This question is as old as the field of language education itself. There has always been a fierce debate among language researchers over what is more important in learning a foreign language- Grammar or Vocabulary? And there has come no proved conclusions yet.
Recently I have been a reading a few papers and books on this issue and I found this topic very interesting. Which one of Grammar and Vocabulary is more important as far as the success or failure in TOPIK test, or on a bigger scale, in Korean language learning? Keith Folse and Steve Kaufmann are some of the leading researchers who advocate the importance of vocabulary over grammar. In one of his famous articles ‘Vocabulary Myths’ Folse gives an example from his personal life to explain how important vocabulary is. The incident happened when he was in Japan and he went to a shop to buy some flour. He knew all the grammar patterns of Japanese to say sentences like ‘I need flour’, ‘where can I find flour’, ‘Please give me a packet of flour’ etc. but he didn’t know the exact Japanese word for flour. And all his efforts to explain the shopkeeper what he wanted proved to be useless and finally he wasn’t able to buy flour.
If I put my personal opinion, Grammar is definitely the backbone of a language and without knowing it one can’t communication efficiently but Vocabulary is something without which you can not communicate at all, leave efficient communication. You need words to speak; you need words to listen and understand. If you don’t know grammar you may sound foolish when speaking but you can convey the necessary information. The kids communicate mostly through words only for the first 2-3 years. According to Steve Kaufmann, Grammar is something that you can learn automatically with time by listening and speaking and correcting. He goes one step further to say that Grammar rules slow down our language learning.
If we see in the context of Korean language Vocabulary is really really important. You need a good stock of vocabulary and also its correct usage. I remember a personal embarrassing moment when I was in second year of my Bachelor Degree program in in India. There was a team of Korean university students visiting our department and during the question-answer session I asked a question that was something like ‘Is there any significant difference the way the old and young Koreans think about India’. And the word I used for ‘old’ was ‘늙은’ made from the verb ‘늙다’ which I had memorized just a few days back. And many Koreans including my teachers couldn’t control their laughter. I had no idea what happened. i was so sure about all the grammar patterns and words i had used. Then one of my Indian teachers explained to me that ‘늙은’ is not the appropriate expression here, you should use ‘나이 많으신 분’. I already knew this expression but I just wanted to use the brand new word I had learned. Most of you must have got into such kind of situation at some point of time.
Even in the TOPIK test vocabulary plays the most important role in your success or failure or how much you score. I have seen people who speak fluent Korean in everyday situations failing in the TOPIK test just due to lack of higher level vocabulary.
What do you think about it? What is more important between grammar and vocabulary as far as learning Korean is concerned. Do you also think that Vocabulary is more important than grammar in TOPIK test? Do you have any interesting experiences about wrong use of words? Please share 🙂
I will be writing a series of 4-5 posts on Korean Vocabulary- It’s characteristics, why, which type and what amount of vocabulary you need to learn, the ways to improve your vocabulary etc. This one is an introductory post in the series. your opinion and suggestions are greatly appreciated.
*Update: Go to the next Article- Reasons to improve your Korean Vocabulary