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[ENG] Boost your Korean (p2): Why wasn’t I improving? Let’s start with VOCAB!

Learning languages is like a piece of cake? Super easy?

Yum yumm

Except for some people who are gifted in learning languages, no one would say it’s easy.

In part 1, I’ve shared with you (briefly) about my motivation and the process of learning Korean in recent years. Read it here: [ENG] How to boost your Korean (p1): TOPIK?

Part 2 will be about the reasons why I didn’t improve, and resolutions I used to overcome the situation.

1. Why wasn’t I improving?

I assumed too much.

I assumed that as soon as I arrive in Korea, my Korean will blossom. I also believed in what people say: Having a Korean boy friend will do magic to my Korean.

Now I will confidently confirm with you: No, all of these are not true.

Or at least, they are not 100% true.

Vietnamese language and Korean language are fundamentally different in grammar. I-ate-meal. But in Korean, it is Meal-eat-past tense, with no “I”. And that is the most simple sentence. For complex ones, it is merely impossible to guess, whether you are reading or listening to people.

In terms of vocabulary, Vietnamese and Korean both share a large pool of Sino-originated words. For example: Chuẩn bị – 준비 (jun bi) – 准备 (zhǔnbèi). All sound similar and have a same meaning: preparation. This gives advantage to Vietnamese learners. But Chinese and Vietnamese both have tones, which makes the transliteration “closer” to your ears. Korean doesn’t have tones and Hangeul is very simple as well. Both Tài nguyên – 资源 (zīyuán) – Resources and Tình nguyện – 志愿 (zhìyuàn) – Volunteer become 자원 (ja won) in Korean. Therefore sometimes the Sino card doesn’t work.

And we can’t forget Korean has its pure Korean words too! When you hear “다가가다” (da ga ga da) for the first time, can you immediately know that it means “go approach” without learning it in advance?

In short, being thrown into a Korean language environment does not mean you will suddenly know Korean, understand it well, speak it well. Same to having a Korean boy friend or girl friend. Same to taking classes with many Korean-speaking classmates. You may pick up a bit of the language here and there, but it will not take you far if you’re around beginning or intermediate level.

Learning passively and believing “Time will solve” do not work. Conclusion: We need to be more active! 🙂

(It was so simple, I cried).


2. The very first step: Vocabulary!

There are 2 groups of language skills: Input (Reading, Listening) and Output (Speaking, Writing). I start with Input ones because it’s the input :P.

In order to read or listen, we need to know the words. It’s useless to set the goal of knowing all the words, because we can’t, and because it’s not useful. Every language has it collection of the most frequently used 500-1000-2000 words and we can begin from there.

The tool I use to learn vocab was introduced by a very good friend, and it was a HUGE help. The website/app is called Memrise, which will make you memorize words in a fun way. That is important, since nothing can be more dull than trying to learn stuff you don’t know when will be of use. You learn 10 or 20 words a day. The next day you come back to review them and learn new words. There are different “game plays” for us to choose so it’s most of the time fresh and motivating.
I use 2 courses: One for TOPIK and one for general comprehension.

My friend finds Memrise best to support class (for example: You use Yonsei Korean textbook, and follow a course based on the same book on Memrise). I agree, but also like to use Memrise as a source on its own. Remembering 5 or 10 words doesn’t make a difference, but when I attain ~100 words, many texts around me (articles, emails, sign boards,…) start to make more sense!

In the most concentrating period, I spent one hour every day on Memrise (30 min for each course above), exactly 11pm to midnight hehe. I didn’t think of it as a task, but rather a reward. Same to exercise, I think. I’ve worked hard for the day, so why not treat myself a gym visit? Haha. We tend to appreciate what makes us better.

Learning is not a task, but a reward.

OMG I still haven’t finished yet TT____TT. Need to have dinner soon… So see you in part 3: Working on grammar and putting things into context. Have fun learning Korean!


Part 1: [ENG] How to boost your Korean (p1): TOPIK?

Part 2: [ENG] Bost your Korean (p2): Why wasn’t I improving? Let’s start with VOCAB!

Part 3: Working on grammar + Putting things in context

Part 4: Prepare for the TOPIK

Part 5: Beyond the exam

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