Learning Korean: Highs, Lows, and Motivations

Over the past year since I left my ESL teaching position in Korea I fell into a mild language rut. It might have been due to not being surrounded by my students, or being inside my hagwon’s main office where 2/3 of the staff were Korean and knew little or no English. It might have also been due to my boyfriend’s increased interest in conversing in English during our daily conversations.

Unlike my previous years in Korea as a resident student I was always enrolled throughout the year in one or two different language courses. However, due to my long and late-time teaching hours I could not take any language courses last year. Being an active Korean language learner at the time I studied during break periods at work and often conversed with my Korean co-teachers at school throughout the day for practice. However, all of that changed after I left the hagwon.

Even though I had returned to Seoul and moved into a predominantly Korean neighborhood in the SNU area my language skills suddenly hit a brick wall. One reason was not working anymore as a ESL teacher, and thus no longer being exposed to an engaging learning environment. A second reason was not being able to register for summer language courses due to the summer period already starting. Not thinking to much then,  I decided to focus instead on finding  new employment and spending more time with my boyfriend. However, during that period I started to question why I was still learning Korean.

All language learners at some in their language studies are faced with second-guessing the reasons for why they are learning the language in the first place. As mentioned in my previous blog Reasons for moving to Korea I started learning Korean because I was completing my graduate degree language requirement in Korean. At that time I was not learning Korean to converse with my Korean-American friends, or learning Korean to meet more Koreans, or learning Korean for K-pop. I was learning Korean solely for my degree and for my career.  However, after graduating from school, finding employment,  and living in Korea for nearly three years I realized that my reasons for continuing my language study were no more concrete. So, I decided to use my new free time to re-define my reasons for studying Korean.

Truthfully, however,  with low prospects of finding a new position in Korea that summer I made the decision to return home in the fall. The decision was neither a light one due to multiple reasons and took a further toll on my interests to continue my language study. By mid-fall I placed my language study on hold once again due to both old & new stresses (i.e my former ESL job, being unemployed, moving house in Korea, preparing to return to NY, entering a LDR, etc.) Facing many new changes and challenges I needed to re-examine my career goals and interests back home.

Looking back I think that my decision to put off studying was not wasted. Besides job-hunting and preparing to return home for the first time, spending more time with my boyfriend/close friends was my priority; and became my new reason for continuing my language study.

Attachment. Feeling attached and connected to Korea because of all the connections that I had made throughout my three years became my new reason to continue studying Korean again.  Even though I did return home, I still had my one-room apartment, my belongings, my friends, my boyfriend, and my key money(*housing down-payment) back in Korea. I still had a laundry list of places I still had not visited, vacations I still had not planned, friends I still had not said goodbye to, and a relationship more than one year strong.  Realizing that my life in Korea was not over, I too realized that my language studies were also not finished.

Since I have returned home, I’ve been studying Korean once again at a moderate pace. I found that studying moderately works best for me. Having have no reason currently to rush in learning I can study on & off as I see fit. My Korean language skill level at this time is mid-intermediate. I would like to study more throughout this year and eventually take the upper level TOPIK exam. If I am successful in TOPIK I will be able to use my Korean language skills in a professional manner.  Truthfully, I would love to use my language skills in the work field. Currently, I am working in a position that does not have any foreign language requirements, but I would love to one-day work in a position that does. I have learned from my experience in learning English (I am a native-speaker), Spanish, French/Creole, Japanese, and Korean that in order to reach upper level fluency like the language you grow up with, you must use the new language daily.  Using that specific language daily, or at work will help you achieve a proficient level. Wanting to achieve not only a proficient level but also consistent usage of new/old languages has become my latest reason for language learning. With the help and support of my friends, family, and boyfriend I hope to succeed in obtaining an upper level fluency in Korean in the near future, and have the courage to re-learn old languages I’ve studied before.

Finding my reasons for resuming my Korean language studies took me some time to figure out. That being said I know that many language learners face blackout moments in their own studies. For all language learners out there I hope that you too will make time to not only take a break from your language studies, but re-define and understand your reasons or motivations for pursuing your language of choice. I also hope that you have the courage to start all over again.





*Note: All  pictures posted are owned by the Yeppunshikan author, usage of these pictures without the owners consent is strictly prohibited.

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