The “butter/knife matrix”. Which type of learner are you?

Today I read the post You are not good enough posted by Koreanvitamin. One thing is if you are hired to assess someone’s ability in an exam situation, and you argue that that person should not get a top grade because they simply do not meet the requirements, but in terms of unsolicited advice, such a comment only shows that the person might have passed a language exam, but clearly failed the test in situational judgment.

Here is a matrix that I have come across at work. It’s nicknamed the butter/knife matrix, but rest assured, this has nothing to do with cooking, but with personalities. It’s very low-tech, but it’s quite useful for setting some things straight.

Blunt knife Sharp knife
Soft butter
Hard butter

The sharper the knife, the better cognitive abilities a person has. The harder the butter, the more difficult the problems they try to take on.

Based on the matrix we can see that there a four different combinations. The achiever is a “sharp knife” who works with “hard butter” problems, while the “blunt knives” who laze away their days with “soft butter” problems are not setting up themselves for notable achievements. However, the same could be said for a bright but lazy person…

This is where it gets interesting. A “blunt knife” who strives to work with “hard butter” problems can actually get quite far when they set their minds on it. Much farther than a “sharp knife” who just lazes days away. A lot should therefore be attributed to dedication and perseverance.

The amount of Korean learning material out there is thankfully increasing a lot these days (much of it even under a creative commons license rather than copyright), and learners who start learning Korean today have much better possibilities than those of us who started just over two years ago, where I spent several months just figuring out how to go about studying Korean on my own, where to start, and how to get books. Many students today will not have to spend a disproportionate amount of time figuring out where to get material.

There are no guarantees for reaching a certain proficiency level when studying alone, but honestly, the same goes for attending a class. It completely depends on how a student spends his/her time. A student who is officially enrolled in a language programme in university or language school, but rarely studies and only goes to class when “feeling like it” is very likely to be at a disadvantage regardless of intellectual capabilities compared to the student who studies at home after work, but is at least consistent and dedicated. Is it difficult? yep. Is it impossible? obviously not since so many are doing it.

So next time somebody fires an obnoxious comment at you, remember the butter/knife matrix and remind yourselves that at least you are putting yourselves into the “hard butter” territory. And that’s a pretty good start, right?


2 thoughts on “The “butter/knife matrix”. Which type of learner are you?

  1. Korean Vitamin

    Thanks for mentioning my post. Hmm… I really don’t know which type of learner I am. Am I sharp or blunt? Both. Sometimes I do stupid things, sometimes I solve problems. Is Korean hard or easy? Both. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes hard. I remember about the race between turtle and hare from Aesop’s fables in which the turtle wins because the rabbit fell asleep. Japanese people like the story because it teaches that consistent effort is the key, not talent.

    1. koreanlearner Post author

      I’m so sorry about the late reply! I think the story about the turtle and the hare captures the point well. If a learner is tenacious that’s already a good start. If they have a bit of mental capacity to spare, it’s just icing on the cake. We all have our particularly sharp or blunt moments, I think. We can just hope we have more of the former than the latter.


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