Learning Languages: A Helpful Tip (or two)

If you don’t have a natural skill for learning languages, you can find it intimidating. For me, I have found that understanding the metalinguistic features of the language have found it extremely helpful to approaching it in an accessible way. I would like to explain through two examples: how I learned Spanish and how I learned Korean.

Spanish has a somewhat similar background to English. The grammars are similar (but not exactly the same), their are many cognates (thanks for their Romance language influence), have the same Latin-based alphabet, and share similar structures (inflectional language structures). Their similarities outnumber their differences for me. When I went through my first year of Spanish, I learned nothing at school. Then in tenth grade, in English class our teachers forced us to diagram sentences so understanding what a noun, verb, adjective, etc. came with being good at diagramming homework. That being said, when I understood the metalinguistics of my own language, my Spanish teacher saying this is an adjective and it goes behind the noun it’s modifying made a WHOLE lot more sense. In this year of Spanish, I went from knowing nothing, to learning to have conversations easily. Besides having a phenomenal teacher, I understood what the parts of the language were and wasn’t limited to just absorbing those new things in the classroom. I could do it by watching television, listening to music, and reading books…

Now let’s fast forward about four years to my Korean language journey… I now know comfortably what the parts of speech are in English and Spanish are. Korean has a new writing system (learnt), new word  and sentence formation (okay…) and completely different language base (yeah…)… Basically, no foundation besides my metalinguistic knowledge. If you are studying Korean, you know that some adjectives can function like verbs do in English (i.e. 예쁘다, to be pretty) but you can also put them in an adjective form closer to what we know (i.e. 예쁜 여자, “Pretty woman”). In my linguistics degree, we learned to understand further grammar and also phonetics. With both of this, I knew why certain sounds were hard for me to make, what was going on with these “new, weird” verbs and knew how to form them. It really helped a whole lot. I was also able to understand the new grammar from an objective point, not from my only language knowledge base.

Also something helpful for those learning Korean is: learn Chinese roots. I don’t mean you have to learn to read Chinese just what the root refers to. This is the only thing my husband has been helpful with in my learning Korean. When I ask him a new word, he breaks it down first in its Chinese roots, has shown me an app that defines a word and in parenthesis gives you the Chinese roots, and I now approach Korean this way. It has been so helpful because my biggest problem has been expanding my vocabulary. I was watching the news and saw under a picture of the new pope, “사랑 * 통합” I asked if “통합” meant unity and he surprisingly answered, “Yeah, how did you know?” He taught me that 통 usually refers to a whole, like a whole chicken is 통닭. This isn’t a strange concept for English speakers. Think of how we made words with Latin and Greek roots. Why did you have to learn them all in high school? This is why. Korean is interesting like English because it takes words from lots of languages like French, German, Japanese, Chinese, and English.

I am pretty sure if you look to understand language itself a little, for those of you who are not “natural language learners” learning a language will be a much more attainable goal.


2 thoughts on “Learning Languages: A Helpful Tip (or two)

  1. Yeah! I have noticed it’s much easier to understand more with the chinese roots!
    However, I’m having slight difficulties finding the definitions of the chinese roots… You said you used an app, and I wonder if you would mind sharing the name of it? ^^ Thank you!!

    1. The one I used to use is lost with my last cell phone, but I just searched GooglePlay for you and found something A-MAZ-ING. My favorite dictionary online to use is Naver’s because it translates well the words and includes them in sentences for collocation reference. That being said, I won’t recommend anything else because Naver is the be-all in terms of Korean-English dictionaries, and, bonus! Gives you the Chinese Letters.

      I also wrote about a book series I loved, the Korean Grammar in Use by Darakwon publishing. It turns out they also pronounce a book for learning 한자. “Useful Chinese Characters for Learners of Korean) is another amazing asset. I was reading in both 한글 and 한자 by the end of one page! Can’t praise it enough. Hope that helps and thanks for stopping by my page!

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