Overcoming Language Learning Obstacles
Hello, well, today I'm talking to Jeremy, who has a YouTube channel called Motivate Korean.
Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here. Today's video is an interview I did with Jeremy, who is an American who lives in Korea, who teaches Korean, I think a little bit of English as well. But before getting into that, I wanted to mention that next. Well, my 90-Day Arabic Challenge ends at the end of this month. So December the 1st 10:00 Vancouver time, Pacific Standard Time, we're going to try to organize a live stream where I'm going to talk to Mohammed from Egypt, from Cairo.
But it would be fun if some people out there, if you are native speakers of Arabic and you'd like to participate, we maybe could have two or three people also in this sort of Zoom conference and asking me questions or talking about stuff. And we can talk about anything. We can talk about travel or politics or how to use LingQ or whatever people want to talk about. So anyway, here is the the interview with Jeremy, I did one for his channel as well.
The subject is this whole issue of obstacles to learning, language obstacles, cultural obstacles. And I have to say that in my experience, you just keep going and these obstacles just fade away and one shouldn't get too hung up on apparent obstacles. Of course, it's difficult at first and the better you get, the lower the obstacles are. Anyway, here's the interview I did with Jeremy. And remember, next Tuesday, or at least if you're interested and if you're a native speaker of Arabic and you want to get on and speak only standard Arabic, you know, don't try on with with local variants of Arabic, you know, let me know here or somewhere.
And it's Jahrine of our group is going to organize. And I don't know how we'll select randomly two or three people, Arabic speakers to participate in the live stream. OK, and for the rest of you, you can all watch it and you can send in questions. But we may only have a few people actually, you know, live on on the Zoom conference. OK then. And now here's the main the main interview.
And in fact, he can explain the details of his presence on the Internet. But I like two things. One, that he's talking about Korean, which is a language that I'm interested in, and he's focused on motivation. So, Jeremy, can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about who you are, where you are and your activities?
Who I am first. My name is Jeremy. Excuse me. My name is Jeremy. I'm from California United States. I, I grew up in a very multicultural environment.
I had a lot of friends from different countries and I heard different languages as a kid. And I was always a little bit sort of jealous of them. And I thought it was just so cool, like magic power that they had to be able to understand and speak these other languages. And so I didn't really get started learning languages, though, until I was in my 20s after I finished my schooling, although I learned a little bit of Spanish in school and I studied Korean quite extensively, obviously that's what I teach and and talk about on my YouTube channel.
And I also do a podcast called SpongeMind as well in Korean and English, the podcast. And it's all focused on language learning. So I've dedicated my work life to helping other language learners stay on the path. I've also taught English to Korean people for almost ten years, usually through one on one, not in group settings. I've worked with individual people and I found that motivation is usually at the crux of all issues. And we just filmed the video for my channel as well, Steve and I, and we discuss that as well, how motivation is one of the biggest factors or probably the biggest factor in how well the learning goes of a language.
So I'm sure we may discuss that here.
So what what are the factors that motivate people to learn Korean? And what can you do to sustain that, motivating that?
Good question. Well, the the the reason I started my channel is because I had a, I was living in Korea. I had moved to Korea with no knowledge of Korean, just the alphabet basically. And I went there with a few of my friends from college and or university, I should say. And we went together and we all were just gung ho about learning Korean and we all got into it. And then very quickly they started to fall off after a month or two.
And and I saw everyone around me, even people who had lived there for a long time, they just started to, they just quit. And when I asked them and discussed it, I realized a lot of times it was some sort of misunderstanding, whether it be cultural. The Korean people often laugh when we make pronunciation mistakes, which is very rude in our culture, but not necessarily rude to them. So there was a lot of these misunderstandings that would sort of knock people off the path and then also in terms of the learning activities that they do, they were either doing it wrong or not wrong, but very inefficiently and and doing things that were not fun for them.
Or as we discussed in the last video, Steve, the uh, using materials that were very dry and boring to them and so for, for one of those reasons, they usually ended up quitting. And so I thought, well, if I could just make videos about things, helping people to get past these hurdles, to clear the path, so to speak, go through the jungle with a big machete and cut down all the branches that are in the way, that kind of thing, then maybe more people would continue to walk on the path.
And so that's what I've been doing. My videos are, they kind of hover around sometimes more emotional things, frustration and how to get rid of frustration, cultural differences, why Korean people do this and that, or linguistic frustrations. You know, this thing doesn't mean the same as the English word, and that's why you're using it wrong. And people laugh when you say it.
And yes, there are these habits in in different languages that the sort of the idiosyncrasies of the language and certainly we are you know, we tend to be influenced by our native language, the things that we're used to in our native language. And even people who speak English very well say Germans will say, you know, "I have been living in the United States since many years", which is wrong. Of course, it's for many years. Swedes who speak English very well, they do the same.
"It is many people in China" instead of their are many, and so habits like that are difficult to change. Russian, I mean, the idea that, you know, you've got one verb for going go, come back versus go and stay or go on a bus to get theoretically you can understand this, but when you actually go to speak to try to actually do that, it takes a lot of practice and exposure. So to me, if I think about Chinese, Japanese and Arabic, you know, I don't speak Arabic well, but certainly Russian, you just get used to it.
I don't see that... The fact that Korean has some unique ways of communicating is in itself not unique to me. Unless there is something uniquely unique about Korea, which which may be
Well, I don't have the wide variety, the wide, you know, diverse experience with many languages that you do. So I can't necessarily comment on that. But I've talked to thousands of people over the years about Korean and then about other languages that they speak. So we've compared in that way. So. Right. I'm a, you know, third person perspective. I have seen that.
I think that this is the the crux of it. I know there are inconsistencies...
If that is the case and that's demotivating to people. what can you do then to motivate them?
Yeah, OK, I'll lead to that. So I believe the issue and with those examples, there are similar ones in Spanish and I noticed many of those things, false cognates and things like that, and grammatical peculiarities, the subjunctive tense tenses that we don't just don't really have in English. So it's hard to think in them. Subjunctive is still quite difficult for me and at that face. But with with with Korean, the issue is that these inconsistencies are so systematic that they pervade almost every single sentence that you say in a spoken context.
And as a result, it makes every step of the process of learning heavier or more difficult, like trudging through a swamp than than, say, other languages where you have, you know, cognates in something to stand on. So I'd say that that's that's the first one. And the demotivating factor about it is, I would say, I guess, cultural, because Korean Korean people are very in-group, out-group. There's a very strong polarity between in-group and out-group in the Korean Peninsula is roughly like half the size of Florida as far as I've seen.
But there are 50 million people or more there. That's about a sixth of the United States in population. And in that tiny landmass, if you drive two hours, they speak very, very differently. If you drive three hours, people can't even communicate with each other clearly. And if you go to Jeju Island native, you know, people from Seoul actually just cannot speak to them at all. It's a different dialect. It's not a not far away in terms of land, but there's extreme differences in from city to city and how people speak much more than, say, you and I.
We're from different countries. You grew... you lived on the opposite side of the continent and we have no problems communicating whatsoever. But that is not the case with Korea.
Yeah but Korea is more sim, excuse me as Europe is similar.
Yeah, very good example. They have very, very different languages in that regard.
No no no Within Germany, Italy...
Oh, within OK. And I see that as well. But the way that this intersects with the issue that I was just describing is that when you constantly make English sounding sentences, that sound like direct translations, you alienate yourself from the group.
So say there's a group of five Koreans and you you constantly are almost asserting that you're an outsider when you make those errors. And they subconsciously and as a result of cultural, you know, you know, things that they've learned throughout their life, they start to see you as the outsider. And so sometimes they may sort of subtly ignore you or not include you in certain aspects of the conversation, assuming that you won't get it. And so there's a long battle from the intermediate to to, I would say, high level phase where you're really just trying to speak like a Korean person.
And in order to do that, you have to think like a Korean person. And this takes many, many, many more hours than than might with another language where you share cultural. You know, in the West, we are very individualistic. So we see you as an individual and I'm an individual. So we respect each other. And I don't force you to do things you don't want to do and such and such. But in Korean, you are seen as a part of the group.
So there's almost prerequisites to being Korean that English speakers don't have. And so they could learn the language even to a very high level. Even those who speak on TV and media and stuff and Korean, I've seen them speak. They often will use very English sounding expressions, Korean Americans as well, and it sort of alienates them. And so they start to get strange. You know, there's this there's static in the communication. It's not clear. And I've reached a point.
Now, where that is not the case anymore, but I also have Korean parents, essentially my in-laws, who I speak to all the time, who have parented me in the language in that way, and I have friends and such soI've been able through, you know, and I'm very lucky in that way to have made it through that.
So your motive, you would motivate the learner by telling them you just got to stay the course.
To get better. Are there tricks or other bits of advice that you have?
Yeah, I have uh...
...helping People overcome these problems.
I have a game that I've invented for English speakers to play and they can play it with their English speaking friends who don't care about Korean at all. I just call it Korean, English or Korean game, you know, for for simplicity. But it's kind of like speaking like Yoda. So I say put the verbs at the end of the sentence and drop the pronouns. That's it, those are the only two two rules of the game. But if you play this game with English speakers that mental the mental gymnastics are what you have to do all the time when you're speaking Korean.
But the verb at the end and drop the pronoun, but the verb at the end, drop the pronoun. And it's almost like if you can create that habit or strengthen that muscle, then if it becomes automatic, then when you speak Korean you get very much used to that and you have a leg up on... And it actually will speed up your your ability to comprehend and produce accurate or realistic Korean native.
OK, any other bits of advice like that, special techniques that you favor in terms of learning Korean or language learning in general, the things that you tell your viewers that can help.
Yeah, I talk a lot about repetitive listening for that reason.
And I what I have done, I did this with Spanish as well as I would take one audio file from anything from it depends on your level, your lower level, shorter audio, higher level, longer audio. And I would listen to it every day just automatically whenever I wash the dishes, whenever I commute to and from work or whenever I'm doing some sort of physical but rather mundane task vacuuming, whatever. And I'll just only put that on. That's all I listen to.
I don't listen to music. I have that one file and me in that file are just together for a while. And I, I sort of think of it like gum, some files you'll chew, some gum you'll chew and the flavor goes away quickly so you can change quickly. Other ones you chew it and it's got sort of a deeper flavor and and you keep going with it and you keep chewing it and chewing it and chewing it. And eventually what that led me to was choosing my personality in Korean.
So I found one speaker who has lots of content on YouTube, a professional speaker, and I listened only to his content. So I started picking up his his wording, his way of thinking. And when I hit, you know, things that I didn't understand, I would ask native friends or I'd try to look it up or I'd use voice to text to to try to see what the spelling turned and turned out to be. And I would mine this content after having downloaded the audio onto my internal hard drive.
And it allowed me to skip the study process sort of. And these words were already mine, a part of me by the time I got the meaning.
Two, two questions...
First of all, can you provide me the name of that person?
I totally agree that listening repetitively to a person, to a voice, to content that we like, where there's a resonance is extremely effective.
And I have been looking for that kind of voice in Korean without much success.
So I'd be very interested in finding out the name of the person.
And second of all, you mentioned in our conversation for your channel that you are a proponent of listening to things that you don't understand.
Mm hmm. Yes.
Now, how does that work?
I'll start with his name. His name is .... So like the "ch" one, ... With the ... In there. I can send it to you later...
I might put it in the description box here too. We'll put links to your channel. I will put his name in the description box.
He's... He talks about a lot of life related topics, so sort of helping people get over issues, emotional issues and things like that. But as a result, he tells stories about so-and-so doing this and that. There's a variety of content, very much spoken. He's from Jeju Island and he moved to Seoul. So he himself has sort of learned standard Korean. So he's kind of a language learner of sorts in that way. So he's a little bit more linguistically aware, very funny.
Just, I find myself bursting out laughing. Even when I'm repetitively listening to the same video, we laugh at the same joke. And I also I didn't use transcripts. I never use transcripts. He didn't have them. But I was at a level when I started that I didn't need that necessarily.
So I recommend...
But, You're not listening to stuff that you don't understand.
I'm moving on to that question. I've... I find now, again, it's very different at each level. A complete beginner. I wouldn't recommend the same thing if they did this. They pick up on, you know, cadences and intonation patterns, melodies sort of, of the language. They may be drawn to words that are said twice. like... is a very common thing that's said twice. So people might pick up on those things in the beginning phase.
But after you get a basis for grammar, you and you listen to something, say, to give a number anywhere from 30 to 100 times. And this is over the course of a week or two or sometimes a month. So it's not just all in one sitting because your brain needs to process it. There's there is digestion that needs to happen. I find that with things that I don't understand, those become soundbites that get stuck in my head.
I was just listening to a song in Greek on repeat recently just to try this. There are words in there that I can repeat, you know, that I could repeat to someone and ask them the meaning of them. And so there are sound, they become sounds that become familiar.
You can also become familiar with the sound of a certain bird or an animal or a kind of car, you know, hydraulic brakes as the as the bus passes by, you learn to associate a sound based on repetition with a certain thing or meaning. You give it meaning after the fact. So I, I have utilized sound first, then meaning and utilize that method. And it's been very helpful. I find that things that I don't know what they mean at all, entire sentences sometimes will actually sometimes in conversation they will fly out of my mouth.
I will use them accurately in the context everyone laughs. But later on I can be like, what does that actually mean? But I'm using it in the right context. So I'm letting my subconscious drive the drive the speaking or drive the learning more so than my conscious because I found that it was frustrating that way.
Interesting. Well, I think there's a lot there and there's obviously a lot more at your YouTube channel.
We're going to leave links in the description box and people can go and explore it. It's been a very interesting conversation.
Yeah, thank you.
And I will get back to my career.
So I look forward to getting the name of that person, and uh..
Hopefully we can have another conversation, maybe in Korean one day.
Yeah, please let me know.
OK, Jeremy thank you very much.
Mm hmm, thank you. Bye, everyone.