A Review for Real-Life Conversations: Intermediate

As the title of the book suggests, this is an intermediate version of Real-Life Conversations: Beginner (click here to see the review for it). It follows a similar format – natural dialogues with audio clips, transcripts as well as exercises and explanations on grammar points.

I think this is probably my favourite book from Talk to Me in Korean. If I have to pick just one TTMIK book to keep, it’ll probably this.

Link to the store: https://talktomeinkorean.com/product/rl-p/

What to Expect

  • 30 dialogues designed around everyday scenarios (much longer than the ones in the Beginner’s edition)
  • Audio recordings and transcripts for each dialogue
  • Explanations on grammar points and exercises

Who Is It For?

While it is stated in the title of the book that it’s designed with the intermediate learners in mind, there are some surprisingly advanced grammar points in the dialogues. Some of the simpler grammar points even come with slightly more advanced variations that you won’t find in the Level 8 – 9 Essential Korean Courses. You can tell that they tried their best to keep the sentences relatively simple for the Beginners edition; with this one, however, they barely held back. Some of the dialogues sounded as if they could fit right into a K-drama scene written for a native audience. You can get a lot out of this, even if you’re a lower advanced learner.

How to Use It

For Intermediate Learners

There’s a lot you can get out of this book, if you’re an intermediate (preferably upper intermediate) learner. It makes for great listening practice, as well as an awesome way to learn vocabulary and grammar points in context. You also get to see practical application of said grammar points, which gives you an idea of how they’re actually used in real conversations.  Here’s how I would use the book:

STEP #1: Listen to the dialogue once, and then check the transcript to see how much I understood. This is just for me to get an idea of where my listening skills are, and what I need to work on.

STEP #2: Go through the transcript and analyse it sentence by sentence, using the vocabulary list and the grammar explanations as a guide.

STEP #3: Listen to the dialogues repeatedly, paying close attention to the pronunciation and intonation of the voice actors.

STEP #4: Shadow the voice actors – pause the audio clip after every line, and repeat after them.

OPTIONAL (if I have extra time): Record myself saying the lines, and then compare it to the original audio clip, line by line. That way, I get to hear where my pronunciation and intonation differ from the actors’, which helps me identify areas that I need to improve on.

STEP #5: Repeat step 3 and 4 as often as needed – I usually do it once a day, with the goal of being able to understand 70 – 80% of the dialogue (sans transcript) by the end of the week.

Note that as this isn’t a grammar workbook, the grammar exercises that come with the dialogues are, for the most part, insufficient on their own, especially if you’re learning a grammar point for the first time. In a sense, it’s more like a companion book for the Essential Korean Courses, so you would probably need to do extra research online when dealing with a grammar point you have not seen before.

For Advanced Learners

If you’re an advanced learner, you probably already know most of the grammar points featured in the dialogues. Some of them, however, have slightly more advanced variations that you might not be familiar with, and those are the ones you should zero in on. Perhaps you’ve seen them somewhere before and know what they mean, but have never gotten the chance to actually use them. For example, you might be well acquainted with ~기만 하다, but not ~기만 해봐 and ~기만 해봐라, or the subtle difference between the latter two.

But more than anything, as a lower advanced learner, my favourite thing about this book is the natural, native-like expressions it offers. It lets me observe how Koreans would word certain things, express certain ideas, or perceive certain concepts. Doing so has led to many ‘aha!’ moments over the years where I realised just how differently we approach certain things.  This is important because at the end of the day, the only way to speak like a native is to think like one, and to do that, we must first identify the difference between our mind and theirs.

For example, I remember how long it took for me to figure out how to say ‘to have something on oneself’ – as in, to carry something about with you, like a book, or your phone. I wanted to say ‘I love reading, so I always have a book on-hand’, and was mind-blown when I found out it was as simple as ‘갖고 다니다’. It seems simple, but it’s something I never could have come up with on my own, thinking in English and Mandarin Chinese.

When I’m thinking in English, I either see it as a state of being – to have it on me, which focuses on where the item is – or as a single action – to carry/bring it around with me. In Mandarin, however, it’s ‘随身携带’ – it’s made up of two words, literally meaning ‘along with your body’ and ‘to carry’ respectively. It’s one single action, with an adverb thrown in to elaborate on the manner of carrying. In Korean, however, it’s two consecutive actions. First, you take the object (갖다/가지다), and then you go around places (다니다).

The experience highlighted to me just how differently I think from a native speaker of Korean in some respects, and that if I want to speak as naturally as they do one day, I’m going to need a lot of exposure to native content that will help provide insights on how Koreans actually think and see things. But there’s only so much you can learn from K-drama and Youtube videos. And there are conversations and situations you most likely won’t be able to experience without living in Korea – whining about wedding plans, getting mad at a classmate for not remembering your name (spoiler alert!), talking about a decade-old feud with an ex-friend from college…

That’s where this book comes in. It offers interesting, organic conversations that you can actually see yourself having in your native language (or in Korean, if you were to move to Korea). You’ll discover new ways to say things, and new things to talk about. The scenarios are also really fun to roleplay, if you have a language exchange partner to practice with. I personally have a lot of fun just roleplaying all the characters by myself, by reading it out loud like a radio play.  

If you are already living in Korea, though, this book offers amazingly native-sounding expressions that you can impress your friends with. All in all, the book is a great investment no matter how you look at it. Personally, I think it’s worth every buck.