User Story: How language learning failure shouldn’t define your future
When I first started learning a language, Korean in particular, it would be fair to say my confidence in my language learning aptitude was low. I believed that some people simply don’t have that ability to learn a language, and I was one of them.
My only language learning experience before I started to learn Korean was five years of learning German in secondary school, and it didn’t help AT ALL. My German learning was significantly hampered by the course’s archaic curriculum design and my own lack of enthusiasm towards the language culture. At that time, I foolishly thought that speaking a foreign tongue was ‘useless’.
Therefore, my German learning process was severely hindered and after five years and over 360 accumulated hours, I apathetically walked into the GCSE test for German. Unsurprisingly, I failed.
Fortunately, I achieved better grades in other subjects, so I went on to go to college, without a single thought of learning a new language. I pursued a future in business, which ironically led me into fields that require communicating with people, oftentimes from other cultures.
This filled me with regret for wasting the chances that I had while in school. When you’re a student, it’s easy to dismiss the idea of learning a new language as worthwhile or important. I believe this is especially the case for native English speakers. Luckily, I was at a stage in life where I could still make a change. If you’re a student reading this article, I’d urge you to reassess how important language learning is.
Last year, I moved to South Korea, one of the world’s most innovative countries, to pursue a career as an English teacher. I experienced much apprehension towards learning Korean. Mentally I was still that student who believed he could never become fluent in a new language, who had failed the GCSE despite a successful weekly teaching structure. I constantly question myself, how could I (ever) succeed, on my own? How could I learn a language so difficult as Korean?
How I became a more efficient language learner
To be honest, I had no real idea of how to improve myself at first. I knew that I needed to change, but I didn’t have a clue which changes to make. Throughout my life, I’ve always had the opinion that one of the best ways to learn is from a mentor, someone that you can base yourself on and from whom you draw the positives to implement in your life. In today’s world, we are fortunate to have access to the internet, which provides us with more tools to do this.
My first step was to conduct thorough researches, not on the subject (Korean Learning), but on people who had written or made content about learning efficiency or putting that initial belief in yourself into actual practice (mainly regarding languages).
I discovered a wealth of people: Benny the Irish polyglot, whose belief system is to ‘hack’ language learning in a short amount of time, Thomas Frank the productivity wizard on YouTube and, strangely, the comedian turned YouTube activist Russell Brand.
Each of these three content creators were very important in getting me into the state of mind to get started. Most people, myself included, stuck in this state of mind of ‘it’s not possible’. However, witnessing other people succeed has a certain effect. It’s like it shatters your pessimism and shows you that it really is possible. Watching someone who had a starting point very similar to mine master 6 languages gave me an almost tangible belief that I could do it too.
Those content creators combined gave me the belief, which transitioned into motivation, to get up and stop being pessimistic and to, even if just for a moment, try. It’s incredible because once you put in those first few steps of effort, you get a snowball effect. Like exercise or any other beneficial activity, the act of completion energizes you to continue. Day after day, it turns into something of a second nature, a habit, which once established, becomes hard to break.
How being a teacher changes my own language learning
Actually I feel fortunate to be in my current position as an English teacher, as I can witness the first-hand effects of different methods regarding language learning.
Witnessing the curriculum design for the school was incredibly eye-opening.
Depending on the student’s age when entering the school, they’re tested on their English language proficiency on four dimensions: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Those criteria both identify their current level and show their strengths. For example, a student who’s considerably stronger at listening is often placed at a higher level because of their potential to understand what teachers say and learn.
This spurred my interest in testing my own levels to know what type of learner I am, and in turn what types of specific methods I should be focusing on. I attempted numerous tests and examined a lot of studies. However, the theory I felt most applicable to myself was David Kolb’s learning style theory, which I believe is a very credible source to evaluate one’s learning style.
Discovering my learning style
After completing a few of this theory’s questionnaires and tests. I managed to identify myself as an ‘Assimilating’ learner: one who focuses more on a logical approach to learning focusing on ideas and concepts.
four types of learners
It essentially means that I’m better at learning from a more structured and clearer path explaining what is important in each section, with regular tests to build a foundation. To me, incorporating auditory learning while doing all these is also important.
This leads to my discovery of LingoDeer for learning Korean.
Why I started using LingoDeer to learn Korean
My previously established assumption that Korean learning was hard requires me to find structured and reliable sources that are suitable for both visual and auditory learners. As a teacher myself, I also know language books can be out of date very quickly, especially with new expressions coming up on the internet every day. Therefore, I decided to mostly focus on apps that are constantly updating.
Finally, after comparing several different apps, I settled on LingoDeer, whose course design fits my established learning methods. I began with hopes that this would help my learning immensely, especially in the learning of the Korean alphabet.
Korean alphabet taught in the LingoDeer app
The Korean alphabet, which is somewhat famous for its ease of learning, was actually very difficult for me. I had used a lot of books and other materials in an attempt to learn but was still stuck at the first step. Upon using LingoDeer for around 2-3 days, I could already identify many Korean letters. I felt I had accomplished something. I felt more motivated to keep on learning than ever.
Those feelings have accompanied me throughout my whole journey with LingoDeer. Now on a 93-day LingoDeer streak, I’m proud to say that although I haven’t mastered the language, my skill is constantly improving. Language learning is now a fun daily activity, rather than a chore as it was before.
Are there other great language learning tools out there? Of course. I’m not saying LingoDeer is the ultimate answer for anyone who’s struggling with language learning. It’s simply a great tool that works for me and suits my learning style. There is no “magic fix” to all the difficulties in learning a new language, it takes intense dedication and strong motivation.
However, I hope that upon reading this, any one who might once be disappointed in language learning, will give it another chance.