Foreign Language ExperienceHaving lived in South Korea for almost 20 months, I’ve obviously had a lot of experience with the Korean language and Korean culture. I’ve learned a lot about how someone can effectively acquire a second language and how difficult it can be. The focus of this topic will be on how necessary having formal training is to acquire a foreign language.
The Korean language is one of the hardest languages in the world to acquire. According to the united states
“Defense Language Insititute”, it is a Category IV language, meaning a minimum of 63 weeks of instruction to be able to use the language effectively and comfortably . For me, I haven’t formally studied the language at all in a classroom setting; however I have studied it on my own.
When I first came to South Korea, I wasn’t as culture shocked as I thought I would be. I found for the first few months that I could get by pretty easily using simple english for things like my daily shopping, eating in restaurants, seeing a movie, and other similar actions. But I quickly grew frustrated not even being able to read Hangeul, the Korean alphabet, or being able to communicate well, and decided I needed to take action.
I had already learned about 50 words out of necessity. Students had taught me some simple classroom words like, “sit down, pencil, eraser, desk, chair, be quiet.” The other words I knew were obvious ones like “please, thank you, hello, good bye” and the like. My learning had been closely following the Natural Order Hypothesis , but didn’t progress in a satisfactory manner.
I decided on using an internet website for people to language exchange through, knowing that there are thousands of people looking to meet english speakers to practice. Usually we would spend an hour or so speaking in english, and the next hour the people would do their best to teach me Korean.
Despite studying for about five months, I felt that I hadn’t really learned much. I had learned to read and write Hangeul, but that doesn’t take long. Hangeul was designed to be simple and easy, specifically for the “lower class” to learn how to read and write . I have a friend who has been formally studying Korean for only two months, and he said they learned to read and write Hangeul in only one week. Otherwise, I had learned a handful of phrases and a lot of vocabulary, but most of that never stuck, as it wasn’t practical to use it. The teaching that I was receiving had no direction; this was mostly my fault. I wouldn’t be sure what I wanted to learn in my sessions; I thought that anything would be worthwhile. While that might have been true to an extent, I see now how good formal training is.
Since then, I’ve been completing workbooks and having my Korean girlfriend go over what I’ve learned. I study speaking and writing every day, and I automatically read and listen to Korean on a daily basis since I live here. The differences in learning are significant. With more formalized training, I find myself having structure in my learning; when I learn, the lessons are structured in such a way that they start easier and get harder as I progress. When I start easy, I feel more confident after learning certain rules and skillsets.
Nevertheless, despite trying to bring my studying into a more structured, cohesive format, I still feel that my foreign language learning has been significantly worse than studying in a classroom setting. The proof of this is with my friend, who has only been studying for a couple of months, yet already has surpassed me in some areas regarding Korean. Studying in a classroom with a certified teacher is the best way to acquire a foreign language, and it’s the same with english. However, immersion is also extremely useful, but without formal training, people cannot understand the how and why of the language.
To me, learning a foreign language is an excellent way to experience a new culture. To best acquire it, formalized training, immersion, and a lot of patience will get you to where you want to be. I have been so pleased with my foreign language experiences so far, and I hope to continue to enjoy it in the future.