Learning Korean

I was reflecting on my progress with learning Korean and if I think of how long I have self-studied the language it seems like a disappointment. I learned how to read Korean back in 2006 with the help of a Saturday Korean class run by Korean students at Amherst college. This helped me a lot when I went to study abroad that summer and placed in level 4 of level 6 for the beginner Korean classes.  And so years went by, I have watched numerous Korean dramas and listened to Korean music over the years. I dated and was married to a Korean man for a total of 6 years. I was able to converse in basic sentences over the phone and in person with his friends and family. At one point I even held a 1 hour conversation mostly in Korean with my sister-in-law.

Reflecting on this I feel I should be further along. I should have more confidence in speaking the language, reading and writing, listening and participating in conversations. When I was with my ex we used to try to have days we would just speak in Korean, however, it never worked. He or I would get frustrated by being unable to communicate with the other we resorted to English.  I was always frustrated that I could not express myself in Korean. My feelings, my thoughts, what I wanted to do. I would just shut down and speak English. Every time I would tell myself I am going to say it in Korean this time, English would come out of my mouth. I felt embarrased by the fact that I could not speak and that I made pronunciation errors.  I have corrected my ex on his errors and he always thanked me, and though I am thankful when someone corrects me, it makes me feel incompetent at the same time. This probably stems from me having low self-confidence. I don’t believe in my abilities nor do I push through walls to grow. I just get comfortable and stay where I am, even at my own dismay.

When I hear about others learning languages or reading language learning blogs I feel in awe of the people who acquire languages so quickly. Granted there is a lot of dedication behind that. Yet, it makes me wonder what have I done for 6 years that I’m not even semi-fluent?  It is  a question I ask myself. I look at all the books I have to learn the language and the resources available to me online and I pause. Why do I not make the time to learn? Just even setting 30 minutes aside? The question really bothers me.  Self-studying has always been hard for me, as much as I strive to be good at it.  I feel I am much more of an immersion person. I feel if I am under the pressure of learning to get by in life, to communicate to others around me, to be able to order food and take directions, I need to have that pressure.

With that being said, I am looking forward to my time in Korea.  I am looking forward to the fact that I am in Gangwon province and that speakers of English may be minimal. I welcome the opportunity to challenge myself in Korean. To rattle my brain and see what has been collecting dust in all the crevices. How much vocabulary is floating around unused? How many grammar structures do I actually know and understand? How much can I function by myself in another language? I look forward to that challenge to actually test my knowledge. I might surprise myself with what I do know. With that being said I have decided that at some point in the next year abroad I will sit for the TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) and I am not sure what level I will pick to test for but I think I will shoot for Level 2 (High Beginner) or Level 3(Low Intermediate) as much as I would love to take Level 4 ( High Intermediate) I think it is currently out of my league so for now I will concentrate on one of the lower levels.

Goal: To sit for the TOPIK exam before the end of 2013 and either achieve Level 2/3

Now to start studying Korean diligently again.


4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Just a suggestion: You can immerse in a language even at home. Turn off the subtitles, get some Korean children’s book, listen to Korean music and try to figure out the lyrics, find a language tandem… If that feels frustrating at the beginning it’s normal. We all go through that stage. I’m still frustrated but already able to read a novel while feeling more or less frustrated. The frustration isn’t necessarily bad, it motivates me to do generally boring stuff like learning vocabulary. I’m sure your frustration can help you study as well.

    Maybe the most important thing is to see Korean not only as a task but as a fun task. “Should have” is never a good place to start from. Language learning is hard work and it will always be hard work, but it can be rewarding hard work. An important step towards that mindset is feeling proud of your achievements, even if they seem like nothing much at the moment. Every new word and sentence you understand is a step towards your goal.

  2. Thank you for your suggestions! I sometimes forget how much I have learned and how far I have come. Sometimes as a language learner it feels frustrating to see others be so much further than you in much less time. As a learner, I know it is never good to compare oneself to others, but it happens. I know you can immerse in a language at home; however, for me I am not good at it at all. As always it is a learning process and finding what works best for me is still a process. Honestly, I question what I actually know. More so because I struggle with speaking confidently. The hardest thing for me is learning to think in Korean versus translating from English to Korean in my head in order to answer a question. ^^

  3. I think you just need to get past the hurdle of being embarrassed in front of others. You are much better than you believe.

  4. Hello! I’m Karla from the Philippines.I’m glad I found your blog.We have the same background.You must like green as well.^_^I’m a Korean learner as well.

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