Self studying Korean

Darkness of Korean

No worries. Neither the Korean language nor anything else that might be described by the adjective “Korean” has fallen victim to an eclipse.

The darkness in the title refers to my Korean learning status.

When I named this blog “Flicker of Korean” I did so because I knew what the destiny had in store for me. After all, I had been suffering this illness for over a decade so I was well aware that periods when I would actually be able to study would be few and far between.

In fact, it has been a pleasant surprise that I had been able to study for almost a year back in 2018, with forced breaks no longer than 2 or 3 weeks at a time.

Still, just because you know something bad is coming, and you tell yourself you are prepared for it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t crush your spirit when it arrives. My Korean studying spirit had been crushed. It was still there, just a bit flatter than it used to be. Waiting to bounce back. No matter how much I had wished for it and how many times I tried, just in case, I simply couldn’t study Korean even for a second.

If you can try and imagine how it would be to attempt to study while waking up from anesthesia with the worst flu in your life and someone is purposefully overheating your brain it might come close to how impossible it was for me to focus on what the book said, let alone try to memorize it.

There has been something really nice that happened during all this, however.

My parents gifted me a new tablet. Since screens trigger my seizures, and the bigger the screen the worse the seizure, I have been unable to use PCs or laptops, even the smaller ones, for years. I also don’t own a smartphone since no one ever calls me or texts me and, well, I can’t really talk much anyway.

Which leaves tablets.

They have smaller screens, and I can easily darken them and apply blue light filters until the screen looks like it’s been consuming way too much beta carotene (everything is tinted orange, is what I’m saying).

Samsung tablet with keyboard

The way this is related to learning Korean is that the tablet came with a tiny physical keyboard that attaches to it with a magnet. I rarely used it because I’m usually lying on my side, so a few days ago when I felt like my brain was cooling down a bit and I decided to test out if I could practice Korean vocabulary for a bit, I went at it by using one thumb on the touchscreen keyboard while lying on my side and balancing the tablet on my thigh, instead of remembering to use the physical keyboard. It took forever but it was working. My brain was better. Not better enough to clip my textbook in place and get on with real studying, but enough to review a few words on Memrise site. (It seems it’s been renamed Decks and de-named back to Memrise again while I was out of commission. What exciting things I miss.) And also slowly write this post.

Then I remembered the keyboard. It requires I lie on my back and lift my head with pillows which squishes my poor trachea (or is it larynx?) and lowers the blood flow to my brain which is not ideal when studying but, ohmygod, I can’t recommend enough learning to type Korean with all 10 fingers. I’ve been tapping touchscreens for so long that I’ve completely forgotten how much faster it is to type without looking!

I went from being able to review 30 words per day to more than 150! Muscle memory rules.

I am not able to fully focus and I am letting myself make many mistakes because my brain is still not clear enough to make an honest effort at learning something new or dragging half-learned words from the depths of my memory, but I can at least clear out words I already know well.

After a year of not touching it all the words had to be revised. 0 words in long-term memory. That’s spaced repetition for you.

It was pleasant to discover how much the keyboard helped, and unpleasant to discover I have forgotten several Korean grammar points I thought I had learned from the Sungkyun Korean textbook.

A flicker indeed. 😒

I also cracked open a new textbook but that was too optimistic.

I am sticking to vocabulary revision for now, but I’m trying not to get too excited. If I continue to improve and can study grammar again, great, if I get worse and can’t even use Memrise any more, well that’s what I expected.

Strangely enough, keeping with the spirit of unpredictable symptom changes, despite my general condition getting a lot worse in the last year, one particular symptom got better: being unable to read books.

I’ve been unable to read more than a few paragraphs per day but now if the book is simple enough and doesn’t require too much mental effort, I am able to read several pages at a time, all throughout the day.

Which gave me a brilliant idea to read a book about language learning. I figured if I am still unable to study and memorize Korean language, I might still be able to read how to study a language more efficiently. so that once I am able to study Korean again I could both be more efficient at it and be able to review textbooks more expertly.

I have read a book long ago called How to Learn Any Language – Quickly, Easily, Inexpensively, Enjoyably and On Your Own – by Barry Farber. Despite the title that sounds like one of those scams that promise to teach you a language in 30 days, I loved that book. I did learn a few things about learning languages, but what I found much more valuable was reading someone else’s lifetime worth of experience with language learning.

It was fascinating and fun so I kept retelling the book to anyone who would listen.

To my mom. I kept talking about it to my mom.

Hey, don’t judge, my mom is fun. And I have been locked in my bedroom for almost a decade, that doesn’t create much opportunity for meeting people, ok?

Ok. Anyway, I wanted to read a similar book but this time I wanted something more based on research and less on personal experience. The closest I could find were a few books about second language teaching methodology.

Problem being that Korean is neither my second language nor am I intending to teach it to anyone and sadly, all these books were hundreds of pages long, used way too much jargon, and way too much author’s personal opinion. It can’t actually take 400 pages to say whether learning vocabulary in logical units, by frequency, or randomly as encountered is more effective, can it?

Also, what is it with linguists and initialisms? How hard is it to print full “language teaching” instead of “LT”? By the time I would reach the end of the book preview everything looked like a jumble of random letters: “LT a TL to SLL…” . My brain is inflamed, I can’t remember all those just to read one book! Copy-paste people, copy-paste.

So, yes, I am still looking for a good and fun book about language learning based on scientific research and if you know any book that fits the bill, please let me know!

(See how much I was able to write thanks to my little keyboard? See?)

2 thoughts on “Darkness of Korean”

  1. Hi Luna! Nice to hear from you again!
    How I Learn Languages by Kato Lomb is definitely my favourite. I read it just for fun, not for any advice on language learning, but as I remember there are some useful advices there.
    P.S. I read your post again, oops, I missed that you want a book based on a scientific research more… I’m not sure how this book fits into this description. Rather, it’s s based on Kato Lomb’s personal experience. But she definitely had a lot of experience, being able to speak 16 languages and becoming one of the first simultaneous interpreters in the world. So I still would recommend to check it out! :)

    1. Hi! I’m happy to be back!
      Yeah, I am looking for something based on research but I’m never going to say no to a good book :) Thank you for the recommendation!

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