My Language Learning Journey
In the past two years or so, I’ve become really enthusiastic about language learning, which is unexpected. No one in my family speaks a second language and I didn’t hear different languages often, but then things began to change for me. At school I learnt French and German, and was good at them, but not at speaking because I was really shy. During sixth form I tried to learn Latin to help me with my Tudor history course, but failed spectacularly. I knew I wanted to learn a language, but I didn’t know which one.
Then in December 2017 I started listening to Kpop, and instantly knew that Korean was the language for me. It’s logical, amusing, beautiful, poetic, and entirely different from anything I’d studied before, making it a complete new slate on which to start learning. Then I came to university and got to practice speaking the language more with my Korean friends. I still lack confidence when speaking, but that can only be overcome with practice. I’ve learnt so much on my own in over two years now, and I’m proud of myself for that. I’ve also become interested in other languages, inspired by the many international friends I’ve made at Warwick. Meeting so many people has made me realise how valuable bilingualism is, and how admirable a skill it is because of the massive effort it takes.
Balancing language study with my university life has been a challenge, especially as I started to spend more time of my free time dancing and socialising. During term time I’m so busy that I rarely have the time to dedicate to regular in depth language study. A month or so ago I even lost the 700+ day Memrise streak that I’d had from the day I first started learning Korean. But recently I’ve been using this time at home to really get back into studying properly, and in the past two weeks I feel like I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough as I begin to understand a lot more.
Generally I divide my language study into three sections:
Grammar is the part that requires the most mental effort, especially when it’s a grammar point that I’ve never come across before. I use a website called How to Study Korean, which has really detailed grammar explanations and vocabulary lists, and I supplement this with lessons from Talk to me in Korean. In these lessons I go through the explanation about how to use the grammar, copy down the sample sentences, and say them out loud until I can get the flow of the sentences right. In the following days, I will also supplement my understanding of this new point by reviewing the example sentences and listening out for usages of the grammar in any of the Korean media I consume.
Vocabulary is also vital, for without a range of vocabulary, it’s difficult to put grammar into practice. I keep all of my vocab lists in a course I made on Memrise, my favourite language learning tool. It’s great because it allows you to review words you’ve learnt, and also provides daily targets. The thought of losing a daily streak forces me to do these review sessions, so even on my busiest days, I get some language study in at least. Whenever I discover a new word I will add it to the course. Sometimes these words are very advanced and too difficult for me to remember yet, so I tend to keep those in a separate list until I’m ready to learn them. I also add some simple sample sentences to this course, to help me practice using grammar points.
Most importantly, exposure to the language on a regular basis is make or break for your language journey. I love Korean music, TV dramas and movies, so I hear the language every day. There’s a whole load of great Korean dramas on Netflix and I’m slowly working through them (I recommend Abyss, Crash Landing on You, and Itaewon Class as some good recent releases). These, while good language practice, are also useful for cultural exposure, as they often depict (albeit dramatized) Korean homes, workplaces and intergenerational relationships. In contrast, I’ve forgotten all of the French and German that I learnt at school because I was never invested in them outside of the classroom. The only way to keep something in your long term memory is to use it regularly. Now that my Korean is advanced enough, I have switched my phone and Ps4 to Korean, so I’m forced to read it and understand in order to do things. I’ve been playing Minecraft these past few days and am gradually picking up the words for ‘iron shovel’ and ‘oak wood’. Not too useful in real life, but important for playing the game. I also talk to myself and the pigeons in my garden, and occasionally will write diary entries in Korean, to try and build my confidence up before talking to a native.
I think part of why I find language learning so fun now is because I don’t need to put pressure on myself. When learning a language in the classroom, the stress of being good enough to pass a test or exam can blur the enjoyment of studying, which is why I’ve found self-study so much more rewarding. I can advance my skills at my own pace. Even though my skills are still lacking, I can understand so much and it’s really rewarding. I even took an online dance class yesterday from a Korean instructor and was able to follow along comfortably. It’s moments like that which make me proud of what I’ve achieved on my own.
If you’re thinking of learning a language, I would encourage you to use this time to make a start. Even if it’s difficult, every small thing that you learn is something to be proud of because it’s not easy. And if you’re already learning a language – keep going!! Like most things, it just requires patience and practice.