One of the most encouraging articles I read when I started to study Korean was an article by Greg Thomson with the cheery title — What? Me Worry about Language Learning?

He writes about some of the troubles learning a different language and particularly the challenge of learning a host language from a bilingual community of speakers. (Perhaps some Korean speakers, like those being well educated and living overseas, fall into this bilingual category of being quite fluent in English as well as Korean.)

In Thomson’s case, he was studying Blackfoot and virtually everyone in the Blackfoot speaking community were fluent in both English. After months of memorising dialogues and stockpiling information, he still couldn’t carry on a conversation with anybody. Then Thomson writes:

 Frank [his colleague] had a simple challenge for me. He told me to make a commitment that I would never again speak to a Blackfoot person in English. I told him that I felt that would be impossible. He told me that it would be difficult at first, but fairly soon it would start getting easier.

When I returned to Alberta, I took the plunge. Frank was right. The first few weeks were extraordinarily difficult, but then it started getting easier, and the Blackfoot started to flow more and more. For the next several years I spoke only Blackfoot to Blackfoot people. I was always able to get my point across to them, and they to me, so I felt justified in calling myself a speaker of the language. . . . . .

As I persisted in refusing to speak English, most people would eventually begin speaking to me in Blackfoot. The first person was my main language helper. I spoke Blackfoot to him for two or three hours per day for about a week before he began speaking Blackfoot to me. In later years it was always fascinating to watch a new relationship and see how long it took for people to begin speaking to me in Blackfoot. For some it would be an hour. For others several hours. Occasionally someone would start speaking Blackfoot to me right off. . . . .

. . . [This] gave me a large amount of practice speaking. And it gave me exposure to Blackfoot that I could understand, as people spoke back to me.

Thinking about it that way, in the Korean learning journey we are so much better off. There are loads of monolingual Korean speakers. And I hope none of us had a language helper that took a week to start speaking with us in Korean (if that’s the case, find a new helper!)

Similar posts:

Cracking the Korean Speaking Nut: What to do when someone continues to speak to you in English?
Cracking the Korean Speaking Nut: A languacultural critique
Thoughts on Speaking Korean