In this post, I’d like to talk about my own language learning journey.
As a Korean third culture kid growing up in Indonesia, I was exposed early on to a variety of languages being spoken around me. I spent most of my life in Indonesia, speaking English, Korean, and Indonesian. But it wasn’t until I took my Spanish I class in my tenth grade that this whole business started.
I was smitten. Captivated. Mesmerized. Enchanted. Enamored.
There must’ve been something so mysterious and exotic about it all – not necessarily the Spanish language – that I enjoyed it so much. I took two more years of high school Spanish, and picked up a few slang words from the Mexican exchange students. By this time, I was in Vancouver, Canada. Upon arriving here, knowing that it was a bilingual country, I wanted to learn French, but there was no way I could catch up with French 11, and so I decided to try it out on my own. I bought one of the Living Language series, complete with CDs and all. But to my dismay and rapidly growing frustration, I found it very difficult.
So I put that aside, thinking I would learn it some day. I got into university, and as far as languages go, I hung out at the Spanish Conversation Club meetings, trying to at least keep my Spanish from submerging under the threshold of use-it-or-lose-it. I mulled over the idea of taking a bunch of Spanish courses to get a Certificate in Language Proficiency, but in the end, decided against it.
I ended up taking Mandarin and loved it. Our instructor was a Chinese masters student in education, and she was such a great teacher. I was especially intrigued by the similarities I found in cross-referencing Korean and Chinese. The pronunciations of certain words were so similar, and the fact that I could read the Chinese characters in both Chinese and Korean just kept the fire burning. About a year after I took the first class, I took the next level of Chinese. It was more challenging, but somehow I made it through, and learned lots.
During my first year of university, I happened to see a sign posted on one of the walls of our university’s main plaza/square that read – in Korean – “Seeking volunteer instructors for Korean class” with an email address at the bottom. Being the language zealot I am, I emailed them and became an instructor. I was involved with creating lessons and teaching small groups of university students. As a native speaker of Korean, I had no idea of the intricacies of grammar that lay buried in the words that flowed out of my mouth. Numerous books about the Korean language, websites, and discussions with other native speakers gradually unearthed the nuts and bolts that made the language tick. It was a real eye-opener. I myself learned a lot from creating lessons and having to teach students. I taught that class every semester for 4 years, until I graduated. While teaching the course, I met so many people, and learned and experienced so many things, not just about language, but things in general – you know, stuff.
The Russian Club and the Hillel Society at my university were offering free Russian and Hebrew lessons, respectively. Being as I am an unfaithful lover when it comes to languages, how could I have let this opportunity slip? I signed up and dabbled in Russian and some Hebrew. However, my class schedule didn’t allow me to continue for long, and I came to my senses thinking that I shouldn’t stretch myself too thin, and should focus on improving the languages I already know.
Someone who had volunteered in Brazil for a year came to our church. Once again, it was an easy seduction, if it really were one. I was asking him to teach me, naively thinking that my knowledge of Spanish would smooth out the learning process. I was horribly mistaken. The similarities in vocabulary rather caused much confusion, though I loved the intonation of Brazilian Portuguese. So I left that for the future, but definitely hope to learn it well someday.
As part of an NYU program, my brother studied in Florence for a year. When he came back to visit, he brought home an introductory textbook of Italian. I slowly got into it too, but again decided to leave it aside for a time in the future when I could dedicate more of my attention to it as it deserved.
Way before diving headfirst into German, from the time I was but a wee lad reading about the pinnacle of human civilization that was the Roman Empire, I had been curious about Latin. Coming to recognize the various roots of Latin derivation when doing my vocabulary lessons in school also opened my eyes to the omnipresence of Latin in English. Into high school and early university, my fire for Latin burned sure, and I played with the thought of studying Humanities and the classics. I tried to take an introductory Latin course in university, but the course was offered once a year, and my schedule didn’t allow it. I was left to my own devices to take a stab at this language. I looked online, found an amazing website that had some old textbooks converted into PDFs, and worked through the first portion during the boring parts of my lectures (What’s the point of bringing laptops to class anyway?)
German was my first real ‘case’ language. My German friend in high school had told me a bit about this ‘case’ thingy, but of course I was clueless as to its horrid existence. My initiation into the torture that is ‘case’ came full on with learning German. I started learning it using this online website called LingQ (www.lingq.com) – which all language users should be on, or try out, in any case – and the cases really tripped me up in the first couple months I think. Not to say that I’ve got it down pat now, but it definitely isn’t as murky as it was back then.
Well, fast forward to the present, and now I am focusing my energies and my affections on Spanish and Mandarin. I’ve been attending the Vancouver LanguageCast sessions, and last week I presented for the first time completely in Spanish! I’m sure I was bumbling along in whatever I was talking about, but the way I see it, I want to push myself to do it because it’ll help me improve.
So I think that was my journey in a nutshell. Of course, it’s an ongoing journey, and now I get to share it online with all who care to read.
Here’s to an exhilarating, lifelong journey! Cheers!