Preparing For TOPIK and Reflecting On a Tough Year in Korea

Korean TOPIK test


This is a Korean fitness blogger at my gym who has been one of the many people I’ve practised Korean with over the last 9 months. When I’m not at work or learning Korean this is usually where I am – social risk-taking by chatting to the local lads and lasses ;).

When I first joined that gym I couldn’t communicate AT ALL with any of these guys but man how things have changed! :)


It’s hard to believe that I’ve only got about 8 weeks left of my contract here in South Korea (my contract has been shortened by a few weeks).

Actually, I prefer to think of it as weekends remaining – I have 8 weekends to fill up with as many amazing activities and speaking opportunities as I can before I jet off somewhere else.

I’m not sure if or when I’ll come back to Korea yet.

It’s a good time to find university work here but I’m in desperate need of a long holiday and change of scenery I think before I do that (plus I’d like to pick up another language for a while).

If I do leave Korea in 8 weeks then it looks like my next destination will be somewhere in Europe. :)

Lately I’ve been as active as possible, soaking up the sun (although monsoon season just got here which is a bummer) and I’m booking in every physically adventurous, outdoor activity that I can. On top of learning Korean I’ve been serious about my fitness goals, spending a few hours every day pushing myself to new limits (and inspired even more lately by the results of Henry Cavill aka Superman’s insane regimen :)).

I’ve saved gigs and gigs of video and photos of my time in Korea that I just simply have not been able to put together and post so far because of time and other distractions.

When I finally do get a long break, I hope to plonk my arse near a beach somewhere and get everything properly updated!


Preparing for my Korean TOPIK Intermediate Test

It’s booked in.

So I had originally planned to take the Intermediate TOPIK test after September but I realised that with my shortened work contract and the possibility that I might not be here for the last 2013 exam, I had to book it in for July – very unprepared.

That means that after only 9 months of learning Korean (and 1 month of actual study) I’m giving it a shot.

Now there are three TOPIK tests (Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced) and each test’s results are divided into two tiers. For example, if you pass the Beginner test but get under a 70% average then you’re level 1 but if you get over 70% then you’re level 2, and so on.

I decided not to take the Beginner test for a few reasons:

  • Firstly, from looking at previous papers I think the Beginner test is far below my current level. Of course everything is different in a test and I’ve been learning Korean with hardly any actual “study” so my written level is definitely much lower than my conversational level.
  • When applying for things like university study (or work), usually Intermediate Level 4 is the minimum requirement. Anything below that, while still impressive, isn’t worth much on paper.
  • Most importantly I’ve decided to take the Intermediate test to challenge myself harder than ever. The next month will be a massive challenge to learn quite a bit of a vocab, grammar and practise writing essays (which I’ve never done).

The toughest part of this test by far is the writing section which requires a 400-600 word essay in Korean.

The only times I write are when I send SMS or Facebook messages to my friends in Korean and it’s very casual!

I’m making heavy use of Memrise for vocab (there are some great TOPIK courses on there), going over previous tests and writing as much as I can for my Korean friends to proofread.

Of course, italki has been a massive help as well.

Now here’s the thing:

I don’t actually expect to pass this time.

I’m shooting for an Intermediate Level 4 (I suppose you could loosely compare it to a B2 on the CEFR scale minus the speaking component) but given the fact that I have 1 month to prepare for it (while working and looking for a new job), I think it’ll be extremely tough to do.

If it was purely a speaking and listening test then I’m sure I could do very well but the writing part is my biggest concern this time.

I’m viewing this as a first attempt and in the event that I stay in Korea (if I score a university job soon or meet a nice Korean girl ;)) then I’ll make a second attempt in October.

That’s if I don’t pass this one of course! :)


The truth about my time in Korea: It’s been tough

This is a touch personal and I was reluctant to mention it but here goes.

The first 6 months or so in Korea for me were a rough ride.

I don’t like to share too much of my personal life on here (unless it’s about languages) but I feel that I’ve learned some really valuable life lessons lately and it relates a lot to overseas immersion and travel.

Even though I’ve had some amazing experiences, met some wonderful people and learned some fluent Korean in the time I’ve been here, this time has forced me to be mentally and emotionally challenged like no other time in my entire life.

It’s been a struggle.

In fact the last 2 years will probably go down as the biggest period of loss and grief I’ve ever been through (much of which has happened while I’ve been overseas).

The short version is that just after I left Georgia for Turkey, I lost two family members suddenly at around the same time to suicide and aggressive cancer (which is why I had to give up on Turkey and learning Turkish to race home for my family and an insane year of legal battles).

Not only did I lose the woman who raised me for much of my life but I ended up having to sell our family home to developers for a penny and see a lifetime of memories literally bulldozed to the ground.

I wouldn’t wish such a shitty experience on anyone!

Coming to Korea was my idea of a long holiday from the emotional arse-kicking that I took and even though I was going to be working in Korea, I welcomed the idea of a refreshing change in a new place.

On top of this, putting all my focus into learning Korean has been a great way to keep myself distracted and keep looking forward rather than back.

Unfortunately, just after I got here I went through a vicious and cruel break-up of a long-term relationship that I should never have let happen to me for so many months. It spoiled a lot of my time here so I’m now making sure the last few months are nothing but positive and fun.

The dust is just starting to settle and for the first time in a few years I’ll be heading to my next destination as a solo adventurer with a positive, new lease on life!

Now I’m proud to say that despite being tempted a few times through all this to give up and head home it made me even more resolute about my mission to learn this language.

The best way to forget loss is to make new gains.

So I figured that I could leave Korea prematurely and not finish what I started or I could push through and have something positive to take away from this (on top of all my new friends of course).

I can now look at the past few years as a closed chapter and be excited about the freedom and opportunities ahead. :)

What I’m learning is that going through some emotional beatings while living immersed abroad can be tough but it also brings you a lot closer to the people and language you’re trying to connect with.

One of the most memorable and unforgettable experiences I’ve had in Korea so far was one night when I was really down in the dumps – a bit of a sobbing mess in fact – and I went to my favorite little family-run restaurant where I’ve gotten to know the family really well.

The mother who owns the place sat down with me and we had a big D&M about life, family and relationships which really strengthened me at the time – and it was all in Korean.

Peeling back the language barriers shows you just how human – how alike – we all are.

The weird thing is you start to forget that you’re speaking another language because your focus shifts from the language itself to the person and the issue that you’re talking about.

It’s these small, seemingly insignificant encounters with people that are the memories I always look back on and cherish.


Wish me luck on this test! :)


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Ask The Readers: Language Specialist or Jack-of-All-Languages?

Korea Hagwon

It was my birthday yesterday and some of my favourite Korean students made me a cake out of chocolate cookies. :)

They spent all their pocket money to buy the ingredients! 

As a late birthday request I was wondering if you guys could do me a huge favour and vote for this blog in the Top 100 Language Learning Blogs 2013 competition. All you have to do is click here, scroll down near the bottom of the page where it says ‘The Mezzofanti Guild’ and click ‘Vote’.

Takes only a few seconds and the great thing is you can vote for other blogs that you like as well. :)

Thanks muchly!


Today I’d like to get your opinion on something that I think might generate a bit of healthy discussion (I’m sure everyone will have different thoughts on this).

Would you prefer to reach a strong level in just one or a few languages, or would you rather be able to speak many of them at low levels?

And yeah, this is pretty much an either/or question.

The reason why I’m asking is that there are a lot of people who really want to speak as many languages as possible and I’ve received a few emails from people saying that simply being a polyglot is their ambition. Rather than saying I want to speak language X for a genuine need or specific interest, people seem to be chasing the romanticised idea of being able to speak a lot of languages.

It’s become a fad actually.

Even though most of the people on our planet are by definition polyglots (those who speak only one language are a minority group in the world), people from predominantly monolingual countries are still amazed by polyglots (multilingual people) as if it’s something remarkable (hence why the media creates sensationalized stories over YouTubers who record themselves speaking many languages).

In fact, the word polyglot gets thrown around so much these days that I now avoid using the term altogether like other words that get over or misused.

Being a language enthusiast is great (I’m definitely one of them) but the issues I have with the fad of pursuing “polyglottism” are these:

  • Languages take a long time to learn properly and there are no shortcuts. Anything beyond basic conversational fluency in a few months is nonsense. To learn even a few new languages really well for example, you’d be realistically looking at spending a big chunk of the next decade of your life to focus on them. This includes all the travel, sacrifices, hours of daily hard work, friendships (which take time to build) and then of course the rest of your life to maintain them.
  • Dividing your time between many languages means you’re never able to fully immerse yourself in or truly appreciate each culture. Things are just now starting to get really interesting for me here in Korea at my 8 month mark with my current level of fluency and if I had of left here 4 months ago or divided my focus with other languages, I would have missed out on so much. I’m sure that another year would yield even more amazing cultural rewards.
  • Ostentatiousness. Attention seekers who flaunt the number of languages they speak to impress people (or create an online illusion that their real lives are spectacular).

I started writing here nearly 2 years ago because of my love for foreign and endangered languages (I’ve invested countless hours here and 10’s of thousands of my own dollars in fact), and all I want to do is share my passion as well as learn from all of you.

What I’ve always done however is intentionally keep myself at arm’s length from what I consider to be circus polyglots who are more interested in popularity and virality than the languages and cultures themselves.


My opinion: specializing yields great rewards in the long run

Plenty of people can strum a few chords on a guitar but it’s the bloke who can improvise a beautiful piece of unrehearsed music who really knows his instrument.

It’s great to be able to barter and flirt your way around a continent with a few A-level languages under your belt but eventually it loses its thrill.

When you set yourself up mid to long-term in one foreign place and go through lots of hard struggles, gradually learning how to communicate to the point where both parties really understand and connect with each other (past the nods and smiles :)), that’s when your eyes really begin to open to a new culture.

I’m talking about making a connection with people that goes way beyond the superficialities of the circus polyglot.

For me personally, whether it’s languages or any other skill, I like to see each endeavour through to the very end.

Perhaps it’s the perfectionist in me that doesn’t like the feeling of having lots of unfinished projects! :)

Now of course everybody’s different (I’ve just shared my opinion) and I’m sure there are plenty of people who just love to backpack and move around, and being a jack-of-all-languages suits their lifestyle.

Share what you think about it in the comment section below.


This was written by .

Do you use StumbleUpon, Reddit, Pinterest or Digg? A quick upvotelikepin or digg will make my day! Thanks. :)

Comments: If you’ve got something you’d like to add to this or some constructive criticism you can do that at the bottom of this page. Just please be respectful. Any abusive or nonsensical comments will be deleted.

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