I meet a lot of people who struggle to learn Korean, causing them disappointment and pain. Many have a good reason for wanting to learn Korean, and many truly want to reach out to others in the Korean/Korean American communities. It’s just for some reason, Korean just doesn’t seem to click for them. So I want to give you a suggestion as to what may be the problem and how to overcome it. If you think this is helpful, please share it with other people.
Why So Many People Struggle Learning Korean
One of the biggest things that I have found is that people are struggling with Korean due to how they are trying to learn it. Korean is considered a SOV language. This means sentence order is listed as Subject, Object and Verb. English is SVO language, Subject, Verb and Object. So where one would say “I’m going to the store” in English, Korean would be translated “Store go” in most cases. The sentence structure is confusing to many people, causing people to become frustrated. But there is a simple trick that can help many to learn Korean and become less frustrated.
Think Like A Child
The issue here is that many people are learning Korean backwards. Think of how a child learns a language. The child doesn’t worry about grammar rules or proper structure. A child listens to people talking and, in time, mimics what they hear. They learn words and then put sentences together. It’s only after the child goes to school that they learn why they talk the way that they do. It is only after they have built up a vocabulary that they will start to learn grammar rules to apply when speaking. Learn Korean sentence structure is important, but you need to have Korean vocabulary to use when learning sentence structure. When you have the vocabulary to use sentence structure properly, you learn and retain grammar rules faster.
The other thing with children is that they tend to speak simply. Sadly, when adults try to speak longer, more complicated sentences, things can get jumbled and many lose confidence. An easy way to build confidence and skills is to start off by using smaller sentences and make them longer over time. When a mistake happens in a smaller sentence, it is easier to correct. This way, you are able to fix bad habits before they become stuck in your brain and harder to get out. With this approach, you can give yourself more time to learn vocabulary and can move ahead with making sentences at your own pace.
Everyone learns at a different pace, and there are different situations that each person finds themselves in that will make a difference in how fast or how effectively they learn a new language. For me, using this approach has improved my Korean to where I can do public speaking in Korean with more confidence. In sharing this information with others, I have seen them grow in their Korean abilities and in their confidence. If you are having struggles with learning Korean, try this approach for a few months and see how it goes. While not complicated or scientific, they method may help you reach your goal of learning Korean.
For an audio version of this post, click here.
Nick W. said:
Those are some solid pieces of advice you are giving here, though I kind of disagree that adults should approach Korean completely like how children learn a language.
From the view of a European native language speaker, some aspects of the Korean language are simply too foreign for us to even accept without a learning the grammar. I think the real advice here is not to not focus on grammar, just learn the basics; to not get caught up in too much grammar. Vocabulary, especially early on, should be the primary focus.
I do, however, wholeheartedly agree that talking in short, simple sentences is the best way to get the hang of Korean. Speaking Korean for certain language speakers will be difficult enough without bringing the added difficulty of using complex sentence structures. It really is true what they say: “You need to learn to walk before you can learn to run.”
Ahn Daewoong said:
Hello Nick. Thanks for the comment. At first, I thought the advice to think like a child was crazy. But then when a Korean person explained it to me, it made more sense. Thinking like a child is teaching people the simple way of Korean. I think it can be hard to think of it that way from an English background because English isn’t known for having different levels of honorific language. But knowing the basic building blocks of the language that a child would say does make Korean flow more naturally. Making certain things honorific can be as simple as adding the ending yo to the end of it. It was hard for me to grasp that for a long time. But when I decided to start over in my Korean learning and apply this way of speaking, it made a difference. I am interested in what you feel are the hardest aspects of Korean language to grasp from your perspective. Please let me know as this will be an interesting topic to consider.