Asian Language Book Hunting in London

I completely forgot to write about my book buying mission in London with my wonderful friend Becki back in May … but better late than never!

First stop on our trip was Waterstones in Piccadilly Circus where they have their biggest store: FIVE FLOORS! I honestly thought I had found heaven, it was a miracle I managed to walk out without any Harry Potter books actually …

On the fourth floor the store has expanded its Languages section and now has an entire bookcase devoted to Mandarin and another to Japanese and Korean :O It was definitely a treasure trove of slightly overpriced textbooks and an endless supply of ‘Teach Yourself’ guides.

Going in with the sole purpose of buying Japanese and Mandarin study books (in my case) we both hit the books and weren’t overly impressed. There were so many guides to choose from which is great but a lot of them were designed for classroom use or had too much pinyin/romaji (Roman alphabet pronunciation) instead of actual characters. Having studied Korean for so long I’ve found using the Roman alphabet to learn languages that don’t use the system can be counter-productive when learning phonics (I will try to keep the linguistics to a minimum I promise). So yeah, bit of a dud in that department.

There was a similar problem with the books they had in Korean. There were some advanced grammar books but the problem was either a lack of linguistics knowledge on my half or an over-complication of grammar in the guides. I did come across an interesting book on Korean verbs but it was a step by step conjugation guide for 500 or so verbs which are easy to work out once you know the rules.

If you would like a guide on the grammar and textbooks I recommend you can check out my blog post here.

Deciding not to buy anything from Waterstones we headed to a Japanese book shop hidden behind Whole Foods in Piccadilly Circus. It was amazing. I have never seen so much Japanese literature and Japanese products in one place before. It also reminded me that I knew zilch when it came to reading Japanese – something I have never had to overcome with Korean (for Korean products). Even their extensive range of Japanese language textbooks were all in Japanese. Thank God for Becki as she knew exactly what each one was and which ones came with what – I had no clue.

Overall the selection was excellent but a lot of the books were extremely expensive, minimum £30 each for the majority of them. Another downside to the books is that they were either all in Japanese and you had to buy a translation book along with it or they came with workbooks which were equally as expensive. As Japanese is probably my third favorite out of the major three Asian languages (first being Korean and second Mandarin) I wasn’t wanting to make such a big investment for the time being. A lot of people who have studied Japanese would probably recommend Genki as the main book of choice but even online this is £60 for book 1 and that’s a loooot of money (by my standards anyhoo). So no luck there. But it was great to find a place to buy Japanese books if I ever get to that level of reading.

I can’t remember exactly what time (or when in our schedule) we had lunch so I am just gonna stick it here. We went to a restaurant called Assa (아싸) which is a bit more high-end than Seoul Bakery and was definitely open on a Saturday. We were going to go to another restaurant in Tottenham Court Road but it was shut (I forget the name).

First impression: Eh. It was filled with Chinese tourists who all had hotpot meals in large groups. Not that this is anything to complain about, but it lacked the more familiar feel of places like Haru (하루) in New Malden and Seoul Bakery in Tottenham Court.

The menu was good, it had an amazing range but the banchan (반찬/ side dishes) weren’t free which sucks because normally you get them for free and as always the service charge is added to the bill.

I went for the Kimchi Fried Rice (김치 볶음밥) which was actually the first Korean dish I ever tried way back when. It tasted good, bit spicier than I was used to, but they got the egg just right, the yolk was still runny so it melted in … mmm it was good. Would order again.

After filling up on food we headed towards Charing Cross and into Foyles which has extended their selection of East Asian language books to an entire 2 sided aisle! Needless to say I was impressed.

They had a lot of the same books we had seen in Waterstones for the Japanese side and a lot of books we hadn’t seen in the Mandarin section. I knew I probably wouldn’t buy any books as Foyles tend to be a bit more pricey than other bookshops but it was a good chance to look at books first hand and get a feel for the content.

I really liked the look of the series called Practical Chinese which has been featured in articles suggesting good starting books. The first Level had a textbook and workbook which seemed to really focus on pronunciation and grammar equally. However, their prices together were close to (or slightly over) 50 quid and so I decided to look for them elsewhere online.

*Found them on Amazon for less than £36 for the first 2 books.

I did however find an interesting book on Korea called Inside Korea. It probably wouldn’t have caught my eye if it hadn’t been a dual language book as a lot of the information can be found online. However it had the Korean and English on seperate pages side by side so you could compare vocab and translations. It was perfect for reading practice, especially when a lot of my reading material was either super advanced or Harry Potter (which I love). It was originally £16 something and with he special student discount they ran that day being 20% instead of the usual 10% I got it for less than £13 – Bargain.

Trust me to go out intending to buy Japanese and Mandarin books and come home with Korean … at least I know I am doing the right degree 😛

Before bringing the day to an end we decided to go to a Japanese run(?) cafe that does Bingsoo (Korean shaved ice dessert). The place is called Shibuya and has/had a flower boy waiter which I wasn’t complaining about 😉

Anyway, the bingsoo menu was relatively small and a lot of them had 2 size options. I went with the strawberry as it was half the price of their Oreo cream extravaganza of a dessert and like an idiot I forgot to take photos.


I did however managed to go online and find a similar one. I loved the little cup on condesned milk which was so much easier to pour than the little dish they give you in Bingsu in New Malden although the New malden one has more strawberries ….

Time being an issue what with Becki catching a train back to Cambridge we legged it down to Kimchee to Go where I bought my go to take out food (Tofu dosirak/ 두부 도시락) and we hopped on a train back to Liverpool Street.


Tofu Dosirak

And that is the end of my very eventful Book-Hunt in London. I bought the Mandarin books on Amazon and haven’t started them yet but will probably write a blog post when I do. I have held off on getting Japanese material for the time being as there seems to be a lot of free content online and I am cheap when it comes to stuff like this.

I hope this has been an interesting tale and I will be writing another post for later on in the week about my recent trip to Cambridge!

Have a good day, Ruthie ~


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