Top critical review
7 people found this helpful
Could be better
on 23 November 2012
We recently went to South Korea, and anticipating language difficulties, we wanted to learn a bit about the language and a few phrases.
The book is a nice handy size (literally). It is about the size of a medium-sized hand. It does indeed contain phrases in Korean, so it does fulfil its title. However, I think there isn't much good to say about the book beyond there.
First of all, as Korean uses a different alphabet, you probably want to learn that. This is covered in the phrasebook. However, South Korea recently adopted a new romanisation, which in my opinion, is an improvement upon the old one. The book, on the other hand, bravely (perhaps arrogantly) decides that the old romanisation is better, and keeps this. I am not sure whether this is just laziness, or that they truly think it is better, but I think they should use the new system. It is more consistent with your experience in Korea and I think is easier to read. It explains the difference between one sound and another by saying one is "aspirated" and the other is not, without explaining what that means. Turns out it's like the difference between b and p, but it would just be better to use b and p, like the new romanisation does.
Second, while the book does say a bit about the different levels of formality in the language, it confused me a bit about things like "thank you." The inside front cover has key phrases, like thank you, but for thank you it gives you two options without explanation. Both are formal enough, but one is the usual for out and about (gamsa hamnida), so for key phrases, it would be best to give you the one you need.
Another thing that really frustrated me was the lack of key words throughout the book, which I also think is poorly structured. We got in a taxi in Gunsan, and wanted to go to the airport. After the driver didn't understand our hand signals and noises, I turned to the phrasebook. Flipping to the section on transport, I couldn't find the word for airport. The only place it was was embedded in a sentence about an airport shuttle bus. Flustered, I pointed to the sentence, and the driver fortunately got my meaning, but there was no way I could work out which word it was. Yes, there is a short dictionary at the back of the book with the word, but in my flustered state I turned to the main section. There should have been key words flagged up.
I think the main thing about the book is it almost forgets its remit as a phrasebook, and almost tries to teach you the language, but very poorly. If you want to learn Korean, you would not use this book. As a phrasebook though, I think it goes too far and forgets the basics. The phrase section at the back of your guidebook is probably sufficient. We bought the Insights Guide (after returning the Lonely Planet one), and found that the phrase section had plenty for most purposes.