I’ve signed up for HSKK!

After 38 days of every day revision with Memrise, I feel like I’m finally all caught up with Unit 1 and can now move onto revision of Unit 2 πŸ™‚

Last week I was pretty good with Korean – I had 2 language exchange calls, wrote a small text in my notebook, and got through Unit 1 of this book, revised 8 grammar patterns and did a test at the end of the unit, which was very hard, but I got just 2 questions wrong (out of 12), so I feel pretty good about it!

However, yesterday I did 2 crazy things which I was not planning to do – I signed for HSKK, the oral Chinese speaking test, intermediate level. I checked mock tests and they seemed quite manageable, however, as I started reading more about the test I got a little bit more intimated, but I don’t wanna turn back, I want to have a go! Even if I fail, there’s another one in June and the test fee is only 20 euros (unlike English certificates, which can cost from 200 to 300 euros). So now I have to go through the HSK 3 and HSK 4 vocab, as well as schedule some practice sessions. Fun, fun fun!

I think I mentioned here a few times that my Chinesepod subscription ended last week and I was not planning on renewing it in order to save money. However, yesterday I got a newsletter from Du Chinese with a very good discount thanks to Chinese New Year, so I couldn’t resist and bought a one year subscription πŸ™‚ Du Chinese is a website mostly for learning how to read Chinese characters, and even though one year ago I kept saying that reading characters is not for me, I feel like I can finally start working on it. Actually, I really want to learn to read and write in Chinese and I hope that with DuChinese I will be able to get a little closer to that goal.

So… how many languages do you speak?

There is no more confusing question that this one for anyone who is multi-lingual.

The thing is, I speak freely and fluently just 3 languages – English, Russian and Slovene. I don’t have to think what I want to say in these languages, the words come to my mind naturally and I can feel super relaxed while conversing in these languages.

Then come the rest of the languages in which I can speak, but with more difficulty – Italian, Spanish, Korean, and recently Chinese. To be honest, I keep mixing Italian and Spanish, so in order to get myself in the “flow” of either of these I need to speak for like one hour straight and then the fluency comes back to me, I get in the “flow” and stop thinking which word should I use – “fare” or “hacer” and so on. Korean and Chinese – well, they are extremely difficult languages, and I often feel difficulty expressing myself on some topics even after weeks and months of studying – some things are easier, some things are harder. I can speak them, I can easily hold conversation about myself, my life, general topics, but I’m definitely not fluent.

I also leave Indonesian out – I only finished A1 and know just some super basic stuff, so I can’t even say I can speak it, because what I can do for now in this language is super limited.

And then there are passive languages – like Serbo-Croatian. I was exposed to it quite a lot through my dad, who speaks it well, so I understand almost everything, I can read subtitles if we’re watching a movie in a language I don’t know. But I can’t speak it. It is not an active language for me, it is a passive one.

So how do I answer to the question – “so, how many languages do you speak?” Do I say 3 because these are my most fluent ones? Do I say 7? Or do I say 8 and include Serbo-Croatian (which I can’t really speak?)

And this is why I always get confused what would be the best reply when I get this question πŸ™‚

Indonesian streak

Yesterday was the final exam for A1 Indonesian course by Indonesian embassy. It was quite challenging, so I’m curious to see my results. The last task was especially challenging – we had to describe the picture using words given below, and we had to use a total of 90 words. While it was challenging it was also fun at the same time, because I got to be creative πŸ™‚

So today is the first day I’m not going to complete my streak, which is 50 days now, from the day that we had our first mid-semester test.

At the same time, my Howtostudykorean streak at Memrise is steadily increasing and is already at 23 days. I’m happy that today I managed to lower “Classic Review” words to just 79, when I just started again there were over 400 of them. At first, it seemed like it will take me ages to get through them, but here I am πŸ™‚

I’m also glad that A1 Indonesian course is over, I’m not sure yet whether there will be A2 and if yes when it will start, so for now I will hopefully be able to dedicate more time to Korean and Mandarin, studying 3 languages at the same time is definitely not my forte, so let’s see if I’ll be able to do it with 2 πŸ™‚

How I learned Korean

I was learning back in 2015, so probably since then a lot of new resources have appeared, but here is my way and my way only. Here is the list of my main resources and I will go into each one in detail:

  1. Tengugo app for Hangeul alphabet
  2. Howtostudykorean website
  3. Memrise SRS
  4. Koreanclass101 classes and especially dialogues
  5. Korean Grammar in Use books
  6. Korean Cyber University Youtube channel
  7. Language exchange apps (HelloTalk, italki)
  8. Motivational Youtube channels and podcasts (Motivate Korean)
Continue reading “How I learned Korean”

Speaking & Language Exchange apps

We all know, that languages have 4 aspects to them, 2 passive and 2 active. Speaking and Writing are active (output) and Listening and Reading are passive (input). The majority of traditional learning concentrates on just 2 aspects of these 4 – Writing and Reading, and as a result people who studied languages for years at school or universities cannot string even a couple of sentences together in a conversation with a native speaker because they never learned the skills.

In reality, written and spoken languages are so different, that it’s even said that when we go to school at the age of 6 we learn our first foreign language – our mother tongue in written form. We learn that “I’m gonna” should be written as “I’m going to” and so on and so on.

Back in 2015, when I was studying Korean every day I was doing the same mistake – focusing too much on reading and writing and not enough on listening and speaking. I was in a hurry, because I booked my tickets to Seoul in April, and in January 2016 I still couldn’t say anything and then I found this video and it basically changed my life.

I looked for Korean people on Hello Talk and even found some cool ones that became my friends to this day. I tried my best to meet as many exchange students here in Ljubljana as I could and hang out with them. I listened to KoreanClass101 dialogues on repeat for hundreds of times. I was lucky to be able to practice with the wife of our professor here in Ljubljana. And it worked.

Speaking is actually a sort of a muscle memory, like dancing, cycling or snowboarding. Once you say one sentence or word, you might say it awkwardly the first time, second time will be a bit better and third will be much, much better. But you gotta push yourself through that awkwardness and moments where you feel like an idiot. My first conversations in Korean and Chinese sounded like if I was a 2-3 year old baby, but with each conversation I grew and matured, expanded my vocabulary and improved the pronunciation.

I guess my main point here is: If you are learning the language just to read and write, it’s fine, you don’t need to practice speaking. But if you hope to speak with native speakers in the future – you need to work on those skills, they won’t just appear by themselves.

I wanted to write this post about language exchange apps and it became about speaking in general, I’m not sure how that happened πŸ™‚

Here are the apps that I personally tried:

  • HelloTalk
  • Italki (paid and you can also look for people who want to do the language exchange for free)
  • Facebook groups (for example in Korean language group people often ask whether anyone would be interested in speaking Korean to them and surprisingly there’s always quite a lot of volunteers)

There’s also an interesting practice that can be done alone, and it is called Shadowing. I won’t go into too much detail on it, here is a post that sums it up pretty nicely.

Dolla – Malay and Indonesian

Yay, my posts have motivated at least one person, mission accomplished! πŸ™‚

Today Youtube suggested a video discussing whether this new group from Malaysia is similar to Blackpink from Korea.

I went to check them out and I gotta say – they are better than Blackpink!!! The song is really catchy and powerful and I think I listened to it at least 10 times today. I also really like how the language sounds, something completely new and different from K-pop (the comment section agrees with me).

Since I’m learning Indonesian, I got curious how much of this song is similar with the language I’m learning, so I searched it up. To be honest, I didn’t get an exact answer, so I emailed the lyrics to our Indonesian teacher (luckily, she’s also a young girl) asking her about this. Let’s see what she replies πŸ™‚

In any case, this definitely gave me a much needed boost for learning Indonesian, until now I was learning it simply because the Indonesian embassy offered a free course, but now I’m starting to build emotional connections as well, which is great πŸ™‚

My motivation

In 2019 we were travelling by train from Winona to Chicago (an 8-hour train ride!!) and in the train restaurant we met an elderly American couple.
They asked us how many languages we spoke, I said six, Primo said five. They seemed a bit shocked, but tried to hide it and said “you see, people in America just expect everyone to speak English, even when they travel, so they don’t feel the need to learn another language”. It struck me – why does everyone associate language learning with a necessity, something that you “need”?

I think this is where modern society is fundamentally wrong.
Sometimes I get asked “why Korean and not Chinese? Chinese is much more useful! Why don’t you learn German? Germany is a rich country, you should learn it!” This is where we’re wired differently. Typical person thinks of a foreign language mostly as of a skill needed to achieve something, to get a better job, to move to a better country, etc etc. It’s just one of the skills in CV, like knowledge of HTML or business certificate.

The exactly same people go snowboarding, dancing, fishing, hiking, they go to movies, they travel, they learn a musical instrument, take photography or cooking courses, they learn how to ice skate or to horse ride… Why? Because it’s fun! They don’t think how it will look on their CV, they go for it because they want this skill and they learn it. This is how I feel about languages. It’s not something that I have to do, it’s something that I want to do. Because it’s fun and in reality is actually very addictive. The first steps are usually slow, everything is confusing and I feel stupid most of the time. But gradually more and more words stay in long term memory and I’m starting to be able to piece small sentences together. And from there it is a constant rise to the top. First real conversation. First phone call. First chat with a friend with whom I only used English in the past. And each of these firsts gives me a sense of indescribable high, serotonin rush, sense of achievement, I don’t know what it is, but it makes me feel amazing.

Every time I speak Korean I feel so happy just because I remember the hardships that I had to endure to get to where I’m now. Even when I say simple words like directing a taxi driver or ordering food in a restaurant, it still fills me with joy. And don’t get me even started on the friendships I’ve made only thanks to my ability to speak languages beside English. If I spoke only English and Russian, I would never be able to experience even nearly as many things as I’ve experienced…

So the whole difference is in the mindset. Learning a language is not a job. Neither it is a boring school subject. It’s not a skill that you need only for your job. It’s actually something really fun that can make your life richer. Look around you. The society around us, the teachers and parents, all of traditional language learning is so outdated and old school. The modern world needs to change the way we think and teach the languages to children, switch them from passive to active learning, and base it around the fact that you need to feel inspired while learning, inspired by the cool stuff, and not discouraged by useless boring grammar drills. I haven’t done any grammar drills for over 10 years and I still managed to learn 4 languages to a decent level. Why? Because I liked it and I became addicted to it, not because I HAD TO do it πŸ˜‰