I’m so happy that a lot of you guys are commenting on my blog posts and sending me emails. I’ve received a lot of questions over the past few months, so I thought it was time to do a Q&A post since many of these questions are of more general interest.

When and why did you start learning Korean?

I first started learning Korean in July 2014. My husband, who is a Korean adoptee, and I had just booked our tickets to Seoul and being innately curious about other languages, I set out to learn basic Korean. I began studying a little everyday, and it gradually became a habit. Now it has become an integral part of my life, and I can’t imagine not spending some time every day studying Korean.

How (often) do you study?

I study every single day for at least 3 hours combined. I always dedicate the first hour of my day (6am-7am) to Korean. Most often I will read in a Korean book but it also happens that I review grammar or, on particularly lazy mornings, watch an episode of a Korean drama. I then listen to podcasts in Korean on my way to and from work (30 minutes in total), and I sometimes listen passively while I work (not included in hours spent). I also speak in Korean at approximately every other day for at least an hour at a time, and I read several Korean news articles per week. At least once a week I write an essay in Korean and send it to my LP for feedback and corrections. I usually watch an episode of a Korean drama with Korean subtitles (almost counts as reading time) every evening, and during the day I’m in frequent contact with my Korean friends by sending text messages in Korean. As you can see this is an eclectic mix of various disciplines, but the key point is that I allow myself to become as immersed as possible by surrounding myself with Korean material everyday.

What’s the hardest part when learning Korean?

This question is probably the one I get the most. There is no doubt that Korean is a hard language to learn but it’s definitely not impossible. To me, the perception of what has been the hardest part has changed a few times as my Korean skills have improved. In the beginning I was puzzled by the Korean sentence structure, which is so different from anything I had ever known before. The whole concept of adding suffixes like 면, 니까, or 아/어서 to verb stems instead of just having separate words like “if” or “because” as we do in English seemed very hard to grasp in the beginning.

As I progressed and got a hold of the grammar, the hardest part by far was actually speaking in Korean. Even though I could understand simple written and spoken Korean I was unsure about my pronunciation, and it would take me forever to construct a sentence in my head, then agree with myself that it was grammatically correct, before I clumsily uttered the words ever so slowly.

Now that I’m able to speak freely about almost anything, the hardest part is without comparison the Korean concept of 앞존법 – the intricate Korean system of honorifics. I understand it perfectly, but it’s just so unnatural to me that I still have to be very conscious about when and how to use it, and to whom! I have practiced this with my LP on numerous occasions, but I always make so many mistakes that he usually just ends up saying 몰라도 돼요 (it’s okay if you don’t know this), but I want to master this concept and I want for it to feel natural. I sense some degree of improvement but there’s still a long way to go.

What do you recommend to a beginner?

Before you do anything, by all means learn the Korean script Hangeul! Without that learning Korean is close to impossible. Also, use all the wonderful resources that are readily available through TTMIK. Supplement this with a good set of textbooks. Find a language partner to practice speaking with either online or face-to-face. Ask yourself, why you are learning Korean. Then set realistic goals and reward yourself whenever you reach them. Make studying Korean a habit but also make sure that it never becomes boring by using various resources and shifting between practicing grammar, speaking, listening, and writing. Make a habit of learning short sentences instead of just isolated words, and practice speaking these sentences as early on as possible. Always carry a notebook with you, and never give up. For more personalized advice, always feel free to contact me.

How do you stay motivated?

I know that I will need my Korean skills when I go and live in Korea, so that definitely adds some motivation. I also feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment whenever I reach one of my learning goals. I always make sure that I vary the way I study and on the few days where I don’t really feel in the mood for studying Korean, I at least make sure to listen to some K-pop or watch a drama episode. Although, I must say that over the 18 months that have passed this has maybe happended on three occasions tops. I basically make sure that it’s always 100% fun. On days where I can’t really feel any progress I remind myself how far I’ve come and usually read a chapter from one of my earlier textbooks. Realizing that what used to be difficult now seems easy always gives me a great sense of satisfaction.

What’s your biggest mistake when speaking/learning Korean?

Oh! I’ve made sooo many! I don’t think I’ve ever really offended anyone, but man I’ve made so many people laugh! The biggest mistake I make these days is when I say things in Korean exactly as I would in English. One example occured when my husband and I was having a business dinner with an older CEO of a publishing company. This person spoke no English, so our conversation was limited to the level of my Korean skills. Making small talk, I wanted to ask this 대표님 if he was originally from Seoul. Since I would say “Do you come from Seoul?” in English, I inadvertently said in Korean “대표님은 서울에서 오셨어요?” which is an, albeit polite, simple direct translation. He looked quite confused and then asked me what I meant. Then I remembered that Koreans take verbs like “come” and “go” quite literally. There was no way that I could ask  this question since both of us where sitting in Seoul at that moment. If we were in Busan, if would have made sense to ask if he had come to Busan from Seoul. I then rephrased the question asking if Seoul was his hometown, which effectively cleared all misunderstandings.

My biggest mistake when learning Korean in the beginning was focusing blindly on building useless vocabulary. I think tools like Memrise or Anki are amazing for reviewing learned vocabulary, but I’ve wasted hours on just using it to build vocabulary, which will essentially be useless since you can’t necessarily use the word in a context. Therefore, use these tools by all means, but use them wisely.

If there are any other questions you’d like for me to answer then please feel free to comment below or send me a message here or via twitter or facebook. I look forward to hearing from you!

 

8 Comments »

  1. I have a few follow-up questions. If you answered them elsewhere on this blog, sorry; I just recently found your blog and haven’t read all of the entries yet.

    1. Which podcasts do you use? Have you found different podcasts at different levels? I have been listening to 세상을 여는 아침 by SBS/ 이재은. Her 응담하라 2016 is pretty good but then it gets kind of boring when they get into the more specific stuff.

    2. When you say you read a few Korean news article per week are they just random articles or do you try to keep up with Korean news on certain topics (politics, defense, economy, etc)?

    3. What do you use for short sentence study? I found TTMIK’s weekly vocabulary is good but mostly for review as they are 1+ to 2 on the ILR scale.

    Thank you!

    Like

    • Happy to answer!
      1. I mainly use TTMIK’s Iyagi podcast and a Korean podcast called 책 읽는 시간, where a man reads out passages from books and discusses them. I don’t understand every word but I find it quite good for listening practice. I also sometimes review the grammar podcasts although I’ve been through all of their lessons at least twice now.
      2. I browse Korean news sites and basically choose at random. I also have a weekly news session with my Korean language partner, where he sends me an article (of his choice) a day in advance. I then prepare by reading and looking up new vocabulary and when we discuss it together he has me reading it out loud as a pronunciation check, followed by a discussion of the content in Korean. He usually also quizzes me on the hard vocabulary. Since I’m an economist he usually chooses pieces that cover that area, but not every time.
      3. I try memorizing sentences I hear from podcasts, dramas or TTMIK’s story time videos, whenever I feel that they may be useful. (I did a blog post on how to study with these story time lessons here: https://sofietokorea.com/2015/08/13/how-to-build-korean-speaking-confidence/)
      It’s basically a matter of me trying to imitate and parrot as much as possible. If I hear a certain phrase in maybe a drama or a podcast I will either write it down or be sure to use it myself when speaking Korean. I find it helps in building more natural fluency, as you then collect a variety of sentences and phrases that you may then vary depending on the situation.
      Oh, and I’m also a big fan of 세바시 videos. They are like Korean versions of TED talks and there are a ton of them on Youtube. Many are even subtitled in Korean making it even easier to take away cool pieces of vocabulary or phrases. If you haven’t watched them yet, I highly recommend that you give these videos a go 🙂

      Like

  2. Hello~
    Your progress of learning Korean is amazing. But there seems to be some misunderstanding about 압존법. As far as I know, traditionally 압존법 had been used very sparingly in Korea before the rule of Japanese imperialism. Under the rule of Japanese imperialism, the use of 압존법 seems to have spread out more widely. Japanese seems to be very strict on the use of 압존법.

    While talking with someone, whenever U mention someone else if U have to compare the hierarchy of the other party with that of the third one, won’t it be not only cumbersome but also weird except for the people who are obsessed with hierarchy? 국립국어원(The national institute of the Korean language) recommends not to use them in the workplace. they recommend to confine the use of 압존법 to only private relations such as among family members and between teacher and student. As far as I’m concerned I’ve never used 압존법 and almost certainly I’ll never use them in my life because it sounds just weird.

    Just google 압존법 and U’ll be able to easily ascertain the status of 압존법 nowdays in Korea.

    P.S,. I would be very grateful , if any of U could correct me, especially my English.

    Like

    • Thanks for commenting. I actually didn’t know this, but I also mainly strive to use honorifics correctly when dealing with personal relationships. I will definitely do some research on this. Your English is perfect, and I have just one comment. When writing a text like the one you just wrote, writing “U” instead of “you” can seem a bit awkward. I usually only use “U” for very informal short text messages.
      I’m so happy that you read my blog and I’m thankful for your encouraging words! 🙂

      Like

  3. I’m quite impressed and inspired. I thought that I had an intense self-study routine haha. I also listened to TTMIK’s lessons several times and to their podcasts while on the go. It’s a very useful way to study even when you “don’t have time”.

    Like

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