Well, given that I’ve attempted learning Korean and Chinese (both written and spoken) and have somewhat managed to go through it without losing my hair, I’d like to think that I kind of have a grasp of what works and not when learning a new language. People come to me and ask if it’s tough, learning these language – it is. I’m not going to hide it – but it wasn’t so difficult that I was on the verge of giving up at any point. I’ll probably put up a vlog on this when I have time but for now let’s do a blog post!
Let’s get real – Chinese is one of the MOST difficult languages that we can ever imagine to have. And who in the world learns Korean just for fun? Nobody. I didn’t, but I’ll work on that later. I have decided to break down what worked for me in points!
#1 : Learn to love the hardest part of the language – written form.
Korean : You would have thought it’s the weirdest language out there with squares and boxes, and it must be so hard learning to read all that stuff. The hook that got me to learning this was when I found out the language was alphabetical and in nowhere near Chinese where a stroke could change the whole meaning of the word. I got so enticed just realizing that fact – that I was on a roller coaster on memorizing the words over two days.
Chinese : All Chinese letters are pretty easy to write. You just have to remember the simple elements of fire, wood, animal, food, water. Anything that has to do with water (sea, ocean, pool) always has the water element next to the word. The supporting character for you to read it out and give it its own meaning would be another simple character.
#2 : You CAN’T stop at intermediate level. KEEP GOING.
Before you start, prepare mentally to survive till advanced level. This is an advice that has been given by SO MANY lecturers from Korea and Beijing – and I stay true to that.
Just because you can already read the words, and hold a simple conversation now – doesn’t mean you will remember how in a couple of years down. Your brain can only sustain information (especially when it comes to a foreign language that you may not use commonly) when you reach an advanced level where you do not need to thread words together before saying them. This makes it that when you stop using it as often as when you learnt the language, it just degrades to an intermediate level – but you will still be able to brush things up in no time when you are determined to get back to advanced level.
For those who stopped at intermediate level will probably see what I mean.
#3: Learn with New Media
I love songs and watching movies. I made it a point to polish pronunciation and listening skills by switching all entertainment to the language I was learning. When I was learning Korean, almost everything on my playlist was Korean. I watched Korean movies, dramas, sitcoms. I didn’t go through a day without listening to Korean. Same thing too when I was in Beijing.
I downloaded a music app that only played Chinese songs that had lyrics in Chinese and romanized words so I turned that on every morning when I was getting ready. Before going to bed, I just let the TV play so that I could watch dramas or them reading news. Even if this may not mean that I could understand everything, your brain is actually absorbing on the pronunciation and placement of grammar. It may even be something as simple as “News is brought to you by…” or “Coming up next..”. Your brain picks that up unknowingly because its on repeat – and it may not be a practical thing you will be able to use right away. But you will be surprised how fast your sleeping mind picks up compared to your conscious state.
#4 : Start translating early!
Yeap. Even as a newbie. 3-4 weeks into learning the language.
For those learning Korean, you’ve got the best choice of songs. Kpop songs usually don’t make sense and are CRAZY repetitive. Learn translating those songs line by line – download one of those dictionary apps on your phone. I personally recommend Daum Dictionary. For example, I’m just going to pick the simplest and most famous Korean song. Gangnam Style. You will realize that there are repetitions of the same word. Find out what they are and they probably are words that are very commonly used in the context of conversational language.
Areumdawo / sarangseureowo /
Keurae neo / hey / keurae / baro / neo /hey
Areumdawo / sarangseureowo /
Keurae / neo / hey / keurae /baro/ neo hey
Translated Version :
Yes you, hey, yes you, hey
Yes you, hey, yes you, hey
Now let’s go until the end
Well, now you know Areumdawo is Beautiful. And Sarangseureowo is Loveable!
It is a proven method to work and get the words in your head.
Translate your favorite songs of the language even if its tough. Go through it over and over again. The feeling of understanding the song upon your own research is not an explainable feeling. It’s alot different than getting readily translated versions online. Doing this well enable you to identify the most common words and having translate c0untless of songs will remind you vocab by vocab each time they appear. You really only need 300 vocabs or so to be able to start speaking normally!
#5 Carry a D.I.Y Vocab book!
I wrote down words that I didn’t know but would like to know and went back to write it down. For example, after translating a song of choice – and I find that a word is used so ever so frequently I would write it down and separate it based on columns. It doesn’t have to be words you can use. Write down things that you find interesting, even if it is vulgar or too sexual. Yes I said it. There would be no context that you will be able to use it, but sometimes it’s these triggers that helps us remember grammar better because of its shock level.
Here’s a glimpse into my first DIY book. I have two of these over the span of time I was learning. But really, the first one already had me speaking quite comfortably!
After jotting down random words, you can advance to writing down sentences that you learn or hear by the streets like this below.
What you do with this book, is that it has to be SMALL SIZED and you would be able to bring this book EVERYWHERE you go, or at least to the toilet when you can. Take it out and test yourself page by page, slowly. You don’t have to memorize everything. But what I do is I try to memorize one page (that probably has like 10 words?) and i test myself at the end of it – by covering the translation of it in English. I do that again the next session – and slowly you start to remember. Don’t move on so quickly just because you feel like you’ve got it. Get back to it at random times just to see if you know the words still.
You’d be surprised at how much you’ve grown. Looking back at my D.I.Y book now, puzzles me how those words were like algebra.
#6 Learn it with at least one friend that you know prior to classes (who is as determined as you are!)
This is important because of the beginning stage of the learning experience. Enrolling yourself into a class will still get you friends to talk to. But you may not be as comfortable texting or conversing in the language because you may still be quite distant from each other. However if you get a friend to come in with you, you start making silly mistakes and you may even be braver to ask questions on what you missed out and make fun of the people in the class or parts of the class.
Maybe you both found one of the words to sound very much like a very obscene word in your first language, that would be a good thing to laugh over – and also will be a good memory trigger 🙂 You will also end up growing with a friend and it just makes it more fun to be able to share secrets over a foreign language that nobody else knows. It’s almost like a special power.
#7 Be Brave To Make Mistakes!
There is no more advice more previous than this.
Make your mistakes, with whatever you have. Use sign language – you will learn from this making mistakes and being corrected because it also triggers a shock factor into your mind and you WILL remember it because there is an instance that helps you. Everybody has student ego at some point, when you believe you have known enough for your own liking. It is at these times that it is best to test it out and be prepared to be corrected. I still am being corrected till this day and do not mind it one bit! You NEED grammar nazi’s to help you with this.
#8 Talk to yourself. Have an imaginary friend.
I’ve never told anybody this. But I had my imagination turned on ever so often when I was learning the languages. Before I slept, I imagined instances and I would speak out loud as part of being in a conversation. I was both A and B who was speaking to each other. I know it sounds kind of odd and not everybody can do this. But doing this more gave me confidence and realization that I could actually say the things I want to say. It can’t be scripted, I had to come up with my own impromptu responses. Nobody was there to judge me – and I was braved to use words that were at the back of my head!
I imagine marketplaces alot and quarreling with old nasty women. That was a way to fire up conversations.
Then I’d go to bed. Not long after, I started dreaming in the language I was learning. Always happens 🙂