If you’re self-studying a language how can you be sure you’re ready to move on to the next level language textbook?
When you’re taking language classes your pace is dictated by the syllabus, by the teacher, by the level of other students, and by the number of classes per week. But what about when you’re self studying a language? It’s just you and the language texbook. You can go as in depth into the textbook as you want or skim it as quickly as you want.
I’m definitely not a skimmer.
I think it’s a remnant of my old school days when I was trying to be a straight A student. It was always about playing that stupid game with the teacher trying to trick top students and catch us not knowing some obscure detail written in the margins of a book underneath the tiny photo of an unimportant reference and use it as an excuse to give us the dreaded B.
Still traumatized decades later, I adopted the same style of study when I started to self-study Korean language: I’ve been studying from the same book for years, going through it cover to cover over and over again until I was sure I knew everything in it. And then as my memory would fade a bit and I would catch myself not knowing something I knew was mentioned in the textbook I had to go through it one more time.
Guess what I’m doing these days? Revising from it again.
With my condition it takes me much longer than a regular person to go through a textbook. I also start forgetting much faster and every time I start considering moving on to the next textbook I realize just how insecure I am in what I’ve previously learned and I just have to go back to the same one to refresh my memory of all the things I forgot.
I tried to solve this problem by getting a workbook hoping that putting my knowledge into practice would make me retain it longer, but workbook fiasco is a story for some other post.
Despite my condition, I don’t think I’m that much of a special case. Even if you are a proud owner of a healthy well-functioning brain, I don’t think it’s a good idea to try and memorize a Korean textbook cover to cover. I’m going to pull the numbers out of thin air here but I feel like it takes 30% of time to learn 70% of the content, and 70% of the time to learn the remaining 30%.
I’ve noticed that there are some grammatical concepts and some Korean words that just refuse to stick in my memory. I realized that I could have memorized ten new words by the time I finally conquer that one stubborn one. It would have obviously been way more efficient if I just skipped that stubborn one and learned the other ten.
What took me some time to come to terms with is that skipping it for now doesn’t mean giving up on it forever. Actually, what usually happens is that one day I come across it in a different context, or make a connection I weren’t able to make before with less knowledge, or I find a different explanation of the same grammar concept and things just click and I memorize it easily.
So hanging back and stalling your progress until you know a textbook inside out is not a good thing.
On the other hand, if you move too quickly and don’t retain enough then you’re wasting the textbook you already own (even if it’s a free online resource, it’s still a waste not to get the best out of it). Too much superficial knowledge and it all becomes a confusing mess and you’re nowhere near actually understanding your target language.
And there’s also that sinking feeling every time you encounter grammatical structure or a word you know you already came across and are supposed to know but you just don’t.
As with everything the trick is in finding the right balance.
So I firmly decided to move to the next textbook. It’s time to let go of Korean Made Easy for Beginners.
Right after I go through it just one more time :)
Do you have any advice? If you’re studying a language on your own how do you judge when you’re ready for the next textbook?
Update: I have since moved on to the next Korean textbook and so far haven’t regretted it :)