Way back, I haven’t been reading a lot of blogs from people who self-study Korean, but now that I’m blogging about my learning experiences, I’m extremely curious about how hard self-studying is.
I started learning Korean through self-studying which is a good start for an intensive course. That way, I for sure, would just be learning about the most basic of the basics. So when I start with the real lessons, I won’t have to experience culture shock.
Especially, 한글 is extremely easy (sans the complex pronunciation rules, e.g. 연락, 막내, etc.), so studying it alone wouldn’t be very hard. What more, mastering how to read and write 한글 in advance is vital if you’re planning to study formally. That way, you’ll only be focusing on correct pronunciation rather than memorization. Other lessons like -(스)ㅂ니다, or -아/어요 are also exceptions but here comes the tricky part. Which speech level to learn first.
Through TTMIK, I started learning through -아/어요 form, so when I attended formal lessons, it shifted to -(스)ㅂ니다 form it was completely different. From ‘가요’ to ‘갑니다’, ‘읽어요’ to ‘읽습니다’, it was not really confusing, but I thought I would commence learning from what I already know.
Why worry about the difficulties of self-studying if you have a good textbook? It’s still hard. I’ve seen good and systematic textbooks, starting from conversations, dissection of words and grammar points, further explanation of the grammar points and student’s application. But I feel it’s not enough. There are some vocabulary entries that requires explanations. I’ve seen ‘그렇습니까’ defined as ‘That’s right’, which is really confusing if I don’t know the word ‘그렇다’ yet. And it’s more confusing since it was not used as ‘That’s right’ when you read the dialogue. Also, local bookstores (as for here) don’t carry a lot of good Korean books. More on faulty romanized dictionaries and phrase books, but as for legit textbooks… ㅡ.ㅡ
Some other words have different meanings, like for ‘쓰다’, I thought it was just ‘to write but I’ve learned four (3 verbs, 1 adjective) which I might not use if I haven’t heard it from my 선생님. Then there’s ‘사용하다’ which means the same, but when do you use them. How about -아/어서, -기 때문에, and -으니까? How about the various usages of -(으)로 and -(이)나? Of course you can always consult good books like ‘Korean Grammar in Use’ but you can’t expect to get answered instantly. Also, there are various Korean language study communities and resources online, but it’s not very instant.
Of course it’s also hard not to self-study most especially if you’re in desperate need of learning the language but no classes are being offered nearby, or it won’t fit your schedule, or it’s expensive and commute is inconvenient. But still, having a teacher is completely important. There are people who could juggle words and grammar patterns, make good sentences, but if you ask them to read what they have written, they sound like 군인, 사투리, or 평양 사람. They can introduce themselves but if you ask them in Korean what they did last weekend, they’ll be “네?? 음…. 그냥…..”.
I try to look at both sides for every pro and con, some things can be a pro and a con at the same time.
Privacy, no fear of criticisms
Is this really a pro? Maybe in a different setting, it might be a pro, but when it comes to language, you don’t need privacy, you need criticisms. Why? Learning a language is liquid. You don’t use it just within yourself, you would never improve if you don’t want to talk with peers or a teacher about the language you’re learning. Having the confidence to read and write alone is good, but if you would not apply and use that confidence for conversations, there’s no sense in learning the language at all.
Why we need criticisms? Reading like a soldier, or in a different dialect-ish tone is just as embarrassing as being afraid to talk (though you’re proficient by yourself). People know you study hard about the language but when there’s a chance to be introduced to a native speaker, you go mute, and shy.
Time and pacing
Another good thing about self-studying is time flexibility. The ‘가나다’ book that we’re using right now is perfectly divided for the whole term of 72 hours, 1 lesson per day, and a review segment for the sixth day. Sometimes, only 1 easy grammar pattern is being taught for a lesson, and even if we can freely move on to the next, we just don’t. When you self-study, you can choose how much lessons, words or grammar patterns to study for a certain period. You can choose to ponder for a whole grammar pattern the whole day, but at school, you just have to move on. But then again, you can always ask your teacher about confusing matters. Without this, studying alone adds more confusion and frustration.
But what’s the downside to a flexible time? Before, I would go for 3 to 5 TTMIK lessons per day and understand it perfectly, but the day after… *brain farts*. The more you learn, the quicker you forget. At school, there’s a syllabus to follow so practice and repetitions are guaranteed to increase mind’s retention.
This is not particularly limited to self-studying, but focusing on self-study, you are not being boxed on a single book. You can choose which method is better. You can choose to learn online if you don’t have a book. You can choose which particular book to use, etc.
But then again, if you’re having formal lessons and you have a required book, you can still look things up on different sources. I for one got very confused about -(으)ㄴ데/는데, so I looked it up through TTMIK and my confusion dissolved. You can always buy a book, ask native speakers through online communities, have exchanges with fellow learners, etc.
When I was still planning to learn the language, I’ve been looking for a good syllabus online. I had no access to elementary textbooks, so I wouldn’t know how to learn systematically and time-wise. Self-studying lacks this. If you’re planning to take the Beginner TOPIK you wouldn’t know up to what grammar point, and which grammar point to study first.
Which, on the other hand, if a syllabus is followed strictly, your teacher may not extend lessons outside the planned lessons. Like now, we encounter a lot of pure Korean and 한자-derived words, so I would at least want to learn how the word looks like in Chinese, so I have to look it up myself, which is deadly confusing. Self-studying is more wider and limitless, but it lacks system and order.
Motivation and confidence
Self-studying may take years until a student feels proficient and fluent enough, but conversationally, I’m not sure about their confidence and adeptness. They may be perfectly well and self-taught. May know most words up to Intermediate level. Can mix up a lot of grammar points, but when conversationally asked about things, I’m not sure.
Self-studying can be less motivating since you only study by yourself. Eventually you’ll lose practice and come to a conclusion that you don’t want to continue anymore. You don’t receive compliments if you did well. You’re not sure if you’re still learning the right thing, so when you have been studying wrongly and finally had the opportunity to converse with a Korean and you get corrected for something you thought right for a very long time, it’s embarrassing and demotivating.
With proper lessons, you get classmates and friends you can talk with, simple things about the time, weather, what happened last weekend, etc. And besides the teacher would be guiding your every step so mistakes are at minimum. It’s also demotivating depending on the teacher. There might be instructors who would make you feel down if you don’t get the lessons. But then again, it’s more important if you get criticisms and corrections… but that is…
It’s good to study formally if you will be handled by a native speaker. There are two sides to it. During my Elementary 1, my teacher had this hard Korean accent which was very hard to understand at first but as time went, it became bearable and music to the ears. And besides, it’s a good practice since most Koreans may also have hard English accent, so conversing with them in English might not be so hard anymore, given the chance.
It’s also okay if non-native speaker would teach, but then again, there are no deeper backgrounds from the words. A native speaker used the word all her life so explaining it from an experience rather than from a book is more fluid, accurate and more relate-able.
Romanization and translations
I never studied Korean through romanization. It is super super foul, and may I say ew?? Of course, at one point in my life, I searched for romanized lyrics, but I just didn’t want to study that way. The moment I learned how to read and write, I have always searched lyrics in 한글. I might have had difficulties reading them at first, but the results were all worth it. Now I can read and rap-along to Korean hip-hop music. For self-studying learners, this is one of the biggest mistakes. Instead of studying about how to read and write, they tend to study phrases and things they hear from dramas, then tweet or status it on Facebook, IN ROMANIZATIONS. It’s really foul, sorry.
There are mixed views about translations though. There are people who find it important. As for me, I try to skip translation as much as possible. Of course it’s necessary, but now that I can simplify definitions in Korean, I try hard not to use translations anymore. Sometimes, it’s also helpful to translate complex Korean words/grammar to own’s native language. ‘이/그/저’ for example is translated to ‘this/that/that’ in English. There are two ‘that’s and at first, it’s complicated to remember which is which, but since in Filipino it can be translated to ‘ito/ayan/ayun’, it’s easily recognizable.
Self-studying is probably the most convenient way to study Korean, but it’s also important to have lessons if you have the luxury of time. It might not be very necessary for some to take lessons if they can be proficient by themselves since proper studying habits and motivation are the only key in learning a language. It’s probably hard since Korean is almost always considered to be one of the hardest languages to study for English-speaking natives, but having goals on what to attain after studying is also important.
Immersion is as important as learning it by book. Having five years of self-study without personal interactions with native or Korean-speaking people is, for me, a waste of time.
It would probably be best to do both, formal lessons and self-study. As always, there are a lot of free resources online. Good thing about proper lesson gives you a system of learning, gives you a reason to stay focused, and on time. Good thing about self-study on the other hand is more on the improvement side. Things taught from school can be widened through owned books, online articles, online lessons, and people alike learning the same language.
What are your thoughts about self-studying?