No matter what language you’re trying to learn, if you’re learning by yourself, you’re bound to get discouraged at some point – especially if it’s a language that you don’t get to practice on a daily basis. Unless you have the opportunity to communicate with a native speaker, there’s still a degree of unreality, a sense of “foreignness” associated with that language that I feel has to be overcome before you can aim for fluency. For example, when I first learned Hangeul, typed my first Korean sentence, and submitted it as a comment on TTMIK, I still felt like I didn’t know what I was doing – until one of the teachers replied back. It’s really hard to describe the amazing feeling of being understood by native speakers of the language you’re studying. That, in itself, was a powerful motivation to learn more and to keep improving.
I don’t live in Korea nor do I really live in place populated with many Koreans but still, as I learned more Korean, I kept trying to find ways to communicate with native speakers. (My best friend is Korean-American, but she’s also a second-year medical student so I’d rather not bother her!) I’ve talked to some people on Twitter, left comments on Talk To Me In Korean, communicated with my fellow Korean-language bloggers, posted on Lang-8, and even messaged people on tumblr. I’ve been so fortunate to get incredible feedback from so many people. One person mistook me for an actual Korean person! And my fellow language-learners have been more than generous with their compliments. I even received this incredible comment from someone on Lang-8 that nearly brought tears to my eyes.
정말 훌륭합니다. 1년밖에 배우지 않은 실력에 이렇게까지 쓸 수 있다니 놀랍습니다.
Sometimes, a person might just say 한국어 잘 하시네요 simply to be polite but even that can be encouraging to a self-learner. What I’m trying to say is that when you feel deflated and discouraged some time during your language-learning pursuit, or when you just feel stuck in a rut, FISH FOR COMPLIMENTS. Not in the crude sense of belittling your ability in order to be complimented – rather, put yourself out there to the language-learning community, to the community of native speakers to be motivated. Sometimes that motivation is a compliment, sometimes it’s a correction or a suggestion, or sometimes it’s just an answer to a comment or question you made in the language you’re learning. Nothing is more motivating than being able to communicate in the language you labored to study by yourself. The important thing is to not just bury yourself in an academic atmosphere of language-learning – among books, professors, and exams.
Of course, after reaching a more advanced level, compliments or communication without criticism, can be more frustrating than motivating; people tend to just say you’re good without giving you any points to improve on. I’m guilty of that in English – I prefer not to point out every single English grammar and/or spelling mistake an advanced English-learner makes, even if he/she asks to be corrected. For now, I don’t have to worry about that in Korean. Whether it’s compliments or criticism, feedback of any kind always motivates me!