Have you ever wanted to learn Korean? Get to speak it, understand it, and not just use some random words you picked up from your favourite * insert singer’s name* song. Well, you might already know this, but the truth is one year from now you will wish you had started today.
I have been watching Korean dramas and listening to all kinds of Korean music for the past seven years. While I have built my vocabulary and enriched it with common expressions, I could never properly express myself or have real conversations in Korean, until I started to actively learn the language and be serious about it. It took me about a year of active learning to significantly improve my communication skills, and that was even before my trip to South Korea.
Active learning is any process whereby students engage in meaningful learning activities. This basically means doing more than just memorizing words, absorbing information during class, or studying from online Korean language courses. You need to be ‘’engaged’’ as a learner. You need to talk, act, react, reflect on your learning, and challenge yourself. It does not imply countless hours of studies, nor does it exclude fun from the learning process. As a matter of fact, pleasure and motivation play a major role in foreign language acquisition. To put it simply: the more you find pleasure and motivation in learning → the more you learn, and the more you learn → the faster your brain processes information → the strongest becomes your ability to learn. So pleasure, motivation, and practice are the ultimate tools you need if you want to significantly improve your Korean or any other skill you want to acquire.
This being said, here are the best pieces of advice I can give, according to my own experience in learning Korean and to what I have learned as a student majoring in linguistics :
Get rid of misconceptions
You are never too old to learn a language nor you have to be ‘’gifted’’ to master it. There is absolutely nothing keeping you from learning Korean as a teen or as an adult. The only barriers that can exist are the ones that you set up for yourself. You can achieve a high level of proficiency in Korean and acquire an almost native-like pronunciation if your work for it.
Find what motivates you
Whether it is part of a big plan like moving to Korea or just to avoid waiting for subtitles to watch your favourite Korean shows; try to find out about why you really want to learn Korean. Your own reasons, whatever they are, can be the greatest source of motivation.
Learn Hangul first
This might sound like a silly advice, but I have seen many people who skip this step and try to learn Korean by using its romanized form. Learning how to write and read is essential if you want to efficiently improve your Korean. It enables better communication, and the possibility to have Korean language partners with whom you can chat through various social media applications.
Combine different learning methods
Trying to choose the right method and material to learn Korean can quickly become overwhelming, so you need to find what works best for you. The most important thing is to avoid relying on just one method. For instance, I enjoy watching Korean entertainment programs and listening to Korean music. When I have some free time, I try to learn some vocabulary and common expressions, then I put what I have learned into practice and have my friends giving me their feedbacks. I also take online tests, do fun quizzes and play games. I took Korean language classes which helped me a lot with learning the grammar, but most of the time, I practice my Korean and learn about new things while hanging out with friends, meeting new people, exchanging online with language partners, participating in Korean cultural events, etc.
Learn about the culture
You don’t need to become an expert in Korean history and culture, but you need to keep in mind that culture and language are undeniably intertwined. You will not be able to truly learn the language if you don’t also learn the cultural contexts in which the language occurs. For example, 씨 (ssi) is a common honorific suffix that can be translated as Mr./ Mrs./Miss. But, as polite as it may seem, you cannot use it with family names, as it is considered very rude in Korean culture, so calling your collegue 김씨 (Mr. Kim) is highly not recommended.
Leave your comfort zone
‘’ you have to live where the language is spoken’’ is another misconception that you need to get rid off. Immersions have evident benefits, but they don’t provoke miracles. You still need to have the right mindset and motivation to make it happen! I have seen many foreign students leaving back to their respective countries, after studying for about a year in Montreal, without much improvement. I, myself, somehow ‘’stopped’’ learning Korean once I got comfortable enough in communicating after being in Korea for a couple of months (which I kind of regret it now), so whether it is to go talk to the 사장님 (owner) of your regular Korean restaurant in your town or it is to attend a school in the heart of Seoul, leaving your comfort zone means putting yourself at risk and not being afraid of making mistakes. In other words, to be able to communicate you need to learn and to be able to learn you need to communicate!
^.^ Thank you for reading my first article and have fun learning Korean ^.^