Category Archives: Korean learning journey

Korean update

A lot has happened since my last post so maybe we should just get straight into it?

Korean lessons
I have been really consistent lately in spite of my otherwise rather overwhelming schedule. I take two classes per week with a community tutor and one per week with a professional tutor at italki.
We’ve talked so much by now that we’re getting to know each other fairly well, which is really nice since I learn a lot, but I feel a lot more relaxed about it. I remember feeling super stressed about waiting for the Skype calls in the beginning, but I’m happy to say that now that anxiety is completely gone and it’s just fun!

Language exchange
An American girl recently contacted me on italki to practice Danish. She wrote me a really nice message (in almost perfect Danish) about her motivation to keep improving after returning to the States, and I figured “why not? Koreans also practice Korean with me so ‘pay it forward’, right?”. Ultimately it didn’t work out because she had a Skype issue before our first talk, but I wrote to her that she could always write to me if she wanted to talk at some point.

I know that some people wonder how to approach potential language partners e.g. on italki and I have to say I have gotten a variety of messages, but those that seem nice, motivated and don’t have that “air of creepy”are surprisingly few and far between.

Of course there are the generic messages just reading “hi” (nothing else and the person may not even be learning your language). A variation usually includes something along the lines of ‘thank you for being my language partner, here is my Skype ID’. Those are pretty easy to ignore, and I wonder if people really think it works. Among the more curious ones, though, I have received one which was obviously translated into Danish through google translate and which asked about some obscure (and non-existing) rite of passage for Danish men. Needless to say, I didn’t reply to that one either. “I’m talking real I want to meet in life I’m ready for marriage” didn’t pass the don’t-be-a-psychopath test either…

But I’m digressing since there are obviously also perfectly serious people out there trying to improve their language abilities so let’s get back to the topic of language learning. As for the Korean exchanges, overall they are going well. I recently started exchanging messages with a young Korean woman who wants to improve her English so she’s more confident in English at work. So far we haven’t done any voice calls so our system of her writing in English and me replying in Korean has worked rather well. In spoken conversation that would be a super weird system, but in writing it works surprisingly well, and our respective levels allow us to both have a proper conversation and to pick up on corrections.

In phases, though, my Korean exchanges have, in some cases, added stress to my life… Such as when someone I have spoken to and gotten along with really well suddenly writes super short replies after an exceptionally long reply time (at first I figured that since I was the main benefactor of this exchange, maybe it was just dying out), proceeds to calling me at 4:30 am my time one random Saturday morning  – which I obviously missed because I was asleep – then doesn’t have time to call after that missed call, goes completely quiet for a week, and after a few tentative message exchanges let’s me wake up one morning to a message that I’m welcome to come and visit for a week. Only to seemingly fall off the face of the Earth for another two days. What. Just. Happened. There?!

Language tags
I have received some language tags (thank you so much!!!) and I’ll get to write those posts asap I can 🙂

Happy 2016!

Happy New Year everyone!

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful holiday and have had a great start to the new year.

At the beginning of the autumn semester, I set up a few goals: to be able to speak for minimum 15 min in Korean, to keep up with kanji for Japanese and finish Harry Potter.

As for the first two I have actually reached my goals. However, I haven’t yet finished Harry Potter.

In 2016 I look forward to going to Korea for the first time ever!!! More to follow on that, though, when things are a little more concrete 🙂

Revived enthusiasm

This week I have actually done a lot related to Korean.

Reading: Read a news article about an old murder case (the 이태원 살인사건) ~ lots of legal vocabulary (here is a link for those who are interested:

Grammar: Started Korean Grammar in Use (intermediate) and went through a few grammar points (due to so many recommendations I decided to buy it last time I was in London and work my way through it).

Writing: Texted with some friends over Kakaotalk.

Listening: Listened to italki tutors

Speaking: Four Italki sessions. Yep, four!

I have now had a few Italki lessons, three of them with the same tutor, the fourth with another one. Their teaching styles are quite different from each other, but I think they supplement each other well and I feel comfortable speaking to both of them. That being said, I’m still nervous when I wait for their call even if I know I will be relaxed enough during the conversation. If things continue this way, I will stick to just the two of them.

The benefits of speaking to two different people are:
1) By virtue of being different people they pronounce things slightly differently and they phrase things differently – as we all do. Also, one is male, the other is female so their voices are obviously different as well.
2) Being different people implies that they do different things in life and we are likely to talk about different things.

How they differ and how that helps me:
The guy really brings me out of my depths since our conversations are more akin to those you would have in regular life in English so I tend to struggle. A lot. It starts out safe enough with the usual “how are you today? what did you do?” and WHAM, all of a sudden we end up talking about power outages, internships, or welfare systems. By then it’s usually a mix of Korean and English combined with a lot of typing of new vocabulary in the skype chat. It’s super interesting, a lot of fun, and really good practice, but it will take a long time before I can get to shine in Korean when we talk… Talking to him makes me realise how much I still have to learn, while proving that the process of filling those gaps can be really fun too.

The other tutor (based on just one lesson, though) kept me speaking Korean all the time (unless when I asked for specific vocabulary) while testing my boundaries in different topics. In our next session, she will probably push me more now that we have had a chance to test each other a little bit. It was the first time ever that I have spoken so much Korean in just 30 min, which proved to me (more than anyone I think I needed that) that I can in fact do it, but within certain boundaries – that I should work on expanding.

In that sense they supplement each other very well. One seems to test the perimeter of my language ability more than the other who in turn makes great efforts to just keep me talking exclusively in Korean.

These lessons have really boosted my enthusiasm for studying. Not that I didn’t know how lacking I was before, but speaking makes you acutely aware of how limited your repertoire really is; How you keep using the same grammatical structures and how surprisingly many words you just don’t know yet… Little by little I think we can fill those gaps.

Meet-up D-15

This week I’ve taken two study-at-home-days to get back in the Korean drill and it feels like such a treat!

Since starting my new job, I have often been going to the office to study (great library facilities plus free coffee and an almost unlimited supply of food unlike university reading halls), and just made sure to sit in a different office than my usual one to make it clear I was not there for work. However, it’s a bit difficult (to me at least) to stay completely away from work when I’m physically in the same building so I would end up working a few extra hours in spite of my best intentions to just be all bookish for a day.

When I told someone that I would stay at home and study to make sure I wouldn’t get tempted to work, I immediately got a text back asking “are you well?!”. ㅋㅋㅋ

Since my last post this week I have managed to revise some grammar at night as well as watch some drama and listen to TTMIK 이야기.

As for drama watching, 별에서 온 그대 was recommended to me, and I was duly warned that next time we meet (in 15 days from today), I will be speaking Korean more readily wherefore I have started watching it – with Korean subtitles – to be as prepared as I possibly can. The Korean subtitles make it a quite time consuming task since I feel compelled to look up many more words, but it’s also really entertaining – paranormal aspects, general craziness, celebrity antics and all.

Happy studying!

Stalling studies

Last year after participating in the speaking contest we were asked if we had faced some particular problems that we had to overcome during our Korean studies. Back then I didn’t really have a good answer to that since my biggest problem up to that point had been limited to “this video is not available in your region”, which sure is a hassle (Viki, I’m looking at you), but it’s hardly a linguistic problem.

My Korean has been stalling for a while now, though, so I have been thinking about that question a lot lately. Basically, my main problem has been fitting everything into my days. I wake up at about 5:15 in order to go to work and to be quite honest, I’m not a morning person so getting up an hour before to study will just reduce me to a zombie shaking from caffeine (ab)use by 9 am by the third day of such a routine. On my way to work I usually listen to Korean music or something similar, though. My working days tend to be on the longer end of the scale (my own choice since it’s a new working place, I have a lot to learn, and they should get to know me properly before I graduate) and I also have to study for my exams. By the time I’m finally at home, done with practical stuff and dinner, time is usually pretty tight before I should head off to bed in order to survive the following day without nurturing dark circles that would make a panda green with envy.

However, maybe there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Some time ago someone from my family actually pulled me aside to ask me if I was happy doing what I was doing. I adamantly agreed that I was. The reaction was to ask why I then looked so exhausted…

I really do like my work and my studies – trust me I really do – or I would have greater problems than merely being busy since I would be busy doing something I didn’t actually like. That being said, maybe I could use just a bit more balance. Studying Korean makes me happy, and that in turn makes me more efficient and in general nicer to be around in other parts of my life too. Including work and uni.

Now that I have settled in more at work, they know me, and I know my way around things, I will try to leave a bit earlier some days so I have time to put in an hour of Korean at night without compromising my sleep. Naturally, if something pressing comes up I won’t be marching out of the office leaving others to fend for themselves, but it seems a bit sad that it took catching a flu and running a fever high enough to warrant two sick days before being able to watch a few episodes of 힐러.

In a way it’s a bit of a vicious circle. On the one hand you feel like you have so much revising to do since you’ve been away from it that it becomes a daunting task to just sit down with the books and just get on with it – and then fatigue becomes an excuse that’s really hard to overcome. On the other, the more you put it off, the more you miss it, and eventually it ends up affecting other parts of your life.

Somehow it seems easy to neglect a hobby. After all it’s just that – a hobby. Studying Korean not what I do for a living and there is no clear link between me putting in an hour of Korean and subsequently doing better at work or in my law studies. That can make it a tad difficult to defend as a valuable pass-time. After all, if there is a decent pipeline at work, a uni report to write, and verdicts to read, what the heck am I doing setting a somewhat arbitrary time for being my time “off” and then spending my time being mentally in Korea???

However, it’s also the Korean studies people ask me about even in work settings once they find out about it. Whether it’s a curious HR person or a superior at work who suddenly shares stories about having studied Mandarin during an exchange program; it’s something that people find interesting even if it’s sometimes a bit strange to them – because it’s a quirk that says something about me as a person.

So I guess that’s been my biggest problem to overcome in my Korean studies. Having to be away from it and finding my way back – sometimes forced away by other and truly more important events, but mostly by limitations that I have imposed on myself because after all – it’s just a hobby. Right? Maybe not…

Goals for the new semester

A month has passed since I started my new job and next week I will start classes again. I do enjoy my work, but I’d be lying if I claimed to not having a pretty steep learning curve ahead of me. There are two yearly performance reviews for the people in my type of position, and the first one will be in just about two weeks!

While I haven’t had the mental presence to read a lot in Korean, I have been texting a lot in Korean over the past month, and I have been watching some dramas both with and without subtitles. Also I have tried to make a habit of listening to 세상을 바꾸는 시간, which was recommended to me by Sofie, whenever I can. Most of the speakers speak quite clearly since it’s a setting similar to TED talks so even if you don’t understand everything, it is at least a good starting point for listening to Korean.

As for Japanese, my classes start on the 9th so I have started revising in order to be as up to speed as I can when we start. The entire last semester I was struggling in the weekly kanji tests and I suspect that my teacher found my performance genuinely pitiful sometimes.

I have condensed my language goals for the semester to three points:
1) Finish Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Korean.
2) Be able to hold a 15 min conversation exclusively in Korean about the most common intermediate topics. 15 min is quite a while when you’re not used to it.
3) Stay up to speed on kanji and Japanese grammar for my weekly classes.

I could add more things concerning number of grammar points per week and the like, but I doubt that would make it more attainable considering what my schedule looks like.

Study planning

Today I have been getting an overview of the material I would like to go through over the next few months. It is a quite substantial amount, but I try to approach it from the perspective that very few, if any, ever outperforms their own ambitions so I have to set a challenging goal to get anywhere.

You’re probably wondering why the next few months should be any different from the past year where I have continuously been caught up in both academic studies and work. Firstly, I will start a new job in August – one that doesn’t have weekend work and allows me to have a fairly fixed schedule so I can in fact plan my days pretty consistently for an entire semester. Secondly, my academic burden should be bearable next semester although I naturally still have high ambitions for my academic results.

That all sounds very good, but I will be the first to admit that it will be some intense months.

I should probably just get started straight away…

Language Café (D-228)

Today there will be a language exchange café at my university for all of the people who are already learning languages with help from LPs or are interested in learning. Usually there are two gatherings per semester, but previously I have either been too busy to attend or only found out about them after they were held. This time I plan to attend, though. I hope there will be at least a few Koreans and of course other nationalities interested in Korean. Since it’s the first gathering of the spring semester, there should be a fair chance of meeting some of the new Korean exchange students and maybe some of the full-degree students who otherwise tend to go under the radar.

If some of you out there happen to be going to the same event, see you in a few hours! ^^

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?

오만과 편견 and listening comprehension

This week I managed to catch both episodes of 오만과 편견 raw. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a good drama!

Obviously I didn’t understand everything, but I’m happy how much I did understand. Even without subtitles, I’m really excited about the upcoming episodes.

I have serious problems following the office chief 문희만 (portrayed by 최민수), though. There is something about his way of speaking that throws me off… I haven’t seen him in anything else, so I’m not sure if it’s a character thing or just his way of speaking. I have been wondering so much about it that I even looked up where he’s from to see if he speaks a dialect… He’s from a city not too far from Seoul so that shouldn’t be it…

The odd thing I’ve noticed is that I either understand a LOT of a scene or I understand very little. Maybe it’s because the things I understand are in specific contexts while the rest is still part of a learning process that is ahead of me.

How I watch given that I don’t understand everything:
An episode takes 1 hour if you watch it without breaks. However, it takes me between 1.5 and 2 hours to watch that one episode because I pause the video to look up and note down vocabulary.

Obviously I don’t look up everything, but a word qualifies if:
– one or several characters repeat it right after each other.
– the word has a central position in the conversation.
– it sounds funny… Yes, that’s not a very academic reason, but there you have it.

Now go watch that drama! It’s too good to miss!