I never had the chance to go to school to learn Korean even though there were language schools. I was in S. Korea as a professor, and whenever I found a Korean class, it always conflicted with my class schedule. I just couldn’t attend a class. However, it didn’t stop me from trying to learn to speak Korean.
Before I went to Korea, I got on the computer and found the alphabet and learned the alphabet. I got a book that taught Korean and a dictionary. I didn’t have much time before I left, but I took the book and the dictionary with me. I studied the book. I wanted a teacher, but I was paying for a teacher for my kids. I had a friend at church and another one at the school where I taught that spoke English who liked me to bring my book and ask them questions about things I didn’t understand in the book. I was kind of using what is called “the Lamp Method,” a method I learned about in a Linguistics class. I would try to use the things I learned from the book on people I met. The Lamp Method says that you get a language helper who is not a teacher, and let them help you as I was letting my Korean friends help me. The Lamp Method also says that everyday, you try to use a greeting, a phrase, or a sentence that you have learned on people all day. I did that too.
Besides the Lamp Method, I was also using a method my Japanese teacher taught me. I studied until I could write my own sentences, and I began writing sentences in Korean. My kids’ Korean tutor realized I was writing sentences in Korean, and she was so thrilled she began volunteering to help me for free. She was a Canadian Korean and was disillusioned about the way she was being treated in Korea and went back to Canada after a short time. I also changed schools, so I lost my language helpers. Someone also stole my Korean book out of my classroom, but I didn’t give up. They key to learning Korean is not to give up.
I found more Korean books and began studying again. One of my language helpers resurfaced, and he began helping me again. I just kept trying to use whatever I was studying. I had a goal to learn a certain amount of words everyday. When I was in Japan, I used to carry around a small notebook and write down words I heard again and again because I knew if people used them often, they were important, and it worked, so I did the same in S. Korea. I listened when the translators at church were translating for the preachers, and I wrote words down again, and tried to learn words that seemed important enough to be used again and again. I had to attend Korean chapel without a translator every Monday morning, and I worked hard at learning to understand the numbers when they announced the page numbers that we were to sing. While other foreign teachers ignored them and read a book by themselves just warming the seat, I tried hard to pick up any word or phrase I could while they spoke. I had a dictionary in my phone and was always looking up things I heard. I worked hard on grammar. I went through more than one set of Korean books. I just didn’t give up. It seemed to take a lot more work than any other language I had tried.
Koreans wouldn’t be conversation partners for me. They just didn’t have the patience they needed to dumb their Korean down for a beginner to understand, but I had a very basic elementary vocabulary and basic knowledge of grammar and wanted to speak Korean. I watched Korean dramas on TV and tried to understand, and it wasn’t easy, but I learned some very interesting, even silly words that I didn’t learn at church or in chapel.
In invented a verb game for my students to learn how to conjugate English verbs. In order for them to know which verb conjugation to use, I had to know that conjugation in Korean. A Korean friend helped with the conjugations, and I put the game together. When the students began playing, I played with them. They played conjugating verbs in English, and I played conjugating verbs into Korean. The game begins with the easiest tenses like simple present tense and simple past tense. It goes up to modals, and then perfect tenses, and eventually ends up with conjugating verbs in special sentence types. I learned an enormous amount from playing that game with my students!! They loved me to play, and while they were learning, I was too. It seemed to be taking forever to learn Korean, much longer than any other language I had studied. It wasn’t because of the methods I was using, but because of the nature of the Korean language. It is so completely opposite from English.
Finally, there was a guy at church who kept following me around. He pretended to speak English, but he really didn’t. He fooled the other Americans by nodding his head at just the right time, but I figured out he didn’t speak English. I began speaking to him in Korean. I needed a Korean conversation partner. It made him mad at first, but after a while, he appreciated it because we were actually communicating. He had a learning disability, perhaps dyslexia, that caused his vocabulary not to be as large as other Koreans, and it made it easier for me to have a conversation with him than with other Korean. He began asking me to translate all the English around for him. It was great for my Korean, and he appreciated understanding. He showed up at my English Bible classes at the university and didn’t understand, so I began teaching the classes in both English and Korean. I said something in English, then translated it to Korean, I said something in English, then translated it to Korean. It was good for me.
While all this was going on, I was learning more and more grammatical expressions in Korean. I was teaching English at the university, and I discovered the easiest way for me to get my students to understand a grammatical expression in English was to know it in Korean and show them in both languages. I learned some really complicated expressions like this. I always went through my student books and made sure I could change all the English grammar into Korean before each class. While teaching them, I was teaching myself.
I began by first trying to read children’s books in Korean. After that, I graduated to children’s novels, and then I began trying to understand the Bible in Korean. Reading and writing always helps. I wrote a lot in Korean. At times, I kept a diary in Korean.
Eventually, I stopped attending English worship services and went to an all Korean speaking church. It wasn’t easy, but I had my daughter and my Korean son in law there with me. If I got stuck and didn’t understand, my daughter’s Korean had become off the charts since I had sent her to a language school and my Korean son in law was good at English. I asked them if I didn’t understand. I began teaching a Bible class all in Korean about the time I began attending the all Korean speaking church. My Korean son in law is the brother in law of the guy who had become my Korean conversation partner. He says he will be coming to the States of visit, and he expects me to be his translator when he gets here. My Korean son in law says that when he gets to America, he expects me to speak to him in Korean because everyone else will be speaking to him in English, and he will need someone to speak to him in his first language.
Basically, I never gave up. I didn’t give up when someone stole my book. I didn’t give up when I lost Korean language helpers. I didn’t give in and just not listen when I had to attend an all Korean chapel once a week, but used it to my benefit to try to learn to understand. I always tried to use what I was learning. I tried to help my students and helped myself in the process. I listened when they spoke. I watched TV and went to church where they spoke only Korean. My verb game I invented really helped me a lot!! Learning all the verb conjugations and more complicated sentence patterns from the game was really needed. Finding someone to have a conversation with in Korean helped a lot too. The most important thing you can do to learn Korean is just not to give up. It will take longer to learn than other languages, but it can be done.