My Experiences with Language Learning

Usually I write about grammar rules or try to put a linguistic spin on whatever has my attention at the moment, but today I wanted to talk about my own experiences with language learning.

I was born into a bilingual family, so I can’t really say what it was like for me as a child to learn English or Spanish; speaking one, the other, or some combination of both is all I’ve ever known. But, as an adult, I’ve recently taken it upon myself to learn at least a little Korean. Learning the written alphabet, Hangul, was simple enough for me. I tend to be good with memorization—at one point in my life I had the English alphabet memorized backward, and I used to recite it as a party trick. Sarcastic sobriety tests aside, my experiences with Korean haven’t been nearly as fun. It’s been a challenge for many reasons.

Hangul is the written alphabet used in korea

Hangul is the written alphabet used in Korea

Why Korean

Since I already speak Spanish, learning a romance language (French, Italian, Portuguese, etc.) would have been far simpler, but I really wanted to learn Korean to be able to better understand Korean movies (I watch a lot of these) and Korean TV shows (I watch a lot more of these). I hoped my determination would make it easier. It hasn’t.

Learning a Language on a Busy Schedule

Without a practical use for learning Korean, other than to lessen my need for subtitles, I can’t really bring myself to set aside too much time for studying. Basically, whenever I have free time during daylight hours, I pull out my vocabulary flashcards, or my book, or a Korean literature e-book I keep on my phone for reading practice and study for the few minutes I find myself idle. This works up to a point especially with vocabulary, but to really absorb grammar and syntax rules I find I need a great deal more time for each study session.

Learning Languages with Kids Running Around

I love my daughter with all my heart. She is funny, smart, and sweet. The problem is she’s also very, very sneaky. I don’t think anyone can argue thatdrawing children are fast learners, so when you tell your child to have some “quiet play time” so that mommy can take a look at her “word cards”, it won’t be long before your child realizes that in order to avoid “quiet play time” those cards need to disappear. I have “lost” my flashcards at least five times, and they always end up in one of my daughter’s hiding spots. If you have children, don’t let them deter you. Instead of letting flashcard thievery, textbook defacement, and general noisiness hinder your studies, try including your child in your activities. Coincidentally, when my daughter gets to draw pictures on her own set of cards, mine go missing a lot less often.

I Can’t Do It Because I’m a Grown-Up

This is a thought I have often: I can’t learn a new language because I’m a busy grown-up with busy grown-up things to do. I’m sure many people feel this way. They have things to do, people to see, lunch to make, and laundry to fold; learning a new language for no reason relating to business or family can sometimes seem frivolous. Guess what: it isn’t.

When negative thoughts like these have me doubting my resolve I like to remember what I was told as a child while going through that whole I-hate-school phase (ages 10-17): your mind is like a knife, and you should do anything you can do to make it sharper to cut through life’s red tape. Did I know what “red tape” was as a kid? No, but the message is clear regardless. The same holds true for you as well, you may be teetering between taking time to learn a language or getting swept away by all the other things that need to get done, but even if you are learning a new language “just because”, you are also making yourself more valuable to future employers and any other situations that come up as a result. Has my Korean paid off yet? Why yes, just the other day thanks to my new language skills I was able to recognize that the rude gentleman who took my parking spot outside the grocery store was speaking Korean and effectively called him a jerk. My road rage is now available in three languages, if that’s not personal growth, I don’t know what is. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some flashcards to look over.

What are your reasons for learning a new language? What difficulties have you come across, and what breakthroughs have you made?