A week ago I accepted the most anxiety provoking challenge so far in my Korean learning history. Kindly (and adamantly) prompted by koreanlearner I signed up for a Korean speaking contest to be held at the end of October. According to the contest guidelines my speech must be 3-5 minutes long and cover the topic “To me Korean is…”

When I told this to my Korean 선생님 later that day he quickly vowed to coach me through the entire process. That meant cancelling all of our other planned study activities and focusing entirely on practicing and perfecting my speech. He also suggested that we double the hours of our meetings, currently leaving me with little time for anything else besides going to work and practicing my speech with him over and over and over again.

And since my 선생님  really wants me to do well he considers this process a license to point out all my Korean pronunciation flaws, quite often leaving my pride with deep scars from the sharp cuts of his brutal Korean honesty. They say that ignorance is a bliss but I’m still so thankful that I accepted this challenge.

Before we started these daily marathon memorization/speech recital sessions I was actually (and oh so wrongly) under the impression that my Korean pronunciation and intonation were both fairly decent. That is until last Friday where I was corrected so many times that when I finally got home after our session, I felt so discouraged that I didn’t even feel like watching my usual two episodes of Yong Pal. (I still haven’t been able to catch up so I will have to binge watch the remaining four episodes this weekend!) I know it may sound as if I was overreacting but that day all of his comments spanned along the lines of “No, that’s not right”, “Say it again”, “Again!”, “Repeat”, “From the beginning”, “Still not right”, and my personal favorite “You simply have to practice harder!” naturally leaving me feeling a wee bit discouraged. My biggest mistake was pronouncing the Korean “ㅅ” like an “s” when in fact it should be pronounced more softly almost as said with a slight lisp. My failure to recognize this subtle difference any sooner has made me pronounce my own name 소희 in the wrong way more times than I care to think about.

However, despite my hurt pride I knew that this was just something I had to learn so when I got up on Saturday I felt a bit better and I quickly started practicing my consonants. My 선생님 had told me to learn how to correctly pronounce the Korean double consonants by repeating 사과가 싸서 샀어요. A few hours of practicing in front of the mirror and talking to my phone recorder had me convinced that I had finally nailed the 싸다 vs. 사다 difference. Luckily this was confirmed when my efforts were awarded with an approving “훨씬 좋아졌어요!” during our Monday meeting. Yes, he is quite capable of giving praise too. I just have to really earn it.

Right now I have memorized my entire speech which is just under 4 minutes long. I recited it in front of my 선생님 five times yesterday, and this week I spent at least an hour every day listening to his voice recording of my speech so that I won’t forget when and where to pause, what parts to emphasize etc. The speech is about how I started learning Korean out of love and how learning Korean eventually made me fall in love with Korea. This naturally requires a fair deal of mentioning the word 사랑 (love) which at least now I am able to pronounce perfectly. According to my 선생님 I still cannot correctly say 열정 (passion) but I hope I’ll get there within the next week.

Next week will be the last week where we can practice together before the contest as he will be going away on a trip for two weeks. While he’s away I have been instructed to send him a voice message every day reciting my speech without looking at my manuscript so that he can make sure that I will not fall back into my old pronunciation patterns! I cannot begin to describe how thankful I am to have met such a dedicated language partner. I know his feedback may sound hard at times but he’s only doing it to help me, and knowing how and where I may improve in the end is how I learn and grow, and after all that’s why I’m doing this.

Happy Friday everyone! 불금~~!


  1. You have such a great attitude. One of the great things about learning such a difficult language is the struggle and the way it makes us stick our neck out, have to take criticism, and push forward to get better. Taking on a challenge like this is a great thing to do to force you not to stay comfortable and instead become exceptional. I’m sure it will be a very gratifying feeling when you get there. 화이팅!


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