Hi, there. My name is Mono and I’ve been learning Korean for an ungodly amount of time. But I haven’t managed to stay clean. And I showed up to this Language Learners’ Anonymous (LLA) meeting not having any intention of letting go of my learning journey.
It might sound weird to you to not want to give up learning a language that I’ve struggled with, dabbled in, and in whose metaphorical mud puddle I’ve messed around for almost ten years without the success of my first language learning endeavor. But I don’t think I should give up simply because of common belief—and certainly not because I told myself I couldn’t. I love Korean. Studying it often is the highlight of my day. I get to flex my mental muscles by analyzing the components of grammar and culture, and unlike some people who might prefer a night out (nothing wrong with that) or a morning physical exercise routine; this is how I get my kicks.
I first fell in love with Korean watching variety shows that k-idols were on, and I’d not up until that point heard the language spoken, or learned to recognize Hangul. But it was instant attraction, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
I remember when I first got into Korean, everything was new and big. I regularly imagined traveling to the sparkling shores of Busan to explore a place I’d heard so much about, or enjoying the trip over to Jeju Island to hear the dialect that sounded so unique to my virgin ears. I still catch myself thinking of experiencing the vibe that seems so prevalent in Asian metropolises.
As I’m a homebody and have to learn about South Korea through videos and reading, my understanding is incomplete. Even if I lived there, I’d still be craving some sort of international mystery to unfold before my eyes. I don’t watch k-dramas, and I never was a huge fan of k-pop (and most k-groups have aged out of their fame, anyway). But my personality doesn’t mix well with seeing the beautiful fantasy created by South Korean media. They want me to visit and enjoy their markets and temples. They want me buy their beauty products. They want me to consume their media without thinking, much like asking for too many additional side dishes and getting way too full—all increasingly in English.
They are a modern society. I can’t fault them for striving and attaining. The country’s history is fascinating. But I care more about the place on a base level than I do when it’s dressed up. The region has a heart inside dying to be recognized, but it’s being covered up by the need to compete. And I’m one to talk, right? I’m American… but only an individual with little power aside from what consumer decisions I make.
As I listen to “Don’t” by eAeon, a “comfort” song, I’m reminded that, yes, life is meant to be lived and you can’t do it all. I think this reflects the state of mind of the k-pop group I started out liking, BTS. This particular song features RM, an artist who seems to have a hatred for fame the more famous he’s become, or at least possesses a “love-hate” relationship with it. His Indigo album’s contents reflect as much. Much like one of its most famous contemporaries, or each country with a decent-sized tourist industry, South Korea seems to feel the same kind of fatigue.
I don’t learn Korean just to get in with the cool crowd. I’m not planning on moving to Korea. It’s not likely I’m going to be the next foreign ambassador to the country. All I have is my talent and passion for writing and language, and interpreting such. So my mission of mastery is an end in itself, in addition to being used to connect with a culture (and whose people) I find interesting and enriching to learn about.
I think it’s wise to have firm and well-considered reasons for learning a language. It’s often stated on popular language blogs that intent is important, but most never go into why. However, I can tell you from my experience, at least, that reasons are more than just a way to guide you.
If your reasons are vague, or if you thought to yourself (briefly), “I like this trend of having well-reasoned actions” but never attempted to think any more deeply beyond that, then this one’s for you.
Knowing “why” you want to learn Swahili or Quechua starts with digging far down to the root of the issue. It may really be as simple as wanting to learn just for fun, but you may have convinced yourself you want to be a C2-level speaker with a native-like accent (a trap a fair amount of people fall into just starting out) when all you want to do is learn greetings. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Know your goals.
On that note, another thing to consider is this: when someone asks you the really deep questions, and gets in your face about why you’re learning a language, will you have an answer? You probably want to seem prepared, and with any luck, smart. So thinking out your responses, even if you’re a quick-tongued extrovert, can help ease interactions.
This was a meandering post, so let me get to my main point if you didn’t catch it already. Language learning should be intentional. I learn Korean because I have a deep respect for the culture and the issues it faces. Sometimes reasons don’t unveil themselves for a while, but they’re always bubbling underneath the surface, and as a bonus for scanners, they can change. But the key is to have solid and well-defined “whys,” not ones you just made up that will fail you later, especially you. You don’t have to impress every stranger you meet with all the charity work you’re doing to restore Old Breton manuscripts; just keep it to you why the job matters, and it will pay dividends unto itself.
Featured image by Lee Yonghyun.