Since a lot of Koreans travel abroad for study, and many of them come here, to Canada, I have a lot of Korean friends who are international students. Some of the most common questions I get from them are things like: How are you so good at Korean? (Even though I think I’m not) How do you study? What’s the best way to learn English? Do people feel like I’m a burden to them because sometimes when I speak English it doesn’t even sound like English?
I want to address these questions today and share my 비결 (secret/key) with you.
So first question: How are you so good at Korean? How do you study?
I’m really not that good at Korean, but I’ll tell you how I study. I’ve been studying foreign languages ever since I was a little girl and if you want to improve you need to constantly be using the language. If I didn’t use Korean every single day, I would not be able to speak it. And not only use it, but actively use it. This means you need to try and speak, write, read, and listen to the language on a daily basis. I do this by listening to K-pop every day, chatting with my friends in Korean every day, and attempting to self-study every day.
Now, some people say when you listen to music in the language you are learning, or you read a book in that language, it’s okay if you don’t understand everything, just try to get the overall story or meaning. THIS IS NOT TRUE. You are not expanding your vocabulary and you are not learning anything if you simply ignore the words and sentence structures that you don’t understand. That is a passive way of learning, and it’s a good thing to do to MAINTAIN your language skills, but not to IMPROVE them.
So here’s what to do. Find some songs you really like (if you’re learning Korean find Korean songs, if you’re learning English find English songs) and write down the lyrics in the original language. After doing so, look for the words you don’t know the meaning of. Write them down. Look up all of these words, preferably using 네이버 사전 (Naver dictionary), and write down the translation and/or meaning of these words. Now translate the song into your native language. It’s very difficult to do, but short translations are good to see the differences and similarities between your native language and the language you’re currently learning. Do this with as many songs as you can, preferably songs that you usually listen to. I suggest having a separate notebook for this activity, a small one perhaps, that you can carry with you every day. So when you listen to these songs on the bus or subway, you can follow along with the lyrics you’ve written down, and attempt to remember the new vocabulary and possibly even sentence structures that you’ve discovered through the translation.
Another thing is when you’re watching movies or TV shows in the language you’re learning don’t always watch a new episode and a new show. Watching something once doesn’t help you retain the information or words. Watch the show once through with subtitles in your native language. Then watch it once with subtitles in the language you’re learning. Then watch it a third time with no subtitles at all. See how many new words you can learn and remember from the repetition. Repetition is a great way to learn a language and memorize vocabulary.
Next question: What’s the best way to learn English?
You have to stay focused. Watch a TV show, interview, or movie in English every day. Read a chapter of a children’s novel, or read a children’s story book, every day. Chat with people in English – texting, skype, facebook, or even phone calls. Self-study! School is good but studying on your own is also important. Write! Always write something in English and ask a friend to fix your mistakes for you. Write a blog or a journal, or find a partner and choose a topic to write about. Write once a week and correct each other’s mistakes.
집중해야 한다. 매일 티비쇼, 인터뷰나 영화를 영어로 봐라. 매일 아동도서를 읽어라. 친구들과 영어로 채팅해라 – 문자, 스카이프, 페이스북, 아니면 전화해도 된다. 혼자서도 공부해라. 학교나 학원을 다니는 것도 좋은데 혼자서 공부하는 것도 중요하다. 써라! 매일 영어로 글을 쓰고 캐네디언 친구들한테 “고쳐줄래?” 라고 물어봐라. 블로그나 일기를 쓰거나 짝과 함께 좀 어려운 주제를 선택하여 그 주제에 대한 글을 써봐라. 매주 하면 되고 서로의 잘 못을 고치면 된다.
And for the last question I am often asked: Do people feel like I’m a burden to them because sometimes when I speak English it doesn’t even sound like English?
Honestly, I believe that most people do not think you are a burden. We live in Canada, a very multi-cultured society. A lot of Canadians speak more than one language or are at least trying to learn a foreign language. I believe that most Canadians will not think you are a burden simply because your English is not perfect. Truthfully speaking, most Canadians also don’t speak English perfectly.
However, I will be frank and let you know that there will be SOME Canadians who will not understand your situation and so may get frustrated and walk away from you. Those people, however, are not your friends. They are likely to be workers in a store or restaurant, or a stranger on the street. I don’t think you need to worry about their opinions. No one is perfect, and as long as you are doing your best at learning the language everything will be fine. The important thing is to give it your all and never give up. Don’t lose your confidence because someone can’t understand your accent. Everyone in Canada has some sort of accent, some are easier for some to understand, and others are easier for others to understand. Don’t give it too much thought.