Hey guys, it’s Veronica.
I’ve been studying Korean off and on for a few years now so I thought it was time to take a look back at my journey and to also refocus my goals for the future. I’ll be sharing some information about why I first became interested in Korean, different methods I’ve used over the years, how I’m learning currently, and what I want to accomplish in the future. I won’t be sharing very many specific resources in this post as I plan to make more focused posts (and videos) about each category of learning materials like apps, books, websites, and more, so please keep an eye out for these topics in future posts. Until then, if you are interested in hearing how I got started and my journey thus far, please read on!
(I also made a video about my journey, so if you’re a TL;DR kind of person, you should scroll down to watch that instead of reading through the following novel. Haha!)
The Long and Winding Tale of Why I Decided To Learn Korean
When I was a senior in college, I really had no idea what I wanted for my future (I’m still kind of clueless to be honest) and I had no plan for after graduation. People around me suggested I look into teaching abroad and that’s how I stumbled upon the EPIK and GEPIK programs for teaching English in South Korea. There are so many great programs in other countries all around the world, but teaching in South Korea seemed like the most feasible and practical option. The process to apply wasn’t particularly difficult and the benefits/perks of the job were especially appealing. I may not have had a 10-year career plan, but now I had a short term goal to work toward after graduation–get a job teaching English in South Korea. I could figure out my future later.
Simultaneously, I had been sharing an apartment with a good friend during my senior year. We lived together the year before, too, but I really didn’t know her that well and it wasn’t until our second year of living together that we really became close friends. She was half Vietnamese, half Korean and had always maintained an interest in the pop cultural on-goings of South Korea and other south-east Asian countries. At the same time, PSY had recently made waves in the States with “Gangnam Style,” so K-Pop was kind of this new phenomenon that people were just starting to find out about. After hanging out with my roommate for a while, we started watching random k-pop videos on Youtube. I had vague memories of 2 years prior when my old dorm-mate who was a Taiwanese exchange student tried to introduce me to some Korean idol groups, but I just wasn’t interested at the time, and now being reintroduced to k-pop 2 years later, my curiosity was piqued. Thus began my downward spiral into madness–I was hooked! I definitely became an obsessive tumblr fangirl for a while, but k-pop was something that me and my roommate were able to bond over, so I look back fondly on those times, even if I was kind of cringy about it. I sometimes miss that time when the world of k-pop was really new and exciting to me.
During my final quarter at my university, with my new interest in Korean pop music and my new goal of teaching in South Korea, I decided to deepen my knowledge of Korean culture by taking classes on Korean art history, Korean cinema, and I even took a course on teaching pronunciation in order to prepare myself to be a better teacher. (I majored in English, but let’s face it: studying literature in NO way prepares you to effectively teach English).
So let’s recap: I wanted to work in South Korea, I was obsessed with k-pop, I was studying Korean art, Korean cinema, and I had also discovered Korean dramas and variety shows. It was the most natural thing in world at this point to make the decision to start studying the Korean language. If I wanted to live abroad and also enjoy the new media and culture I was taking in, I would need to know the language. Simple as that.
How I Started Self-Studying Korean
When it became clear that I needed to start learning Korean, my first step was to check out my university library to see what materials were available. Most of the books on the shelf were a bit too dry, dense, or advanced for me, so I searched around online and ordered a few beginner level books on Amazon.
Even with low level books, I realized I wouldn’t be ready to really start studying until I learned hangul, the Korean alphabet. I was able to find a really amazing app (review coming soon) that taught me hangul in a fast and natural way. (I can’t wait to share more about this app!)
Once I could read and somewhat-sloppily scribble hangul, I started to use the books I bought and studied from them whenever I had some free time. I treated it like a hobby and only studied when I felt like. I didn’t make any strict study schedules for myself and thus made slow progress, which I didn’t mind. I continued listening to Korean music and watching Korean television, which I think impacted my pronunciation abilities positively.
Once I graduated college and moved back home, I took some time to complete a TEFL certification course and study Korean more regularly before getting a part-time job. I was using mostly just my beginner books and I had also discovered Talk To Me In Korean, so I started utilizing their free lessons as well. I did other things to expose myself to Korean language and culture by shopping at local Korean markets and checking out shops in Korea town, but I was pretty shy about actually speaking Korean to anyone. I also joined a pen pal website where I was able to make some Korean friends, though to be honest, it was kind of a bad idea because my language skills were not high enough to say anything more than a basic introduction. Since I couldn’t yet discuss anything in Korean, I mostly helped my friends practice English, and asked them questions about Korean culture. It was fun, but not very helpful for my Korean language studies. I also started following lots of great WordPress blogs about Korean language self-study, which was really good motivation for me to keep going with my studies.
I Made It To Korea…Now What?
It took longer than I planned to get the job I wanted in South Korea, but after a year of waiting around in my hometown, I finally was able to hop on a plane, fresh work visa in hand, and arrived in Seoul, ready to start my new adventure. Before starting work, all new teachers had to attend a week-long orientation in Daejon where we learned about our jobs, and we also had to attend daily Korean classes. I thought it would be a good chance to boost my Korean skills and get some speaking practice, but we really didn’t learn much. It was mostly a review of very basic things I had already learned and a chance to play some funny Korean drinking games.
I kept up with self-studying in my free time and found lots of new materials to try (and spend my money on) at the bookstore. I have slowly accumulated a shelf’s worth of books but have not actually finished any book cover to cover because #imlazy. I also tried out lots of different language apps and flashcard apps to aid in my studies. I’ve tried making strict study schedules that I could never realistically stick to. I tried some different language exchange events and free classes, but they really didn’t suit my needs or excite me at all. They just weren’t for me. However, despite self-studying being a little bit of a personal struggle, I still found that by virtue of being exposed to Korean in my daily life and speaking it often, my abilities have improved over time. I’ve learned a lot from my students, but I keep discovering that I’m say things in a sort of “baby talk” since I’m picking up words and expressions from young kids. A little embarrassing sometimes, but it is pretty funny.
I like self-studying foreign languages as a hobby, so I was not too concerned about my slow progress, but as I started trying to become more independent and also more integrated into Korean society, I realized that I needed to find a better way to boost my abilities. I wanted to be able to do things on my own that any other normal Korean person is able to take care of on their own, like make an account at the bank, mail packages, sign up for rewards cards, ask questions to store employees, and tons of other simple everyday interactions.
My Current Methods
That’s when I decided to try KIIP, the Korean Immigration and Integration Program. It’s a series of language courses provided by the South Korean government that helps foreigners learn about Korean language and culture. After completing all 5 levels, participants can receive additional visa points for language proficiency that can aid them in obtaining a longer-term visa or citizenship, so it has a great benefit attached to it, in addition to being completely free.
I took the level test and was placed in level 2, which is the upper beginner class. I completed that level earlier this year and have now progressed to level 3. So far, I am really enjoying the class because the instructors are great and the material is relevant. However, I’m feeling quite stressed these days, trying to balance my work, studies, and social life. I’ve also got the level 3 exam coming up in less than 2 weeks, and I feel so behind on studying. I really want to pass so I can continue on to level 4 and eventually level 5 so that in the future, if I choose to pursue a visa change, I will have a better chance.
I’ve been using an exam planner and my bullet journal to keep track of my daily revision tasks. To study vocabulary, I’m using the Memrise app and making lists in a notebook of the words for each chapter. For grammar, I’m making flashcards of the different structures, about 40 in total. For reading, I’m practicing rereading the passages in the textbook, and reading them out-loud to practice my pronunciation and to help my fluency. I mostly only practice speaking in class, but I really ought to start practicing in my free time, too…I haven’t yet gotten around to much listening and writing, but I’m planning on reviewing the dialogues with the audio cd, and rewriting old assignments to fix any mistakes. Hopefully I have enough time to review it all, and these methods will be enough to pass the test!
My Future Goals
Like I mentioned, I really hope I can finish the KIIP program all the way through to level 5. I also hope I can start officially completing some the books and resources I’ve accumulated on my shelf. I also want to try language exchange again, now that my abilities have improved so much. In a few months, if I’m feeling confident, I want to try filming a video of me speaking in only Korean. And in the distant (but hopefully not too distant) future, I want to achieve a grade 6 on the TOPIK II examination. It’s a lofty goal, but if I’m dedicated and consistent, I think I can do it. I can try at least, anyways.
So that about sums up my Korean language journey! I have much to improve on and much to accomplish so my journey is nowhere near finished. Language learning is a lifelong journey, after all. I’ll be sharing some of my favorite Korean learning resources in the near future, so please check back later for new posts about that!
See you next time,