I have a secret: I am obsessed with languages.
I love learning about different people and the different customs they have. I love interacting with them, and I love how surprised they are when they find I can speak a little of their language or know so much about their culture (another secret leaked: I wanted to be an FBI agent when I was little). Anyways, I started learning Korean, let’s say, a year ago. At first it was really just “I’ll learn a few phrases every once in a while” so I guess actually I didn’t seriously start focusing until a month ago. Especially with school and stuff, it’s hard to fit another language in especially since I was studying two in school.
I would say these are my five basics of learning any foreign language:
1) Keep on learning new vocabulary words. Learn food words, then household object words, etc. If you’re taking the language in school learn even more words in the category that you’re currently on. A strong vocabulary background really helps you especially when you start making varieties of sentences.
2) Learn grammar. You don’t want to start speaking the foreign language and have it sound really weird. Conjugations are a pain and such, but you don’t want to be stuck at direct English translation (especially if it’s a language like Korean or Japanese where the direct object goes in the front; for example, it would be “Apples I like” instead of “I like apples.”) or pointing and grunting at whatever you want. Haha. Anyways, Korean has two types of conjugation: formality level conjugation and actual tense conjugation. It’s a pain for a self-learner like me, but luckily enough I’m fluent in Chinese and know a bit about Japanese, so an insight into these Asian languages really helps me understand their structure.
3) Learn some idioms/native slang. In Spanish they don’t say “pull my leg” to mean “joking.” They say “tomar el pelo” which literally translates to “pull the hair.” There’s a whole category of four character idioms in Chinese that I had to memorize for the AP Chinese test, each one having a different story behind it and such.
4) Practice. Find a native speaker/someone who knows the language well and just refuse to speak to them in any language but the one you’re learning. I don’t know how many people I’ve impressed (annoyed) with my Korean already. Plus, I can practice my pronunciation and have them correct it if it’s wrong, and develop the confidence that I need to speak it to native speakers. It would be sad if you learned the whole language, went to that country, and then was too scared to speak it out loud.
5) Learn their culture as practice. Listen to songs in that language and search up lyrics, read newspapers in that language, read books, read online news, watch TV shows, watch movies, listen to radio, etc. Just expose yourself to the language as much as possible. When I was improving my Chinese enough for me to feel confident in speaking to my native family members, I searched up many lyrics and learned many songs, so not only did I know so many more new vocabulary words, but I also had some cultural knowledge as well and impressed many people my age that I met in China. I also watched Chinese TV shows. The hardest ones to watch would have to be the ancient Chinese dramas because the people speak in riddles and flowery language, so even now as a fluent speaker I don’t understand every word they say, but I’m able to get the gist of it. Plus reading the Chinese subtitles is a challenge that I like taking.
I want to share some of the materials that I use to learn Korean because the book that my Korean friend lent me is just so darn cute. Here’s the front of my basic vocabulary book. I can’t get over the fact that there’s a dog sitting on a pink toilet. Sorry.
Here’s the stickers inside the book. Even though he said I could have some of the stickers, I haven’t been able to touch them because they look so perfectly cute by themselves there.
And here’s the inside. As you can see, there’s no English at all. Apparently it’s a “textbook” for really small children in Korea.
And here’s my own notes on grammar and such. As you can see, I love to highlight and color code because it helps me so much:)
I’m hoping to touch up on my Japanese soon so that when I go back to China I can visit both Japan and Korea…and survive. Haha. I think I can pull off being both. Are you interested in learning Korean? A good start would be learning the alphabet, and then these basic phrases. Then, start learning vocabulary. One of the secrets to finding these vocabulary lists is going to StudyBlue or Quizlet and searching “Korean.” Lists of vocab will pop up and you can start from there. There’s millions of other resources on the web, so just Google and learn! It’s so easy to learn languages nowadays. It would also be amazing to find an online penpal, but I haven’t succeeded yet, so currently I’m just calling my Korean friends 사과 and making them laugh.