In today’s blog post, I’m going to be covering how I began to learn Korean and how learning it impacted my outlook on things.
You may already be rolling your eyes because of the association many people have nowadays with the popular culture of South Korea. Maybe you’re thinking of the geography and politics of the place, which always seem to be roiling with conflict. Or, it’s possible you have no opinion at all.
Wherever you come from, I ask you to have an open mind. Getting frustrated is part of the process, but losing your sense of self is not.
My journey with Korean started where many of today’s young adults’ East Asian forays begin these days… as previously mentioned, pop culture. I began watching variety shows and interviews by boy bands without subtitles (if at all possible… hard-coded is a thing) to get a feel for the language.
At first, I didn’t know anything about Korean. I had only really been exposed to two “foreign” languages in my life, and they were of European origin. I immediately fell in love with the prosody and the character of the culture.
I managed to learn quite a lot that way. Looking back, now as I stumble my way through children’s news articles and easy readers, I recognize a lot of structures from spoken Korean. When I first started, that seemed impossible. But then again, learning Spanish seemed the same impossible feat. I had more cards in that game than I did with Korean. But it was all the more worth it to stick with both, because of how much I love each of them.
It’s taken me 8 years to really grasp the forms and nuances of Korean, but I don’t mind going slow. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have chosen to read YouTube video titles or lyrics to practice my Hangul recognition. I wouldn’t have chosen to absorb the language instead of shove it like a last meal.
I try to treat each day as one to make progress with. No matter how small, no matter in what area. So if Korean were to be the last intellectual morsel I downed, I wanted to enjoy it.
And that’s what I think is truly key when you’re learning anything, let alone a language. Although I love learning theory and can geek out on it, I’m ultimately a practical person who wants to use her skills for good in an immediate fashion. I like to chat with people. I like to discuss the reality of things. But I need tools.
And it’s easier said than done for many people, but I don’t allow myself to get too discouraged. Sure, I have my moments of demotivation, confusion, and controlled wanderlust, but my desire to achieve and succeed is always there. However, I know even motivation sometimes doesn’t do it for people; there has to be an extrinsic factor.
To me, that’s more “foreign” than any culture I’ve never previously encountered, but it’s my personal credo to never let things stump me for long. I always logically dissect things and make peace with them best as I am able, quickly as I am able. And because of that, I remain open to many perspectives… which is good for the language learning 😉
Therefore, to anyone who may be reading this (Korean learners or otherwise), I encourage you to treat each day as a victory.
I can cite many examples from experience of not achieving my expectations, which is a downer not only for me, but really anyone who has a perfectionist bent. (In other blog posts, I’ll discuss how I’ve learned to manage my want to go higher for those curious.) For example, just the other day, I was reading out of a Korean reader, and even though I’ve just about mastered the use of subject and topic marking particles, I doubted myself. I was sitting on the couch, wondering for about 15 minutes how I could’ve gone so astray.
This is a simple topic, right? Something introduced right at the beginning of most Korean learning textbooks or in college courses. Most Korean learners, however, will tell you it’s “deceptively simple”, though. For me it was probably easier than most to grasp, and I don’t say that to be a braggart. There are definitely areas that I struggle with in Korean that a Korean learner who started in a traditional class or with a textbook would not have issues with, like vocabulary or maybe output, for example.
There I was, staring at the folktale, mixing concepts from various other languages I’d studied (mostly Spanish), and getting confused. It made me feel awful, because like I mentioned before, I like to analyze… and analyze fast. But after the initial rush of negative emotion, I calmed down enough to realize: the world isn’t ending. Everything will be okay.
And then I figured out what I was doing wrong, and I went on my merry way.
My Korean skills as they stand today are a smattering of good pronunciation, bad listening comprehension, fair writing, and dismal speaking. Reading is… interesting.
I started my experiment trying to learn how a little kid learns, by hearing it spoken. And now I’m all sorts of messed-up 🤪 But I don’t think it was for naught.
Korean is a language I learned from the ground up, with little help from tutors or manuals. It’s always a surprise to read something and understand it, indeed like a small child that’s just beginning to appreciate the written word. I relive the childlike joy of a first step, holding on to a coffee table or riding a bike without training wheels for the first time each time I do this.
And it’s worth every minute of it. 👌
(Preview photo credit to: @meezydigital on Instagram)