Discouraged in my Korean Studies

Hey all,

Need some advice. Lately, I’ve been pretty discouraged while studying Korean language. I started a kind of intensive 4-month project, and overall I’ve been pretty disciplined about it (better than I expected ;) ), but I’m frustrated with my lack of progress.

I realize that 4 months isn’t very long, and not to expect much, but I still expected better than this. I’ve recently had a couple very short-lived conversations in Korean, but these did not go well. My listening skills are still very poor, and I don’t express myself well, and my pronunciation isn’t very good.

My biggest frustration though is lack of opportunities to really use it. I do a lot of passive listening using the Iyagi series from TTMIK, Youtube videos and KPop songs. But I have almost 0 opportunity to practice it in terms of conversation. I have found a Korean conversation partner via language exchange (same service I used before with Japanese), but because of timezone changes, we can rarely meet, and so far I’ve been too embarrassed to do voice-chat, just typing.

Thinking back, I think a big reason why i know as much Japanese as I do was exposure through my wife, daughter and Japanese TV. Going to Japan every year to visit family helps a lot too. Even when I didn’t really want to study it, I still “got used to it”, and when I did focus on it during my JLPT studies, it helped a lot. Being able to watch J-Dramas and be able to follow along is great, as is being able to look up stuff on Google in Japanese (even when I can only read some of it).

So, lately I get discouraged. I feel like for all my 9 months of effort (started studying October), I’ve made no noticeable progress. I kind of “know” some things and in a real emergency, I could manage a little, but it’s not the kind of progress I had hoped for.

Part of me thinks I should cut my losses and focus more on improving my Japanese (as I need a lot of improvement). I have much more support and resources available, anyway. Plus it has more immediate benefit, and is fun because at least I can have basic conversations with people now and use it when I visit Japan.

Part of me thinks I should stay with it, otherwise I will always suck at it. I’ve come this far, why stop? Plus, it’s pretty fun learning through lessons at TTMIK and KoreanClass101.1 I’ve met a lot of new, nice people in person and through the Internet, so I that gives me motivation to keep trying, plus it helps me appreciate aspects of Korean culture, food and music better.

Part of me thinks I should keep doing both.

Part of me thinks I should really bear down on one only.

So, I feel pretty undecided right now.

Advice is appreciated.

P.S. I thought about “finishing” Japanese first, then resuming studies with Korean. My wife made the wise point that you never really stop learning a language. Good point. ;)

1 I listen to both lately as they have different teaching styles, and I found the overlap helps me more than using just one source.

About Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

15 thoughts on “Discouraged in my Korean Studies

  1. Hang in there! Language learning isn’t a smooth, steady climb, as you know, it’s leaps and bounds (or maybe fits and starts on the bad days!). And learning Korean can only help your Japanese, and vice versa. If you’re at a plateau at the moment, it might be a good time to take the pressure off yourself and reconnect with what you enjoy about Korean culture and language and why you want to learn it. Watch some K-drama, have a Korean feast with your family, research where you would go and what you would do if you went on a trip there (these are the things that I enjoy!). For all the vocab and grammar drills and flashcards and so on, I still reckon language sneaks into your brain when you’re doing other things (although that other stuff helps…*grin*).

  2. Hi sherdie and welcome to the JKLLR!

    That’s really good advice. Maybe it’s not a bad idea to just relax for a while and enjoy some things rather than pushing myself. I guess if I really want to learn something, I’ll look it up then.

    Yeah, they do kind of help each other at times (Japanese and Korean), but only a little. I have a post coming up about the difference between Japanese/Korean verbs (long overdue).

    The tough part of learning Korean is that I am starting from scratch, whereas when I learned Japanese I already had some exposure from my better-half. ;) So, it wasn’t so hard to get on my feet, while in Korean I feel more helpless and it’s kind of frustrating.

    Anyhow, thanks a lot. :)

  3. It’s normal to have an on and off relationship with languages as I’m working on my fourth one. I’ve taken a many years hiatus as Arabic reminds me of my ex too much, but I know I will come back to it again. I think it’s more of a process than an outcome. I mean, even us English speakers are constantly learning. Heck, even the Chinese language has 3000 characters with a good speaker learning 1000. Don’t give up, just do what’s steady, sustainable and well, fun! I know for French, they recommended children’s stuff. Jackie Chan learned English by singing. And for language they say to think in it too. Whatever your medium, do what’s fun (soap operas is how some learn English as well). Just make it enjoyable I say, and the learning will come with it! :D Karaoke, perhaps? :D


  4. Wow 4 languages?! Pink, I’m quite impressed. Interesting story about Jackie Chan too. Thanks for sharing.

    Guess it really does pay to find something you enjoy in a foreign language. :-)

  5. I’m discouraged myself with Japanese. It’s almost a year since I came back from Japan and even though I see I made some progress here by myself, I feel that it’s extremely insignificant…only listening skills and maybe better at reading. But I really feel the lack of conversation.
    It’s really frustrating.

    But the trick is to go on…and on…and on…and don’t give up.
    And then suddenly, one day you realize you’re fluent. I think. :)

  6. You mentioned J-Dramas – well, back when I was in college and studying Korean, a lot of my friends who grew up speaking it much more than I did were able to develop their speaking skills further through watching Korean dramas. The few series I’ve watched have helped me develop particularly in the whole “keeping up with conversation” aspect of Korean.

  7. Hi TWWK,

    You’re totally right: it’s an issue of having practical exposure. I’ve watched a lot of Japanese TV over the years with my better half.

    Right now though, when I watch Korean dramas/YouTube videos, etc, I understand maybe 2-3%, which is kind of frustrating. Hence I went back to the books and studied more, but maybe it’s just an matter of giving it more time.

    When I think about it, it’s not like I have a deadline to meet anyway. ;p

  8. I encourage you to keep continuing learning the both languages. In fact, there is no way of mastering one’s language if it’s not your first language. :) Don’t worry Doug. You already know the fundamentals in grammar, and you will be able to understand Kdrama eventually. :) 힘내요 덕! 한국어 연습이 필요하면 언제든지 연락하세요.

  9. Hi Hyunjoo and welcome! Thanks very much for the encouragement and advice. I really appreciate it.

    매일 연락할 거예요. Just kidding. ;)

  10. I’m new to your blog. So, I’m sorry to say, I have not read all of your previous posts. I don’t know what level your Korean is at, but I thought that, since I am learning Korean as well, I could share what has worked for me to help me feel like I have progressed. (I’m still a beginner so I don’t know how qualified I am to give advice, but I’m going to try to be helpful anyway.) I listen to TTMIK, of course, and I have a subscription to HaruKorean to help my sentence building skills. But, the thing that has helped me the most…well, the person I suppose…is Kyubyong Park. I really recommend the book “Mastering Conversational Korean: Korean for Beginners” and “500 Korean Verbs: A Comprehensive Guide to Conjugation and Usage” by Kyubyong Park. Because of these books, I can now conjugate pretty much any verb into the four main formality levels, into present, past, and future tense, and into a declarative, inquisitive, propositive, or imperative sentence. I also know the 5 conjugation patterns, and I have come to understand particles much better. I learned all of the stuff above in less than a week (I had no electricity, so I studied Korean for about 8 to 12 hours a day during that time).

    I am currently doing a project that I came up with that I call “500 Verbs in 100 Days”. It is exactly what it sounds like: I am going to know 500 verbs (at least) after 100 days. That’s 5 verbs per day, which seems very manageable to me. I am literally just memorizing the verbs from the “500 Korean Verbs” book that I mentioned above. I am on day 17 and I now know 90 verbs. I don’t think I will ever forget them. I have not forgotten any of they verbs that I have learned so far, if you asked me how to say any of them I would be able to tell you without having to think about it for more than a few seconds.

    NOTE: People have always seemed to be impressed with my memory, in school we had to memorize 5 paragraphs and recite it in front of the class (not anything to do with Korean, and everyone had the same paragraph). I waited until 10 minutes before it was my turn to memorize it and I made no mistakes when I recited it. Also, when I was in Spanish in high school the other kids hated me because I always got the highest score on EVERYTHING. Well, they loved me when it was time to split into groups to play games because whatever team I was on always won. My teacher even had a talk with me and said something along the lines of “You are one of the best students that I have had, and I don’t want to push you into doing something that you don’t want to, but I really think that you should pursue something involving languages because I really feel that you have a gift for it.” So, I don’t know if my learning style will be effective for others because I actually don’t mind just spending hours memorizing lists of verbs, phrases, nouns, etc. and I may be more apt at learning a language than the average person. (I swear that I’m not trying to brag, it’s just that I felt that this information might be necessary because I don’t know if they way I learn is different than most people.)

    Another thing that always helps me is writing stuff down. It seems like once I write something down, it tells my brain that this information must be important, so I need to remember it.

    For pronunciation, I pick a video or audio that is not too difficult and I listen to it once or twice and then I record myself saying it (I just use my webcam, but I cover the camera so that I can only hear myself because I cringe seeing myself on video). For example, on youtube TTMIK has videos called “Practice Your Korean” I will press record on my webcam and then press play on the youtube video, I will pause the video after each sentence that they say and say it myself a few times, then I stop recording on my webcam once the video is done. This helps because I hear my pronunciation right after a native speaker’s, which makes it easy to compare the two. Sorry that this comment is soooo long, but I hope I have helped in some way.

    I have a blog, (heatherhearts.blogspot.com) but I just started, so it’s not the best. I update on my Korean studies, but it’s not all about that. I just write about whatever I want to. You don’t have to check it out, I just thought that I would put it out there. ^.^

    P.S. Personally, I don’t want to try to learn two languages that I’m not very advanced in at the same time, but if it doesn’t seem to be hurting your progression in either language, then I guess it doesn’t matter. I would just choose the one that you are more passionate about and learn that until you have reached a high level of proficiency and then move on to the next one while still trying to master the first one.

  11. Hi Heather and welcome! Thanks for the advice. I’ll check out those two books you mentioned. More and more I find a variety of sources helpful.

  12. I 100% sympathise. I feel like I’ve made great, rapid progress in Korean, but now that I’m starting Japanese “from scratch” as you say, I’m frustrated with my progress and irritated that I can’t understand more than 1 or 2 words out of every podcast, tv show, or conversation. But I agree with your wife, that you never stop learning a language, so there may never be some magical time when I’ve learned “enough” Korean to switch over to Japanese. I keep struggling to learn both anyway. It can be very disheartening.

    I don’t think there’s a magic bullet solution. Language acquisition is a very long process measured in years, even if you quit your day job and study full time (which I’ve done, and it may take 2 years rather than 5, but it isn’t overnight). As other commenters have said, finding enjoyment in the process is key, otherwise the wait feels like it takes forever. I like to think of it as a great opportunity to cultivate beginners mind :)

    I agree with Krashen’s theories, especially that you need a low stress environment to learn. If it’s too hard I shut down and can’t remember anything. Unfortunately, I found watching native materials like dramas counterproductive for two reasons. First of all, I couldn’t understand the material, so it wasn’t fun to watch. Second of all, every episode reminded me of how much I didn’t understand and how far I had to go. Textbook Korean and real, conversational Korean are very different things, so no matter how much Korean I “studied” I still found I couldn’t understand dramas. This is the opposite of low-stress.

    Instead I started reading kids 만화, many of which you’ve probably read in Japanese. Because it’s informal conversational Korean written out for you to read at your own pace (+ pictures!), I found it really helpful to understanding informal Korean and thus gag shows, k-dramas, and even talk shows like 강심장 or Happy Together.

    For me, part of the reason I stuck with Korean through the horrible sucky beginner phase was because I didn’t know how long it was going to take. I kept thinking “just around the corner” until one day I picked up a book and understood 80% of it. It seems like a lot of time has passed since you started learning Japanese, so you may have forgotten what it feels like to be a beginner. As similar as Japanese and Korean are, they’re different languages, so it can be infuriating to (for example) know the kanji for a Japanese word but not understand its Korean equivalent.

    My advice is to focus on what you can DO, not what you can’t. You can’t understand the news. Okay. But you can listen to more K-Pop. You can read more Korean food blogs. You can find more example sentences for the grammar you have learned. You can learn one new word.

    I wish you the best of luck, and if you have any advice for me and Japanese, I’d love to hear it!

  13. Hi Leigh Cooper and welcome!

    There’s a lot to comment on here, too much at the moment, but I will say thank you very much for sharing your experiences. It’s funny how we’re both arriving at opposites ends but having the same issues.

    For me, I learned Japanese by spending time with wife and daughter a lot, watching Disney movies in Japanese (whether I wanted to or not), and TV shows with the family. That and being in Japan each year for a couple weeks. Exposure I guess was the key, but balanced with studying the basics over and over again. Studying for the JLPT was not as helpful as I expected.

    But as you said, how to get that exposure is important too. Indeed, dramas are hard to follow and can be discouraging. If I can’t understand, it’s not too interesting. I could better spend my time elsewhere. I will continue experimenting as I find other possible, more sustainable, sources.

    In any case, advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks for taking the time to share.

  14. Hello Doug. I think the most important key to mastering a foreign language is immersion. You must expose yourself to the environment where you’re constantly surrounded by Koreans and literally “forced” to speak Korean. Fortunately, I live in Southern California where I can do just that. If there are no Korean or Japanese speakers in your vicinity, feel free to contact me. As a half Korean and half Japanese, I should be able to help you :)

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