In April I sat the TOPIK, but it was not the first language exam I ever sat. Here is a brief overview of how I learned languages previously.
In grade school I studied both English, German and French, while I continued only English and French in highschool. Thinking back, we had to have a fairly extensive knowledge of the languages we were studying.
Officially I started learning English in school when I was 9 years old, but due to having family abroad I was so keen to learn that my parents had introduced a few things before then. By the time I reached highschool, I joined the advanced 2-year course where we basically started out with Chaucer and then worked our way up through history to Virginia Wolf. We were only five studens in that class and for some odd reason we were all mathematics/science majors rather than linguistics majors…
Every week we had to do a translation of one page from English to Danish in class without dictionaries. At home we had to do a longer translation the other way around and for that we could use dictionaries, but it was actually more important to be able to translate so the language didn’t seem stilted. Besides the translation exercises, we had to hand in weekly essays.
Having a rather extensive vocabulary was key to survive the translation exercises and there was no way around just looking up every new word we came across and read a lot.
I never became great friends with German grammar. I did try, but never quite came to fully appreciate it. I studied German from 6th-9th grade. To prepare for my 9th grade oral exam, my father called in a favour with a German friend whose wife happened to be a German teacher. We had a one day 학원 style session going over the syllabus.
Honestly, I was more frightened by her than by the actual exam. Her goal with that single day was fluency, fluency, fluency! Or as fluent as possible given my level. I did have a fair grasp of the vocabulary, the hurdle was getting me to use it. We (deliberately chosen over ‘I’ since that woman could make vocabulary and grammar run from the pages of a book deep into the creases of your brain) succeeded and I got an A at the exam, which I was soooo proud of.
Since that exam 10 years ago I think I have spoken German roughly 15 minutes in total. And they were all within the last year so it did not sound pretty.
I started learning French in 7th grade and decided to keep it as an A-level in highschool. In highschool we had to write weekly essays, read articles and quirky French literature. Again the main focus was to get us to speak comfortably as well as write somewhat eloquently. There were odd tips for the written exam such as “remember to use subjonctif” since certain things were really considered grade boosters by the examiners.
From the very beginning of my French journey, I started hanging out in a French book café close to my school. I invested in some French Harry Potter books, and generally just soaked up the French atmosphere. I loved going there, and it became “my place” for several years. French became a daily part of my life, watching French movies and reading French books in my spare time. Unfortunately the owner has passed away and while the store remains, I realised how much my feelings for the language also depended on coming into the café, having a chat with her about my studies, drinking coffee, browsing through books and DVDs with no subtitles. When I saw the notice in the newspaper that she had passed away, I cried. I did not learn French for anybody but myself, but the set-up around my joy of French took a very serious hit. Maybe my francofile joy of the language itself will return at some point. For now I stick to reading the occasional French website.
I remember that drilling was just considered a necessity for certain things all the way back in upper elementary school. Learning irregular verbs was one of them. In English, we were given a lot of sheets to memorise and then we had a test to see if it stuck. There was no “you’ll pick it up eventually”, we just had to get it over with. I suppose it’s also “low-hanging fruit” in terms of exam points and general fluency. If you consistently conjugate verbs incorrectly, everything you say will sound off or even worse, not be understood at all.
I got a Korean verb book for Christmas from my brother and his family. There are soooo many verbs I simply don’t know, and yet they are crucial verbs. It annoys me, it is a serious issue from a learning perspective, and it is something I must deal with. There is no way around it but following the butt-to-bench advice my brother always throws at me.
Have you studied other languages besides Korean? Did you follow a particular “method”? Is it different from what you do now? What motivated you? Please leave a comment.