Korean learner question answered

Today I spotted the following search term in the overview of search terms that have led to this blog:

Why haven’t you progressed in your studies as fast as expected?

That is probably something we’re all wondering about at some point in our Korean studies. At least I know I have.

Of course I cannot speak on behalf of all learners, but here are some of the hurdles I have had to overcome:

Overbooking
I am terribly good at overbooking my calendar. I have great ambitions, make lists to check off for when I have completed something, and I have some idea of how much to do each day. However, since I tend to overbook, I rarely meet my own target completely. After a while I will revise the plan since it makes no sense to be too far behind. The problem is usually that I overestimate how much I can do and then I have to face that Korean is secondary to e.g. my uni work or paid work which has to be delivered. On a more positive note, I probably get more done by always feeling a little “ooh, I shouldn’t fall behind” compared to thinking “대박! The rest of the day off!”.

The energy bias
Sometimes I feel that planning vs. executing a study plan is a bit like writing a shopping list right after eating only to do the actual grocery shopping after not having eaten anything the whole day… Some things are going to be forgotten and bad habits are more likely to get their say about the contents of the basket. Sticking to the plan just becomes a bit more difficult.

I tend to make all these crazy plans and lists when I am really well-rested and energetic. Sadly I’m not always as well-rested when the plan needs to be translated into real life action… The times when I read a sentence and end up looking up half the words only to realise I already know them tend to correlate with this drop in energy level. That makes it a little difficult to get through several grammar points in an evening, write sample sentences, do listening exercises etc. etc. etc. as was the original plan.

When the GPS misleads you
Sometimes we make mistakes in our plans! We go in a direction that leads to nowhere and we only realise it after a while.
Some of you may have experienced that your GPS has tried to blatantly mislead you when you were driving. You are on the freeway in the Kingdom of Far Far Away, there are many kilometers of straight road ahead of you, and all is honky dory until the GPS voice suddenly tells you “in 200 meters, turn right”. Perplexed you look at the fields surrounding you wondering what all the cows would think if you suddenly took “a short-cut”. In those situations it’s pretty clear that following the plan laid out for you by the GPS is not the wisest. When learning a language, it usually takes a little while before we find out if something isn’t working.

We can proudly spend eons of time making vocabulary lists we are never going to remember, flash cards we are never going to revise, or worst for a Korean learner: insist on using romanisations instead of using the Korean alphabet.

If people were driving like most of us begin our Korean self-studies (with a certain degree of chaos), we would probably already have crossed the field, traumatised the cows by zig-zagging between them, and ended up driving in the wrong direction down a one-way road. Thankfully we cannot get arrested for being inefficient self-learners until we get into a routine that works for us. (Although, possibly there should be an exception about learning Korean through romanisations… Making it a criminal offence might bring some people over from the dark side).

The puzzle
Being a self-learner can be a bit like solving a puzzle. Not all information you need is necessarily in one place and you can only see the big picture when you have gathered all the pieces. Having someone like a language partner to explain something can be absolutely invaluable. When you breeze through a book to get an overview, it can difficult to see what is going to cause problems when you actually read it and often you need multiple sources to get the whole story; For instance listening to the TTMIK lessons will teach you one thing, then you look at one of the university systems and you notice a new aspect. That makes you wonder if there is more to it so you might then look it up in a grammar book. Or you might want to ask a native why you need to say x and not y in situation A when you have to do the opposite in situation B. It’s rarely as straight forward as you think in the beginning – or at least that has been the case for me a couple of times.

So those are the overall hurdles that I have thought about. How about you guys? Share your experiences in the comments 🙂

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