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language learning in Korea

Class Trip to the Hangul Museum

A big part of my work here in Korea has been to learn the language. I’ve been studying at the Korean Language Institute at Yonsei University for several months now, and as the fall term draws to a close, I’m realizing how far I have come. Words that used to be strange and impossible to pronounce are now rolling off my tongue! (sometimes even in comprehensible sentences)

Part of what makes language learning possible is the fun that comes with it. For 한글날 (Korean Alphabet Day), for example, instead of our regular class, there was a special program in which the various classes produced a poster to celebrate the Korean alphabet. Here is my class, hard at work: folks from France, Russia, Italy, South Africa, Spain, and even a couple of us from Canada.

I have to say that learning a language is a strangely passive activity. Although it does of course also require huge exertions of constant effort, this isn’t actually the learning of the language: it is the grunt work that you have to do in order to prepare the ground for it. The actual learning of the language is that strange thing that happens one day when you wake up and suddenly discover that you are inside the language, or rather, that you are inside it, except that it never happens all at once, it happens gradually over a long period of time.

To finish off the term, our class made a field trip to the Hangul Museum, where we made traditional Korean masks and learned some traditional Korean dance steps. Observe the results!

I also want to add that a great deal of my progress has been due to my language exchange conversation partner. Thanks to JungHo for his patience in answering my many questions! (칠문이 많았어요!)

To all of you out there who are struggling with learning a language, whatever language it is, my hard-earned advice is this: don’t compare yourself to how well others are doing—everyone has their own pace of learning. And don’t get caught up in trying to master things all at once, measure yourself according to how far you have come, not how far you have to go!