Any language learner familiar with the awesome comic Itchy Feet will probably at some point have seen the one about reaching Mt. Fluency.

fluent.png

I feel like that all the time these days. In many ways I do feel fluent in Korean. I mean, I’m able to express myself in almost any situation and when listening I understand almost anything I hear. And yet, I’m painfully aware that there’s still a long way to go before I can truly say that I completely master this fascinating language. There’s also the additional problem of figuring out how and what to study in order to keep improving once you reach a certain level.

Don’t get me wrong, I like where I am. It’s amazing to be able to have long conversations or even discussions in Korean about almost anything, and I also greatly enjoy being able to read Korean news and watch Korean TV without fussing about not understanding every second word. It’s really awesome, actually.

So what am I missing? The sense of progress! When I first started out, I made tremendous progress everyday. In fact in the very beginning I could double or even triple my knowledge of Korean in one single day. Obviously that cannot be done with my current level, so the relative increase in my Korean skills is obviously declining every day. When I teach my Econ 101 students this is usually the example I apply to illustrate the law of decreasing marginal returns.

This level of language learning is actually very dangerous for your motivation as a language learner. It’s so easy to get caught up in complacency and forgetting to keep pushing. It’s also easy to lose motivation completely since it takes a lot more effort to make you feel that you’re improving, since you’re already pretty good as it is. How do I deal with this?

In fact I had a minor Korean crisis earlier this week. I had read a lot, listened a lot, spoken a lot and didn’t feel any better or worse than I did a week or two weeks ago. I know that measuring your progress week by week is probably being a bit harsh on yourself, but nonetheless this is what I usually do. This week I once more felt that I had reached a plateau, and this time a pretty wide and flat one! I was yearning for challenging my brain as I did when I first learned to read Korean or to say basic words.

Out of the blue I thought to myself. “Huh, I wonder how long it would take for me to read Hiragana (one of the three scripts used in Japanese)”. My Japanese skills are limited to basic greetings and self-introduction and I had no knowledge of the script except that I knew that they have a combination of two Japanese scripts, Hiragana and Katakana, and then Kanji – the Japanese version of Hanja of which I obviously recognize quite a few but without having a clue of how to pronounce them in Japanese. Since Hiragana is the most used of the phonetic Japanese scripts I gave myself a challenge: “See how fast you can learn to read (not write) all 46 characters!”. Challenge accepted! It took me around 90 minutes and I still remember them! Now why would I do this? For fun! And to feel that I had truly learned something completely new that day! Am I going to self-study Japanese? Well, at least not for the time being, but who knows? I do plan on learning more languages, so we’ll have to see. Maybe someday.

I’ll leave you this Friday in the awesome company of K.Will who delivers the latest release of the soundtrack to “Descendants of the sun”. It’s a real feel-good song, and as usual I’ve posted the lyrics below if you like me cannot help singing along! This Friday is extra special since my spring break starts today! 불금~~!

 

아무 말 없이 내게서
커져만 가는 게
아무래도 이대론 안 되겠어
어쩌다 내가 이렇게

네게 빠진 건지
이유를 나도 모르겠어

넌 왜 내게서 맴돌아
뭘 해도 신경도 쓰이고
뭘 해도 궁금해지고

넌 왜 내게서 맴돌아
oh 어떡해 나
자꾸만 생각이나

말해! 뭐해?, 말해! 뭐해?
이러다가 바보처럼
한눈팔게 하지 말고
말해볼래, 말해볼래
나의 맘에 담긴 사람
you are my only one

너무나 사랑을 해도
눈물 난다는 게
그런 말이 나
이해가 되지 않아
하지만 그댈 본 순간
두 눈 가득 고인
눈물이 사랑인 것 같아

넌 왜 내게서 맴돌아
뭘 해도 신경도 쓰이고
뭘 해도 궁금해지고

난 너 하나만 생각해
이렇게 난
자꾸만 입 맞추고

말해! 뭐해?,
말해! 뭐해?
이러다가 바보처럼
한눈팔게 하지 말고
말해볼래, 말해볼래
나의 맘에 담긴 사람
you are my only one

내 모든 게 서툴다 해도
네 곁에 나 머물고만
싶어지는 게
사랑일까 사랑일 거야
너의, 너의 남자 되고 싶어

말해! 뭐해?, 말해! 뭐해?
내게 오는 사랑은 다
그대라는 이름인걸
말해! 뭐해?, 말해! 뭐해?
나의 맘에 담긴 사람
you are my only one

11 Comments »

  1. It only took you 90 minutes to memorize and still remember all the Hiragana…I feel bad about myself lol. I also randomly wanted to learn Hiragana and just like after having studied Korean and reached a decent level. The Japanese script does look beautiful to me, especially how when the three writing systems are mixed, so you’ll have cutely shaped kana w/ more intimidating kanji lol. Anyways, you definitely learned hiragana faster than I did haha

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    • Well, I only memorized them to the extent where I’m able to read them. I cannot write them yet. By the way, I thought you were a native Korean speaker. May I ask what your native language is? 🙂

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  2. You just described the last year or so of my Korean learning journey. So true. I didn’t NEED to get better, so I didn’t do much. Making the SpongeMind podcast I felt like I couldn’t get my stories out clearly… Embarrassed that people would hear it. Then yesterday Jonson and I went to meet some SpongeMind cafe members at a little 모임 the words were flowing much better than I remember before. I guess my self assessment mechanism had been off for a while. Maybe that’s what it is for us..? We’re inaccurately judging our growth? Thoughts?

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    • You may be right about that. I also think that we may be too hard on ourselves when assessing our own level. I cherish these moments like the one you described where you just feel the hard work paying off. I guess it all boils down to the fact that we oftentimes stand too close to ourselves to really see our true progress. As long as you do something language related, no matter how small, everyday, you simply WILL improve. Also even if you don’t feel any progress for a while. That’s why I think it’s so important to focus on your goals and stay committed.

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  3. OMG! I laughed so hard with this awesome comic! Never seen it before.
    I go back to your post, haven’t finished yet. ^^

    There I am. I agree with you, I feel like this with Spanish. Always making mistakes and yet not making progress.
    When I feel like this, I tend to remind myself of what I’ve been doing until now. All the progress I’ve made and what I am able to do now. It’s kind of comforting. Plus, I try to remind me when learning that achieving the goal is something really great and pleaseful, but the way I’ve gone through to od so is the most interesting part!
    Well, in a few words, I would like to congrat you. And tell you : 화이팅!

    PS : Definitely going to follow ItchyFeet!

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  4. I feel the same way! I’ve been struggling with my Korean motivation recently; I feel like I’ve reached a point where I can’t really see my progress and most of my Korean study feels more like maintenance than moving forward. :/ I’m sure there’s actually a ton of things I could improve on, but small improvements feel pretty insignificant at the moment (as you mentioned with the marginal returns example).

    So I recently started teaching myself Russian for the same reasons you learned hiragana, and it actually felt really good to go back to putting the building blocks together and making baby sentences! Not sure how I will translate this back to Korean learning, but that feeling of excitement was definitely nice to have.

    By the way, hiragana in 90 minutes is pretty impressive! It’s been quite a while but I think it took me at least a week or so to get comfortable. D: And if you decide to self-study Japanese, I think that the transition from Korean –> Japanese study is a fairly easy one. Good luck!

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    • That’s amazing that you’ve taken on Russian! I’m not sure that it will be useful for your Korean motivation, but maybe it’ll be good enough if you can get your “language kicks” from Russian while maintaining/expanding your Korean skills? 🙂 화이팅!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Another great article! I know exactly what you mean about the the accelerated rate of progress at the very beginning of learning a new language. I have just learned how to count from one to ten in German and I feld like I conquered the world ㅎㅎㅎ. But I know this top-of-the-mountain feeling won’t last very long 😦

    I’d better learn how to focus on “today” rather than the long-term. Wasn’t it an economist who said “In the long term, we are all dead”?

    Like

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