Via Korea.net: My Korean learning Journey
It was March 2013 when I was first introduced to Korea. I was a person who always liked to watch U.S. TV shows, like “Days of our Lives,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “House.” I would watch series like these on a popular Arab TV channel, and one day this channel decided to air a Korean TV show. At first, I wasn’t interested, but after the first show ended, they broadcast another. It was “Boys Over Flowers” (꽃보다남자) and the shows were dubbed into Arabic.
I watched the first episode of “Boys Over Flowers” just to pass the time, but I fell into its charms. It captured my interest so much that I decided to continue watching. As I did, I noticed the songs — the original songs on the sound track — which weren’t dubbed, of course, were beautiful and it felt as if the language was so musical. The language flowed around the musical notes and matched with the music so easily. I got interested in these songs, and decided to look them up on YouTube. As I did, I found episodes of the show itself with the original Korean subtitled into English. I decided to watch it on You Tube and I truly got interested, then, in the Korean language, not just the songs. I decided to search YouTube for material to learn Hangeul (한글), the Korean alphabet, because I thought I should first learn to read the alphabet before attempting the language.
I found Koreanclass101.com’s YouTube channel “Hana Hana Hangeul” (하나하나한글),” which means “Hangeul Step-by-step.” I learned the alphabet. I was surprised to learn that the Korean alphabet consists of only 24 letters, and I found it really easy to learn and memorize simple words like yi or “teeth” (이) and o-yi or “cucumber” (오이) as I memorized the alphabet. I continued studying until I came to the point where they started teaching double constants and double vowels. That’s where it got confusing a little bit, but Teacher Amy said that this was normal at the beginning and that we shouldn’t get too hung up about it. I kept on learning new vocabulary through that YouTube channel and also signed up for free lifetime membership at their website. There, I have access to lots of free material to study, like a dictionary, vocabulary lists and audio and video lessons.
I kept searching Google for other websites that teach Korean grammar and found the site Howtostudykorean.com. That website explains Korean grammar constructions very thoroughly. It’s all divided into units, from beginner to intermediate to advanced, and everything in between. I started studying like crazy, studying two to four lessons per day, every day, finishing one unit in about a month, maximum. I wanted to finish it fast and to be able to speak fluently as soon as possible.
I couldn’t stop there, though. My hunger for the Korean language lead me to YouTube again. I’m a visual-auditory learner, and videos help me a lot. This time, I found a channel called SweetandtastyTV where Professor Oh — her name is Oh Minah — makes a video series called “K-wow” — the Korean Word of the Week — where she dresses up and pretends to be different characters and teaches a new Korean word every week. Of course, I discovered her channel much later, after she started making these videos, so I had a huge number of videos to feast on. She also had other videos where she explains aspects of modern Korean society. She also visits tourist attractions in Korea and films short video clips about her trips there, which I really, really loved.
For the most part, I used Howtostudy.com as the main website to learn Korean, as I was concentrating on grammar. During this period, I discovered the pop group SS501 that was the main group that sang on the show “Boys Over Flowers,” with their signature song “Because I’m Stupid” (내머리는너무나빠서). I kept listening to their songs and to the songs from the show and started studying they lyrics, as they provided a really good vocabulary and good context to memorize words. Using all these different tools, I started collecting a word bank and things started to get confusing. I really hate memorizing words. I started searching for a way to make it easier and more fun to learn. I discovered the site Memrise.com that’s a tool that allows you to make your own courses to study, where you add the words with a translation if you want, and it teaches you the words in a game-like manner. It makes you want to get a higher score, just like in a game. I started entering the words I had collected from here and there, and started studying them at that site. There were a lot: I had more than 3000 words.
Then I came back to grammar, as Korean is kind of grammar-focused in my opinion. You need to know different grammar constructions to be able to say a lot of things. Almost everything you want to say requires some sort of a grammar construction. For some reason, the site Howtostudykorean.com stopped uploading new grammar material and I couldn’t feed my hunger. So I went searching online again for other websites.
This time I found Talktomeinkorean.com (TTMIK). While I had seen this website before, for some reason I thought their lessons weren’t free. This time, I realized that their entire catalog of lessons is free, and they start from level one up to level nine. I started at level four, as I found that I already knew the material at levels one through three. After studying at Howtostudykorean.com, I kept advancing until I finally finished level nine. Yes, you guessed it. I was studying two to four lessons per day.
That site really helped introduce grammar constructions in a very simple and very fun way, I must say. That site also has an i-ya-gi series (이야기), or “stories series,” for intermediate learners that’s really amazing. It trains your listening skills and it’s also free. How great is that? That website offers a free PDF with the script of the episode that you can download. Also, it provides English translations for the series, but you have to buy that from their online store.
Each episode is a few minutes long and the topics they choose are fun, everyday, practical topics. I’ve used some of the episodes, but I have to tell you after reading each episode scripts that I discovered how much I have neglected improving my listening skills. I was unable to recognize a lot of words. So I started searching for other easier material to improve my listening skills.
I found good advice online: listen and watch cartoons, as the words in them are a bit easier, since they’re targeted at children. So I went to YouTube and starting watching two cartoon series. They are “Rolling Stars” (롤링 스타즈), which is about a baseball team taking on victory after victory and wining the Space League, and “Spheres” (스피어즈), which is about an abnormal child with more magical sphere powers than her friends. She and her friends and teachers have to protect the world from the Sphere Union. They’re both so much fun, but now I can’t find any new series to watch. Could you recommend one for me, please? Without subtitles? Thank you.
Another good way to improve your listening skills is to watch live variety shows and soap operas that are a ton of fun. I watched some of them, but I felt like cartoons were easier, especially at the beginning levels. As you know, they’re targeted at children, and children learn their native language by listening to the people around them. The cartoons that target them allow learners of foreign languages to mimic that learning style by submerging ourselves in our target language and starting small so that we don’t get overwhelmed.
Even with all this, I still felt like something was missing. I was missing the opportunity to ask questions and to get them answered, which TTMIK provided through their Twitter feed, but it could be a long wait to get an answer. While I was searching online about how to improve my listening skills, I found one blogger whose name I, honestly, can’t remember. In one of her blog posts, she mentioned a website called Lang-8.com where you can post a journal or a diary or any written material in your target language. Native speakers then correct it for you and you can also make friends with them. So I went to that website, signed up, and posted a few journal entries there. I got some good corrections and feedback. I also used the website’s app, “Hi Native,” that can be accessed both on a desktop and on a smartphone. That app was the missing piece I was looking for. That app provided the ability to ask questions and receive answers almost immediately, for any type of question. So I used this app to ask questions about things like the difference between ~을 것 같아 and ~을 것 같애, which I noticed while watching “Rolling Stars.” The answer was basically that there’s no big difference between them. It was very, very convenient to ask questions and to receive answers like that.
Back to vocabulary, I found that I had forgotten the words I collected and memorized at Memrise.com. When I searched online for tips about studying vocabulary, I came across one important piece of information. It is, I believe, the trick to memorizing words. It’s that you have to memorize words in context in order for them to sink in. Haven’t you noticed that when you study lyrics of a song or a TV show line, or even a cartoon, that it sinks in? That’s what happened with me when I was searching for a word that I found in a song. It sank in really deep and so I realized that I have to adapt that same strategy to other words. I have to take all the words I collected and put them into example sentences and memorize the whole sentence, not just the word. So I searched for another tool that could do that. Memrise can do that, but that would require me to re-enter my entire dataset of vocabulary words, adding the sample sentence as a flashcard image. I thought I could find a better tool, and found it at Quizlet.com. That site allows you to add pictures to your words from its own database, or you can upgrade your membership and upload your own photos. Even though I didn’t upload any audio, when I studied the words it played an audio, even on the example sentence I put in there. That was amazing because I’m a visual-auditory learner. So I collected the words I found hard to memorize or which I had forgotten and made them into a set where I put the word and sample sentence together. I started to memorize them together, and now I’ve started making my own flashcards where I have the word, it’s meaning, the type of word it is (verb, adjective, whatever), a picture describing it, and an example sentence that uses the word! It’s great!
I only started learning Korean in 2013, and it’s January 2017 now. I can say that I’m now able to have simple conversations, and I can’t do much more because of a lack of vocabulary. Through this journey I’ve learned a lot about how to learn a language. There are two pieces of advice that I’d really like to give to my fellow Korean learners. Avoid Romanization altogether. It just makes it harder for your brain to translate the shape of the letters into the corresponding sound. For example, you will always confuse ㅐ for an H sound. It looks like an H, and you wouldn’t translate a ㅁ into an M sound because you’re used to reading the word in its Romanized form. At least, that’s what happened with me. Secondly, be willing to make mistakes. Yes, that’s right. You have to be willing to make mistakes. I worked as an English teacher before and I believe a lot of language skill development depends on practicing and speaking the language. You WILL make mistakes, but that’s okay because if you don’t make mistakes, no one will correct them for you.
Finally, I want to ask all of you fellow Korea lovers and learners of the Korean language: what are your top secrets to studying Korean? I’m curious to know. Please do tell us in the comments section. See you there~