Monday, January 28, 2013

Being Patient While Learning a Language: Strategies and Ideas

How's the Korean going? Good, actually. Pretty solid.

I was reminded recently of how very patient we have to be with ourselves while we learn something we really want to master. As they say, Rome wasn't built in a day. And that is what today's entry is about. Well, not Rome, that is. It's not about Rome. It's about... well, just keep reading.

I haven't posted on here much lately. So what gives? you might ask. Probably just laziness. I really am doggedly determined to learn this language. So much so, that most of my spare time is dedicated to the task. Interestingly, the one thing that drives me more than anything else these days, is working towards conversational skills in Korean. I often wonder if it's an odd thing to be passionate about, but that's what makes me tick.

If you're like a lot of people who struggle with the best way to study a language, fear not. I'm giving you the low-down right here. My studying consists of (mostly) three of the four language domains--the four language domains being listening, reading, writing and speaking. I'm concentrating on the first three I listed. I'm leaving speaking out of the mix for awhile. I'll explain. This is where the patience comes in.

So, you know how babies have that fantastic two-to-three-year period of their lives where they babble up a storm of nonsense and random words? They're doing a lot of listening and a lot of testing out sounds and words. No fear. No holding back. Because we don't expect them to know how to speak straight from the womb without hearing us speak for a few years. And even then, there are years of fine-tuning ahead. Babies are born into a natural "silent period." Not that it means that they are silent per se, but that they are not using the full language to express their needs and thoughts until they have built up a big enough repertoire of words and phrases that they feel comfortable using.

Image from

Adults are often too hard on themselves, thinking that they are terrible at learning languages because they can't say anything yet. Calm down! Put in a few years of listening, and it will definitely help you get started. Try out a word or phrase here and there as you get comfortable with it, but give yourself time to go through your silent period. It's a natural process of language learning, and varies in duration, depending on how often you are able to immerse yourself in or surround yourself with your target language. Could be less than a year if you're constantly surrounded by that language, or way longer if you rarely hear it.

That said, I have been mainly working on three of the four language domains mentioned above. Helpful tips included. You're welcome.

LISTENING: Listen to everything you can get your ears on! I continue to watch Korean television daily and almost exclusively listen to Korean musical artists. I listen to podcast lessons from the Talk to Me in Korean website. This is all to help me get enough input to move me past the silent period in into (yay!) communicating with real human beings!

READING: When adapting to a new sound system or alphabet (or both), do it old-school. Find someone to "read to you" and then follow along with your eyes. To do this, I often listen to YouTube videos of songs that I like and read along with the Korean lyrics as I hear them. This, I tell myself, is developing the part of my brain that develops in children when their parents read stories to them at night. Songs are musical storytelling. And my eyes are soaking in the shapes of the Korean characters as I listen. EXAMPLE: Here is the video to my new favorite Korean song by an amazing singer-songwriter named Clover from a group called Standing Egg. Yeah, he's got a mohawk/bowl-cut(??) and a ukelele. Odd combo, but give him a chance. And read the awesome lyrics here. It's so stinking cute, it will melt your heart. And it's catchy.

WRITING: Technically, this is along the same vein as producing speech, but it doesn't have to be. I would recommend that, especially if you are learning a new alphabet, it's a great idea to practice forming those shapes on your own with a pencil and pen. To ease the stress of producing linguistically accurate Korean, I copy. Nothing wrong with that. I write the Korean lyrics to songs I'm listening to and translate them word for word, so I'm practicing the technical aspect of writing the Korean characters, and associating them with meaning. Sweet deal. Then, when possible, I do try to form simple sentences and get a native Korean to check and give feedback. But I don't stress too much about that. I have momentarily stopped writing sentences with HaruKorean, but will sign up for another month when I'm ready to dive back in.

Speaking? Well, let's just say that's been a failed attempt with several language partners so far. Not for lack of trying from both sides. But I'm reminding myself to be, that's right, patient. (Progress on this front continued below, but if you want to skip to the wrap-up, take-home lesson at the end of the post, go ahead.)

Right now, I consider myself mainly in the silent period (mentioned earlier) of my Korean acquisition. More accurately, between being silent and very rarely making small two, three, four-word utterances. (You can read more about second language acquisition stages here.) Writing is easier than speaking for me because it can happen as slow as I need it to, and I can go back in my notebooks and look up the vocabulary and the grammar I need to write.

BUTTTTTTT... I've reached some important language landmarks!!! ... if you can call them that. I now have a broad enough vocabulary and understanding of grammatical structures that I can make intelligent guesses about what I'm reading (in songs especially) and what new words mean. Many times, I can get the gist of a sentence or I can catch a whole phrase. Woot!

Just as thrilling, is the fact that I can now hear the utterances that the subtitles are translating. Many times, I can even recognize where the English translation and the Korean expression differ from each other. My ear is getting so well trained, that I am happy to report correctly understanding many of the lines in this short, unsubtitled clip from a Korean show (picture at the top of this blog entry). I saw the translation below in the comments after listening a few times, and everything I thought I heard, I correctly heard. Score.
It's all about the hours you put in. With anything in life. Languages, musical instruments, sports, etc. Surround yourself with what you want to learn, practice, take risks, expect to suck at first (and maybe for an extended period of time), and patiently guide yourself through the stages of learning and/or frustration as best you can. If you want something badly enough, you'll get there. If not, maybe you don't want it badly enough yet. Wait till you do.

Good luck. Keep at it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanks, Google Translate!

I've certainly found a new reason to continue my dogged daily efforts with language learning.

Google Translate.

This morning, I was (as usual with my free time) studying some Korean. I wanted to look up the validity of a sentence I created, and... Well, here's what happened.

I opened Google Translate. Typed in 나는 색종이 한 장 쓸 게. I meant to say "I will use one sheet of colored paper." Considering that 쓰다 is a word that can mean both "to use" and "to write," I can sort of understand Google's translation attempt. (Click on image below.)

But then Google asks me if I meant to write 나는 색종이 한 장 쓸개. I figured, perhaps, that this might be a a more colloquial way of writing whatever it thought I was trying to say.

So followed the link. (Click on image below.)

Oh, yes. That's exactly what I was trying to say. Thanks, Google. Lay off the hallucinogens for a while, will ya? Wow. If there was ever a case for the old saying, "If you want something done, you've got to do it yourself," here it is.

I went with my original sentence.

And guess what? It was correct. A native speaker gave it her official seal of approval.

B.T.W... I just signed up for ($5.99/mo.) which is run by the same fantastic people who brought me countless Talk to Me in Korean lessons for free. There are people in South Korea employed to check grammar and spelling on sentences that I submit electronically. It's brilliant.

Goodbye! 안녕히 계세요!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Free Korean Class!

I am very proud to report that, after a month and a half break from my pursuit of polyglottenousness, I have jumped back in with both feet. Tonight, I attended a free Korean class at a local university. The classes were leveled "Beginner," "Elementary," and "Intermediate."

I missed the first two free classes and jumped in to the Elementary-level class, hoping for the best. Guess what?! Perfect level for me. Super challenging but not enough to lose me. I knew enough to follow, participate, comment, and ask intelligent questions.

This is how the board looked at the end of the lesson. I've been staring at it and marveling how far I've come that I understand everything written on it.

Even more noteworthy still, is the fact that the guy's handwriting was often a little... quick. Despite his scripty letters, I was able to read everything without a problem.

Soooooo pumped!

Friday, August 3, 2012

크리스티 어디 갔어? (Where did Kristy go?/Where is Kristy?))

나 여기있어! Here I am!

I haven't gone anywhere. In fact, I've been pretty steady with the Korean as well.

Also, Korean Friend 2.0 and I have been working out great. He's cooler than kimchi and smart as hell. One of the best things about studying with him is that he rarely thinks that we spend enough time on Korean. Just when I start to say, "Well, maybe we should start in on the English stuff..." he jumps in with, "No, let's spend some more time on Korean." Progress is slow, but steady.

He teaches me fun things to say. For example, today we covered, "That guy over there is handsome," as well as how to comment that someone has pit stains (a nice combination of the words "armpit" and "sweat"). You know, useful stuff.

And with his English, we are reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. He underlines the words that he has questions about and then we go over them and BUILD VOCABULARY! It's every teacher's dream come true, a student that wants to improve vocabulary. The words that he underlines are tough words. Many of them I've never seen. Many of them I have seen, but have no idea what they mean. Even more impressive, are the seemingly obscure words that he doesn't underline. Because he knows them. And when I quiz him on them just to make sure, he knows exactly what they mean. Smart man. 그 남자 진짜 센스있어. That man really has sense (smarts).

As for me, the majority of my study time has centered around watching Korean dramas. It's amazing, you know, how many words I am now able to pick up. Now whole phrases sometimes, too. The lessons that I've learned and written in my notebook come to life!

No pictures in this post. I'll try to make the next one much more colorful. Also, I will attempt to count the hours of TV I've watched. I wonder how many it's been by now...

안녕! Bye!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Goodbye to a dear 친구...

Tonight I said goodbye to my awesome, wonderful, sweet, modest, shy, quirky, funny (and often a bit flaky) Korean friend and language partner.

친구 = friend (pronounced "ching-goo")

After several tight hugs and promises to keep in touch frequently, we agreed that this was a "see you later" and not a "goodbye forever." We also realized (after both of us had gone home) that we never took a picture together after six months of friendship. I guess that's something we'll do when we meet again someday in Korea. A goal, if you will.

As may be readily apparent, (1) I'm a pretty big nerd and (2) I get sentimental (even if not teary) about goodbyes and see-you-laters. So I made my friend a parting gift to commemorate his six-month stay in Boston. This is the sort of wacky stuff that occurs when one develops a slight crush on her cute language partner.

It's okay. He knows.

So, he was all sorts of impressed and said he felt bad that he had not brought something for me--which I would never expect anyway, by the way. So, instead, he wrote a nice half-page of Korean for me to decipher, but it turned out to be way too hard to do without him anyway, so we translated it word-by-word together.

Here's what it said: I came to America and was delighted to meet Kristy. At first, I was nervous when we promised to meet. Even after I talked for only a few minutes with her, we were soon friendly. I was really delighted and thankful that she was my first conversation partner. I am going back to Korea soon, but I will not forget this memory. It will be a good memory. Therefore, I will keep in touch with her frequently from Korea. Please contact me if you come to Korea. We will then speak in Korean. Kristy Noona! (noona = older sister)

Noona (누나) has a nice ring to it.

Goodbyes are sad, but they clear ways for more new hellos. And they inspire really great hugs to happen. Goodnight. I guess it's time to start scheduling time with Korean friend 2.0.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cute handwriting

I actually met a pretty cool new language partner (saying goodbye to my first one tomorrow, sniff). I'll give you some updates on how that goes moving forward. For now, I'll just say that it seems we will have a good time chatting. Let's call this guy Korean Friend Version 2.0.

Today, 2.0 and I met for the first time and sat around in the sun at Boston Common, chatting about how he wanted to improve his English, why the heck I was studying Korean, and a variety of other things. We made up some sentences to describe (in Korean) what was happening around us. Simple things like, "There are a lot of people here," and "Today the weather is nice," and even this whopper: "The sun is scorching, so we are sitting in the shade."

After being super impressed that I knew the Korean alphabet, as well as a pretty sizable collection of words, 2.0 told me that my Korean handwriting was not only just neat, but that it was actually really good (better than his), and looked just like a native Korean girl's "cute" handwriting.

I told 2.0 that I had no intention of writing in a "cute" way, that I only tried to write legibly, yet quickly. I guess it's bubbly. I don't know. I have a hard time knowing what Korean handwriting style is what. Anyway, here is my writing that inspired the comment (first image).

I would love to have another example of un-cute, manly Korean handwriting. Unfortunately, 2.0 refused to write anything into my notebook today, insisting that every time he said a word, I had to sound it out all by my lonesome. It was good practice and it kept me from being lazy. He says he's giving me a spelling quiz when me meet next time. Quiz?! Be still my nerdy teacher heart; I already like studying with this guy.

All I have to go by is the handwriting of my soon-to-be-departed Korean Friend First Edition (pictured right). You can see his handwriting after all of the Qs (questions) and all of mine directly below it (the answers). I've always really appreciated how small his penmanship is, since, with three letters piled atop each other sometimes, it's hard for me to squeeze some of them on just one line. He does it with the ease of someone who's been at it for years. Yeah, duh.

Mine looks sort of blocky and awkward next to his. Like a seven-foot-tall person in a room full of genetically short people.

Blocky + Awkward = Cute Korean Girl Handwriting. Apparently.

Okay, it's 1 am, so it's already tomorrow. I should go to bed. More to come on handwriting, goodbyes, and language-partner-finding mishaps.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Glass half empty

So, I know I went on and on last post about the amazingness of finding yourself a language partner, but I've found a downside.

As with many good things in life that come to an end, my Korean friend is going back to Korea. I guess I didn't stop to think about what would happen were I to become really good friends with this guy. But it happened, and, well... now I'm pretty sad about him leaving.

I actually lined up meeting another native Korean speaker for tomorrow night. Already, though, talking to this totally un-shy, chatty guy on the phone--who seemed very enthusiastic and nice, by the way--all I could think was, "Yeah, but you're not (insert name of my friend)."

One of the beautiful things about learning other languages is that process' ability to open our minds, our lives, and our hearts to new people and new cultures. I've been through this before. Goodbyes and see-you-again-somedays are part of the process. I just never like it when the time comes around to say them.

I will have to post soon about how my actual language studying has been going. Nothing earth-shattering, but that's what I'm here to talk about. (^_^)V