Language learning is not formulaic or mechanical. It’s not about memorizing the definitions of words, nor is it about creating that perfect grammatical sentence. It’s about feeling, understanding and immersion. For example, based on the meaning itself, 나쁜 놈 and 개새끼 has pretty much the same translation in English “bastard”. If you learn it that way, based on dictionary meaning, you may use them interchangeably, and possibly in contexts where you will use the same word in English.
If you have been watching dramas / interacting with Korean friends etc, you will know that they are used in different ways, have different nuances when used by different genders and can have slightly different connotations in different contexts. I don’t claim to know it 100% accurately, but at least I know that 개새끼 is used more often by males and quite frowned upon if girls use the phrase (in a general context). 나쁜 놈 can be used by girls scolding their boyfriend. For example, 야~ 이 나쁜 놈. 이 추운 날씨에 얼마나 기다렸는지 알아?? But substitute 개새끼 and it will be quite awkward, and I’m sure the bf in question will be angry too. Come to think of it, the English translation will be a little weird too. “Oi you bastard. Do you know how long I have been waiting for you in this cold weather?” LOL
Another example. 답답하다 and 우울하다 are considered unique emotions in Korean (in academic research) and without considering whether they are indeed unique or not, they ARE many emotion words in Korean that is possibly not found in our native languages. How to feel them? You can’t just possibly read up their definitions and expect to understand how they are used in Korean.
The main point of these examples is to show that you need to feel the language.
Obviously, we are not native speakers. Most of us aren’t even in Korea. Many of us don’t hear Korean in our daily lives and few of us have Korean friends to hang out with frequently.
So how to feel?
1. Watch dramas
Believe it or not, this is one of the best methods of feeling a language. Imagine you read a book on Korean culture and it describes how Korean ajummas will put their hand behind their neck and say 어머 어머나~ when they are being angered or agitated. You will probably find it quite ridiculous and different to understand. Now, if you watch the scene in a Korean drama (it’s a very common scene), you can really understand why they do that 😛 You will also get to learn about the situations / contexts where it happens and know that it’s not a common action amongst the younger generations.
So much information, so simply presented in dramas.
Language learning is not about reading the technicalities and learning from a book, but it’s about knowing how to absorb from all kinds of different materials and to constantly feel it.
Learning vocabulary is not about using the dictionary, remembering the definitions and what not. It’s about understanding how it’s used and reading is probably the best way of understanding. Throw away your native language when you are reading in a foreign language. Do not think / say stuff like “This expression is so weird. I won’t say that in English!” Obviously. If all languages are directly translatable, where’s the charm of languages? Language learning helps you widen your worldview in this way. If you are soooo set about expressing something in a certain way and not being able to see why another language does it differently, you should think about why you are learning another language again.
These two tips seem super simple and quite obvious right? like DUHHH. But a lot of us fail to understand that we really need to feel a language to learn it.
Stop thinking about how it is in your language, and start to find out how it is in another language.