Embarrassment as a Motivation for Learning Korean

Sometimes I’m embarrassed by my Korean level. Actually, let me rephrase that. Recently, I’m pretty much always embarrassed to admit how horrible my Korean level actually is! I suck! My Korean should definitely be better considering I lived in Korea for three years and have been unofficially studying it for more than a few years. Oh, I can give you a lot of excuses – all of which are true! But true or not, they are also excuses.

While I lived in Korea I put a lot of effort into learning Korean culture and history, and immersing myself into Korean life. By my last year, most of my friends were Korean or Kyopos and my Kyopo friends would often say I was more “Korean” than they were. I felt comfortable and happy in Korea. Consequently, I have a fairly good knowledge of Korean culture and pop culture. I have no problem talking or explaining about the differences and similarities between Canadian and Korean culture. In fact, I often do so – on this blog and to my Korean-English exchange group.

But I didn’t put a lot of effort into learning Korean beyond the basics. Oh, I can do all the survival Korean stuff like give directions, order food, go shopping – even bargain at Dongdaemun (동대문). I can read like a five-year old (very, very slowly) and I have a decent knowledge of Korean grammar (knowing this made me a better English teacher). But I can’t speak Korean worth beans! And my vocabulary is limited.

This is why I’ve made it my first goal for 2012 to improve my Korean and created a plan to accomplish it. Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m not going to be fluent in a year. I’m ambitious, not stupid! However, I do plan on taking the TOPIK test this April to see just how bad my Korean is and my goal is to improve a TOPIK level a year.

How am I going to accomplish this?

1. Flashcards – I’ve created a ton of flashcards over the past few weeks. I plan on using these to review words I know (practice reading) and to learn new words. I’m going to start with a conservative goal of one new word and one review word every day.

2. Textbooks – I’m currently using a good Korean text, Wild Korean, and plan on continuing to use it. Unfortunately, it’s the only book by that author at the moment. So I looked around for a good Korean textbook series so that as I finished one book, I could move seamlessly into the next. Plus it would be good for Say Kimchi too – and so I am ordering the first three levels of the Sogang University Korean language textbooks. The Korean Consulate in Toronto uses them and I found them logical and good for speaking practice which I really need!

3. Language Exchange – I have found a few language exchange partners and hope to be able to meet with them twice a week so I can practice my Korean speaking skills. I totally lack confidence in my speaking skills and I know as a teacher that the only way to gain confidence is to practice! I love being the organizer of Say Kimchi but I’m more concerned that everyone else is having a good learning experience, then with my own. This oddly enough means my Korean grammar skills have improved as I’m often helping the Korean-speaking members explain a grammar point to our English-speakers! But as I’m explaining in English… 

4. Korean Classes at the Korean Consulate – I love these classes! And I think they are great, especially for grammar. I’m in the middle of my third session (and teacher) and each session, which has 10 classes, has brought something different to the table. They have all made the classes interesting and worthwhile. I actually look forward to them each week – how often do you say that about school. 🙂

5. Talk To Me In Korean – I love this website but haven’t been the best at using it regularly. So I’m going to go back to the start – I’ve recently downloaded all the episodes on iTunes – and will work my way through them. I can probably finish the first level fairly quickly as it will be mostly review but once I finish the lessons that are just review for me, I’ll do a lesson a week.

6. Korean Dramas – Okay, this is more fun than studying! But to be honest, while living in Korea, I learned more Korean from watching Korean dramas than any other way. It is great practice for my listening. I just wish there was a way I could turn the subtitles off when I stream them as it’s great for learning to watch them first with no subtitles and then with subtitles. That’s how I watched them in Korea! Looking for a great place to watch Korean dramas, my favourite is DramaFever.

But my plan for improving my Korean is more than just finding ways that are effective (and free or inexpensive). I’ve also created a study schedule. I spent a lot of time last year finding different methods to learn Korean in Toronto. But without a study schedule, I wasn’t as good of a student as I hoped. This year I am going to study in a more organized fashion and more often! In fact, I plan on studying a minimum of 10 hours a week (including classes and language exchange).

The final part of my plan to improve my Korean is to take the TOPIK test. I know I mentioned this earlier but as a teacher, I know it’s important to not only know my level but to see measurable results in order to stay motivated. I need a benchmark, a starting point, so I can see improvement. I know myself (and the same is true for a lot of students), I need some structure for my studying to be effective and some method of measuring the effectiveness. Tests aren’t fun but they are generally a good way of measuring knowledge.

And for added incentive – as if not being embarrassed about my horrible Korean wasn’t enough – I’ve created a reward system too.

1. 40 study hours a month = dinner at a Korean restaurant I want to try (I have a list).

2. Learn 50 new Korean words = new nail polish

3. Finish a Korean textbook = a mani-pedi

4. Pass TOPIK level one = a new K-pop CD

5. Write a short blog post in Korean = a new dress from YesStyle.ca

I would love your feedback! What do you think of my study plan? How are you learning Korean (or English or any language)? Suggestions?

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday – this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it’s taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I’m the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

8 thoughts on “Embarrassment as a Motivation for Learning Korean

  • January 12, 2012 at 2:12 am

    Hey Cindy, it’s me Sarah (from class!) I think your study plan and reward system are a really good idea…. maybe I should start something like this for myself!

    I was looking for some quality textbooks to learn from, and I think I’ll check out the ones that you’re using. Thanks!

    As for a suggestion, I like to find pictures online or take photos, and try to write a few sentences about what I see. This also helps me with my hangul typing.

    I also like visiting the public library and real dual-language children’s books. You should probably look on the online catalogue to see if a specific branch has Korean children’s books.

    • January 12, 2012 at 9:18 am

      Hey Sarah, thanks for the idea of reading dual-language children’s books! That sounds fun!! And writing descriptions of pictures is also a great idea but maybe a little above my level at the moment 🙂

  • January 14, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    Hey Cindy, it’s Ivy (also from class)!

    Thanks for the textbook suggestions. The site you attached for one of the books is actually doing a promotion for anyone living outside of Korea. What a timely catch!

    I can’t agree more that watching K-drama is one of the most fun ways to learn. And what you learn from there, it sticks! Ah..the subscriptions, they are not so annoying to me though, because the story would often be attractive enough (w/ irresistable actors too!) that I need to know what’s going on. But I found it useful to watch a series a second time, when I could pick up more lines… I envy you could do that without subscription though!

    • January 15, 2012 at 7:11 pm

      Hi Ivy, glad I could help! I find that I concentrate on listening more when there are no subtitles and then when I watch it with subtitles I catch more. If I had time, watching without, then with and then again without would probably be best!

  • May 3, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    ~ Hi~
    I was wondering How do you use the textbooks?
    Do you use sognag 1a and 1b for beginner

    and then
    2a and 2b for intermediate class?

    • May 3, 2012 at 10:32 pm

      Hi, with the Sogang University textbooks, I started with 1A student book and workbook first. Once I finished it, I moved to the 1B student book and workbook. 1A is for beginners and 1B is the next level, high beginner. Both 2A and 2B would be for low intermediate. We now use these books with Say Kimchi but are no longer using them at the Korean Consulate.

  • August 23, 2014 at 4:47 am

    Hi there im so excited to read your blog, im just decided to start learn korean language bcuz I want to talk to one of my fave kpop idol, and there are others many reason why, but I really look forward to learn korean language. By the way, do you know what is the most barrier or difficulties that we will have when we first start to learn about Korean language..

    • August 24, 2014 at 3:53 pm

      Hi Eugenia, welcome to ATK Magazine! I wish you luck with your Korean language learning.

      As for your question, I think the most difficult thing varies with each language learner depending on their native language and where they live. My best advice to you would be to find a fun beginner class or language exchange partner.


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