The only Korean I know is Bonchon :(
August 14, 2017 6:32 AM   Subscribe

At the very least I would like to learn some conversational Korean so my boyfriend's family doesn't feel so isolated. But I don't know where to even start. Details to follow.

So I have been dating this amazing guy for almost a year. I had asked how his family felt about his brother being married to a white woman and him dating me (also white.) He explained to me that his parents were disappointed because they want to be able to communicate and can't. His mom does not speak much English and, according to my boyfriend, isn't attempting to learn any time soon. His dad speaks English enough to get by, but not enough to have conversations that last longer than 3-5 sentences both ways. My boyfriend shared his hope that I might learn a little some day, especially if we decide to get married, have kids, etc.

Before the conversation I was already looking at options to try and learn enough to at least not stare at them blankly at dinners while my boyfriend translates back and forth. But now I feel a bit more compelled to learn so I can make them feel a bit more comfortable.

I took Russian for a semester and came out learning some common phrases (and some inappropriate ones too... :D) and being able to write in cursive Russian like a 5 year old. So I know I am capable of learning something!

But I honestly don't know where to start. I live in Richmond, VA but I can't seem to find any classes outside of DC so I'm not sure that there is an in class option. I would like to be able to surprise my boyfriend and his family with what I learn if possible, just because I don't want to let anyone down if I am unable to learn (I do night shift work, in the process of getting my divorce finalized after years of separation, working on my own mental health recovery, etc). I also have depression and ADHD, which makes me tired, unable to focus, and have a terrible memory...all things that don't help in memorizing/learning a new language. But I really, really, really want to try.

So after my verbose "special snowflake" post, my main questions are: what options do I have? Do you all have any language websites/tips that you swear by? Ability to transfer your own Korean knowledge to my brain so I can impress everyone for like...a dollar? That's pretty reasonable and doable right? Haha XD Any information you all have to share would be terrific.
posted by Fullofcrazy to Education (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've also studied Russian and Korean! And other languages besides, but those are the relevant ones.

I can't emphasize enough how important it is for you to practice speaking Korean with other people. I wouldn't keep this a secret from your boyfriend--you'd be needlessly ignoring a your biggest resource on the language. Keep it a secret from his parents if you want, sure, but not your boyfriend! You'll have to be practicing regularly enough that it's likely he will catch you at it, anyway.

The thing is, learning a second language is hard and requires dedicated effort, especially if you want to be able to speak it with people. It won't happen quickly, or easily. So you should have realistic expectations. "I'm going to keep this a secret and surprise my family once I'm capable of having a conversation" isn't a realistic expectation.

Get your boyfriend to help you: Have evenings where you don't speak anything but Korean. Buy a textbook and work through a section it three days a week; study vocabulary for 15-20 minutes every day every day. (Flash card programs like Anki are great for this, because you can review as you wait for a bus).

(I don't have a specific textbook recommendation because I didn't like the one my Korean class used.)

Even if you do this it will be a while before you can have a better conversation in Korean than your guy's dad can have in English. Be realistic, and don't be too hard on yourself. Any progress is good progress.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:57 AM on August 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also, another thing you might want to consider is hiring a tutor. Language or areal studies departments colleges/universities often have lists of language tutors (or know where to look), even for languages that they don't actually offer. You could try contacting them and asking if they have a list of Korean language tutors.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:01 AM on August 14, 2017

I would like to be able to surprise my boyfriend

Not optimum. Your learning will be about a million times better and faster if he is helping you.

ETA: What Kutsu said.
posted by JimN2TAW at 7:09 AM on August 14, 2017

I am learning Korean through Memrise and by watching as many KDramas as possible. It's so much fun, and it feels like a treat whenever I get to spend some time to really focus on it.
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:09 AM on August 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Your local public library may well have some language learning resources - even if you buy something eventually, you can preview various options through them. I have no Korean-specific experience to offer, but based on other languages:
- Obviously use your boyfriend. Although native language speakers aren't always the best teachers.
- Rosetta stone is a waste of time and money.
- Korean and Russian are generally considered to be in the same broad difficulty class for English speakers to learn, so you already have some sort of a benchmark for what progress to expect.
- Pimsleur is focused on building up working phrases and vocabulary for travel, especially business travel. However, the idea of a small amount daily with spaced repetition is really useful/important in general. Pimsleur and similar audio courses are useful for giving you some basic phrases and getting you going (and giving some confidence.)
- A real textbook is important for broad learning of the language, because you need eventually to understand all of the features. For example, in Russian (like many European languages) a verb has six forms for a given tense: читаю, читаешь, читает, читаем, читаете, читают. Courses like Pimsleur will tend to focus on the most common ones - in this case probably the first person singular читаю and the second person plural читаете, which are the ones you need to speak directly to someone else politely. But you will eventually need all six!
- Textbooks are good for grammar, but immersion (with your boyfriend, consuming media in the target language) is vital. Immersion helps you understand how a language is spoken, and builds up vocabulary, which educational sources won't.
- You might feel better about your progress if you focus more on a specific topic area, ideally one where you share interest with your boyfriend's family. That limits the amount of stuff you will have to learn to make progress, rather than trying to take a step in every direction at once. Even if it's something basic like the weather - that's actually good, there's only a few dozen words of vocabulary you need and you can start talking.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:13 AM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

In addition to the previously mentioned tools (flashcards, memrise, media exposure), a Korean course is coming to Duolingo fairly soon!

I cannot speak on the quality of this particular course, but judging based on other courses I've either tipped my toes in or completed on Duolingo, it may be quite useful to:
- make you familiar with grammar and syntax,
- boost your vocabulary in combination with Memrise, Anki (or Duolingo's own Tinycards), and ultimately,
- facilitate the reading and writing of the Korean language.

When it comes to actually speaking a language, I found Duolingo always a bit lacking (this is just my personal experience, though, mind you), as I'm missing a real person to interact with, and the speech output tends to be a bit off, as well. (Again, judging merely on the basis of some other courses I've tried. Who knows what's coming for the Korean course!)
posted by bigendian at 8:41 AM on August 14, 2017

I also have depression and ADHD, which makes me tired, unable to focus, and have a terrible memory...all things that don't help in memorizing/learning a new language.

I've had trouble sticking with foreign languages because I'm not actively using them, in particular my ongoing attempts to talk myself into learning Spanish despite not currently being in contact with any of my Mexican family. But acquisition? Acquisition is not actually that bad. Because the thing about having ADD is that I'm often needing something to listen to while doing dishes, or something on my phone to take a 5-minute break with at work, and foreign language stuff actually seems to work reasonably well when acquired in small chunks instead of lengthy study sessions.

Especially in this case, where you have the rest of your life to learn, potentially, I wouldn't sweat it being too hard for your particular brain. I wouldn't commit to being fluent in six months or anything, but you can definitely do this. Even when the brain weasels are bad, you'll have apps to fiddle with, TV shows to veg out in front of, lots of stuff that's practice but is still compatible with your life.
posted by Sequence at 8:55 AM on August 14, 2017

A couple of thoughts:

It's nice that you want to learn- but to all suggesting that Boyfriend help, it's important to learn whether he actually wants to be a Korean tutor.
It's a job, and it's not his job.

I dated someone whose parents didn't speak any English. I learned a little of their language via YouTube and by listening to songs in that language while poring over the lyrics. I also looked at travel phrase books and kids' books in that language.

By far the best strategy I came up with was to gift them the game Jenga, which requires no words. We bonded spectacularly.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:23 AM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend speaks almost no English and would like to learn some so he can communicate with my mother. One thing we have started doing is that I use English around the house more than I otherwise would, in everyday casual phrases: "Do you want tea or coffee?" "What time are you leaving?" "Gee, it's hot!" "sleeeepy" and so on. These are often clear from context once he has a hint or two, are repeated regularly, and are short enough that he can mimic and/or make notes on them without too much stress on either end. Obviously they won't lead to complex conversations, but they're kind of a foot in the door in terms of confidence and familiarity, and you can use them as building blocks for the next step in terms of grammar and vocabulary as well. If your boyfriend is willing to do something like this with Korean, you might both enjoy it.
Also, hang vocabulary lists in the bathroom where you can read over them while the rest of your body is busy; if you find a decent thing to listen to, put it on in the car or the train/bus or whatever on your way to work, not to concentrate on, just as background sound; and so on. As they say in Korean, fighting! :)
posted by huimangm at 2:37 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding Homeboy Trouble's suggestion that you check out your local library. Many libraries have online language learning resources and teach-yourself type books with audio.

You might want to check out Korean Class 101, at least at the basic free level. I've used some of their Japanese podcasts; the conversations can get a little annoying, but there is some good introductory material.

I'm a fan of the Language Learner's Forum. I did a quick search there and found:

a short review of Coursera's (free) First Step Korean
tips on learning Korean
resources for learning Korean

My biggest advice would be - don't stress, don't push yourself too hard, and have fun with it. My guess is that learning even a little Korean will be a nice gesture toward your boyfriend's family; even if you start out just being able to say "please" and "thank you", your willingness to make the effort is a good thing. The more you can find FUN ways to practice - especially if you can find some Korean music or TV shows you like - the easier it will be to move forward.
posted by kristi at 4:43 PM on August 20, 2017

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