I always try to remind myself to learn through context and this is what I do most of the time, but to be honest sometimes it’s just really tempting to find random words to study with. Especially if you don’t really want to study a specific topic but rather wants to expand your general vocabulary. I too have done this many times. It’s not that it’s a bad thing at all, but just try to keep in mind that having a context can make everything a whole lot easier.
Also, when looking up words in your native language to find the Korean equivalent, I always recommend looking at the suggested sample sentences. Often there are tons of words being suggested basted on the word you searched for, but the context can be the thing that determines which of those suggestions to use, and you will only find a context by looking at sample sentences.
I recommend doing the same thing when looking up the Korean word, to find the (in my case at least) English meaning. If you use Naver dictionary like I do, then you will know that it suggests words in a dropdown menu while you are writing the word(just like when you are googling something), and it shows the meaning as well. This mean that you often can find the meaning of the word you are searching for, even before having finished spelling it in the search bar. While this can be a great time saver (that I often take advantage of) it can also create some issues. The words shown in that preview menu is the most common used ones, but if the context isn’t correct then you might find yourself feeling super confused.
Let me give you an example!
I’m currently reading a long article and in the beginning of that article I came across the word 투기, and when searching for the meaning I ended up with this result:
That didn’t quite make sense to me, however, I was still in the very beginning of the article and there was a handful of other words that I didn’t know, which made it a little difficult to determine whether the word was wrong or if it was just me who didn’t quite understand the meaning of the full sentence. In cases like this I always make a small note in my notebook and then continue reading to give myself a better context.
I continued reading and after a little while I came across the word again. Now, with a better understanding of the context, I knew for sure that ‘speculate’ didn’t make any sense in this context, whatsoever. So I checked with Naver once again. This time I ignored the result from the quick menu and searched for other meanings and sample sentences.
Now look at the last result.
The article I am reading is about Taekwondo, and with that context as well as the last result in mind, the word 투기 suddenly makes perfect sense. The context literally made the entire difference.
Next time you feel discouraged by not understanding the overall meaning despite looking up all the words, just remember that you might have found the wrong words for your specific context.
Another example could be when I recently read the word 밤(evening, night). 밤 is a word that I have known pretty much since I started studying two years ago, but it simply didn’t fit into the context that I found it in. While I felt really silly to look up the meaning of a word that I thought I knew for sure, I decided to do it anyway and I then discovered that 밤 also means chestnut. Quite a difference, huh? Always remember the context.
Here’s some of the most common words with different meanings that I have come across:
맞다 –To be correct or To be hit/slapped?
사과 – Apology or Apple?
눈 – Eye or Snow?
배 – Pear or Boat?
차 – Car or Tea?
말 – Words/speech or Horse?
You see what I mean, right? Context can make everything a whole lot easier!