Wednesday, April 13, 2016

This Year I'll Learn Korean

I've decided to learn to speak and read Korean.

Way back in middle school I started French lessons with a wonderful French teacher, but my family moved away in the middle of the semester, and I never resumed teaching myself.

We moved to a small town in northern Wisconsin, and the only language that high school taught was German. The instructor of the class was also the mayor of our town, and he did not speak German. Later I took German introductory courses in community college, two years of them, but even we six students who'd stuck through it to the end never learned to speak or translate much.

On my own I tried to learn Japanese through Pimsleur tapes. Yes, cassette tapes: I was living in Minneapolis and driving to work in St. Paul, which necessitated over an hour of commuting time one way (outside of rush hours it's a 15-minute commute). I decided to use that time to learn Japanese, and my car had a tape deck, so I paid something like six bucks for the introductory lessons and became pretty skilled with it, for a beginner. Eventually I invested in the advanced lessons as well. But I had no one to practice with and I didn't know enough to understand the anime I was into at the time, so I lost interest, and now I'm stuck with a load of like-new cassette tapes.

I've been debating what language to take up and learn through to completion. It would be fun to learn Japanese or return to German. If I wanted to learn a practical language, I'd do better to learn Spanish, Somali or Hmong, given these populations in my city. That would be most helpful.

But I'm also studying up on North Korea, and many analysts say the best way to get the best news on the DPRK is to read it yourself. Back in 1990 I was stationed at Camp Carroll, South Korea, outside of a small town called Waekwan. I befriended some Korean soldiers training with us and I had a couple girlfriends; during my lifeguarding stint at Cp. Carroll I learned some safety phrases to shout in hangul, and our unit commander was very interested in us learning the language and customs of the nationals. I thought that was important, even if my fellow soldiers regarded this as a tedious joke.

That's not to say I won't go back to Japanese at some point, but it also doesn't mean I'm going to dump hundreds of dollars on Korean lessons like I did with Japanese. I'm going to pursue as many free courses as possible and see how far I can go in the language.

On my phone I've downloaded Duolingo, Rosetta Stone and Memrise, right off the bat. (I used to use LiveMocha but they have since shuttered.) Rosetta Stone offers a little for free but posts frequent reminders to purchase the full course. Google Play also features dozens of other, lesser-known programs for free, and I assume each of them offer something a little different. Some will have well-structured learning programs, others will be disorganized and counter-intuitive, but they all should offer something I can use.

My impressions of these apps:

  • Rosetta Stone leaps right out of the gate with higher-basic lessons. I had to quit when asked to pronounce "the young girl is drinking juice" within 60 seconds of starting the first lesson.
  • Memrise started out with having me recognize written letters. That might not be so bad, though I don't know if I'll remember them all tomorrow.