Foreign Language Tip #3.1 | “I’m Not Learning Anything… and I’ve Tried Everything!”

Is it really true that we can forget things if we’re not really focused on them? Or maybe we never really learned anything at all?

Contrary to popular belief, whatever you’re exposing your mind to will eventually stick in some way. You may not recognize it at the moment but it’s there inside your brain. The real question is, how do you filter your brain to get it out?

Well, that takes training. If you sit down right now and try to think of a full sentence in Korean, your first thought probably is, “I can’t.” But, if you’ve been watching any Korean movies, dramas, shows or documentaries, you most certainly can. And if you can’t repeat it verbatim, you’ll recognize it if you hear it again.

Why is that significant?

Because recognition is part of understanding and understanding is key to comprehension… in short, you know Korean. You just aren’t confident speaking it yet.

So how do I get to the “confident in speaking” part?

Practice and time.

The most nerve wrecking thing I’ve ever done is gone up to a total stranger, (a nice Korean lady who owns her own shop) and start speaking Korean to her while she was speaking in English to me. I was TERRIFIED! I was afraid I’d say something wrong or she wouldn’t understand me. A million thoughts ran through my mind before I opened my mouth but I knew if I didn’t do it then I probably wouldn’t have the courage later. And you know what? That one moment gave me the boost to keep trying. And all I said was “Thank you” and “Yes, I do.” when she asked me, “You understand Korean?” in Korean.

And that brief exchange was enough.

To some, it was minor and probably insignificant but when you’re first starting out like I was at the time, it means everything in the world.

So how do you get the courage to try it?

First things first:

  1. Practice making sentences in your head
  2. Write things down in Korean (you can even use romanization is you’re more comfortable doing that)
  3. Keep actively and passively learning

You’re picking up something. You just need the confidence to try it out. The more you speak it aloud to other Korean speakers, the more you’ll start to see how much you truly understand.

And a bonus phrase:

Remember this if you remember nothing else:

천천히 말하십시오. (cheoncheonhi malhasibsio.) | “Please speak slowly.”

저는 이해가 안 돼요. (jeoneun ihaega an dwaeyo.) | “I do not understand.”

나는 조금 한국말해. (naneun jogeum hangugmalhae.) | “I speak a little Korean.”

These are three phrases that helped me out tremendously in the beginning! And each person I found myself saying this to was so gracious and kind. They would not only slow down but commend me on the Korean that I did know at the time and offer any assistance to help me continue on in my learning.

Don’t give up! You know more than you think you do!

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