First ever Korean class

So after many months of not really studying Korean (despite what it looks like on my blog, I rarely pick up a textbook and study. Almost everything I write about comes from random one-off things I read in Korean.) I decided what I really needed was external motivation to take my skill to the next level.

SO! I signed up for Advanced Korean classes at San Jose Language Center. I really feel like I struck gold here because it’s incredibly close to where I live and it’s a language school designed for adults – which means all classes are after working hours.


There are only two other students in the class and they’re both of Korean heritage. At first, the instructor said she was worried when she saw me (clearly not of Korean heritage) on her roster but we conversed for a bit, and then afterward, she said I might actually be too advanced for the class. Welp?

Either way, I was really nervous about taking an actual class for Korean that’s also completely taught in Korean. In my 7-ish years of learning the language, this was the first time I’d ever taken a class in a formal setting. I also hadn’t actually had a conversation in spoken Korean since my first trip to Seoul about 2.5 years ago.

I had my first class last Friday and… it was really, really great. Yes, I’m fairly familiar with all of the grammar we’re supposed to cover over the next seven weeks, but I’m getting so much more value than that out of this class.

  • Speaking practice: This is a huge one. Since there are only two other students and the instructor, we get to converse a lot amongst ourselves. I’m finally getting some very much needed speaking practice.
  • Proverbs: Yeah, I’m pretty terrible at learning proverbs. I’ll look them up and then immediately forget them. I think learning proverbs and idioms in a classroom – especially in one this small – will be really effective because of all the practice we do with each other.
  • Nuance: In the first class, we covered three different ways to express reason or cause: -느라고, -는 바람에, -고 해서. Though I’m familiar with all three, the instructor provided a lot of insight into the nuances of each and the different types of situations each one would be appropriate for.
  • New friends: Yay new IRL language friends!
  • Expert knowledge: I’m so used to researching/looking up all the questions I have about Korean grammar or vocabulary on my own that it’s incredible to be able to just ask the teacher when I don’t know something.
  • TOPIK prep: Because I hate reviewing TOPIK papers on my own. And (as with any kind of test prep) there are tricks that can help you master certain types of questions that are just not covered in textbooks.
  • Accountability: This is really the main reason why I wanted to take a class – so I’d be forced to study, do homework, review… or else be forever shamed in front of my teacher and peers, heh. Already since my first class, I’ve spent more time reviewing grammar/vocab in the past several days than I have in months. And by the time the course ends, I’m hoping that I will have developed a daily cadence for studying Korean that I will continue to follow.

I’m a huge proponent of self-studying languages and I always will be. If you have the drive and you can find the right resources, I think you can go far studying on your own. But I’ve come to realize (not just regarding language learning, but also other things), if you feel stuck in some part of your life, figuring out a way to shake things up really helps. I realized that I just wasn’t motivating myself to study Korean even though I really want to get better in the language (yay for the 욕심 coming back); getting myself into a classroom setting was the right way to kick my brain in gear.

Q&A: How to start learning Korean

Ishani asked: Hi Archana! I am dying to learn Korean! I know a bunch of random Korean words but cant frame them in sentences…I want to start from ABC of Korean..but how and from where do I start? Please show me a way…kamsahamnida!

Hi Ishani!  Thanks for the question.  There are lots of different ways to start learning a language.  I can share with you how I got started and point you in the direction of some resources, but if this doesn’t work for you, don’t get discouraged!  There are tons of blogs out there about language learning and there many different approaches.  This was my approach.

  1.  Listen to a lot of Korean.  I am a very auditory learner and I’m guessing you are too!  I started learning Korean the same way as you – by picking up random words from songs and TV dramas.  I kept a word document with a list of words I “learned” through listening to dialogue.  This was before I even learned Hangeul, so my list was just romanized approximations of the words.  For example: sarang – love, chingu – friend, bap – food/rice, etc.
  2. Learn Hangeul.  Romanization can only get you so far.  After you’ve familiarized yourself with the sounds of Korean, I would immediately move on to learning Hangeul.  Hangeul is super easy to learn.  Flashcards are probably the best way to go if you want to memorize them quickly, but I never bothered.  Instead, I went to my romanized list of words and tried to spelling using a Hangeul chart and then using a dictionary to see if I spelled it correctly.  Another thing I did was to look up romanized lyrics to Korean pop songs, put them side by side with the Hangeul lyrics, and basically memorize the way each syllable looked and sounded for each word.  I wrote a more detailed post about how I learned Hangeul here.
  3. Listen to TalkToMeInKorean.  Hands down, this is my favorite resource for beginning to intermediate Korean.  TTMIK is an education podcast founded by native Korean language teachers.  ALL the podcasts and their accompanying notes are completely free.  Again, I’m an extremely auditory learner, so listening to a couple episodes a day on my iPod worked beautifully for me.  Since my days as a beginner, TTMIK has evolved from being solely a podcast to a multimedia Korean language learning experience.  I highly, highly recommend them.
  4. Invest in a good textbook.  I’ll be honest – I don’t really like language textbooks.  I buy too many of them thinking I’ll use them, but inevitably, I learn more from watching TV shows and listening to podcasts.  There are a couple that I did use consistently while I was a beginner/intermediate learner.
    • KLEAR Integrated Korean:  A really great series of books.  I did a review of the intermediate books here.
    • Beginner’s Korean:  This was my very first Korean textbook.  Even though it’s supposed to be for beginners, I would highly recommend listening to TTMIK or using KLEAR before getting this textbook.  I think the grammar explanations are quite good, but it’s poorly organized, in my opinion.  Better used as as reference than a learning source.
  5. Find a language partner.  As you start learning new grammar patterns, you’ll want a place to practice your writing and speaking.  I suggest finding a language partner – there are lots of different venues for this.  Most of my Korean language partners are people I’ve met in person or through blogging.  I connected with some on Shared Talk (which, sadly, was shut down on September 1, 2015!  The cofounders are working on a new language exchange platform, so keep your eyes peeled.)  I highly suggest writing posting regularly on lang-8 too!  It’s also a great place to meet language partners and new friends.
  6. Learn how to type in Korean.  This is essential if you want to use online dictionaries, message/email/chat with your language partner.  Get yourself a set of Hangeul keyboard stickers and practice, practice, practice.  Luckily, there are lots of different typing games available online – like the one I talk about here.  I can touchtype Korean without stickers now, nearly as fast as I can type in English!
  7. Take notes.  Carry a notebook around and jot down new words and grammar points as you encounter them in dramas, songs, and reading material.
  8. Practice reading.  Don’t be discouraged if material is too difficult for you.  If you’ve done some beginner Korean, you will be able to recognize new words and sentence patterns and, if you can type in Korean, you can look them up online yourself and take notes!  There are a lot of blogs and resources online that can help with learning new words and grammar, which will advance your reading fluency.  Most Daum and Naver webcomics are free and a great place for beginners to start.  More on reading in Korean here.
  9. Do a little bit everyday.  Don’t try to cram in hours and hours of study in one day – you won’t retain anything!  Spend some time studying, but also spend time exploring what you love about the language (music, variety shows, idols, movies, etc.)  That will motivate you to get better and better everyday!  And when things get busy with school and/or work, make sure you to spend a little time immersing yourself in something Korean everyday, even if you can’t bring yourself to pick up a textbook.

Hope that helps, Ishani!  Good luck!

The “F” word

Oh, you all know the one I’m talking about.

As language learners, I think we’ve all thought about fluency at one point or another.  It’s to be expected.  For many people, fluency is the ultimate end goal of their language studies, often driven by external motivation (e.g. wanting to watch TV shows without subtitles, understand music without translations, communicate with celebrities, etc.)  It’s a way to keep them going when they hit plateaus or troughs.   What, they might ask, is the point of learning a language, if not to become fluent?  I can’t quite understand people like that, honestly.  I am in constant amazement of people who have the discipline to put themselves through the rigors of dry textbook learning, routinely, all in the name of the “F” word.  Kudos to you.

In my case, I’ve experimented with lots of different languages and, for one reason or another, Korean’s the only one that really stuck.  The only thing I did differently was to make up my mind to ignore the “F” word.  And, bam, suddenly I was in a free-for-all, no strings attached relationship.  It’s amazing how much one begins to relish the actual process of learning new things when one doesn’t have the “F” word dangling over one’s head.

Among language learners, I’m perhaps the odd one for considering fluency a burden rather than a goal.  If anything, it feels so far out of reach that it’s actually demotivating.

But here’s where I am – 2 years and five months into learning Korean and stuck in molasses since January.  Getting sidetracked by Hindi, which I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with for years.  Now I’m starting to think maybe it is time to start setting goals, or I might be stuck in this rut forever  Something small, like passing Intermediate level TOPIK or making it through a short novella or maybe finishing those Integrated Korean textbooks I bought last year.  (Speaking of books I’ll never finish, I recently bought myself a copy 노부타를 프로듀스 to get me motivated again.)

In any case, while ignoring the “F” word was good to get me past that initial learning curve, I’m at a point in my Korean learning where I need to set goals that will allow me to progress and improve.  Changing my self-study approach might be the only way to get myself un-stuck and back on track to loving and learning Korean again.  It’s definitely worth a try. :)