I’m sure all of you out there who are studying Korean on your own have heard this sentence more than once: “You’re learning Korean? Alone? Is that even possible?” I have personally encountered this more times than I can possibly count and constantly having to defend myself, assuring the other person that self-studying a language is indeed possible (if not the best way to do so) gets a little tiring in the long run.
Until yesterday, it had been a long time since I had taken a formal language class. In fact, that would be my advanced German class during my first year in college and as little as I like to admit it that is now 10 years ago. So what happened yesterday? A few weeks ago I had learned that my university offered Mandarin classes at a discount for employees. Thinking to myself “This sounds like fun”, I had signed up for basic Mandarin in less than five minutes. I purchased the textbook, downloaded a Memrise app, and started cramming some basic vocabulary. A few days later I received an email saying that the course was cancelled due to too few signups. In a moment of over-confidence I then decided to sign up for the intermediate class, thinking to myself: “I learned Korean within a year, surely I can catch up with this class.”
The first class was last night from 6-8 and I was really excited before going. I thought to myself:
“How far behind will I be? Will I make a complete fool of myself? Who are the other students going to be?”
All mysteries were soon cleared up and the answers to my questions turned out to be:
I definitely matched their level. I confidently introduced myself in Mandarin as I had practiced in advance. The other students were anyone from freshmen students to retired staff.
So, how can this be? How can one intense week of mandarin studies match 36 weeks of lectures? Korean surely isn’t that close to Mandarin! I think the answer boils down to 3 factors:
- I was motivated to learn fast so that I wouldn’t be too far behind the others.
- I self-studied actively using my tried and tested Korean-learning methods: shadowing, recording, and speaking simple sentences to myself.
- I made flashcards and quickly memorized a lot of vocabulary.
This meant that I had a huge advantage over people who don’t self-study, but only attend a two-hour class once a week with no classes since the spring term ended in May. I discovered that my classmates were not active language learners, but instead expected to just soak up Mandarin while being in class. If this strategy would work, then anybody would be fluent in a language by just living in the country where it is spoken. And we language learners know that this is not the case. You don’t learn a language by accident. You have to make an effort. And frankly, this effort is what makes the whole process fun.
So, am I going back to this class? Sure! I may still learn a great deal, but I will not rely on this class alone for learning the language. I will make sure to put in some time to learn on my own too. I also plan on using the HelloTalk app to get my pronunciation corrected by a language partner. However, Korean is and always will be my main priority, and Korean will continue to be the focus of this blog!
What lessons can be learned from this experience? If you’re motivated, structured, and determined to succeed, self-studying a language beats formalized classes any day! If you’re still not convinced I’ve created a handy little chart for your reference.