User Story: How language learning failure shouldn’t define your future

When I started my journey into learning a language, it would be fair to say my confidence in my language learning aptitude was low. I believed what many people do, that they simply don’t have that ability to learn a language, I was just not born that way. It didn’t help that my only experiences with learning a language had been five years of studying German in Secondary School.

My German studies were hampered by the course’s archaic curriculum design and my own lack of enthusiasm towards learning a language, as I foolishly thought that speaking a foreign tongue was ‘useless’.

My learning process was severely hindered and after five years and over 360 accumulated hours, I apathetically walked into the GCSE test for German and failed.

when learning is tiring

Fortunately, I achieved better grades in other subjects, and I went on to go to college, with any ideas of learning a new language out of my mind. I pursued a future in business, which ironically led me into fields that required the skill of communicating with people, often 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 language as worthwhile or important. I believe that this is especially the case for native English speakers. Luckily, I was in a position in life where I could still make a change/change course, but if you’re a younger student reading this I’d urge you to reassess how important language learning is.

Anyway, when I moved to South Korea last year to pursue teaching English and side business projects in one of the world’s most innovative countries. I had a lot of apprehension towards learning Korean. Mentally I was still that student who felt he had no foreign linguistic ability in languages, who had failed the GCSE despite a successful weekly teaching structure, so how could I (ever) succeed on my own? Especially with a language as difficult as Korean

 

How I became a more efficient learner

To be honest, I had no real idea of how to improve myself. 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 research, not on the subject I wanted to learn (Korean), but on the people who had wrote 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/help guru turned YouTube activist Russell Brand

Each of these three content creators were very important in getting me into the state of mind to be able to begin. Most people, myself included, get frozen/remain 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 Benny, the Irish polyglot, who had a very similar starting point to me, master 6 languages gave me an almost tangible belief that I could do it too.

Those content creators combined gave me hope/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 the activity.

Some days your motivation will be at an all-time low but with the continued listening/usage of peers and mentors, you have a higher chance of working up the every-day motivation needed to break the barriers of learning. Then it becomes something of a second nature, a habit, and habits once established are hard to break. 

How being a teacher influences my own methods

In addition to this, I’m fortunate to be in my current position as a teacher, to be able to witness first-hand the effects of different teaching methods in respects to language.

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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 levels of understanding of the English language on four sections: visually, speaking, writing and listening. That criteria both identifies their current level and helps identify some of their strengths. For example, a student whose considerably stronger at listening is occasionally placed at a higher level because of their potential to learn from the teachers. 

This spurred my interest into testing my own levels and what type of learner I am, and what types of specific methods I should be focusing on. I attempted numerous tests, read and devoured a lot of studies. However, the theory that I most felt was applicable to myself was David Kolb’s learning style theory, which although created originally in 1974 and later further developed in 1986. Is still a very credible structure to evaluate yourself too. 

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 with more of a focus on ideas and concepts

language-sciences-language-development-msc.pngIt essentially means that I’m better with learning from a more structured and clearer path for why each part is important, with regular tests to build a clear foundation. All whilst trying to incorporate auditory learning.

Why I started using LingoDeer

Which leads onto my discovery of LingoDeer for learning Korean. At this stage of my learning, I had established that it was possible for me to learn Korean, and that I needed a structure that would engage both my visual and auditory senses. After a lot of research into different applications with some inherent bias towards using a mobile application, because of my past using books for German, and seeing the errors that can be found in language books written in the past as a teacher. I needed to find a learning resource that was constantly updating. I finally settled upon LingoDeer, after comparing the reviews specifically for learning Korean, and the design of the course seemed to fit my now established learning methods. I began with hopes that this would help my learning immensely, especially in the learning of the alphabet. 

The Creator of the Korean Alphabet

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 had improved so rapidly with just being able to identify each letter, I felt I had accomplished something. This motivation has carried throughout my usage of the app, and I’m proud to say I’m on a 93-day LingoDeer streak. I’m by no means great at Korean, but my skill is improving weekly and the act of learning a language is now more of a fun activity, rather than a chore or fear that it was for me before. 

I’d hope that you don’t see this as an advertisement, of course I don’t think LingoDeer is the universal answer for learning a language. It’s purely a great tool for building foundations that has and is working for me because of my learning style. It’s not going to be that ‘magic fix’ to the difficulties in learning a language, it takes intense dedication and motivation. However, I hope that upon reading this you’ll give learning a language a chance. 

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