Staying motivated to study Korean

by Sun Hyun-woo
Groove Korea magazine

Learning a new language can be a lot of fun, and being able to speak it fluently is even more fun. It’s not easy — obviously. Memorizing thousands of new words; studying grammatical rules; mastering the pronunciation.

But once you have made up your mind to study Korean, you’ll find dozens of different ways to go about it. What do all successful Korean-language learners have in common? In one word — motivation.

How do you stay motivated to study the language when it’s so easy to get by in Korea without speaking much of it? Unless you are lucky enough to be in a situation where you are forced to speak Korean every day and everybody is helpful with your learning, you need to find some ways to motivate yourself to study more Korean. Let’s look at five ways to do that:

1. Find a reason to speak better Korean

Even if you choose not to speak Korean, you can still do everything you want to do in Korea. You can go shopping, see a doctor and even get a haircut and speak English in many places. So the first step in motivating yourself is finding a reason you must learn Korean. If living in Korea itself is not enough of a reason, it will be a good idea to take some language tests and watch your grades improve, or to join a language exchange meet-up. Hanging out with Koreans can motivate you to learn more, too.

If you still can’t find a reason to speak better Korean, perhaps you don’t really have to learn the language; you can still achieve and experience a lot of things without speaking fluent Korean.

2. Let people know that you are learning Korean

Most Koreans still find it surprising to hear people from other countries speak Korean well. Therefore it is not easy for them to assume in the first place that you are learning Korean. Once you let them know that you are studying the language, however, most people will be willing to help you learn and speak better Korean.

It’s tough early on. When you don’t necessarily want your every mistake corrected, someone will be there to straighten you out. And then when you’re ready for some help, it might be tough to find. But once you start to have more natural conversations, they will also want you to speak better, so they will provide you with a lot of actual language help.

A lot of young Koreans are very active on their social media, so using social media actively to communicate with your Korean friends in Korean can also be good motivation for you.

3. Find the material that suits your level

Once you have learned the basics, you will want to move on to the next level. You might want to start reading books or watching TV shows in Korean, but be careful not to rush it. You don’t want to get yourself frustrated and lose your motivation. Just because you turn on the TV and don’t understand everything you hear doesn’t mean you haven’t learned a lot of Korean. A lot of people make the mistake of jumping right into the native-speaker-level Korean material once they feel somewhat comfortable speaking. Instead, it is better recommended to start with newbie-level reading and listening. Children’s books and easy songs can be a good start.

If you understand more than 80 percent of a certain type of material, move on to something more difficult.

4. Avoid saying the same things over and over again

Even if you are not motivated to learn more Korean, you might already be able to say quite a bit in the language. Maybe you can buy things, ask for directions, or order food in a restaurant. But if you feel the lack of motivation even though you are using Korean every day, it could be because you are just saying what you are comfortable with, over and over again.

Have you ever just settled for a simple “gamsahamnida” to thank someone, even though what you wanted to say was way more complicated than the single phrase? If you have, how about actually looking for ways to build on your existing knowledge and learn new ways to say similar things? By broadening the scope of your vocabulary and phrases, you will find yourself able to communicate much more effectively, as well as enjoy learning even more Korean.

5. Surround yourself with other learners

You could try to master the language all by yourself, only talking to native speakers and never talking to anybody in English, like some Korean students try to do when they go abroad to learn English. But you would 1) get tired of studying Korean really easily, and 2) waste a lot of time trying many different methods for yourself. Meeting other learners to share studying tips or helpful resources can save you a lot of time, as long as you don’t only talk about the methods all day long. If your friend is studying with a resource that you have never even thought or heard about, perhaps you can give it a try. You might find a lot of motivation and fun in it. By interacting actively with other learners, you can also find the answers to some questions that you couldn’t elsewhere.

Talk To Me In Korean is a website and community that offers free Korean-language lessons. In a little more than three years, it has built a following that numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Learning Korean may not be easy, but if you find a way to make it fun and exciting, you’ll get more out of it and learn faster. Talk To Me In Korean will submit a monthly column on studying Korean. — Ed.


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