Why I’m learning Korean

 고생 끝에 낙이

At the end of hardship comes happiness.

Last night I met up with a large group of friends from the Korean/English language exchange I’ve been attending for the past six months.  We were celebrating one member of the group finally landing his dream job so there was tons of food, beer and makgeolli for everybody.  When I arrived I was in really good spirits, it was nice to see everyone and to be in such a relaxed and casual environment and I was looking forward to practicing my Korean.  However, I was the only foreigner that could make it that night, leaving me in a somewhat difficult position.  You see, after ten months in Korea and nine months learning Korean, I am understandably still at a beginner level.  Korean can take years to master, even if you are studying 8 hours a day.  I’m fitting it in around my 9 to 5.  At first I felt confident and I spoke to my friends in the simple sentences I’ve learned so far, but once they started speaking to me in Korean it inevitably turned in to “Mwua? Uh? Mwua?” (these are the sounds that I am in the habit of making when I don’t understand).  They’d laugh and then translate into English, but the conversation continued in Korean and I sat there politely trying to make out words here and there. I was completely oblivious to what they were laughing about or getting excited about or being serious about.

 It wasn’t long that I sat at the table before my mood took a dramatic swing for the worst.  And I’m serious when I say that I wanted to cry. Hard. I felt as if at any moment I could break down and sob, but I held it back because well, I’ve been through worse so crying about this seemed so silly. It was during this time that people started to notice. I find it difficult to mask my emotions and it was probably a little awkward from their perspective too.  Imagine someone telling a really funny joke and the whole group bursts into laughter, but one member of the group has no reaction and just looks kind of bored.  I was that awkward member.  People asked if I was okay, but what could I say? “Please talk in English, even though I’m trying to learn Korean”?  I didn’t blame them for speaking in their native language, I just felt sad at the situation I was in.  The night carried on and the Korean conversation flowed but I’d already hit the wall and it seemed there was no coming back. I left early with a few others and consoled myself with chocolate at home.

I feel that right now I’m between a rock and a hard place.  On one hand I need to expose myself as much as possible to Korean, immersion is after all the best way to learn a language.  However I’m also in a place where my knowledge is very limited and so even when I’m exposing myself to the language, it doesn’t feel particularly effective.  If anything it can de-motivate me because the challenge is so real and difficult and I’m frustrated at the slow pace I’m learning at. Many foreigners in Korea give up learning the language early on and to be honest its understandable why.  If you don’t plan to be in Korea forever, then why spend all this time committing to something so difficult?  Last night I went to sleep with this thought – “Why am I doing this to myself?”

So today I’ve decided to reflect on why I’m learning Korean.  And when I next feel like crying (not ’if’ but ‘when’ because I will, definitely), I’m going to refer back to these reasons.  They are personal to me but I think anyone else that is learning a language can relate to them too.   I’ve narrowed it down to the three big ones, so here we go.

 1. I want to know how millions of people feel around the world

 It’s well known that Brits aren’t particularly receptive to people that don’t speak English but the truth is that we imagine learning English to be easy since so many people speak it.  As a native English speaker coming from the UK, a culturally rich and diverse country with immigrants from all around the world, I feel it’s important to understand the difficulties of learning a language.  It will allow me to become a more understanding, more empathetic, kinder person.  I hope that in the future I’ll be able to help many people learn English as a second language, either as a friend or as a teacher because I have been through the language learning experience myself and can familiarize myself with their experiences.


2. If I ever have a chance to be bilingual, NOW is that chance.

I never ever in a million years thought I’d choose Korean as a second language.  But then again, I never thought I’d be living in Korea either.  I’ve always been aware that if you truly want to become fluent in another language you need to place yourself for a while in a country that speaks that language.  Want to learn French? Take regular trips on the Euro Tunnel.  Want to learn Portuguese?  Have a sabbatical in Lisbon.   Essentially, immerse yourself as much as possible in order to force yourself to use the language every single day.  Ultimately I’m not sure if learning Korean will help me go further in life in terms of my career, I’d like to hope so but it’s too early to say.  What I do know though, is that I’m living in a country that speaks Korean and regardless of whether it will be useful or not, I have an opportunity that I can either choose to leave or to take.  I’m taking it.


3. I’m giving my brain a workout

Training for a marathon might be more appropriate in this case, but it’s true.  Language learning is so challenging for the brain that studies have shown benefits that far outweigh the difficulties, such as:

  •  protection against aging (lower risk of dementia/alzheimer’s)
  • making better decisions, faster and easier
  • improving your focus and concentration skills
  • higher creativity

The list goes on and on and for more information follow this link.

Of course, other reasons to learn Korean include being able to function better in my life here and to be able to converse fluently with my friends and colleagues.  But the three reasons above are what will keep me motivated to continue on this challenging journey I’m currently on and might be on for the rest of my life.

I follow a YouTube channel called “Motivate Korean” which is incredibly helpful and motivates me almost every day to never give up.  I wrote to creator Jeremy last night after watching his video “Positive Frustration” when I got home, and his advice was second to none.  It’s good to know I’m not the only person on the verge of tears when this language learning thing gets a little bit overwhelming.

As we say in Korea “화이팅!” – you can do it.  And I believe that, I truly do.



  1. Hi Soph without doubt the self reflection and three points you make will get you through this you know I believe in your ability to get through this. With any learning the progress is always plateaued and can be frustrating. This article on learning plateaus always summed it up for me an applys really to learning anything thats hard and challenging if it wasn’t hard and challenging then its probably not worth doing….keep going.


    1. Wow thanks for sharing this article! A very refreshing perspective that I can definitely relate to. I guess what it’s saying is that learning is all about balance and that you shouldn’t push yourself too much or let yourself stay stagnant either.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this article your wrote with me and including the comment. I welled up a bit reading this.. ^^ And that’s how I know we’re doing the right thing here!

    1. Thank you Jeremy, for being such an inspiration to so many people going through this process. Seriously, I’m not sure where I’d be without your videos, they help to motivate me so much! You are definitely doing the right thing.


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