I want to share a little bit about my language journey. I’ve been learning Korean on and off since 2013. At the time I was living in New Mexico, and there weren’t many opportunities to attend a Korean language school, since there were none in the state. At the local University, there was a continuing education program that offered various classes. One of the classes was the Korean language. My husband (boyfriend at that time) and I decided to sign up for the class. It was twice a week for about two hours each time. Our teacher was very kind, and helpful, however, I don’t think that it’s quite enough time to really immerse yourself in the language. I learned a few words, and a few phrases, but I didn’t have the ability to hold a conversation. The class was very helpful for learning 한글, the Korean alphabet, and it also helped with pronunciation.
So for about a year, I took this class on and off. In 2014, I had found out that there was a Korean community center, and they offered a Korean language learning class as well. It was held once a week for two hours, for about 10 or so weeks. The class was fun, but I found it had the same problems. Two hours once a week just wasn’t enough, and I lacked the desire to self study throughout the rest of the weeks, partly because it was really overwhelming, and I wasn’t sure where to start.
Then in 2015, we moved to Korea. When we got here, the language was overwhelming. I was totally lost when cashiers would talk to me and ask simple questions. Everything sounded like a giant blur. I’m glad that I could at least recognize the alphabet, and try to make a few words here and there. I knew that I wanted to learn Korean, but I wasn’t sure how or where to start. I had also convinced myself that the only way I could learn is if someone taught me.
There are many languages school at the universities here in Korea. I had decided that I would go to Yonsei to learn the language. When my husband and I were out one night, I met someone who had learned the Korean language, and they recommended to me to try Sogang. They said it was much more focused on speaking. So I thought that I would give Sogang a try. I signed up for level 1 for the summer 2015 semester.
Sogang was my first experience in an intensive language program. Class was from 9am to 1pm, Monday through Friday. I was overwhelmed to say the least. By 12pm, I was usually so tired, and my brain hurt that I couldn’t really function well. The last class period (12:10 to 1pm) was the listening portion. This was my weakest area in this class. Al of my other classmates seemed to be getting it, and I felt so far behind.
Again, since this was my first experience in something like this, I was lost. I didn’t know how to study well for an intensive class, or even how to study for the listening portion. I remember during the first half of the semester, when we had midterm exams and interviews, my teacher told me that I spoke really slow and recommended that I repeat level 1. I was a little crushed, we were only halfway through the semester and my teacher already thought I needed to repeat this course. At that time I really felt like a failure. Also, my test results from the listening test were awful. I can still remember taking the test…I really had no idea what they were saying…I only got a few words at best.
I kept trying my best through the next half, but I was still struggling with the listening portion, and with speaking. At then end of the semester, I got my class grade, and I had failed and need to repeat level 1. That was hard for me, and I felt really disappointed in myself. I usually did well in academics so this surprised me. But learning a language, and taking an intensive course is quite different from other academics I think.
Next semester at Sogang, I did repeat level 1. I researched how to best study for these classes, and how to study for the listening portion. Some of the best advice was 1. to preview the grammar and vocabulary before the next class, 2. listen to the CD that the book comes with, listen to the dialogues, and practice them at home. These tips helped me tremendously. This time around, I was prepared, and I wasn’t behind or lost. I knew that I had improved in listening, because when I was taking the tests, I understood what was being said, and could properly answer the questions, instead of randomly guessing. I passed the class with really good grades in all the subjects, and I did really well in my final interview. Before starting the semester, I did not want to take level 1 again, but I can say confidently now, I am so glad I repeated level 1. It helped me so much, and really cemented everything. It gave me the confidence I needed.
I really wanted to continue on to level 2 at Sogang, but I didn’t have the extra money for it. As much as I enjoyed the classes, one downside is how expensive they are. It is roughly ₩1,680,000 ($1,486) per 10 weeks. That really starts to add up. So I decided that I wanted to self-study, so that I wouldn’t lose what I had learned. But this never happened. I think a part of me was still holding to the idea that I could only learn if I was in a classroom.
I got into a funk and completely stopped learning Korean for quite a while. My desire and/or motivation had gone. A few months after, my husband told me about a program called KIIP (Korea Immigration and Integration Program). It is a free Korean language program offered through the government. I signed up to take the level test, which are only held about four times a year. I took mine at the end of April. They placed me in level 3, but I didn’t feel comfortable with that and asked them to drop me down to level 2. I was able to sign up for a class that started in the beginning of June.
The class I’ve been taking is at night for about three hours, three days a week. It has helped me want to learn Korean again, it is also helpful to have a native speaker to listen to and ask questions to. The downside is that it gets out pretty late at night, so it can be hard sometimes to learn that late. But I’ve noticed that it’s really helped me to be motivated to learn more by myself at home. It has helped push me to learn independently. I now understand that I can self-study and be successful, and that there are other ways to learn without having a teacher or be in a classroom.
One website about self language study that has been so helpful to me is hangukdrama . She shows that it is possible to do it, and I find that encouraging. In one of her posts she mention the reason she has reached a high level so fast is because she constantly challenges herself, and doesn’t just read /study easy things. In another post she says: “constantly challenge yourself and go out of your comfort zone”.
This idea really resonated with me, and challenged me. Oftentimes, in many areas not just language, I will only stick with easier material because it seems safe and less intimidating. But now I must ask myself, what is gained from that? Nothing. A part of it I think is I’m afraid of failure, but I shouldn’t be nor do I want to be. I’m starting to realize that failure can be good because we learn from failures, we learn what not to do, we learn what works and doesn’t work.
In a future post, I’ll share what materials I’m using, and how they are working for me. In the meantime, I will continue in my language learning endeavors, and really try challenging myself.