Learning Korean in Seoul. For free!

My biggest motivation to live in Seoul was my desire to learn the language. I learned the basics of Korean in high school, and I hated how I could only pronounce things and say simple phrases like “Where is the bathroom?” but never understand full conversations. Since I started learning this language, I wanted to be good enough to communicate in it. Although I was not sure about what I wanted to do after graduating college, I knew that I wanted to acquire a third language.

During the first few months, I needed some basic vocabulary and grammar review, so I bought a grammar book taught in Japanese. It’s sometimes easier to learn with Japanese, because there are more similarities in expressions and grammar. Then I tried going to a weekly class offered for $1 per session. The class was great because it helped me become aware of my level and learn how I could teach myself, but the time and location was inconvenient, so I stopped going. Another thing that I did was to watch Korean dramas with and without subtitles, and listen to K-pop while following the lyrics. Those were nice to do when I didn’t feel like doing some serious studying.

What I’ve settled with as the best way to learn the Korean language is through language exchange friends. They teach me Korean, I teach them English. I can’t stop my busy co-teachers in the middle of the conversation to explain what they said, but with friends, I can take my time and ask them step by step, how they made the sentence, and how to use the word they used. The best part about it is that it’s free and we can schedule a convenient time! We just have to pay for our drinks since we meet at cafes. Another good thing is that with friends around the same age, we could talk about what we did the past week, and that automatically becomes a language lesson. My Korean friends’ English level is better than my Korean level, so they practice speaking English by explaining Korean grammar and vocabulary to me. If we don’t know how to say it, we take out our smart phones and use the search engine or dictionary/translation app. Thank goodness we don’t have to carry around dictionaries to do this!

Language exchange sessions with friends are fun, and sometimes intensive because it feels like our brain gets fried from trying to explain slight differences between phrases. That feeling of using my brain is similar to the feeling of using my muscles for exercise. Both make me feel tired, yet happy. But I can’t just stop there and bask in the feeling of accomplishment. I am horrible at memorizing, so I’d forget if I don’t write it down, look back at it, and use it. The most important part of learning is to review, review, review what I learn from these sessions. I have several notebooks that I’ve filled with Korean words and phrases, and now I’m reviewing it by transferring it onto a flashcard app on my phone. That way I can review it whenever I’m bored on the subway. I still have a long way to go, but I’m excited for what I’ll achieve in the next few months!


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