My Lowest Point in My Korean Learning

As I’ve said in a previous post, my “lows” over my Korean skills lack of Korean skills often happen after a good “high”. A few days ago I managed to finish reading an entire manhwa (all 52 chapters) and though I didn’t understand 100% of it, I understood enough for me to laugh, for me to cry brawl, for my skin to crawl… I even covered my eyes twice or thrice and had to suffer withdrawal syndrome after. So overwhelmed with the manhwa, I even wrote a little review (or should I say ‘reaction’) about it. The longest serious and non-prattle text I’ve ever written in Korean by myself. Yes it’s still too child-sounding and have errors here and there, but I’m quite satisfied and happy with what I’ve written. If I’m more comfortable using more grammar and vocabulary I could’ve expressed myself better but nonetheless I guess I was able to somehow convey my thoughts pretty well. Satisfactory enough for me and my level in writing.

I am happy with my recent reads (a manhwa, a novel, and a new textbook). I learn a lot each day. And the more I read, the easier it gets. I was foolishly skipping in my own little cloud nine when I was whacked in the head by my deteriorating speaking skills. And I fell flat on the ground.

Speaking has been my weakest point. I think a part of it was because I didn’t begin my study “properly”. Not thinking that I would, someday, speak in Korean I focused more on words, grammar, anything, everything but proper pronunciation. Since then and until now I usually study with my eyes and brain. Reading, thinking, writing in Korean – quietly. I seldom open my mouth and speak. And because I know I am not good, my confidence in speaking is not that great either, making speaking a lot more difficult for me.

In a place where I do volunteering, there are a number of Filipino employees who can speak Korean well. And when I said well, I mean they can carry continuous and spontaneous conversation with the other Korean employees/volunteers. I also have classmates that went on exchange in Korea who are very good in conversation. The funny thing is, they would often ask me what is X in Korean or how do you spell Y in Korean and what does Korean sentence/phrase Z (especially when they are reading/writing something). I wonder how they can speak so comfortably despite not knowing a bunch of fairly easy words/grammar.

I honestly feel bad that my speaking skills are not at par with other Filipinos I know that speaks Korean. I used to calm fool myself with the excuse that they all have studied in Korea and I haven’t. I don’t actually believe that one needs to be in Korea just to be able to speak Korean well. I believe that one can speak Korean well even if they haven’t stepped in Korea (same goes for other languages). But after I became an exchange student, even if it’s just for a month, I can no longer fool myself and use the same old excuse.

I want to believe that different people have different learning curves. That I can also improve if I will exert enough efforts. So I am patiently trying. But my patience ran out last Saturday.

Last Saturday I met a good Japanese friend who is good in Korean. Since my Japanese skills is almost non-existent and she “claims” she’s not good in English and refused to speak to me in English (She’s been like that since the first time we’ve met, but I know she can speak and understand English because she speaks to others in English. But she never speak a single English word to me. Not a single one! And I love her all the more for that!) we talked in Korean. I showed them around Manila – mostly on historical places. Lacking knowledge on historical terms in Korean, it was difficult to explain the different places and different events that occurred in our country in Korean. But it’s not only that that I was frustrated about. I can’t even fully express myself even if we were just talking about random things. There were so many things I wanted to tell her, ask her, things I want to talk about. She asked me lots of things and I want to tell her exactly what’s in my 마음속. But I failed. I just can’t. I can’t find the right words and the right sentence ending that can convey my feelings well. I didn’t know where my -더라, -더니, -듯, -바람에, -수록, -도록 went. All I know they all left me and only the -이에요s, -죠s, -잖아s, -는데s, -아/어서s, 갓같아s that stayed! 개다가 has visited me once along with my favorite -자마자. And as always all the -가다 and -오다 verb combination confused me to hell! I was both tongue-tied and mind-tied. Most of the time I can’t even finish my sentences. The moment she shows understanding of what I was about to say I stop without  finishing my sentences. My word choices were not that great either! And don’t ask me about my pronunciation either.

I was frustrated and very tired as I try to rack my brains. But she said one two things that snapped my patience with myself. She saw my My Name Is Kim Sam Soon novel and I told her I am reading it now. She said she gave up reading it a long time ago because it was so difficult and there were so many words she doesn’t know. She also asked me to tell her the story of the manhwa we were both reading because she still can’t finish it because it’s difficult so she just quickly scan through it and look at the picture.



She’s so fluent in Korean. She can talk to our Korean friends without any trouble. She can perfectly blend in as if a native speaker. Just like my co-workers. Just like my classmates who went on exchange. Comfortably.

What the hell is wrong with me? Why can’t I speak like them? I can read a novel. I can finish a manhwa. I can pour my heart on writing. But why does my stupid mouth won’t open properly. Why do words just won’t come out of my mouth. Why do I feel so 긴장하다 and my thoughts turn into a bowl of 비빔밥 whenever I need to speak up.

And for the first time I cried over my Korean skills.

I must be doing something wrong. Why am I the only one like this? I should do something about this. But until now I don’t know what to do.

I tried convincing myself that I’ve improved a lot already. 2 and a half years ago, when I first met her, my Japanese friend, we barely talk. A few words. A few short sentences. Some signs. And a lot of smiles. And now we were able to finally talk. I should be grateful. I should be happy. Well I am. But that was 2 and a half years ago! Yes I’m glad I made an improvement. But if that was 2 years ago, I should’ve been way better than how I was last Saturday!

I felt so sad sending my friend away. I’ll miss her. And I also hated myself because there were really lots and lots and lots of things I wanted to tell her. We talked about many things and I discovered that we have similar opinions on several issues we are both facing. I want to tell her my experiences and my feelings. I really wanted to open my heart to her the way she did to me. But I wasn’t able to. I wanted to hit my stupid mouth!

But no, not giving up of course! Darn, no! After crying last Saturday on my way home, I promised myself that the next time I’ll see my friend, I’ll be able to express myself well! Although I don’t know yet how I can improve my speaking skills, I’ll find a way. Maybe I should start listening to radios? Korean podcasts? Start an audio blog? Get a language partner?

아는 방법을 알려주세요~

25 thoughts on “My Lowest Point in My Korean Learning

  1. I don’t know if this comment will be helpful, but maybe your speaking isn’t as bad as you think it is. People who you say speak better than you still come to you for guidance in Korean. Naturally, a person’s speaking skills should be weaker than her reading and writing skills. It’s easier to recognize the meaning of a word or grammar pattern in context than it is to pull it out of nowhere for use. With writing, there’s also more time to think. So don’t be too hard on yourself. 🙂 But if you’re really concerned, make an effort to listen more and consider getting a language partner.

  2. Aw.. don’t be so hard on yourself.. We all learn differently and at different rates. Maybe if you don’t have anyone to practice with, talk to yourself in Korean? Think aloud in Korean? I believe it just takes practice to get better at conversational language. That was my experience with Mandarin too. Lessons in school and passing tests didn’t make me sound natural while speaking, it was speaking it more that helped me in the end. Watching TV helped too – so more kdrama for you, perhaps? ^^

    Don’t feel too bad.. I believe you’re better than you think! HUGS ❤

    • Thanks dear! That day I was actually thinking in Korean all the way back home (2 hours). I should’ve talked OUT LOUD in Korean. I guess I should put posters in my room saying OUT LOUD because even if I read, think and write a lot in Korean I’m too lazy to open my mouth and read, think and write out loud. And yey! More reasons for more Kdrama watching! 🙂 Since that day I tried watching more dramas and I started mimicking some of Kim Sun Ah’s dialogue out loud. I guess because of that I felt a bit more confident when I talked to my language partner this afternoon. 🙂

  3. Don’t despair. It’s normal. If you have time to meet a language partner, it might not be a bad idea, though.
    I remember learning English: I would understand what was going on, and I really wanted to speak up, but the moment I did, I would be so self-conscious and felt like I couldn’t express everything I wanted – and I stuck to saying what I knew was absolutely correct. But even though I wasn’t entirely happy myself, I was praised by random people because I didn’t have an accent and they could understand what I was saying. So don’t underestimate yourself.
    Also, don’t beat yourself up over others sounding fluent. Of course there are people who pick up languages like a sponge will absorb water, but some just take pride in following “the natural method”, trying to speak to locals and learn like children would. Therefore you sometimes come across people who *sound* like they are doing very well, but when you start looking more closely at what they are saying, it makes no sense because the grammar is off – even if they can produce a very convincing accent. When children mess up grammar by conjugating an irregular verb as a regular one or confusing “she” and “her” it’s considered cute, but they are nevertheless corrected. But correcting everything an adult says can be a little daunting, and many don’t want to hurt the learner’s feelings so they usually only find out when they join a class and somebody gets paid to weed out the mistakes.

    • Thanks! What you experienced is exactly how I felt/feel (except for the accent part because I’m also bad at it). Actually you’re correct. Most people I know who “sounds” good may not be “really” good so I actually don’t mind at all that they “sound” better than me. But after spending an afternoon with the Japanese friend I’ve mentioned above, my very weak speaking skills hit me big time. I’m grateful though that I realized how bad I am or how bad I’ve become (if I want to believe I was somehow ok when I was in Korea ㅋㅋ) so I can do something about it.
      Speaking of irregular verb conjugation – I struggle with it a lot when speaking. I usually stop and think how to conjugate a verb and then I’ll lose confidence afterwards. Unlike a friend I know who can easily get away with it just because she’s confident. Confidence – I also need it very badly I think. 🙂

      • In my brother’s uni class they had a class motto for when people were nervous before exams: “confidence without competence” 😉 in some situations you must not let show if you’re unsure about something so you need to at least pretend to be confident about what you’re doing. Maybe we should all follow that for our speaking practice 😀
        Actually, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to take a second to think “what was that verb again” rather than just blurting out something quickly. Next time you will need a little less time to think, the time after that even less, and by thinking twice and getting it right you don’t build up a nasty habit of saying something wrong that you need to get rid of later anyway.

  4. Fighting! Speaking, like listening, reading and writing are all skills we need to learn. Keep trying. It seems like those who have asked for your help are bad in grammar or vocabulary while you are good in them! Don’t be discouraged, there are things you are good at!

    Otherwise, you can get a language partner or try practicing talking to yourself in your head. Don’t stress yourself too much. Fighting! You can do it! One step at a time~

  5. Personally, I find my speaking skills to go up one level after watching something in that language (Japanese for me) whether it be a TV show, or drama, or movie. But I think that’s because I talk to myself as I watch, sometimes replying to the characters or repeating what they say, in a sense actively watching rather than passively. Yes, you could look like a crazy person but it helps. It’s pretty much the closest thing to talking with an actual person without actually talking to an actual person. Haha. For me, finding a language partner is a bit difficult. Mainly cause there aren’t many people around me fluent in Japanese and willing to put up with my own subpar level Japanese. If you have the means though, go ahead and try that out.

    I know other people have begun making vlogs of themselves speaking that language and uploading them to youtube and such. I’ve tried that, it’s not for the shy or faint of heart, but seeing yourself and hearing yourself speak that language really allows you to spot the areas you need work on. You don’t even have to upload the videos, you could just keep them on your computer somewhere. Anyway, I completely sympathize with your feelings. Wishing you the best. 🙂 頑張ってください!

    • Ah! Right, right, right! I remember when I was young, whenever I watch an American drama marathon for an entire day (or read an English novel for the entire day) I tend to speak more in English afterwards. I even purposely watched a lot of dramas when I was preparing for an all-English job interview and I did well. And now I’ve been watching a Korean drama and I felt a little bit more confident in speaking now. Not so much of an improvement but I feel a bit more comfortable because Korean’s all I can hear all day long. Thanks for your advice on “active watching”. I sometimes like to guess what the other characters will say/will reply but I don’t go further than that. I guess I should be more active in opening my mouth while watching dramas (or movies). Thanks a lot! 🙂

  6. WARNING: I wrote a lot of crap.

    I think it’s pretty natural for speaking skills to be lower than reading and writing skills when you’re mainly self-teaching. It can be easy to pick up stuff that we read or listen to and understand it from there, but speaking can be difficult and I think it’s mainly because it needs to be a bit of a natural reflex. When we speak in English, things just come to mind quickly because it has become a reflex (including everything from sentence structure to knowing what you want to say and how you want to say it).

    I’ve noticed this same problem with my Japanese (don’t get me started on my Korean). I can understand people when they speak without having to translate it, but hesitate when I want to say something back. I’ve noticed that I hesitate a bit in my writing as well because I’m still getting used to the language and all of its twists and turns when it comes to grammar. Korean… LOL. I’m hopeless with it at the moment… Even though I believe Korean is easier in grammatical terms… And that Japanese is more complicated… Don’t ask. I can’t answer that. XD

    My Spanish can give you a clearer example of what I was trying to say in the first paragraph. I grew up hearing a lot of Spanish and I had Latino neighbors. My 5th to 8th grade math teacher spoke Spanish and would teach the class little by little. Since I was so used to hearing the language, the structure just naturally came to me. If you ask me to speak in Spanish, it comes as a reflex almost like English, but my vocabulary needs to be expanded. When talking to native speakers of the language they say I sound fluent or that I don’t seem to have any problem with the language when I feel like I do. I started learning grammar from books in 9th grade. I’d naturally understand how something should sound like a native would, but would still have questions on grammar even if it’s something simple.

    Your friends may have something similar to that. They’re probably very used to speaking and hearing the language and they probably started off learning Korean from speaking. That’s why when you go to a country and you’re immersed in the language and speak it every day, (even when you come back from the country) it’ll eventually come as a reflex.

    How easy is it for you to think and write in Korean? Usually if you hesitate a bit with writing sentences, that hesitation will show when you speak because through speaking your brain is put on the spot and needs to recall things ASAP. I’m not completely sure what helps with increasing the speaking level, but I’m definitely working on it and will let you know if something works out. XD

    Do remember that you’re human. It’s natural to get that upset when you’re putting your all into something you really want to learn and you see an area you’re struggling with. (Especially if you have perfectionist moments like I do. XD) Just know that if your problem is at Point B, work on (or attack and conquer >:DDD) Point B until you’re satisfied. ^.^

    • Now that I re-read your post and thought about my writing (for Japanese because Korean barely exists to my brain) I do hesitate here and there, but can write pretty well and not hesitate so much. Maybe it’s the fear of our speaking not being good enough which makes us hesitate and it prolongs our brain from letting us put coherent sentences together. XD

      I’ve had this same problem with playing bass. Playing around people made me hesitate a lot and get nervous, but I see now that I can’t avoid it from fear. I’m scared = Gotta go forward and attack the fear. I’m kinda scared about talking to Japanese friends in Japanese = Go speak much more and if I mess up, take notes. XD I’ve been avoiding the problem too long. Alright. I’m gonna add this to goals, make a post later, and make sure I get my butt up and do it. >.> I got this… I hope. TToTT

      • Yeah I also have self-esteem problems. If I’m good at something I can really be confident in doing it. But I know I am not good at something I can’t even fake my confidence. I (think I) sound better and more spontaneous whenever I talk to myself in Korean (out loud or not). I get tensed when I start talking with someone. I get more nervous if that someone is older than me. Or if I’m talking to a Korean language teacher (whether he/she has been my teacher or not). I am more confident talking/practicing with my juniors who are just starting to learn Korean but can get really nervous and conscious to the point of not speaking at all when talking to my seniors (those who I know are better in Korean than me).
        Let’s attack this stupid fear!! ㄱㅅ!

    • Thank you so much!
      And you’re actually right. Most of my friends… no, ALL of them started studying / studied Korean in a classroom setting where a teacher forces them to speak right from the get go while I was quietly immersed in my textbooks, online lessons and dramas. And all of them (except for 1) have studied Korean in Korea and have stayed in Korea for at least a year (the one exception is actually working for a Korean company, under a Korean boss, for 2 years now). My 40 days in Korea (with 6 hours of English classes a day) pale in comparison.
      Thanks a lot! I’m trying to put more effort now in “attacking” my weakest spot. 🙂
      By the way, where’s the crap? I didn’t see any. XD

      • XD lol @ the crap

        I really wish there was some way for self-learners to get more chances to speak the language they’re studying. Japanese isn’t a problem for me (I know too many people from Japan @.@) but it’s difficult to find native Korean speakers unless I go to Koreatown… where everyone is a stranger. XD I’m planning to study abroad in SK in 2014 or 2015, but that’s so far away. DX I wanna just stand in KTown with a sign that says, “Need native Korean language partner/Someone to speak Korean with/Will pay with cash or food or dance lessons or English.”

  7. I’m not sure if my comment will be helpful to you or not, but I don’t think you should be so hard on yourself. Everyone learns language differently and have different strengths and weaknesses in a language. Personally for me, I have the same problem as you. When learning any language, I have an easier time with the writing and reading, but when it comes to speaking? It feels like all the knowledge I’ve learnt just flew out of my brain. I stutter and make silly mistakes. ;;;; So I understand the feeling of “Why aren’t I getting this? I must be doing something wrong!”
    But there’s nothing wrong with struggling when learning a language. It’s all just part of the process (I hope that doesn’t come off as insensitive. I’m not trying to be orz). If you keep on practicing, you’ll be able to speaking fluently one day. ^^ Getting a language partner, especially one who is a native or close to native speaker, would be great. I’d recommend lang-8. Although it’s mostly for writing practice, there’s plenty of Koreans on there who are willing to help those learning Korean. And listening to how a native speak can help you perfect your accent as well. Maybe you can ask someone from there to skype chat with you? You can also practice talking to yourself when you’re alone- like reading aloud passages from a book or manhwa.
    Gaaah, this is getting really wordy OTL. I hope my comment was somewhat helpful ;;

    • Thanks Georgie! I tried looking for language partner and it looks promising. I should’ve read my manhwa out loud! I’ll try to do that next time I read one. I must remember to do that. I get lazy easily. ㅋㅋㅋㅋ. And nope, you don’t come off as insensitive or something. Was actually surprised why you even said that! 🙂 And your comment is indeed helpful! Thanks again!!!! 🙂

  8. Pingback: Finding A Language Exchange Partner | My Korean Corner

  9. Stumbled upon this blog post because I’m having the same problem. D; But I’m slowly trying to get out of my comfort zone and talk to myself in Korean more..

    Anyway, the way I see it, you’ve quite overcome this already.. Isn’t that right? Because I saw you win in a Korean speech contest! Congratulations~~ I’m actually inspired by you so I’m trying harder now. 😀

    (I’m thinking of applying what others suggested you too.. ㅎㅎ)

    • Fist, thanks for your comment because I get to read what I wrote here and I felt so much better today. 🙂
      I wrote a lot of crap then I guess. ㅋㅋㅋ
      Actually I won the Korean speech contest a year before I wrote this post. And that’s why I was frustrated then.
      But having spent 51 days in Korea last Spring, I must say my speaking skills have improved a lot. There were days in Korea when I still felt the same way I did when I wrote this post, especially when I was with another foreigner who speaks better Korean than me. But other than those few instances when my confidence were shattered to pieces I feel more comfortable speaking now. And even if it’s been a few months since I returned home, I can still carry a conversation with Korean here. I guess it also helped that I’ve been through numerous situations last Spring when I have to open my heart (and soul) to someone who only speaks Korean. I was left with no other choice but to give it my all and amazingly words just flowed, I was even surprised with myself.
      With that being said, just give yourself time and before you know it, you’ll also be surprising yourself one day. 🙂

      • Yay, where’s the cr*p? I didn’t see any.. This blog post actually lifts up my spirit and inspires me to strive harder.. Maybe because I can relate. XD

        Whoah? Really? I didn’t know that (or maybe I forgot)! That’s awesome! Looks like being immersed in Korea really does wonders! Congratulations on overcoming this phase~ I’m anticipating ’til this particular fulfillment happens to me as well!

        Thank you for being such an inspiration.. ♥ I’m all the more hyped because we’re from the same country. It makes me feel like if one Filipina can do it, I can do it too! 😀 Keep it up~! 😀

      • Glad I was able to inspire (really?) you. I was also inspired by other Korean self-learner bloggers.
        There are many Filipinas out there (especially from my university) who are waayyy better than I am.

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