0 In Korean learning journey (:

10 years, what it’s like to self study languages then and now

Well, actually 13 years.

Today, it struck me that the environment for language learning has changed so much over the years, supported by an advancement in technology, and more importantly, there is greater interest and acceptance of language learning as a hobby.

Some time in June 2008, I told my classmates at the Beginner II Korean class that I am not continuing classes and will try to self study instead. My memories are slightly hazy, but I do recalled their surprise, with a couple wishing me good luck and expressing hopes to reunite in higher level classes. Others were quite sure that I would give up after a while, or fail.

“Wah you damn brave.”

“Huh, is it possible to study without a teacher?”

“How to self study without going Korean?”

For a while, I did wonder if I’m ‘too brave’ or reckless to take the plunge. The norm for language learning back then was to enroll in an established (and often expensive) language school and go through level and levels of lessons—the likes of 4 beginner levels, 6 intermediate levels, 5 advance levels, 2 masterclasses and what not. At the end of it, it feels like you are nowhere enough those who were privileged to have gone for classes in the country/region itself. Language learning books at bookstores were expensive, few and far between and buying things overseas wasn’t a norm. Apps and smartphones were relatively new concepts and I owned a non-smart phone. Nobody around me was self studying languages.

2013 aesthetics

Everything led me to believe that it is indeed a challenge, but I took up the challenge anyway. I learnt to be resourceful, trying to find as much free resources online and in libraries as possible, and be creative in what can be used as learning tools. For a couple of years, my blog was kinda centered around the theme of self-studying languages and showing that it’s not impossible. I even wrote a short e-book (!) on self-studying Korean, and reading it again made me feel how there it needed an overhaul if I were to come up with something again, given the numerous changes in environment and available resources.

Back then, self-studying languages seemed like a feat and I was (ridiculously) proud of myself for being able to do so.

Fast forward to 2021.

It’s amazing to see so so so many self-learners that there’s even a whole language community active online, with language content makers, studygrams and social media accounts dedicated to talking about language learning journeys. It’s just so surreal to see how self-studying languages has become so normalized, something that was quite unimaginable back in those days. I think what is amazing is the level of support and sharing there is ongoing, and that is something that I wished I also enjoyed back in those days.

Language learning has become so much more accessible, and now the headache is to find the ‘best’ or most suitable resources, especially for the popular languages, instead of lamenting the lack of them. There’s a dizzying array of resources online, and I love how it’s so easy to pay for them. Having ebooks also meant that it’s possible to save on shipping costs and a lot of times, you can get a trial of a service or a book sample before committing to the purchase.

Another part of language learning that has undergone transformation is teaching. Back then, there are few options beyond language schools. Now, there’s online marketplaces matching tutors to students and it’s possible to take customized lessons at reasonable fees, and the best part is that, you get to determine the frequency of classes. This is indeed a game-changer. It means that we are no longer restricted on many levels and it’s possible to find language teachers for languages, dialects or creoles from far-flung places. I have yet to go for a language class myself (still on that 100% self-studying mode), but I would love to try some conversational classes for Japanese. My spoken Japanese falls wayyy behind my reading and comprehension abilities and that’s also partly my fault in neglecting that aspect in my self-study.

With the language learning landscape being the way it is now, I wonder if people can still relate to my experiences 10 years ago, especially those who are a lot younger. It does feel impossible that language learning, just 10 years ago, feels so much more inaccessible.

I’m very glad that it has changed (:

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