANJA, is my ticket to the cosmopolitan side of Korean life. The Korean language uses two alphabets, hangul and hanja. Hangul was invented by a group of Confucian scholars commissioned by King Sejong in the 15th Century. However, even today, most of the Korean found in newspapers, books, and on television is of Chinese origin. Like the Japanese, Koreans use Chinese characters, but pronounce them differently. Hanja, or Chinese characters, are required for most adult discourse and counting.
The book starts with simple characters, or "radicals", progressing to complicated ones. Students can follow the graphs and learn to write the characters. Each character is also translated into English and Korean. Hangul is provided in the jacket of the book, but this is not a Hangul textbook. A further index also organizes the characters for quick reference.
Because the Korean educational system authorizes and halts Hanja education seemingly every decade, learning Hanja gives the non-Korean student an advantage over Korean students. Sino-Korean words are also easier to remember, because they are shorter. Learning Hanja opens up a whole different world to the non-Korean student.
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on July 28, 2001
This book was given to me while I was studying Korean at the Defense Language Institute. The format of the book is pretty straight forward: count the number of strokes in the character and start searching. Although its obvious that "hanja" plays a diminishing role in "survival korean", it can provide useful insight into meanings of more complex words. Be sure you've learned "hangul" before you consider adding this book to your library. With a bit of study, you'll find that you'll be able to learn more "hanja" than the average Korean knows. I know I have.
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on April 18, 2000
Given a choice between this book by Bruce K. Grant and other (sparsely) available works on this subject, I would unhesitatingly stick with this one. Even after entering its third decade in print it is still the definitive hanja reference guide. The 1,800 characters are presented in stroke order, although a phonetic listing can also be referred to. A stroke- order chart along with corresponding Hangul phonetic equivalent and English translation is presented with each character. I feel there are a few minor shortcomings - DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK IF YOU ARE PRIMARILY INTERESTED IN LEARNING THE KOREAN PHONETIC WRITING SYSTEM (HANGUL). I think that the inclusion of Hangul in this book was a waste of time, as any basic textbook and even some phrase books I've come across do a better job of presenting Hangul to a beginner. Remember, 99% of the text is HANJA reference. I also feel that some of the example vocabulary (listed beside each character to show how it can be combined with other characters to form [mostly] bisyllabic words) is useless in terms of practical usage. In spite of these minor flaws it is a fantastic book. I initially attempted to memorize all 1,800 characters in stroke order, but got distracted at the half-way point. It believe there are better books out there to learn Hanja as it is used with written Korean (for example, A First Reader in Korean Writing in Mixed Script by Fred Lukoff, and MANY excellent materials produced by the Defense Language Institute Korean Language Department). As stated earlier, this book is best used as a REFERENCE source. In the many years I have used this for reference I can only recall one character that was not listed. The 1,800 characters listed are those that are taught to Korean students throughout middle school and high school. Hats off to Bruce K. Grant for this most helpful book.
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on February 22, 1999
THIS IS NOT A BOOK TO LEARN HOW TO SPEAK KOREAN!!! It is specifically to learn the sino-korean characters, otherwise known as han-mun. It helps if you already have some kind of working knowledge of Korean, and if you actually know what you want to learn. This book is super for learning things like the days of the week, addresses, and names. This book is really a (beginner's) vocabulary booster and to help you impress your friends. The indices are super, as is the whole book: very well organized and easy to use. I've seen sino-japanese (kanji) books that cannot compare as far as clarity and ease of use. There's even a chart in the back with all of the family names used (and many no longer used) in Korea.
The way the book works is 1)know the sound of the character you're looking for; or 1a)know what it looks like; 2)look in one of the indices; 3)the character you are or may be looking for will have a number assigned to it; 4)look up the number and -boom- there's your character, complete with a stroke order diagram and related words defined in English while written in korean and han-mun. Simple.
I should probably give it five stars--because I can find no real flaws. However, I think that a person with better Korean skills than I have could find problems. So, for people who are beginners at Korean--five stars. People for whom Korean is old hat--three stars. Therefore: four.
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on April 10, 2016
This is the only way to learn REAL Korean beyond the small talk stage. Korea was in a primitive state until it got introduced to Chinese culture and civilization, which it had fully adopted by about 295 A.D. The only writing system used until the 15th Century was the Chinese one. The same goes for all books and signs, contracts et cetera. Thus, over the years, the Chinese of the schoolroom and of books and learning flowed naturally into the spoken language, and today the vast majority of Korean is actually of Chinese derivation. As a non-Korean who learned the language and am still working on mastering it, I can attest to the fact that the only way forward with the language is to learn its root words, which are handily all clustered around these characters, which are laid out for us here in this book in a handy, systematic way, from easier to draw to harder to draw. You must learn every character, its native Korean meaning, its Sino-Korean pronunciation, and its English translation. This book has the 1800 characters that the Korean government has deemed necessary for the public to know to be able to handle the full scope of the language. Yes, there are other characters in use, but the 1800 government approved ones account for virtually all the ones you need to handle Korean vocabulary. You don't just learn the Sino-Korean pronunciation but the native Korean meaning too, which means that you will be ready for both formal and informal conversation, the native Korean words being used more for informal speech and the Sino-Korean root words for more formal speech and writing.

You might look at this task in from of you and think - how am I to memorize 1800 characters, 1800 Korean words and 1800 sino-Korean pronunciations??? Well, I'll tell you that it is MUCH easier than having to memorize the dictionary with 300,000 separate words!!! Also, the characters each have their own little story to tell, and this story affects the precise meaning of the root word. The old example usually given is that of the character for "east" which combines the image for a tree with that of the sun, thus this character has always brought to the reader's mind the image of a sun rising behind a tree. The character of "comfort" shows a woman in a house. The character chosen for "dollars" is one that happens to look like a mirror image of the $ sign. As it is pronounced "bul" that is why the Korean word for American dollars is "bul". Interesting, eh? There is a whole narrative and artistic aspect to the Korean, Japanese, and Chinese languages due to their use of the characters that makes what they call "language" more than what we call language. Language for them, due to the characters is also storytelling and visual art. The characters actually ADD meaning to the words and are integral to understanding the Civilization of the East. Learn them or give up, I say! You can see how primitive life was in Korea when the characters first came as there is no native word even for a "table". Anyhow, it's through the characters that you really get to the heart of Korean and East Asian culture and mindset. Without them you're taking a shortcut that prevents your accessing the authentic language and culture.

Some people think this book does not also teach Hangeul nor Native Korean. This is patently false. Every character is accompanied by hangeul Korean definitions and hangeul pronunciations, and also all the example words are included WITH their hangeul spellings. This book is in fact a practical compendium of the Korean language. Frankly speaking, if you are a bit of a linguist, just this book and a grammar book are all you really need to learn the language. This one has all the words you need, and the grammar book all the grammar you need. That's enough! After that it's practical application, using a dictionary or context to make sense of more things that pop up.

How I use it is I write out each (1) character, (2) native Korean meaning, and (3) Sino-Korean pronunciation across the page in my notebook. I go through the whole book and then start over. It's fool proof. I can't but learn with this method!

The characters are beautiful art and take us back to a more aboriginal time in East Asia when people lived closer to nature. Learning the characters is like meeting God. They are beautiful and naturalistic, and they make me think deeply about the meaning for words and concepts. They add depth to my thought about English vocabulary too, and about life itself. They are super fun, deeply meaningful, and definitely the only way forward with the language.


I strongly recommend coupling this book with Kun Ho Park's "Learning Korean Hanja" which teaches the same material but according to the method Grant said he would use in his next book promised in his intro but never (apparently) got around to doing or at least to the publishing stage. Grant planned to make a second book organizing the characters by root character and thus in families of characters. Kun Ho Park's book does this with the logic behind the combinations explained from a clear anthropological, narrative stand point. Both books complement each other beautifully - Grant's is organized by complexity of the characters, Park's by root characters.
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on March 5, 2014
This book gives what it promises. It delivers you with a list of 1800 Chinese characters used in Korea. Each entry comes with examples. The pronunciations are only given in Hangul, which is a good thing in my opinion. Although this book does contain a reference to Hangul, you shouldn't even be near this book if you don't already know it. The book also lists the meaning of the word before it's pronunciation. I think that is quite a refreshing approach to what I'm used to.

What I find less appealing about this book is the way in which the characters are organized. The book calls itself a guide, but it also tries to be a character dictionary. This wouldn't be too much of a problem if it were by radical, but this book lists all the Hanja by amount of strokes. I think this makes it rather cumbersome to study from this book. I also think it would have been much better if the Hanja were listed by frequency instead. To give you an example: You will find the character for 'Divination' on p29 and the character for 'medicine' on p316. Which are you more likely to use? I could probably look for a more absurd example. The book should work fine for look up/reference purposes however. And it's the only of it's kind (in covering all the main characters) as far as I know, so you don't have much choice anyway when it comes to actual printed books.

+ It delivers what it promises
+ Example words
+ Hardcover
+ Elegant size (13x19 cm)

- Lists characters by amount of strokes instead of usefulness
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on May 28, 2000
Excellent reference for an ongoing student of the Korean language. The ease of use and extensive practical information make this a must for anyone studying Korean. I also have Pictoral Sino-Korean Characters by Jacob Chang-Kim. Together, my hanja reference collection is 100% complete!
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on December 1, 2014
I find this reference to be really helpful. As a student of both Chinese and Korean, I can better understand the roots of many Korean words and associate meanings with certain syllables in Korean. The guide also has some fantastic indices in the back for looking up characters.
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on November 10, 2015
Very complete reference. Organized by stroke count, so unless you already know hanja, it may be difficult to navigate. It does, however, give one a very good basis for Korean etymology when one knows the roots of a word (the names of Countries like Japan and the United States, for example)
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on September 2, 2014
Several of the other reviews seemed to emphasize that this should be used as a reference book rather than as a means of learning hanja. However, I am so far finding it very useful for learning hanja. I like that it shows the stroke order for every character instead of just listing the rules at the beginning. I like that it has both the official Korean definition and an English definition, and I like that the pronunciation is in hangul rather than romanized (I should note that, while I don't know many Korean words, I can read hangul). I bought boxed writing paper to practice writing the characters, and I have made flashcards to learn the pronunciations and English definitions. I have so far learned the first seven characters in the book, over the course of three days. (I would be moving more quickly if I did not have school). I hope to learn all 1800 over the next two years.
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