3 Week Korean Language Progress (+ Alphabet Advice)
- Written byDonovan Nagel
- Read time5 mins
I’ve been in South Korea on a challenge to become fluent in the Korean language for a little over 3 weeks now.
With today’s post comes my very first progress video in Korean – of course it’s really slow and full of mistakes but I’m determined to show you the ‘warts and all’ stages as I (hopefully rapidly) improve in the language.
I won’t be editing out any of my mistakes or reading carefully scripted dialogue in these videos but will upload simple, off-the-cuff monologues and conversations so I can be as transparent as possible about where I’m at.
These progress videos are actually more for my own benefit as I’ll be able to look back in 6 months time (as I did with Irish) and see how far I’ve come.
I encourage all of you to keep a video or audio record of your own progress too!
Note: I always welcome and appreciate advice and constructive criticism from experienced learners and native speakers. Use the comment section below.
Extra note: Click the ‘CC’ button for English captions. Make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel too.
Scroll down for an additional video of me hanging out with my new Korean friends. 🙂
Hangul (Korean script) is a lot easier than it looks
I have to admit that before I started learning Korean, I actually thought that it used a character-based writing system like Chinese or Japanese.
I was completely ignorant of just how different Korean actually is.
Korean letters can be easily mistaken for Chinese and Japanese characters and in fact I’m sure that many people wouldn’t know there’s a difference.
Thankfully its writing system is nowhere near as complicated as I originally thought! 🙂
Korean uses its own alphabet (hangeul) and while it is written from left to right, it has a unique way of organising its letters into syllables where consonants and vowels are neatly arranged in blocks.
Here’s my name written in Korean as an example (do-no-ban):
This tribe in Indonesia actually thought the Korean alphabet was logical enough to adopt as an alternative to the Latin alphabet:
There’s so much available online for people wanting to learn hangeul but check this out for a good place to start. 🙂
Advice on learning foreign alphabets – reading without actually reading
Have you ever seen this experiment before?
We don’t actually read every letter of every word in our native language. Our brains recognize the length and shape, along with the first and last letter of the words we read.
You don’t pay much attention to the individual letters when you read which is why you can read so quickly in your own language.
A familiar written word is actually a picture that you’ve seen a multitude of times – you know it instantly when you see it without needing to read it.
When we start out with a new language, we meticulously go through every letter because our brains aren’t familiar yet with the shape and pattern of the word.
Take the name of the city I’m living in for example: 구미 (Gumi).
I’ve seen it so many times on public transport and around town already that I don’t read it anymore – it’s a picture that I instantly recognise now.
I’ve learned 7 non-Latin alphabets/writing systems and some of them have been a bit trickier to pick up than others because it can be tough to distinguish between letters that look so similar in shape and position – especially when we’re not used to seeing them.
Your eyes need to be familiarised with the foreign script and this takes time.
One thing I advise you to do early on is to be always taking time out just for reading practice and sound out the letters as you go – even if you don’t understand what you’re reading.
Practice on restaurant and shop signs, notices, labels and so on or if you’re at home, practice sounding out the script by reading web sites.
Focus on memorizing the whole word (remember it as an image rather than small pieces) and avoid relying on transliterations! 🙂
Get used to the script as it’ll help you work through your conversational resources a lot faster.
Still to come…
I obviously still have a long way to go.
I’ve started to make local friends too (see the video below) and I’ve been making every effort to avoid hanging out with foreigners in my spare time (I’ll be writing about this in detail shortly).
As I work a normal, 8 hour a day teaching job things have been pretty hectic over the last couple of weeks especially as I’ve been trying to get settled into my place and adjust to the new country.
Over the coming months I hope to spend more time working on this site to make it a more useful and interesting resource for language learners so keep checking back, subscribe to my YouTube channel and definitely friend me on Facebook! 🙂
For anyone interested in learning a bit about Korean culture and food generally (from other foreigners in Korea), check out KoreanClass101 and their awesome videos too.
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Hi Mr Donovan
I was searching about Korean language and if it is hard and i found your blog . Actually now im so excited to learn korean because i started watching K-Drama and K-POP music and i found that their languge is very interesting . I will always come to your blog if i need anything to know more :) .
I’m not that good in English though .
PS: i’m an Arabian guy . I read that you love Arabic language :P
I just stumbled across your site! Great post and I like the video of your progress after 3 weeks of learning Korean!! Haha, it’s hard to remember those days when you sucked at a language when you keep studying and actually achieved what you set out to.
Dude. Stick with it. I have no doubt you will get there! You are at an early stage with your learning, but I’m sure things will come along.
I’m an Aussie who also loves languages and has a lot more experience than you with Korean, having lived here for more than 8 years. I totally love your blog and will contact you to see if you want to talk about Korean and language learning in general. I am a big fan of your adventures in Arabic and Gaelic.
Good to hear Korea and Korean is going well for you. Regarding Hangul, let me I suggest that a dollop of skepticism is warranted for some of the things Korean say about their undubitably wonderful script. It is rightfully a strong source of Korean cultural pride, but occassionally some (especially institutions) let that pride interfere with their other faculties.
If you do a little digging around you’ll see that the widely reported strory of the Cia-Cia tribe deciding to use Hangul to write their language isn’t exactly as it seems. Also recently Hangul won the “World Alphabet Olympics” which unsurprisingly is organised by Koreans. For more see the recent post and comments at http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4253 .
Ádh mór ort!
I actually heard about the World Alphabet Olympics thing a few days ago. Hilarious!
Don’t worry. I’ve seen the same thing in Georgia and the Middle East as well where people are convinced that their language and writing are the best (for whatever reason) in the world. :)
I like how you just post videos of yourself trying to use new languages without caring about your mistakes and having to stop to think about the words from time to time. I wish I had that courage, but I suffer from “pathologic” stage fright , hahaha
I am Brazilian and have been studying Japanese for quite some time now. By creating my own method and realizing what works for me, I have managed to learn much faster than the average student taking a japanese course, but it is still a very complicated language. The Kanji are not even close of the real difficulties of Japanese.
Your advice on learning new scripts was very good and makes a lot of sense. Even when words are not separated, like in Japanese, the eye somehow starts to recognize everything. People are somewhat afraid of Kanji, but they actually help this process, because each one is an image of its own and you can recognize much quicker than a “letter-by-letter” word.
Good luck with your Korean!
Excellent idea, and that actually reminds me of that thing that people losing weight are encouraged to do where they’re supposed to take pictures of themselves wearing very little, right before they start losing weight, so that they can look back at their “old selves” 3 and 6 months on and be able to see how much progress they’ve made--I don’t suppose that’s where you got this idea, is it? Because it’s brilliant, it’s very effective.
Plus, being able to look at something like that (whether it’s a photo of your fat body or a video of yourself butchering a language) and think “god I’m shit...” serves as a fantastic motivator to make the necessary change due to the phenomenon of people being more motivated to avoid pain than they are to gain pleasure. Looking at a photo of your fat ass standing there in front of the camera wearing only boxer shorts and with an obvious look of displeasure on your fact serves as a much better motivator to get you to get out and go for a run than does looking at a photo of what you want to look like (e.g. a picture of a Men’s Health model with a six-pack). Looking at a video of yourself bumbling around in a language and seeing the obvious trouble natives are having understanding you serves as a far better motivator than watching a video of some polyglot doing what you want to achieve and conversing effortlessly with the natives in the language you want to speak. It’s unpleasant but it’s true.
Keep up the good work and keep us posted, Donovan.
I think everyone should record themselves. I have actually done the same for my gym programs in the past to see noticeable differences over time.
It makes a huge difference. My Irish videos were every 3 months but this time I’ll be doing it every 3 weeks.