A Post About Learning a Language

I started writing this post because I had become absolutely indignant about how hard it was for me to learn Korean.

I mean.  COME ON.  I had started viewing this process as an unending series of disappointing self-discoveries.

When I first met Sung, I imagined myself listening to some podcasts and slowly picking it up.  When we got engaged, I had the goal of being “fluent” by our wedding.  Yes.  That’s right.  It thought I would be able to actually talk to people in Korean at our wedding.  For those of you who were at our wedding, you may have noticed that I couldn’t even say my vows without Sung’s help.

Then, when I was home alone last summer, I thought that would be the time I would really learn.  I read Hangul until my head literally hurt and copied sentences in a notebook.  But if you asked me anything off of my “script”, all I could say was “uhhhhh”.

This fall, I started taking lessons on italki and I thought that was how I’d quickly become fluent.  Every week, my teacher tells me, like, 15 new things I didn’t even know could happen in Korean.  And I’m thinking, “I don’t even remember what we did last week.”

Turns out, there is not a fast way to do this or an easy way.  And even though  I work with English Language Learners all day it took me until now to make this connection.  I have an amazing student in my class, who came to me with about three words of English.  I have watched him struggle through his first sentences, cry because he couldn’t write the word he wanted to say, and finally begin to really communicate with me and his peers.  It is one of the most amazingly beautiful things I have ever witnessed as a teacher.  And he works SO MUCH harder than I have ever worked at anything in my life.  And he is surrounded by English all day.  AND THIS IS THE BEST HE CAN DO.

Thank you, God!  I have adjusted my own expectations.  I am going to be fluent in Korean but it will probably take me 10 plus years.  I decided that, rather than spending every day wondering why I am not there yet, I am going to just work hard for 10 years and expect it to take that long.

I can remember the very first podcast I ever listened to, which taught the word for “thank you” (감사합니다).  Trying to say it felt like cotton balls stuffed in my mouth.  I could not get my lips to move in the right way.  I did it over and over again on my way home from work, until one day it was not so hard.  And now I can say it without thinking.  One word at a time, I will get there there.  I was just not used to things being this hard.

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4 thoughts on “A Post About Learning a Language

  1. […] Happy Valentine’s Day!  I have been making a Valentine’s Mix for my friends since 2008.  This year I kind of freaked out because I could not think of any new songs for you.  While listening to new music was a huge hobby for me for so long and a big part of who I was, this year it has fallen by the wayside.  I think that is partially because I have had a spiritual need for more quiet and Christian music and because I have two hobbies I have been focusing more time on (reading and learning Korean). […]

  2. I could just hug you. I am surrounded by people who work on their language skills in other languages all the time and, well, while it might not be easy for them, they have no idea of the cotton headed feeling I live in and just accept. I am SO happy you are not giving in or giving up and you are an encouragement to me, that’s for SURE!

  3. Margot, thanks for sharing your insights. By adjusting your expectations to be more realistic, you’re giving yourself freedom. Then, you’ll find yourself taking joy in even the tiniest progress! Way to go!

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